Feb 9, 2015

Why is kerosene dearer than our security?

People line up for their share of coupons
This weekend my family had to pay a hefty price for my complacency. They braved two cold winter mornings and evenings without a warm heater. It was difficult for the electric heaters to maintain the same warmth that the Korean kerosene heaters provide. But without crude oil, our heater stood in the middle of the living room, idle. We could not buy it from the Bhutan Oil Distributors (BOD) as we had no coupon. I forgot to collect it from the Trade Office and no amount of search paid any dividend.  

Almost there
This is interesting. In Bhutan we cannot buy kerosene like other commodities. Petrol and other fuels are much easier to purchase. I have seen people at the fuel stations buying petrol or diesel and taking them in their jerry cans. When it comes to kerosene, the authorities go strict and monitor everything. At least they seem to do so. Kerosene is the domain of the poor people like us. The richer lots have no use for this third-grade crude oil. And that's why we have people going wild. But do we even care how much people use other fuels? Who limits the quantity of fuel a car can burn? 

Each person is limited to 50 liters of kerosene a month, during the cold months. He/she gets only 10 during the warmer months. 

Now, let's delve into this issue a little further. To avail kerosene coupons, one has to go to the Trade Office and wait in line. Waiting is become the norm of the day now and no one seems to mind it anymore. Earlier, the Trade officials gave us 5 coupons of 10 liters each (for 50 liters). But now (I do not understand why - maybe for economic reasons) they give only one 50-liter coupon. This is good, but mostly bad. Good, because now one has to take care of only one document. But here is the crux of the matter - when we go to buy our 'quota' of kerosene, we need to part with the 50-liter coupon, irrespective of quantity we like to purchase. For example, if I buy only 30 liters (for storage and related reasons), I am forced to forego my remaining 20 liters. And here I see some a major problem, which is beyond the scope of this piece.    

We live in a digital era and most of the things happen online. And I feel kerosene coupon/quota is something that can be handled easily online. When the government can afford to issue Security Clearance (NOC) online, what is a kerosene coupon? Is kerosene more important than the issuance of NOC? This year, RRCO has extended their trust to the taxpayers by allowing the people to file taxes online. 

Allow a citizen to avail his coupon online - he may not need 50 liters at once. And accordingly allow him to customize the quantity he requires. We can always put a cap at 50 liters. That way we can avoid giving out 50-liter coupon when we actually collect only 25 liters. 

We have no objections with the way the distribution is done right now. Just provide us online, hassle-free and efficient service. 

Jan 31, 2015

Thank You - I can understand Dzongkha

This is my first blog post of 2015. Happy New Year and welcome back to another year filled with excitements and exhilaration.

I voiced this concern on the social media, but I would like to do it here again. Our policy is to promote our national language and everyone talks about it on the television and on radios.

But until now, in my opinion, it has been more of a lip service. I am not sure if that is a correct term, but I am using it anyway. You see, those people who are responsible and are paid to say that on the national TV say so only because they are mandated to say so. But once they are at home, they turn into a chilip and talk to their children in English. We can’t blame them. They are just doing the right thing by making their children’s future brighter by perfecting their English proficiency, because in real Bhutan, English proficiency, especially speaking is prized over anything.

At selection interviews, if a candidate speaks fluent English then the panel is almost moved to tears and thinks it has discovered some mysterious islands in the Himalayas. And then we stress (again lip service mostly) importance of our national language. I don’t doubt its importance. But sometimes I certainly doubt if people really mean what they say in the public. Of course I am not discounting what some pioneers are doing to promote Dzongkha. I salute such individuals. Dasho Sherab Gyeltshen, the former Secretary of DDC, is one such people, who deserve our praises.

I have been thinking about this for a long time now. Mobile operators in Bhutan use English followed by Dzongkha in their automatic responses. I think they provide services to the Bhutanese and not foreigners. For example, when someone does not respond to your call or is out of service, the first automatic response we get is recorded in English. And the saddest story is this - people who understand English hardly wait for the Dzongkha version of the message. They cut if off; any sane person would do that. But people who do not understand a word of English, especially in rural villages have to wait until they get it.

I am not sure if this would cost anything at all – to reverse their automatic responses – to the telecom companies. But it would certainly mean a lot to the promotion of our national language. Otherwise, how can we promote it? 

Recently, someone wrote on the social media that our laws are first drafted in English and then translated into Dzongkha. These laws are then interpreted in Dzongkha, mostly referring English versions but they maintain “Dzongkha text shall be the authoritative text, if there exists any difference in meaning between the Dzongkha and the English text.”

But I wonder if we have enough words or equivalent terms to match what is been encrypted in English. But that is for another day!  


Dec 31, 2014

The Year That Was

Thank you. my dear!
What a year we all had. I really feel like I am still in June 2014 and it is surprising how fast the year moved. But I am happy to admit that it has been a year of learning and exploration as I ventured into new fields that I never tried it before. And I am happy that I took them up.

But seriously, on blogging and writing front, it has been a disaster for me like that of Malaysian Air. I felt terribly sorry for having left my blog dry and empty almost more than 3/4 of the year. It has been the worst year here at Penstar. I send out my apologies to my sincere readers, who had checked my blog several times only to leave without discovering anything new. I would like to thank you all for staying and bearing with me all year around. I really appreciate that. Hope you will continue to do so in the coming year. Hopefully, I will be able to blog much more often. 

And 2015 - here it comes. I welcome the year with my open arms although I would take sometime refraining from writing 2014 everywhere. If you see that, bear with me - as always it will take sometime for the realization to dawn - that we are no more in 2014. I guess that is same with all of you.

Here comes the tricky part - resolutions. Do I need to set some more resolutions even this year? I am sure most of us cannot keep up with the resolutions, but we make them anyways. But that does not mean I am being pessimistic with everything. In fact I would really want to be optimistic with a set of 2015 resolutions. They are not much and hopefully I will keep up with them. But most important of all - I need to get up on my feet and do some exercise. This is serious and no joke at all, people. I would be really shocked if being and staying fit in the year does not feature on your list of resolutions. I certainly have it as a priority number one.

And until then - thank you all for being good people and making my 2014 - a great year filled with happiness, prosperity, joy, jubilation and material satisfaction! 

Happy New Year and Tashi Delek. See you next year!

Sep 2, 2014

Hello; Rural Bhutan Calling

When cellular service was first introduced in Bhutan many people had hard time believing that one could communicate with someone over a small handset that resembled a child's toy. What amazed them was the fact that they can carry that handset wherever they went without having to be bothered by the wires. And back then only a handful of Bhutanese could afford cellular phones. We have come a long way today.

Almost everyone carries a mobile phone now that without one he/she is almost considered old fashioned. As on December 2013 as many as 544,337 people have subscribed to either BMobile or TashiCell. 

Of late WeChat is the talk of the town - at least in rural Bhutan. Everyone wants to know and find out who is on WeChat. Many farmers have it and that makes me uncomfortable as I was introduced to it only recently. Jokes aside, it is really simple and useful platform - once you create an account, you are ready to go and at the push of a button, you send messages and pictures to your loved ones. This does not require literacy. But again I am not discounting its negative impact - especially, how viral some leaked private videos went in Bhutan through WeChat! But this is only one side of it.

I think WeChat truly empowers our villagers and illiterate citizens. They don't need fancy and expensive mobiles to use WeChat.

It is important for us to provide reliable connectivity in rural Bhutan. But again it is time that we educate our rural folks about their safety and privacy in this SMALL and OPEN world. 

Aug 28, 2014

Flying home Lessons from Taj Mahal

It was a great trip. And a visit to Taj Mahal was the greatest treat of India. I have heard a great deal about this monument that I had to visit it. So, on August 24, 2014 as I was winding my India trip I managed to visit it. I can't describe how spectacular it was - it was simply amazing! One has to see with his/her own eyes and physically be there - only then can he/she realize what is meant by that!  
It was truly memorable event of my life; second to the birth of my daughter, of course. And for now I will leave all information and historical facts about how this monument came into being to the historians and researchers! 

It was Sunday. And I think there were more than 10,000 visitors. It was crowded. It was hot. I found that running the monument was an organization in itself - I am sure it employs thousands of people. Taj Mahal is one of the greatest treasures of the mankind and showcases the magnificent piece of human creation. 

An Indian visitor pays INR 20 while the visitors from SAARC regions have to part with INR 510. The visitors from elsewhere pay as high INR 750. I think people won't mind paying any amount to visit such a monument. 

We have many historical sites in the country; the most talked about one being the Taktshang. Many tourists make it a point to visit it. 

My visit to Agra made me believe that we can similarly institute visitors' fees for some of our historical sites. Well, in most temples and holy Buddhist sites, I know some visitors offer nyendar, but again it is not mandatory. In order to create funds to sustain these treasures for the posterity, we need to think of ways to generate revenues. Entrance fee is one viable option I see for now! Anything that is offered free is not often valued. 

How far can our meagre domestic tax take us? 


Aug 12, 2014

A Matter of Great Embarrassment

Picture by Kuenga Tashi, BBS, Monggar
My becoming a vegetarian has nothing to do with the fear of sins and thereby being thrown in the darkest corner of the hell. Some people do not like the taste - they are vegetarians under duress. Some cannot consume meat because they are advised against it by their doctors. Mine is purely out of love and compassion for the animals. 

My assumption is that if I stop eating meat there will be one hungry-mouth less feasting on it. The whole idea is that if we have less mouths feeding on cruelty then there will be fewer merciless knives that take the lives of innocent animals. We worry that we might die soon and perform rimdros or visit doctors. But then people die for meat! Animal cruelty is cruelty like no other. 

But what had happened at a place in Monggar is even worse. The owner of Gashamo suspects that some men are raping their cow. And there were evidence thrown everywhere. That's not all - a few days ago, the inhuman act has left Gashamo with a fractured limb. Now that is a great shame. I did not know men could stoop to that level. It is inhuman - the animalistic behavior must be corrected. 

According to the Penal Code of Bhutan; Section 211: 
A defendant shall be guilty of the offence of bestiality, if the defendant engages in sexual intercourse or other sexual contact with an animal.
Penal Code of Bhutan grades "bestiality" as "petty misdemeanor". That means if a person is found guilty of such offense, then he would be imprisoned from anywhere between a month to less than a year. But it is sick and embarrassing! We have heard of people going to jails for fantasizing sexual acts with their bicycles. 

Authorities should cut off such shameless people's genitals and feed them to dogs. Of course even the dogs won't feed on them, I am sure. 

Aug 6, 2014

Sorry my child, I cannot change your name

From: www.jantoo.com
I had no say in naming my daughter unlike most modern parents because I chose to offer that honor to some highly learned and incarnate Buddhist Lamas. And according to the karmic forces my daughter was named. Yangchen Tshogyal Dolkar དབྱངས་ཅན་མཚོ་རྒྱལ་སྒྲོལ་དཀར། is a decent name. But today there are so many names that are far more difficult to pronounce and by that token Yangchen Tshogyal Dolkar is not at all sophisticated. 

I had to write this post – hoping some day my daughter gets to read it herself and understand my limitation and that I had no say in her name – to let her daughter know that I had to let you down with your request.

How can you change your name? But she does not understand that. She thinks it can be done like the way we change our clothes in summer. Sorry! There are some modern men who change their wives more often and realize they can’t change their names as often as they wish. Of course now thanks to Facebook Rimpochhe – people can change their names – one a day if they choose to change. But that is not the truth; it is social, I know. People change names because they want to be new – someone else – with fancy and complicated names.

It has been sometime now since my daughter started nagging my wife and I to change her name. I don’t know from where kids these days are getting these wild ideas. She does not like her name anymore. Of course when she kept on pressing us we had to lie to her. The idea that she would then belong to a new set of parents scared her dearly. In that case, she says, she would keep her name the same.

Sorry my dear child – I cannot change your name and years from now you will understand exactly why not.

P.S: There are many decisions that are irreversible and before we seal them let’s give them second thoughts because once the damage is done no amount of whitewashing can bring the desired effect. We are going through a rough time. October is near - do we really need taxes for everything? 

Aug 5, 2014

Ama, I am coming home

Yes, I want to go home. I see nothing to cling onto in town or that I can point my fingers at and count as mine. Except my wife and daughter. Of course there a few things that I could gather in the last few years of living here. They cannot however be counted. Here, everything is about money. And almost nothing else. Our GNH teaches us otherwise, but here everyone is in a mad rush to make more money - more the merrier. But again they are only being rational and wise.
Sometimes I regret that we have spent so many productive years going to school and learning many things that no longer find use and purpose in our lives. Don't you feel that? Our parents sent us to school in a hope that we would have comfortable lives once we get jobs for it was every parent's dream then. And see how wild that dream has become now? Things have moved at lightening speed. But why am I rambling so much here? Anyways - yes I am going home. That is where my heart is. That is where my land is. That is where food is. That is where most of my stories have their beginnings. So, what am I doing in this sophisticated jungle?  
And here in this concrete jungle we drive, fancy and some not so fancy, cars, which are technically owned by the banks. If we fail to pay them on time, they will gladly auction our automobiles to the public and get their money back. Here we live in apartments and continue to pay our landlords. The house rent is often more than thirty to forty percent of what one makes a month. Little that remains funds our families for the month. And at the end of each month we realize that it is just enough to sustain. Aren't we fed up with this hand-to-mouth business? If we keep this way even by the time when old age comes knocking on our doors, we would have nothing to count as our own. And what are we handing to our children to be passed down to the posterity? This cycle must be broken sooner or later. Before our farmland no more recognizes us or we lose our footmarks in the villages.  
That's why I am going home. There in the village, what I grow on my farm will sustain me and my family. Who cares for some physical hardships? After all mental disorder results in many suicides in towns. I have no burden of taxes in the village and the food I grow on my farm does not heed to the ever growing inflation in town. How about that?   
Of course the bigger question now will be educating our children. There are no good schools in rural villages; it is true. Private schools to be specific. But if the end result of schooling is to land up a job, then what is the use of education? What is useful is that one can read and write his or her name and do basic numeracy. If that's all we require, we can teach that to our children on the farms and mould them to good and grounded human beings. 
Ama - I am coming home. 

Photos © Penstar Collections


Aug 1, 2014

Town-planning a threat to our food security?

Kuensel Article
I was going through today's edition of Kuensel (August 1, 2014). And an article by Tempa Wangdi particularly caught my attention. What a good news to begin the month, I thought. 

Some farmers in Trongsa are saying 'No' to town planning. They fear that they will have nothing at the end to hand over to their children. And that will be the end of their ancestral properties. But that's not all - I think - it poses a serious threat to our food security. How on earth can we achieve food self-sufficiency when we keep building houses and big structures in places that were once preserved for agricultural purposes?

I don't understand this thing. On one hand we insist on our policy of food security and other we build houses and turn fertile lands into towns. This is quite intriguing. In some countries, fertile lands are used for agricultural purposes and it is only here in Bhutan that we submit them to developmental activities. Thimphu Expressway is the best example of how we lose our agricultural land to the forces of modernization. That stretch was paddy field when I first visited Thimphu as a kid. But today it plays host to the highway and hundreds of buildings. 

In rush to have road connectivity our people back home in the villages sign on every document. If a road can come to their villages, nothing can matter. And as a result many paddy fields are bulldozed. Many maize fields are flattened. I don't know how many sogshings and fruit trees would yield that way. In most of the villages, compensation was not even mentioned. But people are happy anyway - all they want is road and any attempt to object to that decision to bring road is seen as a black sheep in the villages. At this rate, we can never do away with import of rice and other food items from our neighbors. Then our policymakers talk at length on how we are going through what they call INR crisis and what its implications are. Such are the voices of experts!  

But I am happy. Now our people are fast maturing. Trongsa incident exhibits that signs. Now they understand the implication of submitting everything to the forces of development. It also means that they now understand the need to preserve the fertile lands for agricultural purpose. And I am equally fascinated by some villagers in the same Dzongkhag (in a separate news report by BBS) requesting to opt out of Trongsa Throm because they have to pay urban taxes while still living fairly a rural life. 



Jul 30, 2014

Putting Women in Leadership Roles

Aum Karma Choden is 45 years old and lives at Ura Village in Bumthang. She studied until fourth grade, but had to leave her studies to help her mother and sister at home while her three brothers continued their education. One of her brothers is a monk. Karma is married and has three children.
Being a housewife, Karma was a shy and reserved person and she hardly participated in community meetings. 

In 2013, Karma attended one of the advocacy programs conducted by Ura READ Center. “I was really intrigued by the subject matter [women representation] and its importance,” says Karma. The program was a part of READ Bhutan’s project - Women Represent: Boosting Women’s Participation in the Public Sphere.

And since then she took part in all the activities and workshops conducted by Ura READ Center. “Due to the hectic schedule, it is difficult for women to attend such programs,” Karma admits. “But the Library [Ura READ Center] conducted most of the programs in the evening. That was good for us.”
Aum Karma Choden feels that of all the programs she attended, listening program and women’s discussion forum were highly effective.

Today, she is more confident with her life and developed a good camaraderie with her fellow community members. She is a member of Ura Women’s Group. She has understood the importance of women’s participation in the decision-making. 

And that’s not all – Aum Karma surprised many in her community by getting elected as the Chairperson of Ura READ Center’s Library Management Committee. This is the first time a woman has ever held that position in all our READ communities. Aum Karma has shown the way forward and we hope more women would join her in all the communities.

Congratulations Aum Karma and her family for breaking the barriers. This is a very good first step made, For READ Bhutan, certainly this is a wonderful evidence of yet another successful program. 


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