APRIL 2002 Contents
Business & Economy
at Every Alien Door'
Page 1 of 2
A Journey through Bhutan
The following article is excerpted from
Akhil Bakshi's forthcoming book 'Between Heaven and Hell'.
It was a bright morning when we left Bumthang at 9.47 a.m. on Monday, April 12 for Wangdue, 170 km away. While passing through the town square, we noticed the Sunday edition of ‘The Times of India’ being sold in a shop. We had not read an Indian newspaper since we left Calcutta two weeks ago. The one night we spent on Indian territory in Shillong did not provide us with an opportunity to catch up on the news. We had been too lazy to tune our jeep radios and also too busy enjoying the landscape to care for anything else. Anyway, with newspaper owners and editors in the pockets of money-bag politicians, I do not always believe what I read in the newspapers. But seeing an Indian newspaper in such a remote corner of the world excited me. Avijit bought the entire stock and distributed them to each of the five jeeps. We read news line-by-line, column-by-column, page-by-page, back to front and front to back and exchanged views with each other over the communication sets. Later in the evening at Wangdue we discovered that the newspaper was dated April 4 – which was two Sundays ago!
Bhutan has no newspaper of it own, except the Kuensel, a 16-page weekly, half of which is ‘letters to the editor’ and advertisements. While the speed of Internet is transforming social, corporate and political life around the world, Bhutan was still struggling to launch a television station. As a part of the silver jubilee celebrations of the king’s ascension to the throne, a pilot television channel was to be started on June 2, 1999. It would beam two hours of programming every day. Even satellite dish antennae were banned in Bhutan and they would be declared legal only on June 2.The idea was to shield the fairy-tale kingdom from the corruption and decadence of modern culture, and to preserve the community’s privacy and integrity. Even foreign tourists were kept at bay. Outsiders criticized Bhutan for being isolated, marginal and rigid. It has begun to slough off those qualities. The onslaught of communication technology could not be ignored and not everyone in the kingdom shared the vocation of his majesty’s government to renounce the world. The looming encounter between modern technology and a timeless spiritual tradition has posed an insuperable challenge to the Bhutanese society, and is eloquently reflected in a letter written by a concerned parent, Karma Galey of the Thimpu-based Centre for Bhutan Studies, to the editor of Kuensel. The letter is worth reproducing in its entirety.
"Sir - When cable TV was introduced last year and the service made available to customers, I hesitated a lot before subscribing, for various reasons. I could already imagine my child and nieces spending chunks of their time watching TV. But, on second thought, it might do them some good, creating certain awareness in them about various events in the world; then, too, I could keep myself abreast of world events, so I decided to get myself connected.
"Exactly one year later, I am scratching my head over that decision. Yes, I have benefited a lot. I have been able to keep myself up on international events: the clash between the black and white farmers in Zimbabwe, the presidential campaigns in the USA, the WTO Seattle summit, the tragedy of the Russian submarine, the reunion of families from North and South Korea, and a host of other issues. I do not yet see how these things have impacted me intellectually, but I can certainly discuss these issues, at least superficially, with my friends and colleagues. My awareness of happenings around the world has increased. I am happy, or perhaps not. My son has several stories to narrate when I get home from the office. "Appa, goonda (villain) was beaten up by keta (hero) and then the policemen appeared and took all of them to jail...." His way of playing is no longer making things with sticks or stones and making cloth toys but imitating what he sees on the TV screen.
"He sings a dozen Hindi songs both from the movies and the advertisements. Kahona pyar hey, Jo chaho hojaye, Coca-Cola Enjoy! And he can go on and on... He can reproduce several Hindi dialogues. He proudly imitates Amitabh Bachchan from Kaun Banega Crorepati (the Indian version of the television quiz show ‘Who wants to be a millionaire?’)and yells Mai Amitabh Bachchan Bolra hung, Koan Banega Crorepati se and so on. So much for incidents related to my son.
"I have another group of people on whom the TV seems to have had a different impact. And all of them are girls attending high school. Their area of interest has been the Hindi movies and serials. They switch from channel to channel to keep up with different programs on each of these channels. They watch each of these programs with great enthusiasm. They also watch MTV and other music channels like MCM and B4U Music. Whenever they are free, they are most certainly discussing Shahrukh Khan, Aishwarya Rai, Madhuri Dixit and a host of other Indian filmstars. Intrigued by their frequent discussions, I interrupt and ask them how old Madhuri Dixit is and one of them proudly answers, "she is thirty-four". Next, I ask them who the Foreign Minister of Bhutan is and their faces go blank. Finally, they surrender and confess that they do not know. Annoyed by their ignorance, I ask them which session of National Assembly is being held this year and, once again, their faces go blank; one of them whispers, very cowardly: "the 66th session?"
"As I ask them this question, there is some advertisement about Pantene Shampoo. And once again their attention shifts from me to the TV screen. Subsequently, they begin to discuss a whole range of ads about detergents, cosmetics and other consumer items. I cannot but feel helpless. But things don't end here. Their requests for money to buy shampoo, perfume and several other things have been increasing. They have also been asking me if I would ever buy a washing machine, a microwave oven and a host of other luxury items whose names I cannot even pronounce.
"My narration of above incidents shows how I have failed in carrying out my parental responsibilities. Yes, I agree, but I assume that there are several other parents who have failed, too. That is no consolation, however. The issue here is not that of comparing myself with other parents. The issue is the impact the TV has and will have on our younger generation. As TV begins to have more influence on our children, our efforts as parents, to instill in them Bhutanese values, attitudes and aspirations will be increasingly challenged. Our children are changing much faster than the world around them. This is the issue I face every day when I return home from my office. We cannot turn the clock back and forbid television. But we can determine both how to control what are children watch and, equally important, we can demand more Bhutanese programming of a quality that will attract the attention of our children, who are Bhutan's future."
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