Honoured in America

It’s with great humility to share that my first scholarly paper, Influence of Buddhism on Communication Behavior – Search for the Middle Path, has been conferred the Top PhD Student Paper at the National Communication Association – in Dallas, Texas. I am simply overwhelmed to be embraced into the big league of communication scholars, as my foray into the field of academia happened only a few years ago. I am still a “young” scholar – and this is a 102-year old organization that has defined, and continues to redefine, the media and communication scholarship globally. I was informed of the award a month back but was in disbelief that I didn’t have the confidence to share with many people until now – until I was formally inducted to the awardees. I am still processing this recognition in my head.

I am very humbled that this somewhat crazy idea of middle path communication, which I first presented at the Bhutanese Bloggers Meet in Paro, would get this far. I would like to thank everyone (including our deities and denizens back home) for the support, love and friendships. Special thanks go to my blogger friends, who sat through that first presentation in Paro – and my gratitude to the The Centre for Bhutan Studies and GNH​ for Bhutan Studies for giving me the first international platform by accepting my semi-developed article at the International GNH Conference in Paro in 2015. And, of course, to my guru, Professor Todd Sandel​d Sandel, University of Macau​ of Macau, for taking me under his wings as his disciple.

Greetings to all from Texas, where they say “everything is big.” This award is definitely one for me.

NB - Influence of Buddhism on Communication Behavior – looks at how the core philosophical concept of emptiness and middle path of Mahayana Buddhism are reflected in the everyday communication behaviours among the Bhutanese people. It also introduces to the challenges posed by the social media and mobile phones.

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Middlepath to America

Hong Kong, 14 November:

Bracing for one of the longest flights in the world. Hong Kong – Dallas Texas – 16 hours only. The route will take us over China, Russia, polar circle, Alaska, Canada and the US. However, I won’t be bored. No time for that. It will be 16 hours of coffee and powerpoint. Got to brush up two presentations that I will be making at the Annual Conference of the prestigious National Communication Association annual conference in Dallas, Texas.

More than my own papers, though, I am looking forward to meeting and listening to communication scholars whose theories I have studied and practiced and who books I have read, photocopied, underlined, etc. and whose perspectives rule the media and communication industry on this planet.

Meanwhile, I will be timidly offering my own Middlepath Communication model to the field. So nervous. So excited.   

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A God in Disguise

A personal account – a small homage, on the Birth Anniversary of His Majesty the Fourth King.

When I was a todler, probably 3 or 4 years and growing up in Tongling, Radhi, I remember my grandfather taking me to Tashigang for the first time. In the big “town”, we went into a shop where the first thing my grandpa did was to point to a picture on the wall. “That’s our King” he said. It was the Third King back then. I looked at the picture mesmerised to the core. “What do the kings do?” I remember asking – innocently. “Well, He is the King. He rules over the kingdom. He takes care of all the semchen thamchen (great sentient beings/minds)”, my grandpa, a hereditary lama, replied.

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His Majesty as the crown prince (in the middle). (From L to R – HRH Ashi Sonam, Her Majesty Ashi Kesang, HM, The Third King, HRH Ashi Dechen (Photo – Ashi Choki)

Wow! I thought. How cool! “Can anyone become a King?” I asked him again. My grandpa burst out laughing but he saw me bit dazzled – and confused. He loved me more this life. So he composed himself and went, “You see, our Kings are not like us. They come from the lhayul (realms of Gods) because I told you that he has to rule over, not just the people but also, all sentient beings in his kingdom. So when there is a need for a King in miyul (human world), the gods will have a zomdu (meeting) and then decide to send one of them in guise of a human being. That’s why we say our King is a truelpa (god in disguise)”.

That story remained stuck with me ever since.

Our Kings are not like us (ordinary people). They are sent from lhayul (realms of Gods)

Few years later in 1974, my father took me to Thimphu to witness the Coronation of the Fourth King, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuk. And there I saw our King for the first time. But what was overwhelming was the number of people in Changlimithang stadium. The huge crowd simply frightened me. It was tough job to be a King of so many people, not even counting the semchen, I thought. The King had to be a truelpa. My grandpa was right.

Fast forward to 2003. Some thirty years later, I was leading the Bhutan Broadcasting Service team covering the consecration of Punakha Dzong. Tens of thousands of people had gathered there. The final part of the ceremony included all those present to file and move around the Dzong. The filming continued. But I wasn’t too happy with the camera angles and shots that we were getting. Then  a brilliant idea stuck me. I called out to my crew. “Can anyone climb on the roof and get a top view of the procession? We are not getting the whole picture here.” Everyone said it was a great idea but no one dared to climb on the roof. Not even the cameramen who were half my age. Punakha Dzong is at least a couple of hundreds of feet high. “You guys are chicken! Give me the camera!” I shouted. And I zoomed off, getting a monk on the way to show me the passage to the roof. From there I got the most beautiful and a complete view of the procession. Thousands and thousands of people were solemnly walking behind His Holiness the Je Khenpo, tossing colored rice in the air. Sounds of horns, cymbals filled the whole valley. Little behind His Holiness was His Majesty and the members of the royal family.

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The main entrance of Punakha Dzong. (Photo – Yellow.bt)

I had my camera pointed in that direction and was rolling when suddenly His Majesty suddenly looked up towards me. From among the thousands of people, no one noticed me up there – only the King. As I lowered my head and my camera and stepped backwards, I saw His Majesty calling for an officer and sending him off towards me. “Ah! I am caught.” I thought. “Now I am dead.” I climbed down from the roof and headed back to the controls. Few minutes later the officer came running to me. We knew each other. “Dorji!” he shouted, trying to catch his breath, “HM wants you to be careful.” “OK, OK, Aue (brother), Sorry. I just wanted one shot of the procession from the roof.” I replied justifying my stunt. “No! No! You don’t have to say sorry. Zhab is concerned about your safety. He said on big occasions, big tragedies happen.” Suddenly, my hair rose from behind my neck. My stomach folded. My face turned pale. I nearly threw up. I took me few minutes to get back to work.

“Wow! I thought.”Truly a truelpa – a god in disguise, to catch me up there and then to be concerned of MY safety – among thousands of semchen thamchen who are gathered here.”

For days and months after that incident, I went around – brimming with a big smile.

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A note for more discerning readers. As a junior scholar, I must clarify one issue about God in Buddhism. Excuse my academic bent. You can blame it on my professors who hammered me with, "You have to explain everything". 

Anyway, the point is: strictly speaking, there is no such thing as “God” in Buddhism – not at least, as it is understood in the Christian world of an Almighty Creator. However, it is also not true to claim that Buddhism is an atheistic religion. Buddhism believe in samsaric existence of birth and rebirth in the six realms of Buddhist cosmology: gods, demi-gods, humans, animals, hungry ghosts and hells. Now I don’t want to go beyond this as it is neither my area of expertise nor the intent of the above article. I am just clarifying that in our belief we have these six realms - one of which is the realm of gods.
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The Coronation of the Fifth King, 2008, – two years after His Majesty the Fourth (left) abdicated.
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His Majesty the King as a young prince with the Third King with a fishing rod (Photo – HRH Ashi Choki)

Happy Royal Wedding anniversary

Today marks the Sixth Anniversary of the Royal Wedding of His Majesty the King 🙏🙏🙏

On this day, six years back, as the whole country celebrated the joyous and historic occasion of our time, and when half the country plus foreign dignitaries and over 400 foreign press had gathered in Punakha for the Day, I was busy playing the bad cop. I was the Director of the Royal Office for Media back then. I was shouting at unauthorised people from taking pictures, cautioning foreign photographers from getting too close to the Royal Couple, responding to questions from the press on the significance of each of the lengthy ceremonies and also making sure that some of the regional pressmen who had entered the country were sticking to their script. While my job was often underrated by my peers, for me it was extremely important and tough. I felt I had to balance between the sanctity of the occasion with the new openness of democratic Bhutan (people want to take selfies and have autographs of the King and Queen – something unseen just few years before) and the desire to have extensive media coverage of the global press (that would add to our sovereignty) while keeping the event “simple” – as per the wishes of His Majesty the King.

By the end of the day I was obviously on the verge of collapsing – tired till my last muscle. I was also starving (I didn’t get anything to eat the whole day) and totally dehydrated. Still after the ceremony I managed to drag myself back to the main prayer hall of Punakha Dzong where I offered my gratitude to the gods and deities for the successful proceeding of the day’s event. As I prayed, I also burst into tears and cried silently – perhaps feeling relieved from the stress and tension that I was carrying inside for over six months since the Royal Wedding was announced. My job, as I said, was already tough. Many other unnecessary circumstances made them worse – and sometimes impossible. So I was glad that it was over – without any major failure. After wiping my tears I sat down reclining myself on one of the pillars of the Kuenra (Great Hall of Prayers) for a what I thought was a few minute power nap. But I dozed off for over an hour to be only woken up by a monk who had to close the temple.

Although 2011 was the toughest year for me (that year also saw three State visits – to Bangladesh, India and Japan where I had to play my parts to pitch the stories to the cynical pressmen in three very different countries), I look back at this Day with the greatest sense of fulfilment as a professional. Bhutan had the biggest presence of foreign media in its history and received not only the most extensive coverage but also positive. For decades since the early 1990s some of the foreign media outlets have not been too kind to us. In their eyes Bhutan was either a Shangrila or a human-rights abuser. We were, and we are, neither. I gambled to invite some of these same media for the event although officials from the foreign ministry cautioned me. We managed to give our perspective and tell our version of the story.

I also look back with great fondness and, needless to say, deep respects for both Their Majesties for not only bestowing me the lifetime opportunity and privilege of serving them but also for forgiving many errors and mistakes I made in the course of my duty at the Palace. I wasn’t perfect.

Today wherever I travel people (especially foreigners) often compliment them as the most beautiful royal couple in the world. I always contend that Their Majesties are more than that. They have the most beautiful hearts too.

Happy anniversary, Your Majesties. 🙏🙏🙏

May Your Beautiful Hearts inspire and guide not just our beloved country but our region and the world as it goes through the most uncertain times in modern history.

 

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Dechenphu – Aap Gyenyen and I

Dechenphu is located at the north-end of Thimphu Valley. The place is important for two related reasons. First, the name, Thimphu – Bhutan’s capital city, is derived from a rock in front of the temple where according to the legend, the Protector-Deity, Gyenyen Jagpa Milen, is believed to have entered or sunk (Thim in local language) into the Phu (hill). The rock that can be seen today has a shape of hill. The second reason of importance is that the temple is considered as the principal abode of the Protector-Deity.cof

Aap Gyenyen, as he is fondly called (Aap means father, elderly man in Dzongkha), is considered a very powerful deity whose protection one seeks and is believed to be bestowed almost instantly. Hence, the place is very popular among people venturing on long journeys, among students appearing for exams, among businessman making decisions,  with politicians contesting in elections, etc.

My story with Aap Gyenyen goes back to 1996. I was freshly back to the country after a long sojourn in Italy. I was young, brash, western-educated and so, a bit of a non-believer since I was trained in scientific fields. However, on the insistence of my father, I went to seek the protection of Aap Genyen for a trip to Singapore – my first trip abroad in my new job.

After completing my rituals of prostrating three times and receiving the holy water, which I seeped some and wiped the rest on my head, I sought the divination by throwing the dice. The first one went bad. I had an unlucky number. I was asked to give a second try. I did. Bad number again. The caretaker-monk said I could try three times. I was getting bit nervous by then and asked how I could get a good one. “You can promise something in return, like, you can offer a butter lamp or conduct a ceremony,” he replied. I made a deal with Aap Genyen and threw the dice for the third time. This time I hit the perfect 11. “What does this divination mean?” I asked the monk. “Well,” he replied, “You have his protection. You will be alright. But you have to be very careful in whatever you are setting out to do.”sdr

I travelled to Singapore where the hosts picked me from the airport and accommodated me into a five-star hotel. However, on the very first day of my week-long stay, I was hit by a food poisoning. I was vomiting, I had diarrhoea, giddiness; I felt my stomach was hit by a car and anything I ate was turning to water and draining out without even stopping for a minute in there. Fever was rising and I even fainted once in the toilet. I thought I was going to die. I missed the first two days of the seminar and was sick for the rest of the week.

Finally, on returning home I visited Dechenphu again and told the monk what happened. “I told you to be careful,” he brushed aside with a smile – of having successfully foretold my fate.

Now 21 years on, I always make sure to visit this place before I venture out on anything important that I do in my life. Over the years my relationship with Aap Gyenyen has become as human as it can be. I rarely throw the dice. Rather in my prayers, I tell him to look out for me (“That’s you job, my friend,” I whisper) and that if there was anything I could do, or he needs, he just has to tell me. 21 years on he has been more than willing to keep me and my family safe.

I encourage my children to follow me. And they religiously visit Dechenphu on the onset of every important decision in their life. I named my second daughter, Dechen, after the temple and have placed her under his protection.

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The place also hosts lots of chicken and animals that have been released to save from slaughters. This act is called Tshethar (releasing the life)
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The view from the temple towards East is simply breathtaking

What is this noise?

btyRadio – Back to the Future III

(In this third and last part, I highlight the need for the society to slow down and reflect – and for the traditional media such as radio, TV, and newspapers to be proactive and not reactive. This article is an elaboration of the talk in Romania)

A story goes that a Rabbit was sleeping under a tree and dreaming of the world ending in front of him. He suddenly woke up, and thought: “What if the world really should collapse? What would become of me?” At that instant, a coconut fell on the ground. On hearing the noise, the Rabbit was like: “The world is really blowing up!” And he jumped up and ran just as fast as he could, without even looking back to see what had made the noise. Two deer saw him running, and called after him, “What are you running so fast for?” “Don’t you know? The earth is all breaking up!” he replied. And on he ran, and the deer followed him when they heard that the earth was all falling apart. They passed a fox, calling out to him that the earth was all breaking up. The fox then ran with them. The fox called to an elephant to come along because the earth was all breaking up. On and on they ran, and all the animals in the forests joined in the running.

The age of Internet has got the world running. We heard a noise and we all started running – and we are still. Nobody is asking what was that noise. Instead, it is speed, speed and speed. Everything at giga bits per second. Faster computers, faster Internet, faster emails and faster cellphones over above the fast cars, fast planes and fast trains that we already have. Even my country Bhutan, in less than a decade, has gone from 2G to 3G to 4G to soon, 5G. But faster to where or faster for what? Nobody knows.

The irony is that the traditional media, such as the radio and the television – the original gatekeepers and messiahs, have joined the bandwagon. So, news need to be put on air as fast as possible – and, at times, with accuracy and objectivity severely compromised. At best, the news item is shallow devoid of any context or background. Newsreaders have to read the news as fast as they can. That’s the trend. There is also no time to sit and watch a full bulletin. Hence, many news channels just flash the headlines without the main story. In-depth research is a passé because what is news in the morning is history by evening.

There is a fundamental question that we need to ask. Why are we running?

What do people do with the ‘extra’ time that they have ‘saved’ from whatever they were doing? Do they pursue something that they love, something that they are passionate about, their hobby such as painting, cooking, music or gardening? Do they spend quality time with friends and family? Do they pursue spiritual practices? We often notice that as we drive home, people don’t let others overtake because they want to get to their destination fast. There is growing impatience and anger. In Bhutan, we are seeing a new phenomenon that was unheard before: road rage. Anyway, what do people do after they get to their destination? Back to the fast life, I guess – or just gossiping – in our case.

edfSecond, the prophets of technocracy have promised that the world would be more connected. Physically I cannot refute the claim. Yes, we are connected to everyone in multiple modes – phones, Facebook, WhatsApp, WeChat, etc. We are even connected from 39,000 feet when I am cruising in a jetliner. However, just as there is a big difference between having information and being informed, there is also a difference between ‘being connected’ and reals connections. It is not very unusual to see these days groups of friends gather for dinner or coffee and, instead of talking to each other, would be on their respective phones or gadgets. Where is the connection?

People are unconsciously driven to be restless, impatient and anxious all the time. What will be the long term impact of such behaviours on the human species?

Last, and the most important. As a teacher one of the most difficult tasks in teaching is to grab the attention and retain them while you are teaching. Scientifically, the average attention span was thought to be fifteen minutes. With the world being pushed to be faster and speed being the new normal, our role has become even harder. The attention span of even adults, I assume, has reduced. In academic conferences we are given just ten minutes to present our paper. Some newspapers have asked me to write opinion pieces under 500 words. It is crazy. The impact is not only in classrooms but also in life where people are unconsciously driven to be restless, impatient and anxious all the time. What will be the long-term impact of such behaviours on the human species? Is anyone even asking that question?

Almost every place on Earth and beyond is connected and yet misunderstandings, war and conflicts continue to terrorize not only those involved directly but also those who have nothing to do with the issue. Similarly, there is so much information out there on everything – public health, for example, and yet the world is sicker than ever. Facts and figures are lying around like leaf litters in the forests while campaigns of disinformation and mal-information are very successful – even in the so-called developed world. According to a survey done by a German scholar, 40% of respondents in Europe said that they fell flat for the fake news while the same study revealed that 60% could not separate myths from simple facts.

More connectivity does not necessarily mean more connections. More information does not mean that we are better informed.

What does all this mean? It means that we need to slow down, reflect before moving forward. More connectivity does not necessarily mean more connections. More information does not mean we are better informed. Speed does not mean that we are getting things done well. We need to ponder on what is happening around us. We need to understand what the noise is all about – and stop running unnecessarily.

As is an individual, so is an organisation. The traditional media such as radio, TV and newspaper need to do some deep introspection and retrospection. They need to ask who they are and what is their fundamental role. Can they allow knee-jerk reactions? Is it to get the news faster or is it to give accurate and objective information? Is it whitewash the society with shallow and superficial shows or is it to enlighten the people with deeper meanings so that they make informed choices and make positive changes? I don’t mean that they should be indifferent. What I am saying is that they take time to respond – be proactive – but not reactive. The traditional media should lead – and not be lead. There is no need for them to play the catch up game.

The traditional media should lead – and not be led. They should be proactive – not reactive.

Niel Postman, writing in Technopoly, suggests that the impact of a technology is known only decades after it is introduced. Hence, it is too early to say that social media is bad. The initial studies are not positive. Narcissism, anxiety and loss of human connection, family and community are some of the initial findings. Hence, it would be wise for the social science to catch up and then the traditional media can decide whether and how to join the race.

The opening story ends with the King of Jungle, the mighty Lion, appearing and ordering for the running to stop. Inquiries and investigation ensue that finally lead to the Rabbit who had assumed that the world was falling apart after hearing a coconut fall behind him. The world was not cracking up. It was just an imagination. It was a simple error of not fact-checking.

Hopefully, one day, we would realise that a faster world is not necessarily better, and that, actually, we haven’t even set a destination as yet. Then what are we running for? To get to where?

What is this noise?

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(At Centennial Radio 101FM in Bhutan one of the most popular programs in Slow and Easy that plays soft music with some pieces of life quotes. We are starting a Centennial Book Cafe where we will invite listeners to come and relax and have a coffee; to put down their phone and talk to each other; to call their illiterate parents or grandparents back in the village – instead of doing only status updates on social media.)

 

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An additional challenge for teachers – Getting the attention of the students from an already attention-deficit-society

 

The Illusion of Being a Knowledgeable

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Radio – Back to the Future II
(In this second part, I highlight some of the consequences of losing the traditional media such as radio, TV, books and newspapers and storytelling tradition. This article in based on the talk in Romania)

A legend says that 5,000 years ago, the Upper Egypt was ruled by a king known as Thamus. Theuth, an inventor, once sought an audience with the King where he presented his latest discovery: writing. Theuth who also invented a myriad of other things was fully convinced that his latest brainchild would be welcomed, “Here, my Lord, is an accomplishment that will improve both the wisdom and the memory of the Egyptians,” he submitted to the King. The King, however, was not very impressed and after a long thought, replied,

“Theuth, my paragon of inventors, those who acquire it (writing) will cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful; they will rely on writing to bring things to their remembrance by external signs instead of by their own internal resources. And as for wisdom, your pupils will have the reputation for it without the reality: they will receive a quantity of information without proper instruction, and in consequence be thought very knowledgeable when they are for the most part quite ignorant. And because they are filled with the conceit of wisdom instead of real wisdom they will be a burden to society.”

Does a vast quantity of information necessarily mean knowledge? This is an interesting point – and, nonetheless, relevant even today. The new media technology lays in front of us so much information at a click of a mouse – or on our mobile phone – anywhere anytime. At no point in time in human history has so much materials been available so easily. However, does that make us more informed? More knowledgeable? Or wiser? Well, it is more plausible what King Thamus had predicted 5,000 years back. And that people would think of themselves as “very knowledgeable when they are for the most part quite ignorant”. Let me elaborate.

One problem with too much information is the overload that does not allow a reader to sieve ‘good’ and relevant information from the junk. This is the reason why fake news thrive. We are no more selective of important facts from the less important ones. We cannot judge between the good and the bad, relevant from the irrelevant or right from the wrong. Many urban teenagers in Bhutan can name every member of any K-Pop group but wouldn’t be able to say who the first three desis (governors) of Bhutan were – or in the contemporary parlance, to name all the members of the Cabinet. Still, if we  want to stick to K-Pop, do we know that the K-wave is subsidised by the government to exert their soft power politically and globally and that it is also is used as a PR cart to sell Korean products in the ever-competitive world market?

Not only that there is information overdrive these days, one is also subjected to the illusion of being widely informed and knowledgeable. Today as one scrolls the timeline of the FaceBook page or Twitter, one is fed with news and information from across the globe on variety of subjects; from the latest resolution in the UN Security Council to a dog being trapped in a well in remote India; from new scientific discoveries, whether true of not, to ancient Ayurvedic treatment for cancer, which the world had supposedly forgotten. Everyone knows who won the US election, that the Brits are leaving the European Union and that Kim Jong Un is testing nuclear weapons.

There is a difference between having information and being informed, though. Having information is nothing if one does not know the context or the prevailing circumstances. Information is like a raw material. You need more ingredients and some craftsmanship to turn it into a final product – to make a judgement or an assessment. Conversely, if you base your decision on a piece or on fragmented pieces of information it is likely to be dangerous. This is what is happening every day around the world these days. Character assassinations, campaigns of disinformation and fake news are having a field day. In one of the best sessions at the conference in Romania, researchers had presented some early study of how fake news and the illusion of being informed altered the voting pattern in one of the most “developed” nations on Earth.

All these bring us to the issue of substance, accuracy and credibility, which the new media such as Twitter and Facebook is short of. You can’t make a judgment on the Palestinian-Israeli issue in 140 characters or shoot down Aung San Suu Kyi’s persona or her Nobel Prize based on one Facebook post or picture. Therefore, the good ole media such as the radio, TV, books and newspaper and our own storytelling tradition will continue to, and should, play an important role to maintain a good level of public discourse. Of all places on Earth, the US of A has realised this after the 2016 Presidential elections. New York Times and Washington Post have seen increased sales and subscriptions in 2017.

One can’t say for sure where a well-informed society would take us but a shallow one, which we are fast becoming, can deliver the deadliest of consequences for mankind and nations. And it’s not me saying this. Someone called Siddharta Gautama based his teachings, some 2,500 years ago, on the need to alleviate ignorance, which at the very best, as Thamus had put, would be “a burden to the society” and to the world.

(In the next entry I will elaborate on my experience that I presented at the conference)

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Hotel Casino – the venue of the PBI conference

Radio – Back to the future

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Delegates from All India Radio and BBC

I have been flown half way round the World for a conference in a resort town of Sinaia in Romania – where I have been asked to share my views on the future of radio in the age and world of social media. The session I was placed was titled: Social Media – Destructive or Constructive? Here is what I shared there.

Firstly, to provide some background, the traditional mass media, such as radio, television and newspapers have seen dwindling revenues and audience with the rise of the social media such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. The situation has worsened to the that even big names in the newspaper and broadcasting are either closing or struggling financially. Not a day passes without a conference being held somewhere around the globe – where the future of the mass media is being discussed. At no point in the history of modern media that such an existential crisis has hit the sector.

Back to the future?
I don’t know about the newspapers but as far as radio and television are concerned they will survive. Among the two, interestingly, radio is the stronger medium and the most resilient among all forms of media that mankind has invented. While television is powerful, glamourous, captivating and bring the world in front of our eyes, in terms of resilience, I would put my bet on the radio. There is one consumption pattern of radio that no other forms can compete with – passive listening. In other words, radio can be played in the background while one drives or works. It does not take, or need, our full attention nor is it so intrusive like the new forms of media.

The imminent death of radio is a familiar narrative that has been heard before.

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Most of the experts and practitioners shared their experiences of dealing with the social media

It was foretold many times in the past. When television was invented in the forties, the catchphrase was that the ‘video killed the radio star’, which also became a pop song. But radio survived. When Walkman was developed in the seventies there was another round of dooms-day prediction for radio. It survived again. The third time was a quite recent – when IPod came into being. In sociology parlance, radio has been the Bobo doll among the media technologies. Every time it was punched, it fell but bounced back – smiling and fully reinvigorated. Radio will be there and will, before we realise, reinvent itself again.

Passive consumption

There is one strength of radio that no other news medium can boast of: passive consumption. In other words, while TV and other social media require your eyes and your ears, radio just requires your auditory senses. So, one can go about with one’s work and listen to the radio. You could also blast it as you drive. This makes radio a very popular medium and perhaps the strength that has saved it from the foretold death in the past. There is no doubt that with the onslaught of the social media, radio will survive because of this strength.

No over-reacting

How the radio should respond and how it is responding have been extensively covered in the works of several practitioners and professionals in the field. What I would like to suggest is what radio should avoid – over-reacting. Every time the radio is given for dead, the radio responds. Understandably. However, one of the most bizarre ways goes to some years back when the radio felt it should become ‘trendy’. So besides the RDS data services there was a great deal of talks on what they called visual radio, where pictures could be added to ‘enhance’ the services. Many seminars and conferences later, someone asked a simple question: isn’t radio with pictures known as television?

One tag line at the conference in Romania was that “the only certainty was uncertainty”. Agreed. And as in life, the best way for the radio to face the uncertain future is to be itself – and not to lose its essence as a powerful aural medium.

(In my next article, I will elaborate the strengths of the TV and radio, which the social media has yet to prove: accuracy, depth and credibility.)

 

 

Je Khenpo – the Purest of the Pure

The floors of the holy chambers of Tashichho Dzong were shiny and slippery and so I took an extra care not to put up a faux pas in front of His Holiness the 70th Je Khenpo (the supreme abbot of Bhutan). The year was 1997. I had just turned thirty, built a house and was still with my Italian mindset and manners – meaning, I was exhibiting some deficit with the traditional driglam namzha – the Code for Official and Social Etiquettes of Bhutan. I was aware of my shortcoming and that made me even more nervous in the presence of such an illustrious figure. I prostrated three times, stretched out my offering of a simple white silk scarf (aka khadha in Bhutanese) to the chief attendant, prostrated three times again, after which I was signalled me to sit down. I lowered myself – paying attention not to get entangled with my kabney (ceremonial scarf), which happens all the time, crossed my legs and sat down. All the while, His Holiness was smiling broadly and pitifully at me – perhaps amused by my long hair, very undriglam namzha ways or an overly self-conscious face.

“So, what brings you here?” he asked me in his signature deep and gentle voice that I had heard before in large public prayer gatherings. I felt relieved, composed myself and submitted my request, “I would like you to come and bless my newly-built house”. He nodded and went, “ummm….. Now, how do we go about this?” The chief attendant was taken aback by my unusual and inadmissible request. I had not known His Holiness personally before that and, having spent a good part of my twenties in Italy as a student, my knowledge of State protocols was next to nil. I had only seed him once in person, the year before, and received his blessing when he administered the oath of allegiance for senior civil servants. I was one among few hundreds that day. On that occasion, I felt something very unusual in his presence – a feeling of remorse, pride, sadness, joy and bliss – all at the same time. I was explained much later by another Buddhist master that ‘sinners’ like me are remorseful in the presence of great Beings – in that my soul was seeking penitence. I bought his explanation. So, when I had finished building my house I was determined to get him to bless it.

As we sat in silence, another attendant waded in to the room carrying a tray. “Have some tea first,” His Holiness uttered to me and then he called his chief attendant and whispered something in his ears. I grabbed the tea cup by the handle and slowly raised it and took a sip – making sure that the cup didn’t slide away from the saucer. “What do you do? He asked me next. I explained that I was an engineer in the BBS. He smiled. He went on to ask few more questions on my family, where I was born and my education. Meanwhile, the chief attendant came in with a scarf and something small wrapped in a dresho paper.

“You see,” he said, looking down at the items – and blessing them, “I would have agreed to your request but our internal policy bars me from doing that.” I accepted his rejection – not with a disappointment but feeling rather foolish at even advancing such a request. I was either naive or idealistic – or both, to expect the highest lama of the land to come and consecrate a private house. “Nevertheless,” he continued, “tomorrow at 3 pm, I suppose you will be doing a day-long ceremony, please tell the lama to throw these rice and the khadha in the air. Exactly at 3pm, OK?” “Las, la” I replied. I got up and received his gifts and at the same time the chief attendant signalled me to leave. I paid my due respects and waded my feet towards the door. When I got home I gave the khada and the rice to the lama who was preparing for the next day.

The following day was one of the most hectic days in my life. I was trying to keep tab of every aspect of the ceremony – between feeding the monks and guests to supplying the kitchen and the altar – to showing the way to toilets. Many friends and family members had come to the consecration. With all the mess going around me I was called outside for a photo session to mark the day. The photographer, a visiting Japanese-American friend from New York, clicked few shots before he pointed to the sky behind us. It was afternoon and the Sun had a beautiful ring around it – like a circular rainbow. Everyone was wowed. It wasn’t even raining. We didn’t have smartphones back then to capture the scene. But all the guests witnessed the strange phenomenon including my American friend. I then suddenly remembered the instruction from His Holiness. I looked at my watch. It was 3 pm.

Ever since that experience, I have a total reverence for His Holiness – our Je Khenpo. He restored in me the wonderful world of magic and miracles that I had almost forgotten as I took up engineering, quantum mechanics and technology back at the university. Now, whenever or wherever I come across him – or even see him pass by in his car, I always prostate into submission. I feel blessed and blissful. For a moment, he takes me to another realm. To me, he is a living Buddha. The real Rimpoche (the Precious One). The Purest of the Pure.

On the occasion of his 63rd Birthday anniversary, today, I can only pray that he live a very long life and continue to provide the spiritual strength to our magical Kingdom.

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Thimphu Traffic? We saw it coming

Thirty years back, in 1986, I started working for the Radio NYAB (the predecessor to the Bhutan Broadcasting Service) as a young junior engineer. One of my responsibilities was to operate the sound system at the Royal Banquet Hall where almost every important government meetings, workshops and seminars were held. One such meeting was called by the erstwhile National Urban Development Corporation on the Royal Command of His Majesty the King to discuss the city plan for, and the growing traffic in, Thimphu City. All our leaders of today were there as young directors, under-secretaries and deputy ministers. NUDC was chaired by the late Foreign Minister, Lyonpo Dawa Tsering. Dasho Lhatu Wangchuk was the Secretary. The meeting was steered by late Dasho Lam Penjore, the Deputy Minister of Planning Commission – assisted by a very soft-spoken Director of Planning, Ugyen Tshering (who retired as foreign minister, Lyonpo Ugyen Tshering).

During the meeting, briefly graced by His Majesty the King, the issue of the growing traffic came up. One attendee (I think it was lyonpo Om Pradhan who was the Deputy Minister for Trade then) pointed out that the main issue to be tackled was the Chubachu junction that posed a bottleneck as majority of traffic users moved to Tashichho Dzong in the morning and then away from it in the evening. Many more ideas and feedbacks were floated in that meeting, which were all excellent. I don’t remember exactly what His Majesty commanded but I remember along the lines of not making the mistakes of other countries, to maintain adequate offset between the houses, etc.

Thirty-one years on, and my last visit home, few weeks back, I was stuck in my car for over thirty minutes to go from my house in Kawajangsa to the centre of the city. It would have taken 15 if I had walked. The Chubachu junction, which was causing the bottleneck, was still there taking around twenty minutes to clear me and my old car. As I moved inch by inch, literally, I couldn’t help but think about that meeting – and about how we Bhutanese never learn from, or listen to, our King.

Countries and nations fail because of bad or no leadership. That’s unfortunate. We are failing despite having a great one. The traffic problem, which has now become a chronic issue, is just one of the many thing we could have avoided if we had just listened to our King. Just until 20 years back Thimphu was a blank slate on which we could have drawn a beautiful artwork. We had 30 years to address this issue.

Maybe it is late. Or maybe, it isn’t.