Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Remembering King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck

In the heart of Thimphu stands the Memorial Chorten built in the memory of His Majesty King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck. And yet most visitors to the complex have other reasons than remembering the King even on his birthday the 2nd of May.

Every year when in Thimphu I visit the Chorten to offer my nyendha on the birthday. Just a short visit: bowing to the Chorten from the four directions and making the three rounds reciting the mantras of Chenrizi, Jampelyang and Chhana Dorji,  one mantra for each round. Then enter the Chorten frontal the north to offer nyendha at the two chhoesum dedicated to His Majesty one facing the north and the other facing the south and of course to all other holy Phurba deities of the land enshrined within the Chorten. I thank the Majestic Genius of a King for his service to the nation and his personal kindness to me. And request His Majesty to bless his royal members, the people and the nation.

Generations evolve around the memorial chorten. Memories fade away for the old and the young have less reason to recall. I felt a sense of desolation during the last visit.  Only one entrance, the north one was partially open to allow a person to enter. In spite of many around the Chorten it was lonely within. In fact I had to ask the caretaker if he intended to keep the partially open entrance that way for sometime. I did not want to be locked in for the whole day. It disturbed me greatly to find that even on the birthday, there was no especially arranged Chhoeba on the two alters. Possibly the caretaker did not know the nation was observing a holiday to mark this event. I do not blame him. The whole nation was quite silent about it. I suppose close family members would be having their own remembrance moment elsewhere. On the Chhoesum facing the south, someone had left an offering of shell roti. It made me smile to note that at least a lhotsampa family remembered the late King on his Birthday. 

I remember His Majesty with deep reverence and admiration. He was so wise, far sighted and self confident. The King did not ever feel insecure about questions of his Kingship and the policies he was pursuing. One could ask any pertinent question and His Majesty would so considerately take the time and effort to provide comprehensive answers. He did not even mind being asked on what he thought of his dynasty future. Maybe in my simple directness, he found a much needed self mirror of his reign.

And His Majesty did not hesitate responding to honest reaction. I remember that at one time the illustrious grand old Home Minister His Excellency Tamji Jagar was putting people by truck load under police custody for wearing long hair. At Motithang Hotel, I submitted that hair was an inherited gift of birth and I found it difficult to find justification in the rule enforced by the Home Ministry. It was just one of the many views I had submitted to the royal person that evening. I did not expect any instant change nor royal displeasure for my heartfelt views. So it was a surprise relief when later the Home Minister adopted a more lenient pace of tolerance. Decades later the enforcement of compulsory wearing of gho and kira even in the homes of Southern Bhutanese originally from Nepal contributed to the uprising in 1989- 1990.

His Majesty the 3rd King was under no delusions regarding the two giant neighbours of Bhutan. India was valued as a close development friend whilst China was deemed vital to maintaining the sovereignty of Bhutan. The political reality of securing sovereignty for Bhutan was through balancing Indian tendency for dominance against China's security sense for a vital  need of a sovereign buffer state. Today I still believe this royal thought holds true. If Bhutan shuns China, it will become a weaker victim of Indian dominance.

For a moment  I shall deviate from the remembrance subject for a crucial historical introspection. His Excellency Prime Minister Jigme Palden Dorji for all his dedicated service to the Kingdom may have engrained maternal antagonism towards China for taking over Tibet. His royal grandmother was from Tibet and his own wife Ashi Tessla is a daughter of a former Tibetan Governor of Tibet. The 3rd King on the other hand was totally free from such personal prejudices. Therefore His Majesty was in better political position to adopt a Stately Approach to both China and India. He had no personal family based axe to grind with China nor personal gratitude to honour with India.

The King was strictly propelled by the genuine national sovereign interests of his Kingdom and his people when it came to the field of external relationship with the two giant nations. For a time in the 1960s it was geographically convenient to foster growing relation with India. But 1970s begin with a different dimension inaugurated with the entry of Bhutan into the Family of United Nations. Thus in the years ahead, it would be fatal if the external national policy of Bhutan towards China is guided by age old maternalistic instinct of antagonism. I pray for a policy resurrection because a ship cannot stay afloat if it begrudges the builder that shaped its hull. With this I end the deviation for introspection.

Apart from the sovereign status of Bhutan, the King had anxiety over the , "smooth and successful taking over of the reign by the younger generation." In the 3 years  that I knew His Majesty, he secured solutions to both his two major national anxieties. Somehow, the King managed to obligate reluctant India to secure Bhutan's entry  into the membership of United Nations. His Majesty had to finally play the China card through the Royal Advisory Council to convince India how serious the Kingdom viewed the necessity to secure UN membership.  And internally the Crown Prince was oriented to holding the reign of governance as Chairman of Planning Commission and then installed as the Trongsa Penlop just before his own passing away.

I never realised the extent of His Majesty's health problem when on that wintry night at Motithang Hotel, he expressed his anxiety about the generation gap and how the young inexperienced generation could cope with sudden responsibility. I did realise though that the King was referring to the Crown Prince but I thought there would be ample time. Thankfully I did submit that learning the art of managing people was more relevant than academic lessons for the future King.  Soon after that conversation, the Planning Commission Chairmanship came about.

In retrospection I think the King willed himself to live until he was able to take care of the two major State Affairs.

There were two personalities that the King specifically mentioned. One was Dasho Lam Penjor a red scarf officer from Paro who had successfully handled the responsibility of Directorship of the Department of Posts and Telegraph. Dasho was the first Bhutanese Director that His Majesty appointed and his success paved the way for His Majesty to confidently appoint other Bhutanese Directors to gradually take over the reign of national administration from more academically qualified Indian Officers appointed by India. India and her Advisors in Bhutan did not think that the less educated and inexperienced Bhutanese Officers were up to the task of directing the Development Activities that India was funding under the 5year Plans. No wonder His Majesty was very royally pleased with, " Lam Penjor ".  The other more luminous personality was His Majesty's own royal brother, His Royal Highness Paro Penlop who was also the Commander-in-Chief of the Royal Bhutan Army during the crucial period of late 1960s. His Majesty said that he had later taken over as Commander- in- Chief only because of external factor.

His Majesty 's trust in his royal brother was only matched by the dedication he received. When the King passed away, it was His Royal Highness who stood solidly with the people's will to nullify the legislated Regent alternative  and submit to Rule by the young Crown Prince as the 4th King of Bhutan. I am sure that was the way His Majesty would have really wanted but the voice of the populace had to be given a chance to be heard thus the legislation of the Regent alternative by the National Assembly under His Majesty's direction.

His Majesty King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck felt that his dynasty was relevant only if the people so felt. It was the reason behind the the introduction of the No Confidence Vote legislation in the National Assembly by His Majesty.  That was also the gist of His address long before to the assembled subjects from Haa and Paro at Ugyen Pelri Palace ground in Paro soon after the Sino Indo war of 1962. All Bhutanese able men aged 15 and above was conscripted to form the Royal Bhutan Army Fighting Force at the present Royal Bhutan Police Head Quarter area in Thimphu.  His Majesty had called representatives from families of his soldiers to simply thank them and to honestly state that only for the nation and the people, he was taking the responsibility to lead their fathers, husbands and sons to defend the nation. He was least concerned about protecting his own kingship. He simply did not want to be the Wangchuck King who lost the Kingdom of the Bhutanese people.

Upon the sudden shocking demise of the great King, the shocked National Assembly did away with both the Regent and No Confidence Vote legislations. It was just too dangerous to leave even a small opportunistic opening for undesirable inner and external forces to destabilise the Kingdom. The national loss of His Majesty was described as, ' the sun being suddenly eclipsed at midday leaving the nation groping in total darkness'.

The longest one to one  conversation I had with His Majesty was for about two hours  in the Sitting Room of Motithang Hotel. It was supposed to be a fancy dress dance party. The King had come in a soldier's jungle warfare uniform complete with helmet and dark lines across the royal countenance and I was in a Red Indian dress as per directive of His Royal Highness the Crown Prince. When His Majesty saw me, he inquired why I was not dancing. I admitted my clumsiness and His Majesty said that he too was not a good dancer. I suppose His Majesty preferred to let the dance party enjoy free from his dominating presence. I was invited to be in the royal company in the sitting room adjoining the dance cum bar hall.  I remember Her Royal Highness Princess Choki Wangchuck, sister of His Majesty upon the King's request took a photograph of us. I also vividly recall the shocked reaction of Dasho Rimp, maternal uncle of the 4th King when he came aside from the dance hall to light a cigarette only to find His Majesty light it for him. It seemed that Dasho was unaware of the presence of His Majesty in the adjoining hall when he left the presence of other royal members to light a smoke.

The royal conversation ranged from His Majesty's own adolescent escapades to his concerns of the state of national affairs and ended with the necessity and importance of keeping abreast with the world affairs through the 9 pm BBC radio news. Years later my first valuable purchase from the professional study scholarship stipend in Japan was a Sony short wave radio in 1975.

Months before that unexpected audience at Motithang Hotel,  His Majesty had granted the 1st royal audience to us the students at Ugyen Wangchuck Academy. It was quite a long  duration audience. I remember submitting several questions clubbed together on the state of the nation, on China and India and on the institution of Monarchy. His Majesty shared so much more at great length. Looking back I think it was part of royal education for the Crown Prince who was the centre of prominence in the audience. In fact that royal session was followed up with weekly visits of Ministers and Royal Councillors to educate the students about national affairs.  The other occasion of royal audience was during a National Celebration Event at the  Changlingmithang ground. I recall being a participant in several of His Majesty's pranks. One was stealing a lady's hand bag. Years later I read in a book authored by a former Indian Advisor to Bhutanese Government that the late King had his wife's hand bag stolen and later had it returned with a gift. And most memorable was His Majesty suddenly Commanding the well  known  Drimpon Sonam to have his troupe perform for, " my friend " said His Majesty. I was simply astonished.

My last audience was at the celebration ground at Lungtenphug  on the day of Bhutan's admission into the august Organisation of United Nations. His Majesty was in real high royal good mood. All the Ugyen Wangchuck students received a seiko wrist watch as present. I was invited to accompany His Majesty as he made the rounds. Sometimes later His Majesty said he had an important task and that he will see me later.  I watched as His Majesty made his way to the car that just arrived. And Her Majesty the Queen gracefully stepped out to be received by the King. Hand in hand the King escorted his Queen to the VVIP enclosure. That was my last live memory of the great King who was almost like a Father Guru Figure to me.
The next audience was at the Royal Lingka near Tashichhodzong beside the Thimphu River and the willow trees that the King had personally planted, wherein sadly for the nation, His Majesty lay in state. I was too overwhelmed with the loss and weighed in deeply by heavy sadness at that particular moment. But later in my heart, I made a silent commitment, ' To serve the Nation and the Monarchy in the way His Majesty would have wanted me. Honestly and Courageously uphold a mirror to the sovereign status of the Kingdom and the solemn integrity of the Institution of the Monarchy'. I think that was what His Majesty actually found and accepted me as an honest mirror on his policies and the state of the nation as I perceived through my limited perception but frank forthright views.

I still have a huge debt to pay back to a King who so graciously accepted me as I was. One lifetime would never be enough to thank a King and I am already deeply in another's debt that of  His Majesty the 4th King who also graciously  accepted me as I am.

Since the last few years, I have realised that there is perhaps a generation gap between my own perception and that of national Leadership on the state of the Kingdom. I take this opportunity to apologise for any seemingly unacceptable infringement. In heart of heart, I will always be true to this nation and the Wangchuck Kings. It is only my honest forthright ways that is being misconstrued upon as seemingly an alien culture in an ever increasing world of fair weather crowd whose purpose is directed more towards pursuit of self preservation and profiteering.

In conclusion, I request all Bhutanese young and old, male and female to spare a moment to cherish a great human being on 2nd May. Someday, maybe, a Government may come about which would sponsor a Kuchhoe at the Memorial Chorten on His Majesty's Birth Day. Then possibly all the four entrances to the inner sanctum of Memorial Chorten would be opened on 2nd May and young souls could freely march in held by loving hands of parents and be silently blessed by the spirit of a truly great King. I was truly blessed during my Ugyen Wangchuck Academy days by the golden rays of two great Kings. Thank You Your Majesties.

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