We are at the CICCC ground. The event is the Grand Centenary Concert on 17th December and we have reached the end of the evening show. To conclude the great occasion we have the national anthem. As the MC asks the audience to stand up and artistes to gather on the stage, almost every spectator in the gallery starts leaving the venue – including some senior officials. People keep walking away even after the anthem is being blared aloud at 15,000 Watts. On the other hand, the guest singers from Darjeeling, led by Karma Sherpa, put their hands on their hearts, close their eyes and stand motionless till the anthem ends.
Why do we Bhutanese, who are known for being fiercely nationalists and who are ready to kill or die for our Motherland, have little or no respect for the National Anthem? Where have we gone wrong? The CICCC incident is just one case but it is not an isolated one. Who hasn’t noticed people leaving from school concerts, public events or variety shows as the national anthem is being played? And worst of all, we are taking our children away, thereby indrectly teaching them not to bother about our national pride.
In Italy the rowdiest of football hooligans stop shouting or launching verbal attacks at each other when the anthem is played. This happens at the start of every official football matches. Even a stadium packed with 90,000 people falls into a dead silence when the l’inno nazionale comes alive. On many occasions the crowd give a standing ovation to their national anthem and then they resume the jeering and cheering for their favourite team. In Thailand you are required to stand up before the start of a movie in public theatres - to sing or listen and watch the national anthem being played on the big screen. I am told something like this was tried out some time back in our Lugar Theatre, but with pathetic results, which was more a disgrace to us as a nation. During the opening of the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, TV cameras focused on the Bosnian flag bearer who broke down as the Bosnian anthem was played and the Bosnian Olympic team entered the stadium. Bosnia had just gained independence from Yugoslavia after the bloody Balkan war that left millions of Bosnians dead or missing.
Again, thanks to our monarchs and our forefathers we didn’t have to fight for our independence from some colonial powers. Nor did we have to endure long hardships to retain our independence and sovereignty. But there have been moments in the recent past when we did fear for our nation and our existence. As late as December 2003 didn't we sat in front of the NDTV biting our nails and praying for our Beloved King to come home victorious? Pity we have also developed short memories.
The Japanese who are the busiest living beings on earth stop walking or talking if they see their anthem being played on TV or in a nearby school. Have we Bhutanese become busier than the Japanese that we cannot even spare few minutes? What is 3 minutes of our time when we spend hours gossiping, gambling or grumbling about others? What is 3 minutes of our day when we have to wait for hours for latecomers even in a high-level official meeting?
Coming back to that CICCC incident, my six-year old daughter was there besides me. Like everybody else she wanted to leave. I told her we will sing the national anthem and then go. She agreed. But then after we started singing she saw many people leaving. She asked me why the other people are walking away. I really had no explanation to give to her.
(also published by Bhutan Times in the Jan 11 issue as an opinion column)