Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Arrested Development: Imagine You Are Sonam Tshering
Where does one even begin trying to write about a subject that has become an object of loathing, sneering, annoying, irritating and of late, arresting in the literal sense of the word? By expressing your right to voice.
Yes. We are talking the tobacco ban because it needs to be talked about. Some might accuse harbingers of this topic as myopic skeptics drawing the knife after the bear’s been gone. Well, to begin with, we never saw the bear and before you could say “yallama” the damage had been done. The bear had rampaged the orchards and all we got was the bulletin stuck on an apple tree with the menacing diktak: “Smoke and you will go to jail.” They threw in a little carrot for comfort and called it the “receipt.” Very apt, for poor innocent country folks like Sonam Tshering is at the receiving end. As we speak, the illiterate villager who came to Thimphu a year ago to study at the Semtokha Rigney School had barely been outside the boundaries of his remote village. He is 23 and studying at Class II. To me that says he has never been to a conventional school and thus couldn’t read or write. Since he is in Class II I assume he is learning basic Dzongkha grammar.
His other unfortunate fate that day was sharing the moniker of the person who was smuggling in illegal substances. They shared the same name. So when the police, tipped about the dealer, went alert combing the buses and other vehicles plying the Phuentsholing – Thimphu route, it was the poor and ignorant Sonam Tshering who was caught; sitting in his seat innocently with the babas underneath his seat. Needless to say, his apprehension left him bewildered and frightened.
He was detained on Christmas Eve. Even if he has never heard of Santa Claus, and I’ll bet you my middle finger that this was undoubtedly the surprise of his young life. What a gift the magi have brought forth!
Now foresight is not a commodity made in china on sale en masse, rather, hindsight is all we can buy. And in that sight, what comes to light is the fact that the zealots’ hell bent on enforcing their self-righteousness on the general populace swayed the people’s elected representatives away (which reflects poorly on them). Look, if you are a good human being, free of the stains that bedeck us mere mortals, then jolly good luck to you! But trying to shape people in your image will not work. Ask Hitler, ask Stalin, and ask the holier-than–thou cults and figures that have tried molding the common man with his daily rut in their image. Or for that matter ask Jehovah what happened to his Garden of Eden and the residents he created with access to everything save the apple.
You see, all these stories invariably conclude with debacles, often of the tragic sort, with people sent to gulags and concentration camps, breaking up social harmony and igniting anarchy. Time does not matter. What matters is that in time the finale has been the same throughout the centuries – inglorious ignominy.
What is even sadder is the incomprehensible fact that so many level headed and grounded representatives got swayed, or could not muster up the guts to oppose what was and is obviously a bland bill with an overwhelming nonsensical rationale at best and the unnecessary creation of criminals at worst and more.
The only positive spin, if one can do the doosra, is to redeem the folly and have it repealed, re-amended or hold a referendum. This is the only honorable exit out of this gallows. Do that and you shall regain the confidence of the people; arrogant dismissal of the sort being sprouted by some of the representatives will only fog the smoky matter.
The disgust and the discussions continue, and rightly so, even if it is at the cost of talking about issues that really matter. Education, poverty, health, water, electricity, housing et al are some of the fundamental needs and as we speak, there is the extensive MTR entourage touring the country’s boondocks without getting the print mileage it deserves. And meanwhile here we are arrested with tobacco talks. Never underestimate the power of a stupid law; it can literally deliver to you, in person, the phrase “arrested development” with hands cuffed and remanded at the crowded bunks at the burdened detention center.
Then start imagining the consequences of your self-righteousness and redress the act, for that is what a truly righteous person would do. Make amends rather than meting out punishments. As in war, the first victims and casualties are always the poor. And that is because they are surplus to requirements. To conclude, here is a gem from a passionate social activist who wrote on Facebook’s “Amend the Tobacco Act” – a cause gathering momentum: “If my smoke is affecting them, their Land Cruisers' smoke is affecting me…” Now imagine you are Sonam Tshering.