Life is really a trail that runs zigzag across the wilderness of time. It often crosses into the lives of people who become special in our hearts. But no matter how much we try to hold on to the special moments we create and cherish together, we have to drop them off at one point of time as we continue our journey. This is a painful reality we often have to go through in our life. It’s true that time does not wait for us. It constantly keeps us on the move. As a result, it’s part of our life to meet and depart with people whom we love and appreciate. There is no time for us to stay forever with people who are special to us. People say that life is like a bicycle. We have to keep it moving in order to balance it. So there is no way we can stop it when we have met someone we love.
Recently, a group of six visually impaired people in Thimphu had gone to the Bank of Bhutan to apply for ATM and M-BoB services. But the bank did not accept their request because they could not sign. This has ignited an interesting discussion within the visually impaired community in Bhutan. I think the banks believe that all those who cannot sign are illiterate and hence, they can be irresponsible and vulnerable to theft and robbery. But not all the visually impaired people are illiterate. Everybody who has studied at Muenselling Institute in Khaling knows how to read and write, at least electronically or in braille. The only problem with them is that many of them do not have signatures just because they cannot sign. As a result, they are denied access to the online banking facilities which otherwise would make their lives much easier.
During my school days, the kind of respect we had for our teachers never changed even when they lashed us mercilessly. We did not have value-education classes but we knew our boundaries well. We have been culturally groomed to believe that teachers are like our parents and that we must respect them as much as we respect our parents. We have been convinced that we would earn respect if we know how to show respect to our elders and treat them with love and dignity. But sadly, this trend seems to be taking a different turn today. Probably due to the excessive exposure to western cultures through social and mainstream media outlets that have emerged with the technological revolution of the modern era, the youth of Bhutan appear to be gradually drifting away from the unique social and cultural values of our country that define us as Bhutanese. This rapid decline of values among the Bhutanese youth has triggered important discussions in the government agencies in the recent times. Upon the Royal Command of His Majesty the King, the Ministry of Education has already started working with the Royal Education Council (REC) to explore effective ways of inculcating our own national values into the young generation. The first draft of the curriculum framework for teaching values developed by REC was presented during the special meeting convened on 19th June 2017.
The people with eyesight seem to see so little that they often fail to recognize what is around them. Whenever I hear about people falling off the cliff or bumping into objects on the way, I just wonder why they have not been able to make full use of their eyes. My wife occasionally goes out to attend public functions and celebrations, but always comes back to say that she did not see anything. I have many friends who have been in the woods but have not seen anything special there.
Exams are particularly stressful events. During the final hours leading up to the day of exam, you panic a lot and often get confused with the lessons you have studied. The notes you have written with your own hand in the class appear like a totally new book and you spend hours scratching your head just trying to figure out what you have written. The textbooks do not make much sense and whatever lesson that has been taught does not flash back to memory. You feel completely lost. You keep studying through the late night but nothing seems to get into your head. You feel sleepy but you can’t fall asleep. It’s such a painful situation. The next morning you wake up with swollen eyes due to the lack of sleep and after trying to memorize a few things from the book, you drowsily head to the exam hall. In the hall, you are not in a position to think actively and creatively. You feel tired and when the question-paper lands before you, everything goes blank. You know that you are now doomed.
Whether you believe in ghosts or not, the fact is that it’s tough not to get freaked out when you experience something that cannot be explained. The shadowy figures and strange voices that go bump at night are still a great mystery to those who encounter them. But although ghosts cannot be proved to exist, the stories of ghosts and spirits have persisted throughout the human history. Even in Bhutan the history books talk so much about our great Buddhist masters like Guru Padma Sambhava and great Lamas sighting and subduing wrathful demons and evil spirits. So we are culturally brought up to believe that ghosts do not only exist in books and movies. Having personally been exposed to mysterious experiences a couple of times in my life, I am compelled to believe that there are at least some strange forces acting on us, if not ghosts. Consistent with the extensive research done by paranormal scientists around the world, it seems there are many people who believe in ghosts. For instance, the 2012 poll in the United States showed that 45 percent of Americans believed in paranormal phenomenon. This certainly shows that there are still many unsolved mysteries in the world. The following are some of the creepiest experiences I ever had in my life which baffle me even to this day. Honestly, I still don’t have any psychological or logical explanation for those mysterious encounters. Even if you don’t believe in ghosts, these stories might force you to wonder with me what else they could have been if they were not paranormal activities.
Before I went to school, I think I was a spoiled child. Perhaps because I was the only surviving child from my late mother, my father loved me too much during my childhood. As a result, he hardly cared what I did. He used to smoke biri at the time and often there used to be biri-butts in the pockets of his trousers. Out of curiosity, I tried to smoke one of them one day. But the moment I started inhaling the dark smoke, it drove me crazy. I began to puke uncontrollably. That was the first and the last time I ever tried to smoke. I could never appreciate it.
The Population and Housing Census of Bhutan (PHCB) is an important national exercise undertaken every after 10 years to determine the socio-economic status of the entire population. The last time we had this kind of survey was in 2005. The findings from this survey are expected to guide the future plans and policies of the government to boost socio-economic development of the country. Hence, it is not surprising to see the questionnaire covering different aspects of social, economic and public life of each individual when an enumerator walks into your house. The main intention behind having such a comprehensive set of questions is to get the exact socio-economic profile of a person. It is therefore very important for each of us to participate in the survey and get counted. After having patiently waited for one and half days, I finally got counted this evening.
On the evening of 19th May 2017, I was invited to join a team of staff from the Disabled Persons’ Association of Bhutan (DPAB) to go to Wangdue Phodrang for a disability awareness program which was to be held over the weekends. The cool Friday evening breeze rejuvenated us as we eased our way through the mountains and valleys towards Wangdue Phodrang. It was about 8 o’clock in the evening when we reached the ancestral home of Sonam Deki, our team leader. We were to stay in this house until Sunday.
Recently, a taxi driver in Thimphu was taken aback when he was flagged down by police for having a Marlboro sticker pasted on the back of his car. He didn’t know that decorating his car with such stickers was an offence under the Tobacco Control (Amended) Act of Bhutan 2014. Likewise, there are many shopkeepers who still sell candy cigarettes to children not knowing that it is also an offence. The Tobacco Control (Amended) Act of Bhutan 2014 states that the sale or use of any product intended to promote the use of tobacco products is an offence. The candy cigarettes and the stickers of various brands of tobacco are believed to encourage people to smoke. This was one of the key messages conveyed during the Tobacco Awareness Program conducted in Kabisa in Thimphu by Khasadrapchu Youth Center on 12th May 2017 as part of its outreach sensitization program.
Decades ago, I remember people talking about the possible cyber war in the future. At that time, it did not make any sense to me. But today, it seems what people had feared for years is becoming a reality. The advanced computer technology of the modern age has given birth to many sophisticated hackers who are responsible for some of the deadliest cyber-attacks the world has ever seen in the recent history. The first was the widely publicized hacking of Sony Pictures in November 2014 in which a group named The Guardians of Peace hacked the database of the film studio and released several new films online. Then came the hacking of Hillary Clinton’s campaign during the 2016 US Election which led to the leak of thousands of confidential and private emails of the Democratic Party officials on WikiLeaks. Today, we are seeing another kind of cyber-attack, through a ransomware called WannaCry which has already affected more than 150 countries since last Friday. WannaCry is a malicious software that freezes your computer and demands $300 to be paid online if you want to regain access to your files. What causes more panic for the victims is that the ransomware threatens to permanently delete all the files within a week if the ransom money is not paid. Although there is no guarantee that the access will be granted after paying the money, the analysis of the Bitcoin Wallets has shown that a significant amount has already been paid by the victims in a desperate bid to get back their files and documents.
As part of the outreach service program in Kabisa community conducted by Khasadrapchu Youth Center in Thimphu yesterday, the officials from Bhutan Narcotic Control Agency (BNCA) interacted with over 50 youth and sensitized them on narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances, and the associated drug laws in Bhutan. The rising trend of drug abuse and smuggling cases in the country over the years seriously call for aggressive public awareness campaigns so that young people can stay safe from drugs. It has been found that many youth are committing drug-related crimes simply because they don’t have adequate knowledge of the legal provisions in the Narcotic Drug, Psychotropic Substances and Substance Abuse Act of the Kingdom of Bhutan 2015. So most of the time, they are found unaware of what they are doing. It has been reported that a young graduate has been recently caught in Eastern Bhutan with 90 pieces of N10 in a parcel he was carrying for his friend from another person. If he had known that carrying N10 which is a Schedule III drug more than two times the permissible quantity of ten pieces would send him to jail for 5-9 years (3rd degree felony), perhaps he would have double-checked the parcel he had received for his friend. So for the benefit of all the youth of Bhutan, I would like to share some of the most important highlights from the sensitization program held in Kabisa.
One winter night in 1993, my wife’s elder sister, Sita Rai in Sibsoo got the biggest shock of her life. While everybody was busy with works late into the night, a group of men suddenly circled them and started attacking them with sticks and machetes indiscriminately. All their faces were covered in black soot. They threatened the family that they would kill them if they do not surrender their money and jewelry. Her father-in-law was subsequently dragged away into the fields, to the spot where he had hidden the money underground and was left with severe cuts and bruises after robbing him of his life-long savings. Later, the family learned that the robbers were from the same village but since they had distorted their faces with soot, they could not be identified. Likewise, many robbers disguise themselves when they rob people. Even if they do not hide their identity, they at least wait for the night to fall before they decide to act so that their identity can be hidden by nature. This is the negative energy you would get when you hide yourself behind the masks.
With the ongoing road-widening activities in full swing and the early arrival of Monsoon this year, it is becoming increasingly risky for people to travel along the national highways today. Over the past couple of months, we have seen a number of tragic accidents along the West-East National Highway that have killed both foreign tourists and Bhutanese nationals. As a mountainous country, the topography of Bhutan itself is not friendly for road travelers but during the Monsoon season, the highways become even worse. The road blockages due to landslides and shooting boulders along the national highways are once again becoming a common phenomenon. As a result, it is very important to take extra caution while driving nowadays. We have already lost many precious lives due to reckless driving. Only the affected families would be able to feel the real pain of having to lose somebody like this. The heaps of sands and lose soil alongside the roads, and the overhanging boulders due to the road-widening activities are some of the most dangerous risk factors for road mishaps. As a driver, one should drive slowly and cautiously so that everybody would be safe. Travelling along the national highways today is like travelling between life and death. One has to be always alert and vigilant because anything can happen any time.