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   The Kingdom at the Centre of the World
Reviewed by Sudhirendar Sharma
02 Jan 2014
p>Land-locked mountain kingdom conjures up an irresistible image of a Shangri-la, with happiness being its gross domestic product. In every direction around the kingdom, unhappy situations prevail in its diverse manifestations - be it India or Nepal or Bangladesh or even Myanmar - and yet it has stood firm on its idea of Gross National Happiness. None of its neighbours, however, has made any effort to guarantee happiness for its people.

Buffeted between two economic giants, Bhutan has continued to measure the development of the country by how happy its people have been. Happiness clearly gives the kingdom its distinct identity. Also, it is the only country in the world where its King, Jigme Singye Wangchuk, during his thirty-four years of rule (1972-2006) made it a point to visit every single household in the country. Few modern rulers have had the pleasure of seeing the improvement in the lives of their people from such close quarters. No wonder, the monarchy is so loved by the common people in Bhutan.

Not much is known about Bhutan, though. Omair Ahmad helps draw an intimate portrait of the kingdom as it has shaped itself out from some of the most transformative events in the world history. Every bit of what he writes is readable, as much to a student of history as to an avid traveller. One learns that saints alone shaped Bhutan, its society, song and culture. And the country did not even have its own currency until 1974; taxes were collected in kind - either in goods or in labour. Much to anybody's surprise, dried meat and ara, Bhutan’s traditional drink, were stored in the treasury. To avoid the tax thus collected from pilferage, ara was stored in the room just past the king's chamber.

Written in non-fiction storytelling style, the narrative is not only interesting but informative too. Though the writer has strong empathy for the country yet he captures a bit of everything about the country, its history, politics, landscape, people and its culture. Now that the kingdom has started taking rapid strides to move on the world stage, one wonders how its youth will negotiate the traditions with the modern.

The Kingdom at the Centre of the World
by Omair Ahmad
Aleph Books, New Delhi
Extent: 231, Price: Rs. 495

 Other books reviewed by Dr Sudhirendar Sharma
Features > Book Shelf
Spoiling Tibet
Posting Date: 28 Feb 2014

A Journey in the Future of Water
Posting Date: 28 Feb 2014

Yamuna Manifesto
Posting Date: 28 Feb 2014

Corruption Watch

The bad news is that corruption has not only sustained but has grown in size and stature in the country. With scams being a regular feature, seventy per cent respondents in a survey have rightfully opined that corruption has continued to increase in India. One in every two interviewed admit having paid a bribe for availing public services during last one year. Transparency International's latest survey reveals that the political parties top the chart for the most corrupt public institutions, followed by police force and legislatures. No wonder, India continues to make new records on the global corruption arena!

The shocking revelation is that the health and education sectors haven't remained untouched by this phenomenon. With 5th and 6th positions respectively for these sectors on the public perception chart on corruption, corruption has crept insidiously into these sectors of hope for the masses. With bureaucracy being fourth in the list of corrupt institutions in the country, corruption seems to have been non-formally institutionalized with little hope if public services would ever be effective in the country. With economic growth having literally institutionalized corruption, are we now expecting corrupt to be socially responsible - a different CSR.

Poor. Who?

Not giving 'aid' to India is one thing but calling it 'rich' is quite another. If one in three of the world's malnourished children live in India, what does average daily income of $3 indicate? It perhaps means that there is a relative decline in poverty - people are 'less poor' than what they used to be in the past. But having crossed the World Bank arbitrary threshold of $2 a day does not absolve the 'developed' countries of their obligation to part with 0.7 per cent of their Gross National Income in development aid. Should this three-decade old figure not be revised?  

An interesting debate in UK's House of Commons delved on future of development assistance by the British Government. While prioritizing limited resources has been a concern, there has been no denying the fact that development aid must be guided towards tangible gains over a short period of time to start with. There are difficult choices for elected governments to make - should they invest in long-term primary education or in short-term university scholarships? Which of these will bring gains and trigger long-term transformation in the society. As politicians continue to be divided on the matter, poverty persists!!   

Lead View
People, Partition and the Pain
By Rina Mukherji
15 Aug 2013

Dr Jayanti Basu's book analyzes the complex feelings of hatred and longing for the homeland that have contributed to shaping the personalities of a generation of people who were forced to ..
Book Shelf

Yamuna Manifesto

A Journey in the Future of Water

Spoiling Tibet

On Western Terrorism
Devinder Sharma
Carmen Miranda
Pandurang Hegde
Sudhirendar Sharma
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