The Lingmithang Experience

“I have never seen Ligmithang as packed as it is today,” a Dessup returning from duty says. Outside, dozens of people are moving around, looking for a room they can spend the night in. “I thought there were many hotels in Ligmithang,” an elderly man, returning from Bartsham gewog, in Trashigang says. Lingmithang has several restaurants, but there is only one hotel with rooms.

A restaurant owner tells three elderly citizens to get into her restaurant and rest. Others follow the three and more than a dozen men and women, weary, who might have celebrated more than 65 birthdays, the signs of experience on their visages enter the restaurant, waiting for the young ones who are making calls to Gyelpoishing enquiring if the hotels there have empty rooms.

And the restaurant becomes lively as different individuals begin to speak. They are traveling in two different buses to Thimphu, and are supporters of different parties. A businessman, wearing a black jacket in Lingmithang’s winter heat tells his partner not to bother him, when asked to remove his jacket. He seems in a bad mood and indeed! He has been walking around for hours, unable to find a room for himself and his friends.

The restaurant owner gradually begins to enquire if the parties they supported won. No one speaks for some time. “We lost,” another elderly citizen says, who is quickly corrected by an old woman nearby. “No. We came second.” Glances are exchanged and it is obvious that all are not supporters of the same party. And neither are they from the same gewog. Except for the vehicles outside and the noise of the pressure cooker, there is silence, which is then broken by a man drinking highland whisky nearby. He has been there before I arrived, when the restaurant was empty. He breaks the silence. “What a day it was yesterday. Some were celebrating, while others stopped watching television. But aren’t we citizens of one King? Does it really matter who wins or loses as long as we have our King?”

Introducing himself as Sonam Tobgay, a local resident, he not only breaks the silence, but begins an interesting conversation, especially for the elderly citizens. “What is this democracy? We never wanted it and we submitted the same when His Majesty the Fourth King came around the country, saying Bhutan would transform into a democracy,” an elderly man says.

“And I still remember the days when we used to walk from here without having to wait for a room, sleeping in the paddy fields just above,” another elderly citizen says, the conversation going off the track.

“I was there during the National Day in Trashiyangtse when the Fourth Druk Gyalpo declared that we would be having our first elections in 2008. Many of us cried. I remember my late father saying he heard that democracy was spread by the ‘chillips’ to India to make India weak. That is why there is still a lot of problems in India. ” The conversation rolls on to another subject and a “competition of reminiscences” begin, with each elderly citizen going down memory lane and trying to beat the other.

“Do you see the light above,” another man, sipping ara brought from his village says pointing to the bulb. “I was one of the first to work at Rangjung Hydel Project and also at Kurichhu here. Today, we have electricity because of us. And the youth today are all going to Australia? I found that schools in our village do not have enough teachers,” he says, with a caution to others. “We are all old. We have to take care of ourselves. I heard that Thimphu hospital does not have enough doctors and nurses.”

“But Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) has started a medical college in Thimphu. There will not be a shortage of doctors,” the one who said he was at the National Day in Trashiyangtse says.

“DNT has lost the elections now. The party forming the government may close the medical college,” the one who has slept in the paddy fields nearby says. “If our party forms the government this will not happen,” he continues. “But your party’s representative did not say that they will not close the medical college. Many schools are closed. Slowly, colleges and even the medical college may be closed.” The reply is swift from yet another old man sitting in a corner.

Sonam Tobgay has to play his part now. He assumes the role of the moderator. “Unless it is not required for the country, new governments cannot stop or close something,” he says. Everyone looks baffled. They look at each other. Tobgay then talks about how bills are introduced and Acts passed, including the process through which some Acts are made redundant. “Don’t you watch television in Thimphu,” he questions.

“I don’t get time. I have to look after my grandchildren and whenever I am free, I go to the memorial chorten,” the only woman there says. “But does it really take months and even a year to make or change a law,” she questions.

Tobgay explains that unless bills are urgent, it does. “Isn’t everything discussed in the parliament urgent,” she questions again. Tobgay smiles, saying nothing.

“That is why I said at the onset that democracy is not good,” the one who said he had listened to the Fourth Druk Gyalpo years back talking about Bhutan’s political transition says.

Two young men walk in. “Let’s go. There are rooms in a hotel at Gyelpoishing.”

Slowly, everyone leaves, just like they entered. Tobgay and me look at each other and smile. It was more than an hour of exciting discourse, on several issues.

Ugyen Tenzin from Thimphu