When loss is gain

Our gain

Her Majesty the Queen Mother, Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck, launched When Loss is Gain yesterday, at the closing session of Mountain Echoes 2012, a literary festival that keeps getting bigger and more successful each year.

When Loss is Gain is written by H.E Pavan K. Varma, India’s ambassador to Bhutan, and a prolific writer who has already authored no less than 16 other books. This, however, is his first work of fiction, and one that you will most probably read continuously, in one sitting, from cover to very enjoyable cover.

The story, set mostly in Bhutan, is about the profound transformation in the lives and fortunes of a couple of Indians who accidentally meet in Wangsisina.

The book is already a commercial success in India; a French edition will be released soon; and there’s excited talk about making the story into an international film.

In short, the book has projected Bhutan to India and the world. And in doing so, it will, in some ways, transform the lives and fortunes of Bhutan and her people.

Your Excellency: congratulations … and thank you.

About financial crisis

If you, like me, want to know more about the global financial crisis, here’s a quick two-step process.

First, get hold of Justin Cartwright’s novel Other People’s Money. Okay, it’s fiction. But it’s very readable. And you’ll find that the story, which revolves around a failing London bank, provides an enjoyable introduction to why financial institutions collapse, and how rich bankers, powerful politicians and influential journalists conspire to prevent the bank from crashing.

Justin Cartwright’s story also mentions Bhutan – not as the land of gross national happiness, or as an up and coming financial centre, but, interestingly, as a refuge for the mysterious yeti!

Second, download Getting up to Speed on the Financial Crisis: A One-Weekend-Reader’s Guide by Gary Gorton and Andrew Matrick. This paper, also quite readable, is a summary of 16 other documents, and explains what happened during the financial crisis 2007 – 2009.

The one-weekend guide also has a Bhutan connection. The paper was recommended by Dorji Wangchuk on one of his many informative tweets. Dorji Wangchuk is an economist and financial expert working in the UK.


Happiness without kerosene

Happiness is ...

Today is the 24th of March. So it’s exactly three years since PDP got clobbered in the kingdom’s first general elections. Actually it wasn’t that bad – 33% of the voters had supported us. It’s just that that, unfortunately, translated to only two of the 47 seats in the National Assembly.

Anyhow, it’s now three years since that fateful day. And I’ve decided to commemorate the general elections by going to the people. I’m in Dorikha, at my indulgent aunt’s farmhouse, on my way to Gakiling gewog.

I’m taking along two important items for this trip. The first is a book: “Happiness – Lessons from a New Science” by Richard Layard, an economist who challenges that contemporary economic theory does not favour the pursuit of happiness.

The second item is a “solar light bulb” manufactured by Nokero (as in “no kerosene” – their idea is to replace the use of kerosene for illuminating homes). Nokero’s bulb is the size of a regular incandescent bulb, but carries a complete system to convert sunlight into electricity – solar panel, rechargeable battery, and light emitting diodes.

The Nokero bulb I’m carrying is a sample. Several villages in Gakiling don’t have electrical light, so I’ll use it to read “Happiness” at night. If the bulb survives my week-long tour, it would be ample proof that Nokero would make a worthy gift to our remote farmers.

Students’ Digest

Good to digest

Finally! A magazine just for students! And about time too. After all, one in every three Bhutanese is a student. The magazine, Students’ Digest, a quarterly, was launched last month, befittingly on Children’s Day, the 11th of November.

Students’ Digest is a rich compilation of educational material for students, and their teachers and parents. From news, views and interviews to scholarships, jobs and study tips the magazine offers knowledge, entertainment and counsel to its readers.

I wish the Students’ Digest team well. Their success will be our students’ success.

The Growing Bhutanese Middle Class

I’m reading “The Great Indian Middle Class” a bestseller written by Pavan Varma, a prominent Indian, and India’s next ambassador to Bhutan. The book traces the emergence and evolution of the Indian middle class, and examines its influence on the development of India’s society, politics and economy.

The publisher calls Mr Varma’s work a “powerful and insightful critique” that shows us “how the middle class, guided by self-interest, is becoming increasingly insensitive to the plight of the underprivileged, and how economic liberalization has only heightened its tendency to withdraw from anything that does not relate directly to its material well-being.”

I wonder what Mr Varma will make of our own growing middle class. Will he see us as a powerful force determined to eradicate poverty? Will he identify us as champions of democracy? And will he conclude that we are true defenders of GNH?

Or will he discover that our middle class is also a “consumerist predator” that is motivated by self-interest and greed? That breeds corruption? And that is insensitive to the plight of our poor?

Jewel of books

Twenty months ago the Tarayana Foundation invited Bhutanese to compose poems celebrating His Majesty the Fourth King, Jigme Singye Wangchuck. Of the more than two hundred entries, 25 poems were selected and compiled into the book “Jewel of Men”. These poems express the deep feelings – of love, affection and reverence – that all Bhutanese hold for our beloved monarch.

“Jewel of Men” was launched yesterday by Her Majesty the Queen Mother, Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck, in a warm ceremony commemorating our Fourth King. Present were HRH Ashi Sonam Dechen Wangchuck, who delivered an eloquent welcome, and HRH Dasho Jigyel Ugyen Wangchuck, who gave us a poignant documentary about his relationship with his father and his monarch.

“This book of poems”, Her Majesty revealed to an audience full of emotion, “I hold dear to my heart, for it is a reflection of the sentiments of love and gratitude to His Majesty, who has given this country so much, in particular, a King in His Image, His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck”

I thank Her Majesty and Tarayana for voicing my innermost feelings on the Fourth Druk Gyalpo, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, a giant among men, a king without equal, a jewel.