Thursday, December 23, 2010

The longest Paro-Thimphu drive

Even the intense winter sun fails to warm our hearts. Instead the unprecedented chill only makes it worse. The aircraft carrying the coffins of the victims of the Nepal air crash makes the touchdown. Finally the long wait is over. Most of us (HMS staff) had neither slept well nor fed ourselves well since the tragedy – coordinating the relief works and providing information to a stunned nation.

The cargo door swings open and the conveyor belt starts rolling. We take our turns to receive them, according to the names of the victims we were assigned to. I wait for mine, joined by the only surviving family member - a monk. He lost his mother. The royal command was for us to be with the family throughout the cremation process and look into all their needs.

We drive out of Paro. And as luck would have it, I am penultimate in the convoy and the sight of sixteen bodies ahead of me makes my heart bleed. Unable to hold back my tears, I look out of the window aimlessly far into the horizon. But I am not alone. The entire Bondey town is out. The stern look on their faces says everything. Some women are sobbing away. Some men pray for the departed souls.

Although I try not to think of it, my mind is pulled back to imagine the face of the woman I had never met. The Paro-Thimphu drive seems unusually long. As the convoy snakes along the long and winding road, I enter into a serious contemplation. Is life really worth living? Especially the way we were living. Our dreams and our ambitions, our greed and our intrigues. Is everything worth vying for?

When we make our entry in to Thimphu we are greeted by the same horrified faces. Thousands of relatives and friends are waiting to receive the bodies at the duthroe. The next day, as the mass cremation moves on, everyone is asking, why so many tragedies? I only wish we had the answers. By late afternoon as the fires turn the bodies into ashes, I check with my family if there was anything they required. "What can I expect more?" The monk tells me. "Our King has taken care of all these and the Je Khenpo did the rest. I don't know whether to be happy or sad, but I am relieved. I am just a monk living in the mountains and my only worry was how I would be able to cremate my mother". I hug him and I promise to visit him in future - wherever he would be.

I hit the road for Paro again. I had fixed a coffee meeting with a visiting journalist at Aman. As my colleague negotiates the long and winding road, the picture of convoy of bodies plays vividly on my face. But this time the drive is much shorter. And as for life, I guess, we can only move on. And be good human beings while we are still alive.

Friday, December 3, 2010

My Calcutta

My memories of Kolkata go as far as 1977 when my father, who was a truck driver, took me along in one of his trips. Calcutta, as it was known then, was big and frightening. The traffic was bad, the noise was deafening and streams of people were rushing in every direction. But soon I got used to. Manoj Kumar’s Dus Numberi was still playing houseful and I even made my dad buy a tee shirt with No. 10 in case anybody back home had any doubts that I had seen the film. We slept in the truck, or under the truck, parked in the lawns of Bhutan House. And except for the mosquitoes that bothered me every now and then, I felt like in a wonderland. We ate in the dhabas and roadside restaurants. But my favorites were the chaiwalas whose ability to stretch the tea from one jug to another just amazed me and I would ask them to do it again and again for me.

So it was with some nostalgic anticipation that I looked forward to this last visit to Kolkata. But things obviously have changed in my life. From a poor boy whose father couldn’t afford a room, I was putting up in Hotel Taj Bengal. The 36-hour drive is replaced by less-than-an-hour flight on Druk Air. Chauffer driven cars with police escorts drove us all over the city. Fresh salmons, salames and sashimi came in place of coal-burnt chapattis and chicken curry.

Many official engagements and receptions later, including a dinner at the Raj Bhavan where I was seated next to the beautiful actress Debashree Roy (my childhood hero Mithun Chakraborty was also there), I felt I was still missing something - my Calcutta I had known as a child. So the moment I had a chance (I got to slip out for a meeting at the Telegraph) I grabbed the opportunity. Suddenly I realized the traffic has gone worse, noise level has gone up and many dhabas have disappeared and in their places lots of fancy malls have come up. Some things are same, of course. Streams of people were still rushing in every direction.

When I was done at the Telegraph, my host was rather embarrassed, “Sorry our canteen is closed.” “Take me to a chaiwala in the street,” I suggested instantly. “Are you sure?” He got back, scanning my Italian suit and a matching tie, to imply that the chaiwala place was not proper for someone of my stature.

In front of the Telegraph headquarters and among the typical chaos and commotions of Kolkata, there was a chaiwala still pulling a tea from one jug to another. As I seeped a masala tea from an earthen cup and watched him do that with a nostalgic delight, I also felt the familiar smell of coal, heat, dust and the damp all around us. For all the changes that we go through in life, there are things that you cherish forever. For me it is these chaiwalas. For a moment I am who I was and so was my Calcutta.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Leaving your comfort zone

I must say, I am truly blessed with a comfortable life. I have a job, a loving family, many friends and wonderful colleagues at work. And if we go by the trend, I could afford to drive around in luxury, vacation outside the country every now and then, but go party every evening or play golf during weekends. At work, I could stick to rules, play safe, avoid making mistakes, come and go on time and never step on anyone's toes. Lest someone question my being "true" Buddhist, I could invite monks to chant some prayers and play some drums and horns at my place. I could also be seen going around the Memorial Chorten every day.
Or else........ I could come out of my comfort zone. I could give some time and energy to some social works with those who are less fortunate, help some poor children complete their studies or pay for some addicts go to some rehabs. At work, I would not only "do my job", but also spend few hours more every day to do my work better, make an extra effort to help someone who doesnt fit the criteria, take some initiatives to develop the system (after all the existing rules or business models were created by someone before you) and challenge the conventional wisdom - everything in good faith, of course.
Few days back I met a group of former addicts and alcoholics. I had met them some years earlier while I was researching on my film script. While I was happy to see them again, I was saddened to realise that many of them, despite being clean, have not moved on with their lives. The reasons were varied - a society refusing to accept them back, friends and families who have erased them from their lives, a system that has stereotyped them and public officials who throw them out of job interviews, etc.
It was heart breaking and equally disturbing for a society that brags about jampa dang nyingzhi (love and compassion). But getting discouraged by what is not going right, or disheartened by people who live in their comfort zone, is not style. I tried to lift their spirits by saying that we were all born for a purpose and as long as we breathe there is hope. Of course, I empathized with their hardships. I know the unreasonable bureaucratic hats we wear in our official positions or when we are in positions of power and all our contradictions and hypocrisies. Still this is a country with a bright future and a nation that can always hope in a functioning government and, above all, in a caring King.
Leaving one's comfort zone can be tough. One has to make sacrifices in terms of time and resources, be almost immune to public badmouthing and not be carried away by gossipmongers and cynics. However, as a human being you have one chance to do something good so that when it is time for you to leave this world, and you don't know when, you will at least leave feeling good that you made a difference in someone’s life.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Transcript (official) of His Majesty the King's address to the Parliament, 19 Nov. 2010

Since assuming Kingship in December 2006, I have travelled outside Bhutan four times - each time it has been to India. Indo-Bhutan friendship is of paramount importance and something we hold dear. We must always work to further strengthen and deepen it. In October this year, I visited Kolkata and New Delhi. I found in my meetings with the President, Prime Minister, Chairperson of the UPA, ministers, government officials and leader of the Opposition, a common heartfelt appreciation for Bhutan’s achievements as a nation, and a steadfast commitment and pledge to strengthen even further what they feel is a model partnership and bond between countries.

We are presently undertaking the mid-term review of the 10th 5-year Plan. India’s assistance has been wholehearted and generous to the first development plan under our new democracy. On behalf of the people of Bhutan, I convey my deep appreciation to the Government and People of India.

Upon my return from India, I went directly to Bumthang to the site of the tragic fire in Chamkhar town. Already deeply saddened since hearing the news, it was even more painful to see that the fire had completely destroyed homes and belongings of over 79 families. Yet, in my absence, my father His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo accompanied by the minister for Works and Human Settlement, officials and members of Parliament visited the people from the very day of the fire, delivering semso and bringing much needed hope and reassurance to the people. On behalf of the people, I offer gratitude to my father, the Fourth Druk Gyalpo.

During my own stay in Bumthang I worked closely with the Prime Minister, Home Minister, Leader of the Opposition, members of Parliament, government officials to plan Kidu activities, the reconstruction of homes and setting up of a temporary township to help the people rebuild their lives. Upon returning to Thimphu to attend the winter session of parliament, I asked the Agriculture minister, members of Parliament of Bumthang, the dzongkhag administration and the armed forces to continue the reconstruction work. I thank all of these people and institutions as well as the Zhung Dratshang, goende, lams, students of Chumey Institute of Civil Engineering, Motion Picture Association of Bhutan, NGOs and individuals for their time and effort. I have found that this spirit of volunteerism and concern for each others’ welfare is an age old quality common among the people of our 20 dzongkhags. As King, this gives me even greater optimism and confidence about the future of our nation.

Now, as natural disasters become more frequent, and we continue to deliver Kidu so effectively and comprehensively to the people – not just today in Bumthang but in the past in Wamrong and in certain dzongkhags following the earthquake – there may be some people who will be concerned.

They might be concerned that due to the strength of the welfare and social support system, our people may become spoiled. I do not understand how people could be spoiled while seeking refuge in Kidu during times of immense suffering. To make people happy, to help them during times of distress, and to ensure that they do not suffer greatly – these are qualities of a country where there is genuine concern for the people on the part of the King and government; and where people share everything, happiness and sorrow. What should concern us is if there are people being bullied, mistreated and made victims of injustice. We should be concerned if instead of good deeds, the examples leaders set are of corruption and abuse of power – if our nation is without values and ethics.

Some people may say everyone has hardships in life. Why should some be given Kidu? To this I say, that life is filled with its share of hardships. Whether we are rich or poor, no one can escape life’s challenges. However, there is a great difference between facing life’s challenges and completely losing hope. As we journey through life, we overcome hardships in the knowledge that one day we may fulfill our hopes and aspirations. We know these hardships cannot be removed from our lives – so we seek to rise above them. However, for some people, there may come moments when in spite of all their efforts, their problems become insurmountable – when they reach the end of the road and see no options ahead. At such times, if we do not step in to help them find their way forward, they will despair and lose hope. This is something we must never tolerate in Bhutan. As King it is my duty to ensure that our people will always have hope.

Lastly, others may be concerned by the sustainability of such a strong system of Kidu - of providing comprehensive welfare to those who need it - as the population rises. Let me tell you what I said to our people in Chamkhar. I told them that there was nothing we could do about the fact that the fire had destroyed their homes and livelihoods. That we must accept the hardships, emotional turmoil and sadness for months to come. Yet, I pledged that even though our nation may be a small, landlocked country without the great wealth of others, in their moment of great suffering, the King and government would do everything to find the resources needed to alleviate their pain and restore happiness to their lives.

I have always said that Bhutanese are a unique people. When a neighbour, friend or even stranger is in need we share their suffering and take it as our duty to help them. We must preserve these age-old values and our unity and harmony as a people. Thus, it is the duty of the King and those in positions of responsibility to set the right examples of compassion and care. In other nations, with changing times, these precious qualities and values have been eroded and replaced by a self-centered outlook to life with little concern for those less fortunate. We must not allow this to happen in Bhutan.

In conclusion, I want to remind you, the members of Parliament, that our People and I have placed our complete faith in you. As King, I have seen that you have served the nation with dedication and commitment from the very first session of Parliament till today. During this session you will be deliberating many important bills and acts. In doing so, I must remind you that in focusing on the words and details of the laws and the needs of the present, do not be blinded to the future of our country and people – and the long-term objectives and priorities of our nation. Let us all, in doing our duties, keep the interest of our people and our future generations above all else.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Show must go on

Bumthang is one of my favourite places. It is also, undoubtedly, the most blissful spot on Earth. The gentle slopes surrounding every valley are in sharp contrast to the high mountains and deep valleys that characterise much of the landscape of my country. Bumthang was blessed by Guru Padma Sambawa in the eighth century when he introduced Buddhism. Guru actually came to Bumthang to rescue the soul of a local king that was kidnapped by a serpent-demon. The Guru subdued the demon. And on the spot now stands Kurjey Lhakhang – one of the most sacred places in Bhutan.

Another rescue mission is on again. Getting back the souls of thousands of people who have been traumatised by a fire tragedy of 26th October 2010. The fire nearly wiped out the entire Chamkhar town rendering 77 families homeless and 2 deaths and nearly killing the soul of the people who were celebrating the last day of the famous Jambay Lhakhang festival.

On 30th October as we drove in to Chamkhar my heart sank. I hate destructions, violence, deaths, and anything that makes people suffer. At such times I wish I had all the magical power. The next day when we met the affected people, who were gathered in a large tent, it was more shocking. To see people who were once prosperous lined up for food and dole, was heart-breaking. That evening as the King visited them in their shelters in freezing temperature, He came up with a revolutionary idea. The mood was cold and gloomy. They should smile. They should laugh, gather their strength and the confidence and move on. Whatever happened has happened - life must go on. I was tasked to put together a group from the entertainment industry. I started making some calls. The next day 13 singers and comedians rushed to Bumthang and straight to the venue.

The first night was tough even for the comedians. But as expected Phurba Thinley broke the ice. “I am sad for myself,” he opened the show. “Because Bumthang is our biggest market for filmmakers. Now my income will be down.” The crowd suddenly burst into laughter. The show began. But singing in front of lifeless face was still difficult. One singer nearly broke down in the middle of the song.

On 4th November we had the fourth and the final show. Over 4,000 people came from all over Bumthang. People laughed and jeered. They even howled and whistled. The climax was a duet between Rinchen Namgay and comedian Leki. Leki was dressed as a Bumthap woman and sang with a perfect woman voice. For a moment the tragedy was forgotten - replaced by happiness and smiles all around. There was the real gross national happiness!

Bumthang is slowly putting the tragedy behind them. They have begun to see the light at the end of the tunnel. There is a now sense of normalcy and a sense of reassurance. People have begun to dream again – even people who had lost everything – including hope.

The show must go on.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Royal Address at Doon School Dehradun

(transcript of the Royal Address of His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, Doon School, Dehradun India, October 23, 2010)

Your Excellency Shrimati Patil, President of India,
Your Excellencies,
Doon Alumni,
Chairman Analjit, Board members, Headmaster and students of Doon School,

I am delighted to be here at an important milestone in the history of an exceptional institution. We have all heard of Doon but I see the true worth of the school, in the presence of such a large number of alumni here today and in the commitment with which Doon Alumni of all ages, serve their alma mater. One must appreciate such a special lifetime bond between a school and her students. Even in my own country, I always ask people, whether they are civil servants or businessmen, to maintain close links with their old schools in rural Bhutan. With personal attention, they would be able to do so much more for their school and for the young students graduating from it. Doon school is of course different but the essence is the same. You give back to the institution that nurtured and shaped you and in doing so you share the fruits of your education with those that come after you. The bond between Doon school and her students has far deeper meaning than one sees at first, and the need for such bonds extends beyond Doon to other academic institutions, to societies and to nations. I commend the ‘Old Boys’ of Doon and say to you, that your example is one to be emulated.

To the students of Doon - I will keep my words short so you can enjoy the rest of your special day with your friends and family.

Youth is all about energy, action, playfulness, fun, mischief, learning, friendships – so many wonderful things. I envy you – you have so much to look forward to – your first kiss for some of you; first girlfriend; true love; riding a bike or driving a car or travelling away from home for the first time; the freedom of university life; the innocence and purity of youth … I envy you and I urge you, live your youth to the full. Celebrate these joyful urges. Enjoy everything that student life and youth have to offer.

When it is time to study – study. If you are going to play sports, do it with full drive and energy. Approach everything you do with passion and absorb and enjoy the experience whether you’re learning to play a guitar, climb mountains or hit a cricket ball. Enjoy your school life to the full. This is your time.

In this modern world, there is the danger that the force of competition and eagerness to overcome challenges ahead - will take out the joy in learning and growing. I know there are certain realities we face as children and as parents and that we are all trying to adapt to a changing world but challenges are a part of life - as you grow older life is going to bring enough of them: university admissions; getting the right job; failure; sorrow at the loss of loved ones; trying to keep up with your neighbours and colleagues; betrayal; sickness; the list is endless. But the fact that life is full of challenges does not mean that you should stop being young. Someone said, “Life is a marathon, don’t make a hundred meter dash today!” You will burn out early on in the race. Pace yourself wisely and remember it is not how you begin the game that matters it is how you’ve played it in the end. Yes, I know, all of you want to get into a good university but there is a big difference in preparing for university and preparing for life. In the preparation for life, there can be nothing better than a well-rounded education and wholesome growth of character. For that you have to live your life as a young man to the full.

Now, I must have read this many years ago in some magazine or on a greeting card. “Live each day as if it is the first you’ve ever seen and the last you’ll ever see.” I don’t think it means we should leave everything behind, be irresponsible and reckless and do whatever we want. No, it means, every day gives us the fresh chance to strive for something important to us – that it’s never too late to strive for greatness.

And if we imagine each day as the last day we’ll ever see - we gain the confidence to make the right choices in life – to aim for what our heart truly desires; we gain the confidence not to be carried by the current of other people’s thoughts; the guts to do what is right; to withstand the fear of failure or embarrassment; to push away the distractions and focus on what is truly valuable to us. You will even find the courage to finally speak to the girl of your dreams!

Today everything is about success. Everyone wants to be successful and in this day and age success is inevitably equated with money and power. But is that success? What is true success? This is a question philosophers might vex over! For me real success needs so many ingredients: a happy school life; true friendships; good health; a job one loves; a sense of worth to oneself and others; strong family relationships, good marriages; the ability to appreciate nature; living in harmony with others around us; so many things.

To make young boys crave for success in life today is to ask too much. But … to ask young boys to be good human beings – that I think is the right education.

You see, success in not an individual thing. As a student how successful are you really if you do not have true friendships and experiences that help you grow as young man? As a man, how successful are you if happiness as a son, father or husband eludes you? And finally as an Indian how can you truly succeed unless Mother India and your fellow Indian brothers and sisters succeed? As human beings we have an inherent duty to others. Thus, we will most likely find true success and happiness when we combine our ambitions and goals with being a good human being.

Where do you see yourself in the future? What do you want to achieve? What would make you happy when you turn 50 or 60 and look back on your life? Is it going to be one full of satisfaction and fulfillment or will it be one of regrets? I don’t know.

But the one thing I can tell you is that you are at the beginning of a long journey. You are young – life will be full of opportunities but as your life unfolds you will find life is not without challenges. The question is, at the end of it all, what is story of your life going to be?

Let me share my experience with you.

I always imagine my life as a book, not a real book but a book that I am engaged in writing. When I do this, I find that every moment brings the urge and energy to do something special, something worthy to write into the book. When I am confronted by some challenge, I find the opportunity to write a wonderful tale of hardship, suffering, hard work, determination and commitment. When faced by the temptation to take short cuts and cheat, the book serves as my conscience.

Doing this gives me wonderful perspective. I find that success does not go to my head and failure does not crush me. As events unfold, I am able to keep my eyes on the ultimate goal – to live a life without regret – a life that would make wonderful reading. After all, like anyone else, I want the story of my life to be as good as possible.

Please try it for yourself. It would make me so happy if it helps you… even a little. I pray that each of you will be a good human being leading honorable lives on which one day you will look back with great pride, satisfaction and fulfillment. Above all, I pray for your personal well-being and happiness.

Finally, to the families of students, I hope you do not mind that it is a young man from Bhutan – who has stood here speaking to your children about life – especially as I have no children of my own! Let me say I may not be an expert, but memories of my own childhood are very vivid while yours might be fading! I am of course joking.

On a serious note, even as King, I have no other duty than to work for the long-term future of my country. And because the obvious fact is that the future of a country must mirror the quality of her younger citizens, I spend most of my time with students and youth. It is one of the most enjoyable aspects of my work. I want to thank all the parents for giving me this opportunity to speak to your children, who no doubt, I will one day meet as leaders around the world.

Thank you all for listening to me. Students, I will be spending this evening with you. I look forward to conversing with you about whatever interests you have and things you want to talk about.

Thank you, Your Excellency. Thank you everyone. Shukriya!

(Delivered in English. Also present as guests were of Indian President Patil, Uttarakhand governor Margaret Alva, UttaraKhand chief minister Ramesh Pokriyal and Union HRD minister Kapil Sibal. Audience inclused eminent Doon alumni like Prannoy Roy of NDTV, Karan Thapar, minister Jyotiraditya Scindia and others)

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Staunchest proponent of Indo-Bhutan Friendship - King of Bhutan

Transcript of His Majesty’s Special Address to the NDC Golden Jubilee Inaugural Session:

(HM is greeted with a huge applause as he leaves the dais he was sharing with Indian President, chiefs of Indian armed forces, navy and air force)

Most Honourable President of India,

Your Excellencies,


NDC family,

I remember vividly my days at the National Defence College. I can recall looking at the plaque bearing Pandit Nehru’s speech at the entrance of the building, as I walked in on my first day. From that moment on, every time I attended classes, presentations or various NDC activities, I was constantly reminded of Pandit Nehru. Not simply the words on the plaque – though profound they are.

It’s the spirit of Nehru - one can always sense the complete dedication and commitment to country in Pandit Nehru’s every word and action. And throughout my stay here, I found that the institution of NDC, embodies that noble spirit.

There is a sense of purpose in the establishing of the NDC, the activities it undertakes and the manner in which every senior Indian official who attends NDC approaches their stint here. This singular purpose is the strengthening of Mother India. I have great admiration for the institution and for the people who have been through its doors and gone on to serve India so well.

The high standards of achievement, experience and commitment shown by those at NDC are a direct result of the achievements of India as a nation, and herald the immensely bright future ahead.

I came to NDC as the Crown Prince of a friendly country. I came to learn and to be a part of the Indian family. Yet, I shall remember my year in Delhi at the NDC for one thing – optimism. Why? I saw, up close, in my interactions with leaders in government, civil service or private sector – my daily work at the NDC – and personal experiences throughout the city – the immensely bright future for India. And as India’s closest friend and neighbour, this bright future augured nothing but the best for Bhutan as well. I came to India in early 2005 as a friend of India, appreciative of the role of India in Bhutan’s progress. I left a year later, as the staunchest proponent of Indo-Bhutan friendship as the key to Bhutan’s future, even in this new globalized world.

(huge applause)

Your Excellency, my dear friends, India is a world leader. It is not her economic or military might alone – above all, it is the character of the Indian nation - her commitment to democracy, to engendering global equality among nations, to liberty. This noble Indian character is directly reflected in the unique steadfast friendship she, a giant of a nation in every respect, has forged with a small Himalayan neighbour.

My friends, when I came to the NDC, I had no idea at the time that my father would abdicate in 2006. So I had a year in which I had the freedom and time to experience the social and cultural life of Delhi; and the good fortune to meet and learn from many of India’s senior leaders in government and business and above all, to make friends for life. When I look back, I feel it was destiny that gave me the most wonderful opportunity to spend myy last year before becoming King, in India.

(huge applause)

Thus, coming to NDC is one of the best decisions I have made. My love and affection for India and her people was further strengthened by a complete faith in the greatness of India and the bright future ahead for our two nations.

Before I conclude, I must say, Your Excellency, that it is a special honour to be in the presence of the President of India for whom I have the highest regard and respect. I would also like to express my gratitude to the Government of India for the warmth and kindness with which they have received me and arranged my visit. I thank the Commandant of NDC and its esteemed faculty for the excellent preparations and for inviting me. I am delighted to be back, especially to have been reunited with my friends from the 45th Course. (huge applause) What a wonderful time we had yesterday evening. (LAUGHTER and applause)

Ladies and gentlemen, you know that I consider myself a part of the Indian family

(huge applause)

and nothing makes me happier than being able to return to India. So I thank you for having me here and I look forward to many more meetings in the future.

Thank you la!

(HM is greeted with a huge applause and an ovation)

Monday, October 18, 2010

Seven high points in my life. Until now.

Business Bhutan - the country's first financial newspaper asked me to feature in their Seven page. Here is what I shared about myself in that page.
1. Graduation, 1995: Doing my university studies in Italian was tough that I doubted if I would even complete. I not only graduated but did it with a distinction from the University of Bologna. As a part of a bet, my friends threw me into the icy sea with my Ferre suit on.
2. Birth of Tseten, 1997: The birth of our elder daughter gave back our lives. Earlier my wife, who was expecting a twin, had a miscarriage and we were both shattered. When Tseten came to life, we also felt like getting a rebirth. Our second daughter Dechen brought back all the laughter in our home.
3. Launching BBS TV, 1999: In 1995, in my final year at the university, I developed a technical proposal to introduce TV in Bhutan. I sent it over to Lyonpo Jigmi Thinley who was then Bhutan’s Representative to the UN in Geneva. Bhutan Television was born. But many obstacles came in between and project only got through in January 1999. On June 2 as I escorted Her Majesty Ashi Tshering Pem to switch on the signature logo, I felt a great sense of achievement. The country was celebrating the Silver Jubilee of Fourth Druk Gyalpo’s reign and the launch of television was a highlight. I can never forget the smile on the face of our legendary King as he announced the era of television.
4. BBS FM project and the ABU Engineering Prize, 2000: FM technology was written off because of our mountainous terrain. But my field tests with low-powered transmitters proved otherwise. Of course, I couldn’t predict the signal at high power with possible multipath fading and interferences. Nevertheless, we went ahead with our National FM project. When we switched on our first station from Dochula I was so excited with the results that we kept travelling for days and nights doing field measurements. For my works in VHF band in mountainous areas and for introducing TV in Bhutan I was conferred with the Asia Pacific Engineering Prize in Manila.
5. Winning Japan Prize, 2003: Winning the first major international documentary award came as a surprise because I was never trained as a filmmaker. In the run-up to the Grand Finale, I was the underdog. So I joked with the organizers that if I won, my country should be announced first. When the result was declared and the presenter went, “And the winner is – from the Kingdom of Bhutan…..” I went totally blank. I could barely feel my feet as I walked up to receive the award. And when I lifted the prize, I saw the entire hall clapping – including the Japanese Crown Prince Naruhito. It was such an emotional moment that I broke down.
6. CICCC & the Coronation Medal, 2008: Together with two of my friends, I organized the Citizens’ Initiative for Centenary & Coronation Celebrations despite a series of bureaucratic hurdles and a persistent badmouthing by people. But with the Coronation Medal conferred on three of us and as 56 days of music, laughter and celebrations closed on December 31, the National Geographic Channel interviewed me and asked me, "what remained on me of the whole experience," I replied, “Now I can die a happy man!” I really meant that.
7. In His Majesty’s Service, 2009: Being summoned to serve His Majesty directly is the greatest honor one could be bestowed as a Bhutanese. For a week, I went around like a zombie in total disbelief. Captain Sullenberger, the US Airways pilot who safely landed a damaged passenger jet on Hudson River with 159 passengers on board, told in one of his interviews that he thought that his “entire life up to that moment was a preparation for him to handle that moment.” I felt something similar. I wonder if my entire professional career, the shift toward journalism and the numerous international awards that actually went unrecognized in the country were all a “preparation” for this big assignment. I have now started believing in fate, destiny and hard work. The opportunity that His Majesty gives me to serve the people is perhaps what really makes my current assignment very fulfilling - because that is the most direct way possible.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

"Let's build a generation with a conscience" - King of Bhutan

I reproduce the Commencement Address of His Majesty the King of Bhutan at Calcutta University, 5 October 2010.
Honorable Chancellor and members of the University, Distinguished guests, And my dear students of the University of Calcutta,
You may have in the past had as speakers, leaders from your society and country – whom you could identify with and might even wish to emulate. Sometimes you would have had speakers from beyond India, who were nonetheless familiar as famous leaders in their respective fields. I fit in neither of these categories. Still, I feel so much at home and among friends as I stand here today. After all, India is Bhutan’s closest neighbour and friend and beyond that, the great state of West Bengal has been Bhutan’s partner and comrade since time immemorial. I feel privileged to be here at this august institution and I feel a deep sense of happiness in being among so many of Bhutan’s young friends. I thank you all for this opportunity.
Today, I am here to share my thoughts and experiences with you, people of my own generation, who face the same challenges and opportunities that I do. I am here for a simple conversation, and only hope you will take away something from it.
I don’t want to talk about what the world should do or what countries should do – or about great subjects and issues and what leaders must do. Instead, let us talk about what we, the youth, should do and how we should live our lives as individuals – about how we are going to tread this earth during our time. What kind of footprints are we going to leave as our generation gives way to that of our yet unborn children?
To do so, first of all, lets get an idea of the kind of world we have been born into - the one you are entering after this convocation. It is not a pretty picture, I must warn you.
Now, these facts and figures that I quote are easily available anywhere, and one quick glance on the web will give you much more information than I can read out to you today.

First, lets talk about the environment:
If you listen to these numbers, it is alarming how reckless we have been and continue to be. Something as fundamental as the environment – the Earth – has been forsaken for profit:
· Up to 70% of the world’s known species risk extinction if the global temperatures rise by more than 3.5 degrees centigrade.
· Every second, rainforests the size of a football field disappear
· Water problems affect half of humanity
· Glaciers are receding
· Often as a direct result of the disrespect for the environment, natural disasters become more frequent and forceful. Very recently, disasters have struck Ladakh and most parts of Pakistan
· The costs of natural disasters can set back a community or nation by decades – not to speak of the lasting emotional damage inflicted on the people affected
Yet, sadly, there is not much hope for quick global action that is so essential. As we all know, the efforts to build global cooperation towards a lasting solution have been failing regularly. It seems the interests of humanity always lose out when faced with the interests of individuals.
It is quite clear now, that we will be handing to our children, a world which has been, in so many ways, made worse than when we inherited it.
Now, lets talk about poverty:
In a world that has seen unprecedented material growth:
· The poorest 40 percent of the world’s population accounts for only 5 percent of global income while the richest 20 percent get 75%
· More than 1 billion people live on less than a dollar a day
· 24,000 children die each day due to poverty
· About half of humanity – 3 billion people - live in cities – of which 1 billion are confined to slums.
· The problems of poorer countries and people are often worsened by corruption.
In developing countries, bribes alone total $20 to 40 billion a year – imagine what it could do for health, education and economic opportunities for the poor.
Poverty brings hardship, suffering and untold misery to the poor. But those in richer communities or nations should be mindful that with such disparities come disharmony, conflict and ultimately instability on a global scale.

What about health?

· 1 billion people lack access to proper health care
· 11 million children under the age of 5 die every year from malnutrition and preventable diseases
· 300 million suffer serious sickness due to malaria and 1 million die each year
· 40 million people are living with HIV/AIDS of which only 4 million have access to antiretroviral treatment
All this in a world that prides itself on scientific achievement. We can send people to the moon but we cant find out how to get essential medicines into the hands of those who need it the most.

Then there is the global economy:

· The unpredictability and imperfect legislation of advanced economies has caused instability and uncertainty in poorer countries affecting the already insecure livelihoods of their people
· Coupled with military spending the world’s future is even more unpredictable and dangerous. World military expenditure in 2009 was estimated at $1.5 trillion or about $225 for each person in the world
· The poor countries, most in need of resources are typically the ones with the weakest voice in how the global economy is shaped
Thus, we are only laying the groundwork for a world of inequality and resentment – of future conflict over resources and livelihoods – of continued strife, of terrorism and instability.
The list of global problems goes on and on. And coupled with the rapid growth of the world’s population – from 2 billion in 1930 to 6.8 billion today and 8 billion in the next 10 to 15 years. That is something to think about.
I could summarize everything and put it simply – “The greatness of humanity, of science and inventions, of great philosophers, of enterprise and industry has undoubtedly brought the world immeasurable benefits. Today we live a life far removed from that of our forefathers. Yet, we face new and greater global challenges. Why? Because – growth that overlooks inequality, injustice, environmental degradation, unbridled consumption is ultimately unsustainable. And it will continue to throw in humanity’s way greater and greater problems, until one day when we will not be able to repair the damage.”
So what do we do when our generation is faced with such great challenges? I suppose we must first acknowledge, even as we contemplate the sad statistics that define our predicament that one lesson history has taught us is that we are the authors of our own global problems.
I believe that every generation has faced its great challenges as far back as we can find the history for. And every generation – has ultimately realized, often too late – that humanity faces its darkest moments when we forsake the very characteristics that make us truly extraordinary living beings – our human Conscience – our Values.
As we begin to play our role – from the moment you leave this hall - let us not speak of world leaders and great nations – let us demand answers from ourselves, as individuals. What is our role?
Did we ever sit down and think about this while at university? Some of us will have done so – but most of us feel limited in our capacity to make real change – most of us would think - we are young – we are not billionaires or world leaders or famous celebrities – we are students fresh out of college – it is difficult enough for a young person to survive – to make a living – shouldn’t it be world leaders who make a change in the world?
This is the flaw – this waiting for saviors – why must the world wait for a few individuals to be born?
In a way, the environment we live in inculcates in us this outlook to life – those words we use so often at university - competition, future, jobs, income, investment and other such words –nothing wrong with the words – except that we have slowly become their victims not their masters. In the absence of other ways to qualify and evaluate success in education, we equate success with money or power. Even Mahatma Gandhi during his time felt that we had no idea what education really meant and how to put a value to it. It is the same today. We know what we get if we work hard, a good degree and find a good job – we get a nice car, nice house and the appreciative admiration of others. We don’t know what we get exactly from being honest, just and compassionate. The benefits from this do not accrue so easily or visibly.
But as Gandhiji said, “an education which does not teach us to discriminate between good and bad, to assimilate the one and eschew the other, is a misnomer.”
For our generation, no matter what we have all studied in university or where we are from, we have been born into a world where it is more likely that we will pursue material rewards more than what is morally right – that we will follow the path of individualism at the cost of community and fraternity. This is the direction we have been pointed towards by the kind of growth the world has pursued.
How unfortunate – for if we take this path - then no matter how much scientific or material progress is made in our lifetimes, global problems will prevail, in fact multiply and we will continue to endanger each other and the future of our children.
But how wonderful if we decide today that we will make the effort, as individuals, to try and solve global problems, to make the world a better place for our children and for the less fortunate among us. If we decide to change the way we are expected to think and behave. If we, in this room, seize this chance to do things differently. If we act without waiting for great leaders to be born. If we can believe in the extraordinary potential of simple human values then …. We can be the generation that made the difference – the generation with a conscience – the generation that the world has waited for, for so long.
None of us here may have, today, the wealth or skills to combat natural disasters or plug the ozone layer or remove world poverty. But we know that there is one thing we can change – that is ourselves. That is the most important thing – that is the one obvious starting point in our quest to find a solution to global problems - one’s self. As Gandhiji said, “Be the change you want to see.”
Do not feel alone, small or inconsequential. Too often leadership is associated with one great person giving an inspiring sermon to the masses and leading them to greater heights. I would be happy with this version of leadership if only it happened enough. By enough I mean if great leaders led millions everyday all over the world and solved all our problems. But that is not going to happen. We need millions of Mahatmas but history has given us only one.
Therefore, even if all of us cannot own billions or rule the world - what we can do for certain is we can touch the life of one person at a time – that is what is humanly possible and that is the great equalizer – whether you are the richest woman in the world or an ordinary man making a living you have the same power to truly touch someone with kindness, compassion and care.
When I speak about kindness, compassion and care – I know I may sound naive but the fact is that I believe in what I am saying. What I am saying is that in this global village – on a daily basis we are not fighting world wars or military conquest – every single day we are fighting the consequences of simple human negligence, complacency, lack of compassion, inequality. What we need is not a Leader to lead the Masses - we need Leadership of the Self.
This is my message today. I do not know how to find the cure for diseases and I cannot tell governments or multinationals to respect the environment - but I can assure you with all confidence that each of us can be better individuals – better human beings. Whether we become farmers, scientists, inventors or bureaucrats, the one thing we can all do alike is to live our lives according to the values of kindness, integrity, justice – we can be good human beings.
How does Leadership of the Self – being better human beings - translate to a better world?
Well, there are … hundreds of us here today and thousands more under the University of Calcutta. Some of us will become scientists, some corporate leaders, some national leaders and teachers so on. The difference will be that as good human beings we will be scientists who make the right inventions and cures; corporate leaders who do business with ethics; national leaders who keep in mind the weakest sections of society and the welfare of future generations; teachers who nurture and build good people. Imagine all the good we can do with the skills that our education provides, the tools that science and technology offer and all the resources of the world.
See, throughout history, we have always had the resources, the technology and science to not only solve but also actually prevent the problems that have plagued our world. What we lacked at certain moments is the Conscience to direct these resources to their right and noble use. When 24,000 children die every day due to poverty, we spend $1.5 trillion dollars on arms and ammunition. So now we can direct a missile at a target on another continent with the simple press of a button, but we cannot yet bring safe drinking water to half of humanity. We always had the resources. We lacked steadfast commitment, conscience and compassion.
I hope you see why I have kept speaking about the need to develop ourselves as individuals before we seek change in the world. We live in a highly globalized and interdependent world, a world where problems facing humanity like poverty, disease, war, strife do not recognize borders of nation, ethnicity or religion. It affects all of us; it affects every part of the world.
The solution to global problems will not just materialize from politics, from great leaders or from science and technology. The solution will come from us living as citizens of our communities, our societies, our countries and above all as citizens of the world. As citizens of the world, our unifying force – our strength must also come from something that is not bound by nation, ethnicity or religion – from fundamental human values.
Values shape the future of humanity.
Values are the root of our character – if we do not tend the roots, the character that springs from it no matter how much wealth, power and fame surrounds it will bring little benefit to oneself, the lives of others and to the well being of the planet.
All these buildings, monuments, this life that we hold so dear – all of these must give way and perish – not Values – Values of kindness, integrity, justice. Even death shall not extinguish them. Nothing travels endlessly with time and stays relevant from generation to generation, era upon era except fundamental human values.
I hope we will realize that we are at the cusp of a fundamental change of thought – a social revolution that will change the way humanity will pursue growth forever. Our generation is called upon to rethink, to redefine the true purpose of growth. And in doing so, to find a growth that is truly sustainable.
We must never forget that for lasting peace and happiness in this world, the journey forward has to be one that we must all make together. No one should be left behind.
This we must achieve without waiting for some great leader or genius who may or may not ever emerge – we should instead seek to do so, each of us, on our own. As we become better human beings, we build better families, stronger communities, successful nations and a peaceful stable world for ourselves and our future generations. It all starts with Leadership of the Self.
Now, as you go into life beyond university – you might say – everything that Jigme has said, I have thought about them before … and … I want to be a good human being – a kind person - a just person – but sometimes its not enough to be good. How does one cope in this ever-changing world, where the ups and downs are so unpredictable?
Yes, the world may not be an easy place – and life can be hard sometimes. If it is of any worth to you, let me share my approach to keeping myself on the right path. It is a simple way in which I try to keep my goals, hopes and aspirations and above all my conscience always in the forefront.
I imagine my life is a book that I am engaged in writing. In so doing, I find that every moment brings the urge and energy to do something special, something worthy to write into the book. When I am confronted by some challenge, I find the opportunity to write a wonderful tale of hardship, suffering, hard work, determination and commitment. When faced by the temptation to take short cuts and cheat, the book serves as my conscience. In the end, after all, like anyone else I want the story of my life to be as good as possible. But this story is written by my own best judge – the one that cannot be cheated or deceived – myself. As is said in the Gita – “Let a man raise himself by himself; let him not lower himself; for he alone is the friend of himself; he alone is the enemy of himself.”
So my young friends of the University of Calcutta - let us - you and me - today introduce a new Individualism - the individualism of values – that seeks the progress of oneself as an individual - as a human being – and thus, the progress of humanity.
Before I conclude, thank you for having me here and for taking the time to listen. I want you to know that being here with you means a lot to me. It has been a real privilege. As you begin your lives after university, I pray that all of you go will go on to live wonderful happy lives; that you will find true love - its important you know – some of you may have already found your soul-mate, some waiting in anticipation while some desperately looking for one – well, Good Luck - I hope it leads to happy marriages and beautiful children who make you proud and bring you comfort.
On a more serious note – I pray that you will find wisdom, courage and determination to overcome challenges and grasp opportunities; I hope that you will develop a strong moral compass that will help you navigate towards leading honorable lives. I pray that at the end of it all, you will all be able to look back at extraordinary lives free of regret, full of satisfaction, happiness and fulfillment. And that I will learn, year after year, with great pride, of all the good you have done as wonderful human beings and as my friends.
Thank you.
Tashi Delek!