Friday, June 17, 2011

Meet Bhutan's Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck

M eet Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck.
Bhutan Queen Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck is a real conservationist when it comes to her country's Himalayan culture and Buddhist heritage. But she is also well-traveled, a literary enthusiast and loves Elvis Presley.

Queen Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck is one of four sisters who married Jigme Singye Wangchuck, Bhutan's former king, who abdicated in favor of his eldest son a few years ago.

Today, the queen mother, a youthful 55-year old, embodies her country's efforts to reap the benefits of modernity while protecting its traditions.

Queen Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck, who was schooled in India's region of Darjeeling, is the patron of Thimphu's Mountain Echoes literary festival that brings together Indian and Bhutanese writers.

An accomplished author herself, in "Treasures of the Thunder Dragon: A Portrait of Bhutan" she retraces the country's recent history and offers vivid accounts of travels that took her to the mountain kingdom's most far-flung areas. During the festival's second edition last month, she announced plans to start writing again after a five-year break.

Over tea and steamed dumplings in her palace in Thimphu, Queen Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck recently spoke about the perils of television, her pilgrimage to Memphis and Gross National Happiness, the country's guiding philosophy.

One of my fondest memories of my time in boarding school in India is watching Elvis Presley movies. We used to have screenings in school, I remember watching "It Happened at the World's Fair" and "Viva Las Vegas." And I just fell in love with this gentleman—ever since I was in second grade. I am still a fan.

Elvis has always been one of my all-time favorites. I saw him in concert in Madison Square Garden in the 1970s. When he died I was here in Bhutan and I remember wearing black for one week. And in the mornings I would offer butter lamps for his soul, which is something we do here in Bhutan.

I also had the great opportunity of going to Memphis, where I stayed at the Heartbreak Hotel. I went there with my daughter, right after her graduation from Harvard Law School in 2007. Graceland appeared much, much smaller than I had expected it to be as a child. Nevertheless, Elvis loomed large. I also saw the jumpsuits he looked so wonderful in when he went on stage. On his bookshelf I also noticed a copy of Hermann Hesse's "Siddhartha," which is about the Buddha. I liked that.

I have walked the length and breadth of this entire nation, from its plains to some of its most inaccessible mountain areas. If I had to choose my single favorite place in Bhutan, it would have to be the Jigme Dorji National Park, named after the third king. This park is home to the national animal, the takin, the national flower, the blue poppy, and is home to our most pristine lakes and virgin peaks. In the park I also went on the Snowman trek, one of the toughest treks in the world.

It's important to have festivals like Mountain Echoes that bring together Bhutanese and Indian authors and that give us the opportunity to celebrate our shared culture.

It is possible to speak of a pan-Himalayan culture, especially from a religious perspective. We have to remember Buddha's Indian origins. Here in Bhutan we have thousands of pilgrims going to India's Bodh Gaya every year.

Bhutan was never really forbidden. We were just isolated, by choice. That's one of the reasons we have so much of our culture and heritage still intact. We began being "unforbidden" when we started building motorways in the early 1960s. That's when we opened up physically. It was around then that I saw my first motor vehicle. Until then the only mode of transport was horseback, for those who were lucky enough to have horses. Others had to walk.
I think the Internet and mobile phones are wonderful innovations. Now, television is another story altogether. It has its benefits but it has even more negative side-effects. Families spend less time together and our youth sometimes pick up bad habits. We have over 100 channels and there is so much out there. We have one main Bhutanese channel, BBS, the national broadcaster, and, besides a few small private channels, the rest are all international. You have the good channels, like CNN and BBC, but then you have others, too.

The outlook of our youth is changing and I'm worried we'll just become part of the global culture and pay less attention to our own. We are very small, very fragile and we need to pay the biggest attention to the preservation of our culture and heritage, which is very unique.

We can preserve our culture through Gross National Happiness, which is enshrined in our constitution. One of the principles of GNH is to protect our culture, our heritage and our environment—something the government is doing in so many ways. For instance, through the promotion of our own movies, and our own songs and dances. We also have to wear our traditional clothes when visiting government offices, among other things.

I don't think there will ever come to a point when we have to restrict our country's exposure to global media. I don't see this as something our country would ever do. Putting restrictions on something like that would be fundamentally wrong. But what we can do is keep our culture alive within our country and make young people proud of their heritage. I was a young person once upon a time, and we all go through phases of fascination and experimentation. Then what happens is that you get older and come closer to home. We are trying to keep that home intact

1 comment:

Kanak Sarkar said...

Bengali and Bangladeshi : The Identity Debate

I am revealing a secret to you. Most people don’t know the difference between Bengali (WB, India) and Bangladeshi identity. They are two different identities. Bangladeshi people are often confused as Bengali. They are quite different. They (Bangladeshi) have separate language with accent, history, culture and geographical demarcation.

Normally the Bangladeshi people claim Bengali as their official mother tongue and official identity. Virtually it is their step-motherly tongue and step-fatherly identity. A Bangladeshi may claim to be but not exactly a Bengali. Bangladeshi people often use Bengali as co-identity. But this fact is unknown and kept secret.

Bengali language is originally based on dialect spoken in Calcutta and both bank of lower Ganga river (India). Bangladeshi people do not speak Bengali language. They speak Bangladeshi language. Bengali and Bangladeshi is like or more than Hindi-Punjabi difference or Swish-German difference. Though officially Bengali is considered their mother tongue, virtually they speak Bangladeshi which is far different from being Bengali.

There is similar problem in Hindi and Urdu. Officially Hindi and Urdu different language but when spoken both are same.

Bangladeshi people (except Brahmans) cannot be awarded Bengali identity. Their language, accent, intonation, culture is quite different from those of Bengali (Calcutta and lower Ganga river). Brahmans are Bengali since they came from North India. No author has so far revealed this secret. For detail please collect and read the book. (Reply for PDF copy).

The Book
"Bengal : Society and Culture" (English) "Banglar Samaj O Sanskriti" (Bengali),
--- by K C Sarkar, Ratna Prakashan, Kolkata-75, (Price-Rs-200/ only)
(Contact- Arun Goswami- 09874619790 for purchase)