I enjoyed the SAARC week. Besides being proud as a Bhutanese I achieved my dream of walking around Thimphu without all those vehicles, noise or pollutions. Sadly my dream was short lived. The big party over and the guests having left, we are back to the same nightmare – traffic congestions, litters reappearing everywhere and cars rushing as if the world was ending.
In the months preceding the Summit, when people asked me if I thought whether we could host the summit successfully, my answer was “Yes. We will not fail. But we will never learn.” Meaning, we are excellent last-minute organisers but we never learn from our earlier mistakes of rushing at the eleventh hour. That holds true not only in organising celebrations as large as the Coronation or meetings as big as the SAARC Summit, but also in paying our bills, filing our taxes or buying shares in companies.
Bhutanese are at their best when there is a crisis. When things are normal again we get back to gossiping our life away. We came together as a nation to celebrate the Coronation. We rallied behind our Monarch when our sovereignty was at risk and we grieved together when disasters struck the East. So during the Summit, to no one’s surprise, we saw many people volunteering, working towards a collective success and showing the best of Bhutan. It means intrinsically we are all good citizens who love our country.
So my question is, can we elongate these brief wonderful moments? Ideally, why can’t we have the best in us all the time? If that's not possible, at least, how about leaving some social and cultural legacies from these events besides those physical ones? The Centenary celebrations created the Centenary Park with a beautiful open-air theatre. A youth performing art festival could be instituted to commemorate that celebration. The massive earthquake mobilised many groups and individuals – some as far a New York. Can these groups stick together, formalise, organise and keep doing some social works?
The Summit week was free from uncivilized motorists because the even-odd rule made only the essential ones plying the narrow streets of Thimphu. The biggest impact, however, was not on the congestion or the pollution but on the social aspect. People started calling up each other to share rides and go out for lunch together. Office colleagues pooled their cars depending on whose was allowed on that day. How nice! With rising living standards we are seeing people becoming too independent - almost bordering on selfishness and self-importance. If this even-odd rule is retained, perhaps on weekends, may be this togetherness can continue. May be we will learn to share things again. And to the World, we would not only be making the Thimphu Statement but Thimphu would be meaning real business.
Or – we could go all back to our cars and let unruly Landcruisers, car-smashing buses, wayward taxis and litterbugs regain the streets. We have a choice.