I’ve been around a while. I sprouted from nature’s scattered seeds and found myself rooted on a hill that overlooks the Thimphu valley. I’m not the most majestic of pine trees, neither is the hill on which I grew. I’ve seen a valley of rice fields and apple orchards, shepherded by simple men of faith, gradually transform into a city of cables and cars.
I don’t judge what I witness; I simply recount what I see. Development and progress are just words, whether it represents good or bad is relative.
Farmers who knew and worked the land with respect died. Their sons became educated. The knowledge their sons acquired brought about roads, electricity, factories and industry.
My kind were cut and burnt. Slashed and hacked. The valley saw more educated sons return back from lands near and afar, with yet more sophisticated ways and means on manipulating the environment around them. We missed the woodcutter seeking solace in our shades as modern machineries chain sawed us into submission.
Suddenly, the valley was flooded with people and goods. It could not accommodate them all, yet it kept over flowing. The paddy fields started disappearing along with the farmers. New crops began to sprout and spread. These didn’t grow in the lands, they grew in factories. The race to consume had begun. Self-sustenance and frugality had given way to dependence and obesity. Contentment was scant. The division of the haves and have-nots had widened. The less wanted more and the more wanted yet more. The valley was becoming a city of greed, power, corruption and apathy.
The limited land had become so precious that families fought, friends quarreled and neighbours jostled, all mutually suspicious and skeptical. My neighbouring hills began to lose their trees. The air was poisoned and grand bungalows silhouetted the hills in the setting sun. There were fewer and fewer trees as the years rolled by. Down in the valley, the survival of the craftiest nudged away decency and goodness.
In time, the valley became dense with discontentment, anger, jealousy and hatred. The river became the recipient of all its filthy refuses. The mountains became the domain of the jealous gods. The lowlands became the realm of the hungry ghosts.
But there was a tribe still; honourable, courageous and free. A tribe of strong faith, they believed the shortcomings could be alleviated. They were too few and far between, yet they toiled hard. They did it because they believed the organic life could be sustained without the pitfalls the valley had been victim to.
So they toured as many hills, mountains, plains and valleys as they could. They discovered the pastoral life gave them rest and peace. They discovered that though farmers co-inhabited the land in harmony with its flora and fauna, they were happier than the valley of sweets, lights, televisions and vehicles- that though the farmers were poor, their way of life was rich.
Thus they came back to the heaving valley with renewed hope. They decided to resurrect the old ways and means and preserve them for all generations. The tempting sensual distractions of the valley’s many hues did not distract them. They realized that in the long run, the citizenry would lose all sense of courtesy and eat their own kind. To avoid this looming tragedy, they crafted a new way of looking at development and progress. They called it Gross National Happiness. This method was to be used keeping in mind the cultural and traditional values of all the mountains, valleys, hills, gorges, rivers, glaciers and everything they contained and represented.
This was applauded by lands near and afar. The hungry ghosts and the jealous gods also began to partake in its nobility. To ascertain that it would not just dissolve into deceptive clouds, the faithful preached and practiced it wherever they went. It was, for instance, declared that no matter what, all the forests in all the valleys high and low would be conserved and protected- that it would not be sacrificed in the name of development, progress and prosperity.
There is three of my kind left on this hillock. Only little children notice us. In passing cars, we hear them say to their parents, “look up! There’s a turtle climbing up that hill.”
It’s a moving illusion. But if you can keep the turtle and the tree, their stories and sights will always set you free.