Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Milking Pot: From Pastoral Meadows to Urban Melees




"As the crow flies, a Polaroid fader dwells in the capital harking back in the day with a bird’s eye view of what’s happening today"

Thimpu, the capital of Bhutan, is a budding city of more than ninety thousand inhabitants, about 1/6th of the total population of the kingdom. It is the modern face of Bhutan. It is a town mushrooming with the influx of things modern trying to blend in with the traditional. This is of course no walk in the woods and the slice struggling most with this new found sense of modernity and its complexity are the older generations; as Gen-X goes about figuring it out and Gen-Y goes virtual.

This cooks up a paradoxical concoction of freedom and entrapment that is hard to harmonize or integrate. The differences are obvious; The coming of television with Zinedine Zidane’s bald headers two world cups back and the legalization of television, along with the internet have been in Bhutan’s hermit history momentous moments.

A few years later Bhutan went mobile. These may have been yesterday’s news in most of the rest of the world but here in terms of football jargon, there were irreversible kicks and fouls, red and yellow cards, penalties and goals galore.

The Bhutan I grew up in is fast becoming a fading Polaroid memory, along with the simple lives we led. Bhutan’s new face is both thrilling and chilling. The thrill comes out of throwing our doors open to the wider world and checking out firsthand the grand fuss about globalization.

The winds of change have really been amusing gentle breezes as people get used to the wonders of technology and mass consumer goods. Being wired to the worldwide web and replacing bulky satellite phones with sleek cells is also instant karma. Most of the puffed up fears about the disappearance of traditional culture have been perhaps exaggerated; as the modern gently blends in with the traditional and every new commercial commodity is awaited and fretted about with our own Bhutanese methodology. It’s a rainbow of wonder to some and a spectrum of disaster to others. In my experience it’s been an equal dose of both, adjusting the digital time, drawing strength from black and white photo studio days.

The junction where the two approaches collide and crash to me is personally destination ‘drug abuse’; where the traveler is almost always the youngster with lingering memories of a traditional upbringing and the harsh realities of modern competitive life.

This is more so visible, audible, discernable and perhaps understandable in Thimphu as it must be in other concentrated cities. From a primarily agricultural land with a pastoral life, Thimphu’s transforming into the changing Bhutanese face, in quest of that edgy poise of urban sanity. The tunes get somewhat mixed up and like mine; there are myriad accounts of Bhutanese youngsters gone asunder trying to sing right that wrong note of truth.

But if Buddhism teaches us anything it is that change is the only permanent thing. It would be foolhardy to hold onto an image of pastoral paradise, and as the government has boldly demonstrated; we don’t intent to lower our heads digging in the mud like the ostrich, rather use its tall standing and see the world for what it is; complex, dynamic and ever changing, and find ways and means to adapt, adopt, reflect and lorry on without ignoring the past, forgetting the present, or taking the future for granted.

A good place to start that would be to accept and recognize the problems of drug use and abuse. And offer alternative means to battle the demons of addiction and aid drug addicts. Posters and banners hanging about with passive headliners in town roads and shop windows are simply not convincing or encouraging enough. More aggressive measures targeted especially at established and potential users would be welcome. As a former drug user I know when push comes to shove, sometimes a shove can be a good option to a lethargic junkie content lying either way on a mattress long as the poison keeps flowing. You have to get the junkie out of the slumber and back to a wakeful helpful reality.

You might need to educate, coerce, frighten, convince, cajole or lure the junk and ward off potential users. In other words, whatever’s necessary to get that message of help across.

The pretty slogans will not do, they ring too hollow and shallow projecting a vulgar gathering of people who never did drugs, do not understand people who do drugs and would rather enjoy the midday buffet.

That’s how those conferences look. So come down and check out things at the grass roots level, no pun intended. Let them know talking about their addictions just fine, period. Communication is a boon, and when done with a sympathetic professional ear, it encourages the patient and the wells and reservoirs of frustrated repression could come bursting forth.

The government has done a lot, and to that we owe our thanks and gratitude. I am able to live and write thanks largely to our free educational system, and the kind of truly surrogate father our genuinely beloved King has been and continuous to be, embodied in our present King. The bleating lost lambs need someone like that; compassionate, persuasive and concerned.

We must build on institutions already in place and provide the kind of listening platform abusers necessitate.

I have lost friends, known others that did, people in the prime of their lives, directly or indirectly to drug use and abuse. There are others like me with similar stories, and the numbers keep adding up as we speak. The media reports frequent familiar headlines of a ‘youth found dead in a hotel room,’ faceless anonymous arctic facts that only relate to the families of the dead. This is apathy.

Thimphu is but one budding city, and what happens in Thimphu today is a reality in most of the rest of Bhutan tomorrow. What happened to me is not one isolated story, but a universal one with shared roots of life in a budding Bhutan that I hope does not become the norm, rather the exception.

Here’s praying to the four guardian deities of the kingdom for all of that and more. May the wisdom of the Buddha’s teachings and the enlightened philosophy of GNH find their way in the policies of the government and in the hearts of the people.

Balance and harmony has never come this close to being so urgent and yet so distant. The gaps must be bridged, and bridged with that rich age old traditional wisdom and the miracle of modern technological

pragmatism. ALL IN TACT!

Ps: YourLustForLifeStartsRightNow!

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