Bangkok – August 2016
In Thailand there is a beautiful tradition whereby a king is not supposed to sleep at night. He stays awake to protect his people who retire from a hard day’s work. The king, then, goes to bed at dawn. The tradition started from the kings of Ayutthaya who were at war with Burmese kingdoms. The people then could sleep peacefully because they knew that their King was awake and would protect them in case some enemies attacked in the middle of the night.
As the capital shifted from Ayutthaya to Thonburi to Krung Thep (aka Bangkok) this tradition, it seems, is still alive. King Bhumibol, it is being said, worked a lot at night going through reports, maps and charts. In fact some years back I was in a taxi to the airport when our traffic stopped at a crossing. It was 3 in the morning and the royal motorcade was passing by. I asked the taxi driver and in a rudimentary English he said, “King never sleeps”. “Why?” I asked him with child-like inquisitiveness. He couldn’t explain further because of his limited English.
A facebook picture of our own King looking towards a menacing river at night (which was taken from the recent flood disasters in the South) reminded me of this tradition. Thai people believe that our King embodies the spirit of a king who never sleeps. And who protects his people all the time.
However, we rarely attribute our good sleep to good governance – let alone be thankful about it. We have never thought that if we could go to sleep peacefully it is because we know we are safe; we know it is thanks to someone who is there for us. It is one of those things that we Bhutanese take for granted. Good kings, good leadership, clean air, clear water, what else do we not take for granted?
“You know what? We should be grateful that our King worries for us and that you guys don’t have to worry at all,” I used to tell my students in Sherubtse College at morning assemblies during my short stint there. “This is what we should really be grateful for”.
An Indian media tycoon, who own the NDTV group, once told me, “Now I know why you Bhutanese are happy. Because your King does all the work for you.” I was walking him to his car from an audience with His Majesty – at Taj Hotel in Delhi in 2011. I still think what the Thais tell me is the best. “You people should be lucky that you can sleep peacefully thanks to your King.”
Hopefully our people will say a little prayer before retiring to a peaceful sleep from now on.