• the-south-asian.com                                               APRIL  2002




APRIL 2002 Contents



 A Journey through Bhutan

 'Baikunth' - the mountain
 resort overlooking Kasauli in 
 Himachal Pradesh


 At Home in the world

 Visual Arts

 Jatin Das - 4 decades of 

 Studio Potters


 Zakir Hussain - Compelling


 Hakim Ajmal Khan's ancestral
 Sharif Manzil & Hindustani


 Eco-friendly Tyre furniture 

 Business & Economy

 Textiles of Pakistan

  Performing Arts

 'Fakir of Benares' -1922 French
 Opera revived in Delhi


 Revathy Menon's 'Mitr - my


 The Power of Vastu Living

 'Knock at Every Alien Door'
- Serialization of an
 unpublished novel by
 Joseph Harris - Chapter 4


 Naveen Jindal


the craft shop

 the print gallery


 Silk Road on Wheels

The Road to Freedom

Enduring Spirit

Parsis-Zoroastrians of

The Moonlight Garden

Contemporary Art in Bangladesh



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 Page  2  of  2

A Journey through Bhutan



Akhil Bakshi

Ancient-Monastery-Bhumtang.jpg (20618 bytes)
Bumthang monastery
Source: http://soly.st

The youngest of the four queens, a goodwill ambassador of the United Nations Family Planning Agency, was coming to Bumthang in two days time to conduct a family planning drive in villages. I wanted to stop her. There was no need to control Bhutan’s population. In fact we should have a campaign to induce the Bhutanese to regenerate and reproduce liberally. The honesty, efficiency, politeness, trust, flexibility, openness of the Bhutanese is stellar when set beside the rest of South Asians. Even the public servants are intelligent and mindful of the rule of law. South Asia needs more Bhutanese.

Passing the village of Nangar, we stopped at Chhumey at Gompo Tashi’s Yatha Factory. Shy, apple-cheeked girls with beads of turquoise strung around their auburn tresses, their smoldering sexuality hidden behind their demure dresses, worked diligently on the looms and refused to have their pictures taken. More elegant girls stood framed in painted windows that had long, colorful runners with geometric designs hanging from them. There were several yatha workshops in the village weaving exquisite woolen blankets, bedcovers, rugs, shawls and jackets. In the olden days the wool came from Tibet. Now it is imported from New Zealand or sheared from Bumthang sheep bred with Australian funding. The place dazzled us with its brilliant colors fired magnificently by the morning sun. The scene was so fascinating to the eye that we could have stayed in the village for a year without getting tired of it. But we had to move on. Several high passes awaited our ascent.


We attended a meeting at the Rural Development Institute picturesquely located some distance from Wangdue on a hilltop overlooking the blue Punatsangchuu flowing placidly through its exposed sandbanks. The country’s politics and economy had remained a mystery to us. Here, the gently nodding professors revealed to us their king’s concept of "Gross National Happiness" that makes their country go round.

In the fourth month of the Wood Tiger Year, at the auspicious hour of the serpent – in other words on January 2, 1974 at 0910 hrs – the 18-year old Jigme Singye Wangchuk placed his great great grandfather’s scarf on his shoulders and became the fourth king of Bhutan. Though still a youth, he showed an extraordinary talent and instinct for understanding the taste and needs of ordinary people. This was quite an unexpected faculty to be found in a king. From the very beginning of his career, he had the inner self-confidence not to need to show off and appear clever. His calendar pictures that adorn every wall in Bhutan convey the impression that he lacks any trace of self-importance. They give us an overwhelming feeling of his closeness to the common man - cuddling babies, sitting amongst students, talking to farmers... He went out of his way to show his subjects that theirs is no mummified monarchy, to be ogled in wax museums. He was a hands-on king. This peculiar behavior is also not in conformity with the usual conduct of a king. Later in his tenure, he exposed his vision for his kingdom: Bhutan was to have no grand ambition, no swanky futuristic projects; there was no need to make it more known abroad; there should be no smell of gimmickry in government proposals and schemes. The king was visibly weary of the constant struggle of nations to increase their output, their gross national and domestic products, and relished the challenge of building a nation on a shoestring budget. He worked overtime to isolate Bhutan from the global marketplace and spoke fondly of sustainable development and environment preservation. An amusing professor of monetary policy from University of Chicago once called him a financial dunce, uninterested in increasing his country’s gross national product. "Gross National Happiness is more important," said the king soothingly. It is an unforgettable and a deep concept and it takes time to come to grips with it. A month before our arrival – and twenty years after the notion was first floated by His Majesty – Bhutan’s Planning Commission organized a brainstorming session with thirty policymakers, thinkers, government officials and representatives of foreign aid agencies to figure out exactly what the concept meant. This challenging attempt was billed as: "GNH and Human Development – Searching for a Common Ground". This subjective idea is not meant to be understood by the modern, statistic-minded world. To me it is crystal-clear and I am in tune with the king. People might say he is faint-hearted. I think he is bold, and I love his antique ways. And as far as I am concerned, Bhutan, with its rich and infinite resource of god-fearing, civil-minded, soft-spoken, mild-mannered and morally-loaded people, is an affluent country and has the healthiest balance sheet in the world.

As the king grew older, he fell in love – as was understandable and natural. But what was unusual was that he fell in love with four sisters – real sisters – all at the same time and married all of them at once. "Actually, he had been liaising with the four sisters – individually. The then Indian prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, told him that a visionary monarch like him could not afford to get his image tarnished. He cautioned him not to follow in the footsteps of King Edward VII, a man famed for being happy with any man’s wife but his own. Rajiv suggested that our king marry all the sisters at one go. The king liked the suggestion and brought them home," said one local gossipmonger. But it wasn’t my business and I discouraged the tattler from opening his mouth further on private royal matters. Now the king has four wives. Yet, he remains resolutely cheerful.





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