​​Get them back on their feet

Simply banning thukpa and momos sellers is not right

Twenty something youth stand around a fire holding a cup each. Some five people – a mix of youth and middle-aged persons sit behind two hot cases. Steam rises from the two hot cases and the cups. The youths are relieving themselves of the cold with the hot thukpa.

Yes! The small number of youth met with the thukpa sellers to taste their thukpa (after few months of being banned) and hear their stories.

I was one of them. I was there for the thukpa, obviously, because I love thueb (in the typical Ngalop accent). And more, I was there because my best friend asked me to come.

Did I care much about the ban of thukpa other than the fact that I don’t get to drink it?

Sadly, No!

Should I have cared?

Eventually, I reached the point where my answer became a resounding “Yes!” And by then, it wasn’t just an opinion sort of yes. It was an obligatory, compassionate, and Bhutanese Yes.

So the drastic change in my attitude happened like this.

I have an energetic, hard-working, optimistic, and proud best friend. He loves helping people and serving the society. Like me, and the other young Bhutanese, he is the “fight-for-the-right” sort of guy. Justice has to prevail ultimately. He was in touch with the thukpa sellers. On Facebook, he was actively advocating their business and fighting for eliminating the ban of thukpa and momo in the streets of Thimphu. He asked me to come, and so I did.

After a few cups of delicious paneer thukpa, I interacted with the thukpa sellers. Did they put some magic potions in their thukpa! I went all ears for their story. It was then, I finally learnt of the plights of the thukpa and momo sellers.

One of them was a middle-aged mother of two kids. Her story was not too distant for me. She was a hard-working mother, like mine. She started, “At one point I asked my kids to settle for a small job as educating them was unaffordable. But then, they won’t listen. After all, they want to have a decent life like the other kids. And education was the way.” With a heavy heart, I counselled her that education was very important for her kids.

She continued, “I am very worried now that schools are about to start. I usually save up my winter’s earnings for my kid’s school expenses. But this year, with the ban, I have nothing.” I just listened. I had no answers just as much as I had no money to bail her out.

Another woman, cheerful and innocent, had a similar story. Her husband was a kidney patient and she provided for her family. Later, I heard that she sold her car to support her family after the ban. And it went on for the rest. Their stories weren’t the smile–inducing, laughter–generating kind to the ears. But they were definitely beautiful and warm to the soul. Theirs are stories of fortitude and resolve, of love and sacrifice, of the struggles of our fellow citizens, and of the determination of our people to face obstacles.

It doesn’t take a genius to put together the pieces of their stories. A compassionate heart of an empathetic Bhutanese is all it takes. They chose the business to support their families. Initially, I wasn’t bothered much by the ban of selling thukpa and momo in the streets of Thimphu. But then, after hearing their stories, I was. At first, I defended myself from their piteous stories with the shield of apathy. But there I was – a Bhutanese at heart. Compassion at last, weakened my shield. Or rather, it opened my heart to the sorrows and struggles of my fellow citizens.

Moving on from the story, I have an agenda. And to put it bluntly, it is that these folks be allowed to sell thukpa and momo on the streets of Thimphu city as before. I don’t know exactly why it was banned in the first place. Of course there are problems associated with the sale of thukpa and momo. Waste and hygiene issues could be there. And there might be even more. But just because there are some problems, simply banning them isn’t right. Doing so, we are taking an easy way out of a complex social problem that might just make things worse.

I believe, our leaders should have rather tried to find a middle-path solution to this problem – not eliminating the income of these families while managing wastes and ensuring hygiene. The street vendors told me that they were called to be informed of an official decision to discontinue their business. It’s surprising and sad that they were not even consulted in the first place.

I don’t have a good answer to this complex problem. One of you (readers) might! But I know that we need a solution. And we need it soon. For me, the solution, the good solution, is seeing these people back on the streets selling their thukpa and momo and supporting their families with dignity. As for us, fellow citizens, I believe we have a responsibility to help them get there, help them get back on their feet. If anyone wants to support, please visit our Facebook page to show your concern: ​facebook.com/ssvtt. If you disagree with me, please write to me. I would love to hear the other side of this story.

Contributed by

Tandin Dorji

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