Wednesday, February 23, 2011

In His Majesty's Service

I am often asked by friends and by people I meet as to what is it like to be in the service of His Majesty the King. What does it really take to be there? It is a question that may be lingering in the minds of many people.

To answer it in simple terms, job is a job – except that out here you have to do it well and you have to give your best. But then, ideally, in life that’s how it’s supposed to be in every other job, task or responsibility one is assigned to. Whether one is an elected leader, a civil servant, a private sector employee or even a private citizen one is supposed to do one’s best.
Getting deeper, however, there are few more differences. First and foremost, His Majesty works all the time. That implies that people around him have to work, be at work or think of work, all the time. There is no such thing as off-duty hours or holidays unless you take one specifically. Anything can happen anywhere and we have to be ready to start up our laptops, call up people here and there or fire-up the engines of our cars. And for many of us, especially for my colleagues in the office of Gyalpoi Zimpoen, they have to get moving at any time – day or night. If we were computers, our default mode would be “powered on”. Sometimes we could be on “standby” but we are never “switched off” from our duty. Neither can we (to stay with the technological metaphor) be even “temporarily disconnected”. Now that comes at a cost - in terms of your family life and your circle of friends. Our spouses get fed-up of us (my wife calls me unrecoverable) and our friends have long given up on us - making the circle smaller and smaller. But I guess on the positive note - there lies the true test of friendship or marriage.

In the service of His Majesty the King, there is no room for error. That is because of the large implications that your blunder could possibly cause. So you give your best in any assignment. There is no big or small assignment. All assignments have to be treated as important – and most of the time as emergency. We don’t just do the extra mile. I
f time and circumstances permit, we go for another full length of the marathon. We have to check and crosscheck, think and rethink of all the ramifications of our actions, decisions, thoughts and intentions. So unless one puts one’s heart and soul and time and energy there is no way one could get things done well – and on time. Having said that one cannot again shy away from tasks and assignments. As for me since failure is not an option anyway, I have long stopped thinking I would fail in any assignment I am given. This sure helps, more often than not, to get it right.

Again, it is not enough to be available or give your best or get it right. One should be selfless and be loyal and also have the mental bandwidth to deal with all kinds of people – rich and poor, young and old, smart and dumb, powerful and the humble. This is, of course, the easier part. The trickier side is, in trying to get your job done, you have to strike a fine balance between being humble and maintaining your status or between being accommodative and being able to reject – depending on cases and circumstances. If you are incapable of finding this balance, you easily become the soft target of criticism and gossips. At worst you won't be be able to get anything done.

Having said all the above though, for me being in the service of His Majesty the King is a wonderful journey – a journey full of discoveries and self-discoveries. A journey where you discover yourself as a person and as human being. It is a discovery of the fundamentals of life, work and responsibility – and of duty, dedication, altruism and patience. It is also a discovery of your full potentials – mental and physical. It is a discovery of the best and the worst in our Bhutanese people. It is a discovery, or a rediscovery, of things that we Bhutanese have more and more made lip services of - love, compassion, values, integrity, patriotism, hard work, culture, tradition and impermanence.

Above all, it a journey of humility. Seeing the King at work humbles you and often one finds it difficult to control one's emotions. Coming across thousands of people struggling with life makes you rethink of your greed, desires and ambitions. Being in great places with great people are great emotional experiences. Living the historic moments directly makes you cherish every moment of your life. And above all, the trust, confidence and the opportunities that His Majesty gives you makes you not just humble - it helps you be a better human being.

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Tiger and the Rabbit

As the year of the Tiger gives way to the year of the rabbit, I sit and reflect on what has really been the year for us - as individuals and as Bhutanese. For, it is such reflections of the immediate past that can help us to move confidently into the future.
2010 started off well. The Bhutan Media Foundation was launched with a royal decree on His Majesty's Birthday in February. The foundation took some time to take off and is now well on track. Hopefully it would contribute towards a vibrant media in the country - so essential to our nascent democracy.
The royal tour in April that took us to some of the remotest corners in Mongar, Pema Gatsel and Samdrup Jongkhar will remain etched in my memory for a long time. Walking for 10 days at a stretch through some of the most difficult terrain (and I was doing that only once) made me develop a tremendous respect for the people who were actually there living and doing that all the time. The journey simply humbled me and made me even feel guilty of all the luxuries I often pursued. It also taught me to cherish who we are and what we have because what I saw there put things into perspective.
Despite all misgivings, the successful hosting of the first SAARC Summit came as no surprise. We are a country of last-minute geniuses. We relax and gossip all the time but when there is something big at stake, a national pride, a common goal or a collective desire there is nothing that can beat us. Some of our civil servants assigned to different delegations’ houses actually took their own crockery, vacuum cleaners, microwave oven and even mops and brooms so as to do their job better.
Being a part of the royal entourage to Kolkata in October not only brought back fond childhood memories, I also got to know our Indo-Bhutan friendship better. The Central and the State government did everything to make the visit perfect. Despite downpours and durga puja rush, and the traffic being stopped for our convoy, people turned out in droves to wave and greet as His Majesty moved through the City. Then when His Majesty spoke at the Calcutta University convocation, the packed auditorium of young and old, humble and powerful, academics and businessmen all went to pin-drop silence.
New Delhi came right after Kolkata - in the same month of October. Again the hospitality from the Indian government was that accorded to a special friend of India. How much warmth is held for Bhutan and our King was evident as "Bhutan is our best neighbor and friend" came in echo from all sections of the Indian society.
Our otherwise perfect visit to India was however diluted by a disturbing news from home. On 27th October, Chamkhar town in Bumthang nearly got wiped out by a devastating fire. But the news of our Fourth Druk Gyalpo, rushing to Bumthang calmed us down. The next day watching him on TV as he addressed the people in Bumthang I asked myself, with emotions overpowering me, "Will my grand children ever believe that there was such a man?" A man who would give up everything at the zenith of His career and reappear only once in a while as a simple “representative” of the King. As for His Majesty himself, only later did I realize that while we rested in our hotels, He was on the phone with government, local officials and zimpon office late into the night coordinating relief efforts from there.
Bumthang was sad and gloomy when we finally made it there, which was directly after we landed home. While His Majesty took time to console each and every victim, his main message was however that "There was nothing we could do about the disaster. We need to move on. We need to get them to smile again.” So while a team of dzongkhag engineers, professional changarps and zimpoen woms worked on the rebuilding plan, my team put together a group of entertainers from Thimphu. Four shows of laughter and songs later, the group captained by Phurba Thinley, made Bumthang smile again and see a light at the end of the tunnel. The presence of the King in their midst gave them hope and the much needed confidence to see a renewed future.
December was no better. A tragic air accident in Nepal killed 18 Bhutanese. The disaster brought in an unprecedented response team involving the Office of Gyalpoi Zimpon, the Cabinet Secretariat, the Police, Druk Air, Civil Aviation, Dratshang Lhentshog, the media and every other relevant agency. The whole nation came to a halt. And when we had barely finished cremating the air victims, a terrible road accident claimed another 9 lives and injured 27.
The year of the tiger, as such, was a tough one. True, we would all have been happier without all those tragedies that stunned our nation for over a fortnight. But then on hindsight, one realises that it is through such tragedies that we come together as a nation, displaying the true humane character of our people, the best in every Bhutanese. As consumerism and capitalism become part of our society, we can be confident that at least the values and characteristics that have defined us as a nation are still intact. The King-people bond, the zhung-miser damtsi, the concept of jampa dang ngingzhi (love and compassion). Above all, our pride as Bhutanese remains high. With such traits still running in our veins, neither an external threat nor an internal tragedy can really shake us. We will always find the strength to counter them and the courage to move on.
The year of the tiger was therefore not so bad after all. It gave us some valuable life lessons.
Welcome Year of the Rabbit