Who are we?

National Days are a time to reflect who we are as a nation – just as a birthday is a day that one ponders upon as a person. 

Who are we? What does it mean to be a Bhutanese? Does wearing a gho or Kira make me Bhutanese? Does simply loving my country make me a Bhutanese? Do I have to eat ema datsi or drink Ara? Do I have to perform religious rituals or be a civil servant? Or is the search a search within and somewhere far deeper or greater?

Firstly, in my view, what makes us Bhutanese is neither an external display nor just an internal sublimity (aka thib thib in Dzongkha). It is a fine balance of both – between the tangible and the intangible, the seen and the unseen, the extraordinary and the ordinary. Second, what is means to be Bhutanese is also a far bigger question than one could possibly answer. Bhutanesity cannot be just characterized by one or two overt symbols or with few internal rhetoric.

When I won the Japan Prize 2003, I chose the national dress over a suit someone sent me. A small contribution to Bhutanesity.

Only a fool would think that wearing a gho or kira would suffice to be Bhutanese or parroting tsawa-sum constitute as Bhutanese. Many Thais love our King and our country as much as we do. Being Bhutanese requires o\ne to be even more than that – do much more. 

Being Bhutanese is also process with the variables in constant flux with several dimensions – cutting across social, cultural, geo-political, economic and religious contexts and circumstances. What it was to be a Bhutanese when I was growing up has changed to what it is now. That too less than in one generation. To put it simply, we are still a work in progress. To paraphrase an Italian freedom fighter and the PM, Cavour, we have a State. Now we (still) need to build the nation. And so it will be for many generations to come.

We are but a small country susceptible and vulnerable to even the slightest of changes within and in the neighborhood. And of the many external factors, the influx of new technologies, materialistic ideals and new individualistic values will pose serious challenges that will continuously force us to question ourselves. Within our own Lhomon khazhi, the growing indifference, complacency and declining empathy of those who make it in life – will be the greatest threat. Of the two challenges, external and internal, I would tackle the internal one first. It won’t be enough to be strong and united but we will need to look out for each other. 


what does it mean to be a Bhutanese is not limited to having genuine thoughts or flattering words for ‘tsawa sum’ but also calls for serious altruistic actions too. 

National Day was the day we came together as a nation under our first King Ugyen Wangchuck. 110 years since, we sing praises to our monarchs for the unprecedented developments that came about. For me, however, the greatest achievements of our Kings have been to keep us safe and sovereign. Every king had to pull some legendary acts – one as late as December 2003. It is no secret that countries and territories that were far bigger and affluent than us vanished into the wikipedia of history. No other nation or people face a continuous existential question like we do. Therefore, the search for what it means to be Bhutanese itself is quintessentially Bhutanese. It is a search for survival – as a nation, as a state and in the 21st century as an economy.

My hopes and prayers on this 110th National Day is that the Bhutanese people, wherever they are, will continue to ask this question.

As is life, so is a nation. What we ask collectively is ultimately what we seek as a goal – as a country. To ask who we are is to know our place, our roles, our responsibilities and our duties to our King and our people. Conversely, to cease asking means to cease being a Bhutanese. A tall and provocative statement? Maybe.

For now, I will stand to this claim. 


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