It was a lazy afternoon. The day was holy. It was Shabbdrung Kuchey. Everywhere I looked, I saw school children and farmers, civil servants and tourists, walk about in different directions. The only thing binding them together was the day’s chosen monasteries. It is good to see the dharma alive and kicking, or so I thought.
I stopped by at a tavern, my own way of paying respects to the day’s auspiciousness. I just wanted to sit, perhaps a red bull to re-energize my slacking energies. There were two diwans facing each other. I sat on one and let the moment unravel itself. The revelation came in the form of an informed man. Not informed in the sense of 24/7 news-bars and hourly updates, but informed in the sense of who he was, as a 60 plus skeptical citizen who spoke with humour, intelligence and a nuanced understanding of what it means to have understanding.
He spoke without invitation, he didn’t need any. He had vital announcements to make. He embarked on the talkathon with an ode against the ignorance of the educated lot. He was succinct in his arguments, laying a trap here, magnifying an example there. He did seem to have a big bone to chew upon when it came to appointments of “empowered people” without the faintest idea of how rural farmers function. “How can you have a judge when the judge cannot judge when or how a harvest is made?” he fired. “How can he be expected to pass on a sound judgment when the people he deals with are farmers whose yearly harvests are ransomed for want of knowledge, summoned to the courts and commanded to be reprimanded when those farmers don’t show up?”
He cited his own son’s ignorance of the fields. His son, by the way, was a police officer. His argument was that officials minus the knowledge of the fields could not possibly do justice to people who live off the lands and are summoned to court for petty cases at their own egoistic whims.
He said he asked his son if he knew how many times a year a harvest was made. The son had blinkers on! He recited an account of another well educated person who did not know what the coarse grains contained! The essence of our diet, he roared in stupefaction, rice!
And then he concluded by saying, “how can people, supposedly in positions of power and in-service of the common citizenry, grant kidus when they are so out of touch with the reality of the country?”
By then I had had enough red-bulls. Recharged, I took leave of the crowding tavern and took another course. My walkabouts landed me up in a neighbour’s house. The Aum had just been back from a day long trek to a monastery up on a steep hill. She had gone to pay homage to the Shabdrung’s special statue. She spoke with faith and satisfaction, describing the beautiful statue. Then she spoke full of remorse and regret. She mentioned the neglected Lhakhangs along the trail. Their sacred walls crumbing with negligence, the statues lying on the ground, decapitated and desecrated, grounded on the floor, dirty and dusted. She spoke of Chhortens along the way, vandalized and looted.
These images she contrasted with the beautiful houses in the valley. Where houses compete for sheer size, flowers crowd adorning the balconies and cars fill the garages.
Then she said, without regret or remorse, “people forget the true meaning of life, their priorities are wrong. Their perception and pursuance of happiness is momentary.”
Both were illiterate. One is a farmer turned driver turned workshop owner. He is in his early sixties. He has an epic or two to narrate about the pitfalls of our country. The other is a farmer and a housewife. She is not a history encyclopedia; she is though a devout Buddhist who sees spiritualism starving and materialism fattening.
When I left them, I felt illiterate.
We may have acquired knowledge, but that just melts away when raw wisdom comes its way. A thousand sharp sickles in the fields and a thousand blunt spades in the hills are apparently not as backward as punching 107 rubber-ed and numbered keys. A thousand shovels will bury our collective westernized notions in one dug out fell swoop.
What they wanted to know was; why do people of power forget the bare naked truths and essentials?
On the death anniversary of the great Shabdrung “under whom we submit ourselves,” there were two that asked in the simplest terms, “Why can’t 'influentials' try understanding themselves before they try bullying and bulldozing the world?”
Feeling humbled and chastised, I vowed to get their message across. In the end, it seems, the educated lot is neither too smart nor too worldly-wise. Perhaps a willing ear or two will erase our own educated ignorance.
For starters, on the pros and cons of rice cultivation and harvests, I recommend the paddy fields of Paro valley.