Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Short Autobiography

was born on 4 January 1961 to Dip Bahadur Nirola and Kaushila Bhandari as their eldest child in a small village called Nainatal, under Dalim ‘geog’[i] (block) in Samdrup JongkharEastern Bhutan. I have one younger brother and four younger sisters, one youngest sister died in 1989.  Prior to their marriage our parents had actually lived at Surey in Gelephu.  Our father was a widower with a daughter and our mother was a widow with one son.  They had fallen in love, and against all odds, got married.  Because of this unique marriage we have one half-brother and a half-sister. My early education started in 1968 in a small primary school at our village.  In fact this was the school which our father started in 1950s after he got elected as the ‘gup[ii]’ (village headman).  He had ardent desire to educate all the children of our village.  He probably regretted his own inadequacy in education due to lack of opportunity. However, in spite of his ability to just read and write Nepali language without formal training in grammar, he was very popular person during his time.  He is still fondly remembered by many people of our village as a dynamic gup. 

The school was initially situated near our house but because our father wanted it to be accessible to many more children, got it shifted to almost an hour’s walk away, at Dalim. This is actually the centre of the whole block.  Due to this I had problem walking the distance, which got solved later when I was made to stay with one of the teachers, Mr. A. T. Sill, an Assamese. So by the age of 9 or 10 I had started living independently and this acted as some sort of survival training for me to cope up with harder life I was to lead later.

In 1972 my father started showing some signs and symptoms of a chronic lung disease.  I had observed him making visits to some health centre in Assam and I had also noticed that he was taking lots of medicines.  Occasionally he would bring out blood streaks in his sputum.  I just wondered rather than worry for I was too small to gauge the gravity of the problem. Day by day his health deteriorated and the blood in sputum became more copious.  When I look back I realize that he had a serious illness, probably Pulmonary Tuberculosis or lung cancer!  He could not get the treatment he required due to lack of health facilities in those days. Finally he succumbed to the disease sometimes in June or July that year.  We were left with our pregnant mother who was expecting another child over and above the existing seven; this was not to last long! 
Whether it was our fate or our parents’ love for each other, our mother joined our father in the heavenly abode within a gap of about three months.  She could not survive the heavy post partum haemorrhage following retention of placenta after the birth to our youngest sister.  I remember many people trying to help her; some to the extent as  to try manual removal of placenta without any modern day aseptic precaution! Nothing helped though and after three days of delivery she was no more!  The complication could have possibly resulted due to too many parity, age and severe lack of maternal and child health services in those days.  This sad picture would always guide me to be more compassionate and extra cautious towards women in labour later in my career as a doctor.   

Following the death of our mother we landed up in great trouble.  We had become orphans without any guardian!  All the well wishers got together and convened a meeting immediately after the funeral of our mother. We were to choose a guardian from among many uncles and our half brother, Ghana Shyam Thapa, who was by then living with his wife and a child in a separate house.  Our father had one brother, and six half brothers from mother’s side; his brother being Karna Bahadur Nirola. After a lot of deliberation our half sister, 2 years senior to me, the eldest in the group, made the decision to choose Karna Bahadur uncle (we call him father now) as our guardian.  He never had a very cordial relationship with our father because of his (uncle’s) short temper.  However, he had no option but to accept a bunch of tiny orphans, eight in number, as young as three days to fourteen years old.  He already had four of his own kids, oldest being fourteen and youngest just a year and a half.  His wife was expecting another child very soon!  There were a total of 12 children to take care of.  Now I awe at his ability to have kept his mental frame intact in spite of the enormous task of taking care of twelve helpless souls! 

In the mean time I continued my study and completed the fourth standard, the highest level of education available at our village during those days.  Our father’s last wish before he expired was that I should be allowed to complete ‘matric’ (matriculation[iii]).  He knew I was an intelligent boy and probably could manage to study up to that level.  Arthaman Rai was the idol from our village in those days.  He had completed matriculation and had joined government job.  All of us aspired to become something like him and do government service.

In order to pursue further studies I was to go to another school, some 200 kilometres away from home, at Tashigang in East Bhutan. I was sent to Tashigang along with Shanti Ram Nepal.  Tashigang had a Central School with classes up to eleven.  Two students from Dalim were already studying there, Suk Bahadur Subba and Shanti Ram Rizal (late).  The principal, Mr. K. P. Nair, was a very strict person and he readily doubted quality of education in the smaller primary schools.  Thus without any regard to our transfer certificate or any interview, two of us were admitted in class four again.  Life in hostel was not so attractive, but having had the experience of living away from home and being an orphan now, I didn’t feel lonely or home sick any time.  Suk Bahadur Subba acted as my mentor during that period and also later in life.  He helped me cut firewood, made me do my home work, woke me when I needed to be awake and disciplined me when I tended to become mischievous. Now I realize that he was the person who shaped me as a teenager and put me in the right path.  I could achieve this much all because of his guidance and inspiration!  He remains the most adored person in my life.  A year later I was fortunate to get the company of my closest friend, Rabilal Pokhrel (uncle by relation) who joined me in class 5.  We spent those troubled teenage years together arm in arm, competing healthily in classes and scoring the highest in examinations.  Two of us have cried together, worked together to earn pocket money, and spent most formative years of our lives together. We worked hard and passed class 8 Common examinations in 1977.  We continued to be classmates until we went to two different professions after completing ISC-12[iv].  He is now an Electrical and Electronic engineer heading the Area 1 of Bhutan telecom as Area manager.

Within two years of our admission some crises happened at our school (I have not been able to comprehend even today) and it suddenly got downgraded to a Junior high school.  All the students from class 9 and above got transferred to Paro and Monger; Suk Bahadur Subba, thus, left too.  Mr. O. P. Arora from India came as our new principal.  He was a nice and friendly person unlike Mr. Nair who was very fond of wielding a stick!

In the mean time back home things were not so good.  Our aunt, who was pregnant when I left for Tashigang, delivered a baby boy and due to some post-natal complication she too had expired.  This gave our uncle a lot of mental stress.  He became irritable and abusive due to which my brothers and sisters had to face immense amount of wrath.  They suffered a lot!  Now I realize that it must have been the most difficult time in my uncle’s life.  Inability to take care of two infants, our youngest sister was given to our ‘thuli-ama[v]’. Thuli-ama readily adopted her as her own daughter and gave all the love and affection she lacked so far. Of course, she lived a very short but happy and healthy life.  She expired at the age of 16 while she was studying at Pemagatshel in class 8 due to Typhoid fever. Paradoxically, the year was 1989, the same year that I qualified as an MBBS doctor.  Unfortunately my medical knowledge was of no use to her for I got the news of her death and not the illness!  

In that stressful period of our uncle’s life, some people claimed that our father had taken loan from them.  In order to clear the debts our herd of about 30 water buffalos and our famous ‘Gopal’ horse had to be sold.  At that very moment the government objected for the amount of land we had and a substantial portion was confiscated; the remaining was shared between my brother and me.
In an attempt to find solace our uncle married to a lady from Chirang. They subsequently had three children out of the new wedlock.  Our uncle’s life seemed to change thereafter.  He built a new house, he started living more luxurious life than before and people attributed this to the wealth he acquired from his late brother along his children.  He dismantled our old family house and we saw the materials being utilized to make the new house.  He, however, always insisted that our parents left nothing except some land and eight of us; we had to believe that.  I escaped the harder lives my sibling had to lead at our uncle’s house not out of choice but because I was away at ‘not-so-comfortable, hostel in Tashigang.  It may seem a little mean on my part for not being able to give up my studies for farming to support my brothers and sisters but I had my father’s words to keep.  I had to pass ‘matric’!

After completing our class 8 examination we were supposed to go to Sarbang Central School but Rabilal and I requested Father Mackey for seats at Sherubtse College in Kanglung (22 Km south of Tashigang).  Sherubtse (‘the peak of knowledge’) was the highest seat of learning at that time and to get a seat there was a great privilege.  Since two of us had topped the class, Father Mackey readily accepted us.  We became ‘Sherubtsian’ in February 1978; the same year Father left Kanglung to start a new High school at Khaling (another 20 km south of Kanglung).

In 1979 I finally fulfilled my father’s dream by completing ICSE[vi]-equivalent to older matriculation.  However, by then I was determined to continue my studies as long as I could; I wanted to be a professional- an engineer or a doctor. With sheer hard work and some luck (actually I am more of a lucky person than hard working when it comes to studies!) I passed the ISC-12[vii] with good percentage.  I stood second, after Dr. Duptho Wangmo, in the science group.  Dr. Duptho is a Gynaecologist at Military Hospital, Lungtenphu, Thimphu. I qualified for a seat for MBBS at Armed Forces Medical College (AFMC) in PuneIndia. I joined AFMC in September 1982 and became a proud U-batcher of the Institute.  With one extra year due to poor performance in my final year, I completed my MBBS in November 1987.  Thereafter, I completed my one-year internship from Command Hospital (Eastern Command), Calcutta on the 28th of February 1989.  It was during the internship atCalcutta that I made another good friend, Dr. Kashinath Sharma.  We not only made our internship days enjoyable but also made our stay at Calcutta a memorable moment in our lives.  Dr. Hari Prasad Chhetri and Dr. Sonam Dorji were with us too.
I joined the civil service of Royal Government of Bhutan in March 1989.  My career began at Thimphu General Hospital where I spent very little time before I got transferred to Kalikhola. By late 1989, the political disturbance in the south was surfacing and this prompted the government to raise a militia force.  In the processes all the graduates and class 12 pass-outs were to be given militia training.  Since I belonged to the graduates of 1989, I also had to undergo that training of three weeks’ duration.  I enjoyed the training very much because of very good company we had during that period.

In the mean time I fell in love with Paizeen, whom I knew for almost 4 years, she being the sister-in-law of a close friend and accomplice, Mr. Suk Bahadur Subba (the same person who shaped me during the teenage years).   I got married to her on 14thFebruary 1990, incidentally the Valentine's Day. She was working as a draftsperson in the Department of Public Works in Thimphu.  In the same year that we got married she was transferred to Engineering Cell of Central Zone at Gelephu. This impelled me to request for a transfer to Gelephu hospital, which I got without any problem. The problem in the south got further impetus and by late 1990 there were demonstrations in the all the southern ‘dzongkhags[ix]’.  Many southern Bhutanese thus got involved in the pro-democracy agitations.  However, I felt that the time was not right for such a drastic act; even the method that was used to motivate the people for the agitation was mostly threats of death.  Many innocent people reluctantly took part in the demonstration and later suffered a lot.  Government took a very stern action towards the agitators in particulars and to all the sympathisers in general.  Numerous arrests were made, people were imprisoned and tortured.  Many innocent people got scared and left the country.  The ones who left the country,  around 100,000 lived in Eastern Nepal until most of them got resettled in different parts of the world including the United States of America.

Because of the political problem the Zonal Office got closed and my wife too got transferred to Thimphu once again.  She was pregnant that time with our first child.  We got separated for sometime when we needed each other’s company the most.  During that period she started showing symptoms of pre-ecclemptic toxaemia, a pregnancy related condition.  I wanted to be with her but I was refused transfer to Thimphu.  Fearing a disastrous consequence, we decided that she resigned from the job.  A few months before the delivery of our daughter she bid farewell to the job he had held for the last 9 ½ years to become a homemaker! Our daughter, Preeti had to be delivered by a caesarean section on 29th of August 1991.  Dr. B. M. Pradhan was kind enough to perform the caesarean duly assisted by myself at Gelephu Hospital

By November 1991 the government had decided to transfer all the loyal southern Bhutanese civil servants to the northern dzongkhags. This way I landed up in Punakha in November 1991 to work as the District Medical Officer.  The health centre where I initially worked was just a 10-bedded Basic Health Unit grade 1.  Ultimately it got upgraded to a new 20-bedded hospital, which was constructed under funding from German Bhutan Hospital Foundation- a non-governmental organization, and inaugurated in 1996.

I was fortunate to have taken part in the planning stage of the new hospital in the capacity of the DMO.  I was also fortunate to work in there as the first DMO along with Dr. Schmidt, a German doctor. After a long stay of around 5 ½ years at Punakha Basic Health Unit and just a few months of privilege of working in the new setup, I got transferred to another very old hospital at Trongsa in Feb 1997.  Trongsa hospital up- gradation was also underway that time, so I got involved in site selection and planning of a new district hospital with modern amenities funded by the DANIDA. By 1998 we completed the planning process and in 2000 the construction works began.  The hospital got completed in December 2003 and was inaugurated on 17th December, coinciding with our national day.  Dr. Man Bir Ghising, who later died in a road accident, was the first doctor to work in the new hospital as DMO.

While in Trongsa we went to have our second child after 8 years of long gap since Preeti was born.  We opted for an elective caesarean section and took help of Dr. (Mrs) Norbu in Thimphu.  We had a bouncy boy, Adeep on 25th of June 1999.  Incidentally, this was the year which marked the starting of cable TV and internet services in Bhutan.

In 2001 my post graduate studies got approved due to which I was sent to Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital in Thimphu to work in the Psychiatry department until my confirmation came through. I worked under the guidance of Dr. Chencho Dorji, the only Psychiatrist in Bhutan, for one and a half years in the Psychiatry department.  I got exposure to all sorts of psychiatry illnesses in Bhutan and this amplified my interest in the field of psychiatry.  While working there I also got a chance to take part in the first ever Mental Health survey conducted in Bhutan.  Besides, I was also involved the analysis of data.

After a long wait of 1 ½ years, finally in September 2003, I got the confirmation about my seat for PG in Psychiatry at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University in Dhaka, (former IPGMR[x]Bangladesh. I joined the university on 9th September 2003.  Getting back to study after a long gap of 14 years was almost a nightmare!  Again, to stay alone, away from family was equally traumatic.  However, by December 2003 my family joined me in Dhaka and gave me company throughout my post-graduation.  Our daughter sacrificed our company and stayed at Phuentsholing to continue her studies.  Of course she did enjoy the holidays with us every six months.  Except for a supplementation in part 1 examination, I managed to pass all my examinations in time and finally graduated in April 2006 as Psychiatrist with Master of Philosophy degree. I have climbed another rung in the career ladder of my life!

From May 2012 was undergoing a training program conducted by the Colombo Plan Asian Centre for Certification and Education for Addiction Professionals and completed the basic level course in November 2013.  I sat for a certification examination and qualified as International Certified Addiction Counsellor. I am also one of the regional trainers for the same course.

Over the period I have been able to gain trust in my profession and I am currently holding various positions in the government organizations. Beginning of 2014 left me alone to handle psychiatry department at JDWNRH after Dr. Chencho Dorji left for Australia on a two years long leave. He is now back and we also have a new lady Psychiatrist, Dr. Ugyen Dem. I am currently heading the department of Psychiatry. With the establishment of Khesar Gyalpo University of Medical Sciences of Bhutan, I am now a teaching faculty in the capacity of Professor at the University.

My brother, Om Prakash Nirola, graduated from Shree Ram College of Commerce,Delhi in 1990 with Honours in Economics. He passed the Royal Civil Service Commission examination for graduates and joined the Civil service in 1991.  He recently completed his MBA from the Netherlands.  He is married to Tek Kumari Kharel and has two sons.  The first child was a daughter, who had cerebral palsy due to kernicterus during infancy. She lived to be four year old when she finally left us all for the heavenly abode.  Om resigned from the Civil service to join one on the renowned organizations in Bhutan, Druk Holding and Investments [http://www.dhi.bt/] in Thimphu.    He completed his MBA from the Netherlands.

Out of five sisters, three could not get education.  They were married off and sent to their in-laws. As mentioned earlier, the youngest one expired in 1989. The second youngest, Hema Devi, graduated with diploma in Agriculture from Natural Resources Training Institute (NRTI) at Lobeysa.  She is worked as Research Assistant at Agriculture Research Centre in Yusipang, Thimphu until she resigned to join a private firm Druk Horticulture as its Chief Executive Officer.  She is married to Kharga Basnet, an Agriculture graduate, from the Philippines, currently a working in the US. They are blessed with one son and a daughter. They are currently living in Thimphu.   Her email address: hemanirola@yahoo.com. Hema has upgraded her qualification and graduated in 2013 with B.Sc degree Agriculture in College of Natural Resources (the erstwhile NRTI)

Our foster father, Karna Bahadur Nirola suddenly fell ill in April 2009 and his health continued to deteriorate further.  He had multi-organ failure and succumbed to the illness and left for the heavenly abode on 20th November 2009 at 8:30 a.m. in the ICU of JDWNR Hospital.  He was +78 years old by then.  His body was taken to his home at Bhangtar where he was cremated on 22nd November 2009.

My daughter has graduated from Pailan School of International Studies in Kolkatta with Bachelor degree in Media Science. After working at different organizations, including a year's work in Dubai, she is working at Bhutan Spirit Sanctury Resort at Shaba, Paro. My son is undergoing bachelor's course in Airlines, Hospitality and Tourism at Lovely Professional University, Jalandar, Punjab, India.



Life is full of twists and turn; it is up to you to negotiate or take a shortcut!


[i] Geog= A smallest administrative unit, also referred as block consisting of a number of villages under one headman or ‘Gup’.
[ii] Gup= Block head
[iii] Matric= Short for matriculation, an educational qualification equivalent to Secondary School Certificate (Class X).
[iv] ISC-12= Indian School Certificate (Class 12)
[v] Thuli-ama= mother’s elder sister
[vi] ICSE= Indian Certificate of Secondary Education (Class 10)
[vii] ISC-12= Indian School Certificate (Class 12)
[viii] JDWNRH=Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital
[ix] Dzongkhag=District
[x] IPGMR=Institute of Postgraduate medicine and research

Monday, October 19, 2015

A LOST CHILD: THAT'S ME!!

I realise that I have completed 54 years of my life. They say a cat has nine lives, but a human being has only one, unless you are a reincarnation. As I have not yet been recognized as a ‘trulku’ by anyone, I guess this is my only life. How nice! Having grown up as an orphan, living mostly in a student hostel, having embraced science to build my career to become a psychiatrist at the age of 45 years, I have not been convinced well to embrace any single religion or faith.  Wait a second; I am, but not an atheist in the real sense of the word. I was born as a Hindu; I am still among the flock of Hindus and behave like one among them. I always tick ‘Hinduism’ as my religion, whenever and wherever forms and dossiers require me to do so.  

I was fortunate to be very young, rustically na├»ve and, perhaps, ‘pure’ from an orthodox Hindu perspective to have been able to perform the final rites of my parents at the tender age of 12. As I was a long way from any exposure to modern worldly ways, I was able to meet the stringent dietary and daily protocols that would have been difficult today. If I had to do that now, perhaps my mind would question a lot of things. Is it really necessary to omit salt for 13 days? Why do I have to take only one meal? Why does wearing footwear in any way hinder? All in the name of liberating the souls of my departed parents.

I lived in student hostels most of my formative years. The same child who used to worship cows during Diwali was eating beef in the hostels of Trashigang and Kanglung schools. The child who used to fear being touched by a pig in order to avoid losing his caste started enjoying ‘phakpa sha’. The child who was ordained to believe that alcohol was the beverage of the lowest caste started liking a drink or two. If alcohol would define caste, then today I would be at the nadir of the caste system. Doesn’t matter though, as I don’t believe in it! Nothing really happened; perhaps I am lucky to have been born in Bhutan, a Buddhist country, or else I would have been ‘lynched’ by now for declaring that I have taken beef, a la Dadri.  

When I was young, in the name of religion, a he-goat used to be sacrificed during Dushera. The goat used to be identified well in advance as the one belonging to ‘devta’ and the offering was for Durga. Of course, we enjoyed the meat afterwards. Back in school, we learnt prayers written in “chokey”, which the Dzongkha teacher made us memorize and recite line by line. It still happens in our schools! When I got scared at night I used to recite ‘Om, Mani, Padme Hung’! Even today, it is the only ‘mantra’ that I know or have learnt the most. When I get shit scared, my pounding heart goes ‘Om, Mani…’

My parents were straightforward Hindus; practiced what was passed on from generations, and the rituals were also pretty straightforward. I still don’t know whether some of the rituals should be practiced! By the time I became 10 or 11 my father suddenly discovered the influence of ISKON. One day he came home with a slate carved with ‘Harey Rama, Harey Rama, Rama, Rama, Harey, Harey! Harey Krishna, Harey Krishna, Krishna, Krishna, Harey, Harey! I remember reciting that over hundred times. Nothing happened!

Around the same time, Vaishnavism came to our village from Surey, Gelephu. It required people to sort of get baptized by getting branded with ‘shankha’ and ‘chakra’ on each deltoid or thereabout. After that people were expected to live in purity – meaning becoming pure vegetarian, not mixing with people of other faith, etc. As the village headman (gup), my father refused to accept people converting to Vaishnavism.

By around 1975, Vaishnavism finally penetrated our village after the death of my parents. In fact, all my paternal as well as maternal uncles, my siblings, cousins and most of the Brahmins in my village embraced Vaishnavism. However, not everyone turned vegan.

This was the time my mind started questioning beliefs, faiths and religions. I keep hearing people say that ‘god is one’, even Facebook says so. But I also keep getting a message that ‘my god is better than your god’, or ‘my way is the best way to hit god’. At times I feel like a lost child; lost and stranded in the middle of nowhere asking for direction to reach my destination. But the directions are too many and mostly contradictory! How the hell will the lost child reach his destination?

Faith and religion are as confounding as is portrayed in the Bollywood flick ‘P.K’ One set of people believes that cows will help you cross the river to heaven – a mere touch of its tail is enough – after you die. Others have no problem eating beef. Yet others believe that some ‘mantra’ or ‘knowledge’ given by a particular guru will deliver you straight upstairs. While some think that pork is dirty meat, yet many enjoy eating it. Some say ‘don’t eat meat, for it is equal to cannibalism’; others advise that meat is very nutritious and the best source of protein. Some say, ‘oh you believe in that’? Then you have not gotten the real ‘gyan’! Anyone who has not received the gyan is not going to be liberated ever. You will remain as a restless soul after you die’.

Some say, ‘my guru is god, just believe in him and you will be liberated’. Some say,  ‘just close your eyes and meditate and you will attain nirvana’ Some say, ‘look at the ash produced by my ‘Bhagwan’ out of thin air. Lick some of the ash and smear some on your forehead, you are done’. Producing things out of thin air is a roaring business and a vibrant profession in the world. Famous magicians such as David Copperfield and P.C Sorkar have produced many more things than mere ash, yet their audience does not claim that they are gods. So much claim, but the fact is I am yet to see these pretenders fly to heaven!

The primary essence I see in all of these is  - be a nice person, help other human beings, be kind, don’t cheat, be simple and be satisfied. Perhaps all these can be summarised into four virtues: no anger, no jealousy, no greed and no hatred.

If this is the real essence, I think only Gautama Buddha summarised it the best, at least for me.  I see that people cheat others and perform grand rituals to neutralize the cheating. While people try very hard to be devout and religious in the hope of liberation, rituals following the death of someone seem to be still necessary. Sometimes an ailing person may not be provided with the basic care and food while still alive, but is served the most sumptuous of meals once he is dead. Talking of dead, some say you need to burn the dead to liberate the soul, others believe that it has to be kept until the day of final judgement. Some believe that the soul is liberated in 13 days; others believe it takes 49 days.

Confusions abound! Each believer, though, claims to have a solid answer, sometime even challenging to show proof. Yet god doesn’t seem to come in one colour, race, appearance anywhere and say, ‘hey don’t get confused; here I am’. 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

PARENTS-CHILDREN CONFLICT: A REFLECTION!

In the recent years I have been witnessing a rapid rise of conflict among children and their parents. These conflicts are leading to various behavior issues in the children and young adults. Many youth are seen to be frustrated, depressed, anxious and at times outright violent against self. Frequency of attempted suicides has increased over the years and many young people have perished. Postmortem psychological assessment of those who have committed suicides most of times fails to reveal the psychological issues. There are many instances of impulsive acts of self-harm.  A minor reprimand, scolding or interception has led to the drastic consequence like suicides.

The psychological resilience of our youth seems to have reduced to a bare minimum. They don’t seem to be able to accept anything which is beyond their liking. They seem to be all the time rebellious against the parents, the teachers and the society at large.  We are facing a big challenge of frustrated and angry new generation. The religious values and protective cultural norms are no more effective. I have been having lots of questions, and most of these are unanswered. What is the root cause for all this! Where are we going wrong and who is at fault? Seriously, it is high time that we did a psychological anthropological study to find this out, but still lack the capacity.

Being a Psychiatrist working at the National Referral Hospital, I have been faced with a lot of issues related to the youth and children. On many occasions I have been put in a dilemma to strike a balance. I Just sit and reflect! Someday my reflections may generate a hypothesis for a more scientific study.

Recently I was invited to a panel discussion for celebration of the Fiftieth Anniversary of Yangchenphug Higher Secondary School and I was one of the panelists from the adult-side. The topic for the discussion was “It’s my life. Let me have it my way”.  Very bold but a nice topic; it was the voice of the youth asking for their rights. They have been educated, they know their rights, they want freedom and they want to question and resist the age-old techniques most parents resorted to in order to discipline their children. While we agreed to the children’s view, we also quizzed them if they also knew their responsibilities? Sir Michael Rutland summarized this beautifully with an analogy of the driving culture that is evident in Thimphu. He said, the topic reminded him of the motorists in Thimphu where everyone thought “It’s my life. Let me have it my way”. He said,If this was the case, there would be no traffic rules or policemen, people would be hitting each other and the result be disastrous!” He reminded the children to exercise their rights within a limit and to be cognizant of their responsibilities.

From this panel discussion I came to realize that while most of the children have now learnt their rights from the western perspectives, the parents have not evolved according to the needs of the time. To me, most parents lack parenting skills. We try to use the same old disciplining techniques that our parents used on us. We still believe that physical punishment is needed to correct a child; we still believe that we can impose our views onto our children and they will believe blindly. The most affected are those parents who are residing at the cities because most children back in the villages are still listening to their parents without much questioning. They still adjust to the village life and are not very alien to their parents in their views.

I can recollect those days when we were children how we were punished physically in every setting, from home to the school. We were made to “grow up” into adults much faster than the modern children. We are made responsible at a much younger age. We learnt a lot of survival skills that a farmer needed in life. Every child from the age of 8 or so had an assigned chore which was expected to be carried out without any cue or question. If we failed to perform our assignments, we would invite punishment. We grew up believing that our parents and our teachers had the right to discipline us! We believed that we deserved punishment if we deviated from our responsibilities, unlike the current generation that believes that they have the right “NOT TO BE PUNISHED”. In fact, sometimes I feel that those punishments “immunized” us to become mentally stronger and made us more resilient to stresses in life.  Of course, I don’t believe physical or corporal punishments should be used as means of “psychological immunization”.

On the other hand, we as parents do not realize that ours was a totally different life in those days. Most of us grew in the villages, for we didn’t actually have any cities until the last two decades or so. Therefore, we didn’t have the distractions that are prevalent these days, especially in the cities. We didn’t have social functions that attracted us; we didn’t have “downtowns” to hit after schools; we didn’t have internet, televisions or computer/video games to entice us; we didn’t have discotheques, restaurants or other hangouts, nor did we have the pressure of drugs.  The overall competitiveness in life was less tough, jobs were readily available and our needs were bare minimum.

Our children and youth are in a different world all together, they have all these; besides they also have the “rights” that most of us never heard of as children. Pressure to perform well in school is very high; they have to compete for limited seat available for scholarships. Many parents still are financially challenged to educate their children’s privately. They, therefore, pressurize their children further to exhaustion. Some parents still secretly wish their children to fulfill some of their unfulfilled dreams. The education system has become academic oriented and every child is expected to at least complete Middle secondary school.  We don’t acknowledge the fact that every individual is unique in his/her abilities and mental capabilities; we expect every child to be the same in intelligence and skills. We have a tendency to compare our children with the children of relatives and neighbours; we don’t mind demeaning them in front of their peers or embarrass them in the public.  We don’t realize that our children are more sensitive to these issues than we were when we were younger! We are highly judgmental and don’t communicate effectively with our children. When a child expresses that he/she is depressed, we try to ask “WHY?” rather than listening and trying to help. We sometimes even tell them to “die” if they cannot do what is expected of them. Children are not allowed to make their own decisions and parents impose their decisions onto them. We want to create the hierarchical boundaries in the family and refuse to take into confidence the opinion of our children thus alienating them further from us.  Our children have to fall back on their peers for a lot of things because we are too busy to sit with them and listen to them. Peers can be helpful but they can also be harmful, especially if they happen to be into drugs or alcohol. 

While I fully acknowledge that the children are right in saying “It’s my life. Let me have it my way”, I also want to caution that rights without responsibilities can ruin anyone. An individual is but a unit of a society at large, thus an individual cannot exist in isolation. Society runs on rules and regulations, families have their own unwritten rules that a child must respect.  An immature mind of a child may not be able to make a correct decision; therefore, guidance from elders and more experienced people in their lives is necessary. There are multiple examples to prove that immature decisions are detrimental to a child and can ruin the life. These are manifested in the form of teenage pregnancies, delinquency, criminalities, theft, murder, substance use, alcohol use, gang fights, personality problems, etc., and the list can be exhaustive!


We need to strike a balance in order avoid conflict between the parents and children. There is no other way to improve our younger generation. Blaming each other is not going to lead us anywhere. The need of the hour for all of us is to reflect on how we deal with our children. The Home environment is the most immediate environment for a child. It needs to be peaceful, safe, friendly, accommodating, loving and caring and most of all very comfortable for a child. For a child the parents should be like friends, protectors, facilitators, teachers and confidantes. Our children have become modernized; they are more aware, very sensitive and highly impulsive.  As parents, we must not expect our children to revert back to our generation but we must evolve forward and learn parenting techniques that are practical and suitable to the current generation. We are the bridge between the old and the new generation and we must teach our children to be better parents to their children. We must help them grow mentally healthy so that at no point in time should they have despair and opt to leave this beautiful world prematurely! 


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

CHASING HAPPINESS


Long ago when I was in the village, I was a contended young boy.  Happiness was easy to find. We did not require wealth to buy happiness! Small things in life use to give us enough happiness, and our parents didn't have to struggle to make any one of us happy.
Rice with some vegetable curry would be the most delicious food. We would look forward to special occasions such as Diwali and Dashera to have a meal with meat. Having had the opportunity to have such specials food during those occasions would make us really euphoric! Three good meals that kept our stomachs full were enough to make us satisfied. We didn't even know that the foods that our children eat today ever existed! We simply knew that foods were grown in the fields and needed a lot of hard work to produce. We didn't have any clue about foods being sold in restaurants until much later.  On the way to Tashigang, where I went to study after graduating from my village school, we saw people eating in hotels and restaurants but we didn’t have much privilege to dine in those.  We generally carried rice with us to be cooked where ever we put up overnight. 
We were made to believe that wearing clothes was primarily to protect us from weather and to protect our modesty! We didn't have the slightest knowledge about any fad or fashion, nor did we have the choice for any colour or design. We would get a new pair of clothes during the festive season and that too came after a long wait of one year. A new pair of clothes used to bring lots of joy for us.  We would go visiting relatives during those days showing off our new dresses.
Everyone walked bare feet, including the domestic animals, so question didn't arise of not wearing any foot wears. Walking barefoot was, therefore the norm of the society. I learnt to wear flip-flops only after I joined the school at Tashigang. I bought my first pair of block-heeled shoes sometime in 1977 after I earned enough money for it working as a labourer during school winter break. I felt myself at the top of the world at the feeling of walking about 3 inches above ground!
Entertainments that amused us and gave us extra dose of happiness were simple things, such as school concert, rice paddy harvesting season, going around playing "Dewshi" during Diwali nights, watching a pair of rooster or bull fighting, watching football matches in the rain etc. We were fortunate to have a small Sony radio which used to sing a variety of Nepali songs for us every day and that was one thing that really amused my. For elders, happiness perhaps was more evident when they grew more crops, when the cattle population grew or when there was birth of new family member! Religious congregations during weekends, where people chanted of religious songs, seemed to make them elated for long.
Things have become different now and I have to be constantly chasing HAPPINESS in this modern era of materialism! I do not seem to be able to catch it though. The salary I earn has to be shared among many of us in the family, not only my own but also my relatives' because I am the first generation of salary earner. I have many more new things to acquire but I always run short of budget. There are number of desires which are unfulfilled and make me NOT HAPPY! For example, I don't have a house to call it mine, keep aside having a building in Thimphu; I simply have a tiny little Alto car when my friends move around in SUVs like Tucson and Prado; I wear mostly Bangladesh made garments and have not been able to afford designer dresses; my meals are as simple as they used to be when I was a village boy except that I may be taking more meat items now; I cannot afford the balanced diet of enough protein, minerals and vitamins, consisting of plenty of vegetables, meat, eggs and fruits, as learnt in Medical school. 

There are many reasons for me NOT to be HAPPY! My children are not securing first position in their classes and that makes me unhappy. My neighbour has a better sofa sets, bigger and latest television set, iPad, iPhone and whatnots which I have not been able to buy and that makes me unhappy.  The desires are limitless; list of things I want is unlimited.
I am not the only lone citizen of the GNH (Gross National Happiness) country who aspires to be happy.  There are many, may be the entire population, who would try to be happy with the DESIRE for innumerable things that have become part of our lives particularly in an urban setting. We have a large number of so called educated youth who are roaming the streets of Thimphu and Phuentsholing after graduating from Middle secondary schools, thanks to the free basic education in our country! Having got the taste of urban life no one likes to go back to the villages where life is tough.  The job market is highly competitive and almost saturated. These tenth grade drop-outs have  desires like anyone else.  But how would they then fulfil those desires without resorting to theft, burglary, mugging, and fraudulence? 

We have yet another category of youth that has become difficult now. They are the ones who are onto alcohol and drug abuse. They probably are the ones who come from broken families, or families which are busy trying to earn a living and do not have much time to monitor their children.  There are others who are so affluent that they simply keep their children pleased with money but have no TIME for them.  These are the ones who frequent the bars and discotheques, creating nuisance at times.  In spite of such obvious privileges they enjoy, they seem to be always ANGRY and far from HAPPY!

Buddhism teaches us that "desire is the main cause of suffering" and not desiring will make us HAPPY but who listens to this and who practises it? When everyone else is competing in the rat-race, nobody would sit back and watch others gathering wealth?  Given the opportunity everyone would like to be the wealthiest person in the world! But will that wealth bring HAPPINESS to these people, or is HAPPINESS still out of reach even to them? May be, I guess their desires would still be unmet and they may continue to be UNHAPPY!

On retrospect, I would rather prefer to go back in time when I was a village boy contented with the small things that came my way bringing little packages of HAPPINESS now and then!