I am back to my university in Macau – and away from the pollutions and politics that seem to have completely engulfed my home city of Thimphu. Both were killing me. And between the two, I don’t know which one was worse. What a sad development. I always thought we, as Bhutanese, were better than that.
First, the pollution.
Has anyone measured the level of dust particles in the air in Thimphu? I am sure it will be at dangerous level We boast of being a carbon-negative country but the construction boom and rising number of cars have resulted in unbreathable air in Thimphu. What does that mean? Well, more respiratory problems such as bronchitis and asthma, allergy attacks, lung impairment in the long run and increased overall cost on public health. However, all these are preventable. The Building Regulations require construction sites to be covered and pollutions to be contained. Who is supposed to implement and why are people so irresponsible? As someone who is allergic to dust, and I know many who are, winters in Bhutan is hell for me. The dryness itself kills me. Now add to that the dust from open construction sites.
The second cause of pollution is from cars. Just since my last visit in July, Thimphu suddenly is swarmed by more cars. Well, we can’t prevent people from buying cars but we can regulate the way they move around. Meaning, through effective traffic management, which unfortunately doesn’t seem to be the case. Thimphu’s traffic is planned more to ease the works of some organizations rather than for convenience of commuters. For example, it is ironic that a country that doesn’t produce a drop of oil is obsessed with one-way streets that you are forced to do several merry-go-around to get from point A to point B. To ensure that you are channeled into a jam, there are several dividers along the road in Thimphu. The dividers along the Chorten to Chubachu round-about is unnecessary. Those around the BOD station is idiotic. Adding to the chaos is the public transport system network that is small, sporadic and unreliable. Taxis, as told to me by several taxi drivers, are considered a nuisance – as a poor man’s option. There are, in fact, signs in major public offices that say “Taxis not allowed”.
Hence it was such a relief to be away to Punakha, Athang Rukha and Bumthang. Thimphu, as a city, is gone. Hopefully, it will be the only place we would have ruined in Bhutan.
Second, the politics.
I am not allergic to politics. Fortunately. After all, politics means “affairs of the states” from the Greek word, polis – meaning cities within reference to city-states of Athens. What is unappealing, though, is the perception and narratives that we are creating around it. “Politics is dirty”, “Don’t mix politics with religion”, “No public gatherings during election”, “Apolitical civil service”. In an earnest attempt to carve out clean politics in Bhutan, I am afraid we have irrevocably marred it.
For me politics is just another reality that we have embraced. It is neither dirty nor clean. It is a part of our civic life. So why should it override other aspects of our society? I work, I pray, I eat, I talk and every few years I vote. They all blend seamlessly. As is in one’s life, so it is in the life of a nation. Every five year, we will listen to new aspirants and old leaders.
However, the overbearing rules and restrictive regulations, while done with good intentions, are killing the interests in politics that people are refraining from talking openly. Only individuals supporting a particular candidate or a party are getting together. Furthermore, by letting the political process take over social functions, we may also be losing the essence of Bhutanese society. They should be at par. By overemphasizing not to mix politics with religion, we are implying that politics is dirty. A dirty place, whether perceived or real, will not attract good people. Is this what we want?
Politics or democracy should be a harmonious part of life of a nation – not an exceptional event that overtakes religious gatherings, public functions, cultural events or wedding parties – and that too for an extended period. If there are people who get mixed up, and there will be, they should be allowed to grow. This is the only way how democratic ideals are internalized. This is the only way how democratic principles are sown. A blanket ban is an easy method – not the best solution.
Still, at the Bloggers Meet, which had to be a closed-door event, it was nice to have two attendees bring their children to the meeting room. While our presenters presented and adults talked about plans and projects, and about stories, dreams and illusions, the children went about with their life. Crying, sleeping, making noise and running around, etc. As the moderator, I wasn’t disturbed. Rather I was happy. This is how a village zomdu used to be. Women bringing young babies and old men groaning some irrelevant topics. And no one noticing because they all flow seamlessly. This is how Bhutan was – or should be. Everything that exist in harmony.
I am not sure how the new or future Bhutan would like. More pollutions? More dirty politics? More overbearing rules and regulations? Perhaps.
But life, you must know, will go on. And what doesn’t makes sense will disappear into irrelevance.