Sunday, 20 May 2018

Snoozing the Buddha

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Foreword
What do you do on Sundays? How do you spend your weekends? These questions are often asked of people who follow a Monday to Friday routine. I have been asked these questions many times by people who follow a routine like mine as well as by some who have a more random lifestyle.

In this Sunday afternoon blog, I allow my friends a sneak peek into what I did today. This is intended for light reading!

Waking up – Beyond the Cuddling and Cajoling
I don’t get the luxury of sleep farting till 8:00 or 9:00 am on Sundays as many parents with grownup children do.  My younger son is in class ten. Having dispatched his elder brother to foreign shores a quarter of a year ago, my wife and I are left with having to take care of him.

Paid tuitions started in Thimphu some two decades ago and they are here to stay. Show me a parent with a class 10/12 student child and I will show you a man/woman who doesn’t believe in classroom teaching. Teachers find all kinds of excuses and reasons to delay teaching during normal school times and very subtly or in some cases openly call for tuition. Tuitions are held at odd hours – 6:00 to 8:00 pm, 3:30 pm to 5:30 pm or worst, 8:00 am on Sunday!

My son takes tuition with a husband and wife couple, who are teachers at his school. As they are good old-school Christians, they go to church every Sunday and want to finish the commercial tutoring by 10:00 am. Based on their conveniences, tuition is called at 8:00 am every Sunday!  That means my electronic cockerel got to crow latest by 7:00 am. What’s more, my wife also expects me to extend her my helping hands a little more during the weekends.

Saturday and Sunday is yours’, my wife half-sleepily cajoles me out of bed.

Two days are much better than five. The bargain is good. ‘But I help you on weekdays’, I try to negotiate. My wife pretends to not listen and turns her bums 180 degrees around.

Breakfast
I get up, take a quick wash and saunter to the kitchen.  My wife and I often talk about how daughters might be different. At fifteen years, we believe a girl is better able and prepared to take care of her own breakfast, at least on a Sunday morning! We don’t have a daughter. We don’t know. However, I have heard that not all parents with teenage daughters are exactly happy with the self-help attitude and skills of their daughters. This makes us believe that we have a reasonable son! What say you, my mates, with teenage daughters?

My son likes bread a lot. Thank god, Thimphu grocers now offer quite a variety of breads. Every Saturday evening, I need to ensure that we have at least three slices of bread. He likes the bread either browned in butter, French Toasted or made into sandwiches. Today, I go for the easiest Рsaut̩ in butter. Then I prepare a bowl of mixed fruit Рbanana (his favourite), mangoes and water melon Рin fresh cream sauce. Next, I brew a pot of tea Рmasala tea Рwith a pinch of grounded black pepper, cinnamon, fenugreek, and cloves, besides a dash of fresh ginger paste. A
  
Weekend routine – Grocery and Leisure
Around the time our son completes his tuition, we set out of home. Besides picking him up from the YHS gate, we also complete our weekly round of the Sabji Bazaar and 8/11 Store. In between, we check on what our boy wants to do, eat and buy. Today, he wanted to go to Coffee Culture for his favourite Spaghetti Bolognaise. While he had his spaghetti, my wife and I had our regular cheese momo. He had a cold chocolate; we had cold coffee.

While we were ordering the spaghetti, the man at the counter whispered that it contained beef. I said, ‘I know. We have come here before’ and confirmed the order.

I was born in a typical Southern Bhutanese Hindu family of Nepali ethnicity. I am aware of the special place cows occupy in our socio-religious culture. Talking of socio-religious practices, we need to pretend a lot in order to conform and stay afloat. Every one of us pretends. It is only a matter of the magnitude and frequency of our hypocrisy. Many of us have friends and relatives who eat and drink near everything, but would like everybody around them not to know or tell. I also pretend sometimes. For example, whenever I visit my village, the first thing I do the first morning of my arrival is to wear the sacred thread and smear my receding forehead with Vaishnava Tilak. I was initiated into the Vaishnava faith when I was in class 5 and the majority of the people in my village subscribe to this faith. My temporary pretension improves the villager elders’ acceptance of me and a sense of belonging to the community.  

In spite of this grounding, we have not taught our boys to differentiate between various meats. I say either complete veg or no discrimination! While we have never purchased and cooked beef at home, I have always allowed my sons to enjoy their burgers and spaghettis. Perhaps, it is genealogical. My paternal uncle who brought me up after the early death of my father, always advised me and my siblings to eat any meat that is served, but to always avoid alcohol. I am afraid I have barely been able to average his sound advice!  Today, my elder brother, who is a bigtime non-conformist and rationalist, says ‘ I don’t discriminate between animals’, when someone asks him about his choice of diet.

Verandah floriculture – Sharing my wife’s passion
My wife is a full-time home maker. Using old school British English, initially I used to call her a house wife until someone advised me that the modern, more respectful term is home maker! One of her passions is floriculture. As we live on the third floor of a five-storied building, she conducts her passion on the tens of flower pots on our balconies. Fortunately, we have two verandahs, each about twenty feet long. There, my dear has flower pots of myriad kinds – used milk packets, black polythene bags, cut oil jerry cans and real pots. She has a good collection of varieties of local flowers, most of them flowering around this time of the year. 

The pink Azalea
Her priority is flowers, Buku (our boy) and me in that order. It is only after the numerous potted plants have been watered and fiddled, she turns to Buku. ‘He can take care of himself, my flowers cannot’, she reasons quite well.

After dropping off my son for tuition, I help my wife move a pink azalea that is in full bloom, from a discrete corner of the eastern veranda to a prominent spot facing the large parking space and overlooking neighbourhood balconies. She is proud of it. A while later, I go to check how the flower is doing. Across our veranda, from a similar veranda, a neighbour ups her thumb in the direction of our veranda. At first, I don’t understand. I had just taken a shower and clean shaved my little face. I look around for any signs of distant promiscuity. Then I understand. Her stiff thumb is meant to appreciate the blooming pink azalea. I am left waiting!

They say, if you want to maintain and improve your relationship with a person, you should like and appreciate what the person likes. Share their passion. So, although I often find the potted plants sharing my wife’s time with me, I try to find time to appreciate my wife’s work. I discuss with her the cactus that is about to bloom and smirk when she tells me that one of her begonia tubers has died.

Managing Facebook – Snoozing Shiva
It is early afternoon, when we return home. After dumping the grocery on the kitchen table, I settle down on Facebook. On the international front, it is full of stories and pictures of Meghan and Harry’s wedding. The USA has new stories on racial profiling and the dumb witted leadership of Trump. I follow the ongoing (cricket) Indian Premier League, where Kings XI Punjab are facing ouster after leading the score charts in the early phase of the league.

In between sharing some beautiful snap shots my brother has taken during his official tour to Samtse and liking the status of a friend of mine (Binai Lama), who is clinging on a dry rocky surface purportedly looking for honey, I start managing my page.

In spite of Zuckerberg reassuring the FB community that our data is safe and that he would take additional steps to strengthen privacy and data safety, there is a lot of crap that a discerning Facebooker needs to confront. I particularly hate chain posts and direct dumping of videos and links on my Messenger Inbox. I also don’t like religious and sectarian posts. It is also annoying when someone shares a joke you first heard 20 years ago.

In cleaning my page, I make a good use of the ‘Snooze’ function. After unfriending a couple of low hanging friends and snoozing several posts and friends for 30 days, I come across a post shared by a friend. ‘God Shiva’, says the page. As I choose the snooze function, I find it interesting that I can ‘unfollow’ Shiva and put him to sleep. FB has given us this power to manage the pantheon of gods and goddesses, Trulkus, Gurus, Lamas and Rinpoches.

After putting Bhole (Lord Shiva’s pet name) to snooze for 30 days, I start liking the posts and updates shared by my 500 friends. I actively practice the old symbiosis adage ‘scratch my back and I will scratch yours’ in managing my FB page. If I like their posts, they will like mine. After all, FB is about colleting as many likes as you can!

Afterword
Meanwhile a paternal uncle of mine is in town visiting us from Neoly. After the recent National Council elections, I find that the balance of ‘power’ has shifted from towns to the villages. Prior to the voting day, I tried talking to some of our relatives back home about who we should vote.

Whereas, in Thimphu, we thought we should go for change, my uncle wanted continuity. ‘Dasho Jigme is such a nice guy’, he advised us and suggested we choose continuity. When the election results were out, I realized that it is no more the urban dwellers who understand democracy better. At office, during tea and work breaks, I brag about being able to influence at least 100 voters. I now realize that by the next election, I may not be able to influence even my wife!

Finally, to answer my curious friends, I also sometimes write blogs on Sundays!

Thursday, 19 April 2018

The Secret and Sacred of our Elections

Introduction
Between the announcement of surprise names, people jumping lines to be presidents of political parties, and failed registration of new parties by some seeming novices, there is a lot of confusion among the majority of the electorate. What the hell is going on? Many seem to be asking. Many are unable to fathom the difference between the NC and NA – forget the elections! Against this backdrop, I thought I would share my own grasps and musings.

Disclaimer: The write-up in this blog story is based on my own understanding and knowledge and is intended for light reading. Both facts and imagination have been used to build up the story. There is no malice intended towards any individual or organisation.

The Basics
With the introduction of constitutional monarchy in 2008, Bhutan has a bicameral parliament, with elections to both the houses held every five years. The upper house is known as National Council (NC), while the lower house is called National Assembly (NA).

The NC is an apolitical house of review. It consists of 25 members, one from each of the twenty districts of Bhutan and five eminent members nominated by His Majesty the King. Each of the Geogs (village blocks) in a Dzongkhag (district) nominates a candidate. If a Geog has more than one candidate, the candidates face election at the Geog level in order to move to the Dzongkhag level to face candidates from other Geogs. On the other hand, if a Geog has only one candidate, his/her election is done through a yes/no vote. However, it is not mandatory for a Geog to nominate a candidate for the NC elections. For example, in the upcoming NC elections, Samdrup Jongkhar doesn’t have a candidate from as many as four Geogs.   

On the other hand, the NA consists of elected members from the 47 constituencies that Bhutan has been divided into. ‘Before selecting your bulls, select the herd.’ I remember hearing my late father share this with his colleagues while I was a farm boy. In a way, elections to the NA bear a parable to my late father’s wisdom.

Elections to the NA are held in two rounds. The first is the primary round, which involves the electorate voting for the party of their choice. Bhutan has at least four parties contesting the upcoming NA elections. In the primary round, eligible voters vote for the party of their choice and two parties with the highest number of nationwide votes qualify for the general round held subsequently. People cast their votes on the basis of party leadership, manifesto as well as the tentative candidates for the various constituencies. In the primary round, voters select the proverbial herd to ensure that the eventual bulls bear good pedigrees.

In the general elections, each of the two parties that has emerged victorious in the primaries nominates a candidate for every constituency. At this stage, the farmer moves deeper within the herd and starts selecting his bulls. The general round is driven by the vigour, verbosity and veracity of the candidates representing the various constituencies. At the end of the election, 47 candidates from either of the two parties win the election. The party winning the majority of the constituencies gets to form the government. The other party forms the opposition in the NA.



Daju, Bhauju and I after casting our votes for the NC elections - we are displaying our Voter Photo ID Cards
Voting is compulsory
A quick read of Internet sources says that in barely 13% of the countries around the world voting is compulsory. And many countries don’t enforce it. Interestingly, Australia is among the countries where voting is compulsory! Bhutan belongs to the major league, where voting is optional.  

In 2008, I failed to convince my wife that voting was not compulsory. Smarting from the after-effects of the turmoil of the nineties, she chose to ignore my advice and pleads and travelled to Neoly with other like-minded voters.

I have a feeling that many people still don’t believe that voting is not compulsory. Thus, fear makes the mare go! People are dragged to their constituencies out of fear. Fear, in this case, is good. As many voters live and work far from their polling booths, exercising franchise involves expense of time and money. For example, if I travel to my constituency (Shiling Gye, Pemathang) I need a minimum of five days of time and Ngultrum 20,000, which is a sizeable portion of my monthly income.

However, eligible citizens must make enough efforts to cast their vote. I believe that the state must come half way in terms of creating the right atmosphere and accessibility to voters, with citizens covering the other half. In spite of some limitations and strictures, the Election Commission of Bhutan has been improving acceptance, accessibility and approval to encourage citizens to vote. For example, the Postal Ballot Facilitation Booths set up in various locations in several districts for the NC elections allowed the likes of me to ‘vote in person’. As such, it is not ok if you do not vote. You are not fulfilling your fundamental duties. You are not acting as a responsible citizen.

Voting may not be compulsory, but then as W Edwards Deming is said to have said even survival is not compulsory!  A distant cousin of mine recently asked me, ‘kaka, I believe they will keep a record of voters and then one day those who do not vote will be punished’. My answer didn’t convince him.  If you have not committed a crime, not committing it for a long time, doesn’t make you a criminal!

Elections and GNH
Whether elections enhance or stymie happiness depends on the lens you use to analyse the issue.

Take the lens of my young cousins who have been given away in marriage out of Neoly and live in faraway places - Sarpang and Dorokha. Even as elections are announced, my cousins take the opportunity to return home, even for a fleeting moment, a sojourn. They always use the pretext of the elections to visit their parental homes and reunite with their parents and siblings. If we were to measure happiness around elections time in such homes, probably we would beat Norway. Meanwhile, I hope my nieces and others who believe in voting will have plenty of time and resources to travel thrice to their constituencies in 2018, as the NC elections will be followed by the primary and the general round of the NA elections.

The other is a stormier lens. Take the example of two NC candidates in Tsirang. They are first cousins and got nominated from their respective Geog. While they are busy canvassing and honing their national language, their families have stopped visiting each other even as they try to muster support for their respective prospect. That deludes happiness.

Secret ballot and open secrets  
The fundamentals of democracy are universal adult franchise and secret ballot. Not sacred as some of our Facebookers are wont to believe betraying their carelessness and limited lexicon.  The essence and understanding of ‘secret’ allow our uneducated electorate to vote without fear and favour.

It is more important for ballots to be secret than sacred, even if we believe in the purification of our Electronic Voting Machines by our monks. There should be no emotion in politics. Your vote should be based on objective choice. Go for selection by elimination, if you don’t know any of the candidate, but vote you must!  

My elder sister called me the other day from far away Neoly. ‘Kanchha’, she enquired, ‘Phuntsho wants to take us to Daifam in his Bolero. What should we do?’ She was referring to an upcoming wedding of one of my nephews in Daifam and Phuntsho is apparently one of the ‘king makers’ in local politics.  I told her to go ahead and make hay while the sun shines. By now even my barely educated relatives in the village have come to understand that no one would after all know who they have voted for.

Similarly, the other day I received a call from an unregistered number. After introducing himself, Dawa invited me to come to the town ‘later in the evening’. I was confused and a bit annoyed. My wife even suggested, ‘who is bigger? He or you? Who is he to just call you to town?’  Later I understood that Dawa was acting like a ‘pimp’ to a brothel. A political candidate that he was patronizing had come to know that some twenty of us living in Thimphu enjoy a significant influence in our community. He intended to throw a dinner by way of getting to know each other. I checked with my brother and uncle. We went, met the pimp and his political bunny and enjoyed a scrumptious dinner. The ballot is, after all, secret!

Public Holiday
What I like the most about our elections is the holidays. I am a big fan of holidays and have a knack for memorizing the entire calendar of public holidays on January first itself. As postal voters, I and my wife get to vote in advance. With the election day comes a public holiday. However, as I have no voting to do – I get an extra day of full paid holiday. Thank you, democracy!

Endnote: ‘Everyone knows who we should be voting for. The trouble is no one knows who this ‘everyone’ is? People of Bhutan, do vote; you have nothing to lose except your franchise!