Thursday, May 20, 2010

Undead Poet Society

One observation made during the Literary Festival was that Bhutan was leapfrogging from an oral society to audiovisual media - bypassing everything in between. True this may not augur well for a country bent on preserving age-old culture and traditions. Folk tales and stories have been the vehicles that transported the very culture and tradition we are trying to preserve. And efforts have to be made to preserve them.

However, the audio-visual media is not the Terminator of the oral tradition. Rather the new digital technology can help in the conservation efforts. These days recording equipment come at throwaway prices. For those of us who started with Nagra machines and U-matic gears costing thousands of dollars, digital audio recorders and video cameras are almost godsend. They just cost one-tenth compared to analogue equipment and are ten times better. Even mobile phones have the audio and video recording features that could be put into some good use. So rather than cry wolf, one could take advantage of the availability of these cheap equipment and go out there and do something. I feel much of the oral tradition is still there. The real enemy is our own mindset.

People have the habit of nagging about something that is going wrong rather than appreciating what's going right. The Bhutanese radios are doing an excellent job by including the oral traditions like lozay and tsangmo in their daily programming. If someone in Merak Sakten can understand the national language it is thanks to BBS Radio. Local films have also contributed a lot to oral traditions and Dzongkha. The nation-wide appeal of Phurba Thinley is a proof of this. Even the much-debated Druk Star brought out the best of zhungdra and boedra. And all these are made possible because of cheap availability of new audio-visual technology and the good use of the much-hated television. So blanket statements don't help in any way other than to attract donor sympathy (and possible funding). We have good writers, many aspiring poets, a fledging film industry and a good radio listenership. Why not intervene where it works rather than decry what’s not working?

Another comment made was that “these days children don’t read.” This may be true to certain extent. But then, whose fault is it anyway? How many of us read or read to children? Children ape their parents. If parents don’t read, it is very unlikely that children would take up reading habits. What is more worrying is that we assume children don’t read. And so we neither create better libraries nor do we buy books for our children and we are okay with fifty or hundred bars for every bookshop in the city. And yet children as far as in Kheng Gongdu have asked for better reading materials.

The literary festival brought in some of the best contemporary Indian and Bhutanese writers. Sadly everyone was very “busy” to even attend. But there were some students who sat through every session and thoroughly enjoyed the katsoms of Sonam Kinga, Dasho Kinley’s story from Laya and, of course, the timeless poems by Gulzar in person.


  1. EXACTLY Sir!
    But I missed it too (the fair). I may never be able to forgive myself.
    We were looking for someone to report on this...if you don't mind this article is one of a kind we are looking for on our blog
    If you would allow we may publish it there...
    ot we can invite you to join us as a writer and inspire us!

  2. Passu,

    please feel free to take this article

  3. Mr. Dorji! it should be leapfrogging, not leap fogging.

  4. Thanks anonymous, I have corrected it. That's what happens when you are too dependent on the auto correction services offered by the computer

  5. Missed it too and like PaSsu said, I won't be able to forgive myself but I knew of the festival too late. I wish I attended it.

    Good observation and you are right when you say we hardly use the facilities we have but ask for things we don't have.

    Reading is alien to many people I know. A joke, Bhutanese read only two literature: 1. the labels on packets of edibles 2. telephone directory.

    Interesting read. Thank you for sharing.


  6. Interesting observation! yet I think one should approach more critically the "cheap equipment" in the hands of let’s say 14 years old kids in Bhutan. Just going out there and recording stories and traditions is not enough, there should be a well-thought educational purpose behind it. i would have wished to read more on "go out there and do something".El.

  7. Elena, I really didn't mean that the cheap equipment should go to the children. I meant we could use the audio visual media to document the rich oral tradition.

    Still, I have tried handing out cameras and computers to children and they have produced wonders. This is of course another subject altogether - making children active content producers rather than passive consumers. This is an area I hope to do more in the near future.