This first appeared in the June 13th issue of Business Bhutan.
If I had to describe the nature of being Bhutanese, I would describe it like I would glue: Being
Bhutanese sticks things tightly together. This is not just patriotism; this is the stickiness of our
existence as citizens of a rather small country.
For anything Bhutan against anything non-Bhutan (ese), we will unite. Come rain, come shine! In
times of football matches, mass plantations, online criticism, and even images of the Buddha on
shoes, we will unite with one voice and one view. This is a perfect story for a Visit Bhutan ad.
I wonder though, if we would unite for Bhutan minus an Other or a foe? Our “Bhutaneseness” is at
its most intense when compared to another identity, and often when it is a competition.
Fortunately, it is not always confrontational. What is it to be Bhutanese in a vacuum then? Devoid of
instantaneous or historical comparisons? Are we our ghos/ kiras, our temples and monasteries, our
music and films, our language, our food? Are we the nomad? Are we a cardamom farmer? Yes. All of
it and more. Those were the less difficult questions to ask and answer. Let’s sample this one now:
Are we our democracy, and our politicians?
The stickiness of being Bhutanese disappears when it comes to democracy, politics, and power. I
have never before confronted a stronger Acetone. The powerful remain safe in their tax-free, quota-
generous cruise ships while the people have fallen overboard. We are now and then emerging from
the water, sputtering and gasping for air before going under again. We are fighting for our next
breaths even as we become increasingly overwhelmed by an unknowable ocean. Every five years, a
few had-been-powerfuls fall in and join us. Unfortunately, they are a bewildered, panicky bunch and
the first ones to go under.
We survive through our moments of little victories, record-breaking achievements, and memories of
being tough mountain people. But as Bhutanese, it is important that we look within. Ever since we
opened up to the world in the latter part of the 20th Century, we have been preoccupied with
proving to the world that we exist. I do think our priority should now be our stickiness. We know
what brings us together. We know why we come together. Let us make this bond more resilient, and
more effective. We need to do this because we cannot fall apart into discrete constituencies and/ or
islands of power. Power games will gradually destroy us.
Although Being Bhutanese is a strong adhesive, there are stronger elements that can unglue us all.
Let us celebrate our moments of stickiness, but let us also accept that we can get unstuck. Sooner