The near-oxymoronic paradox in the title is echoed by the secretary of SMHA (State Mental Health Authority), Kerala, India in his comment on the curious ‘Kerala Model’ development. One wonders whether there are parallels today in the emerging trends in Bhutan.
Kerala is the first 100% literate state in Asia; it has enviably high health indices and a very high political awareness. Reading materials, mostly standard, are aplenty – newspapers, weeklies, monthlies and other numerous publications in English as well as in the vernacular. The average standard of living is often comparable to that in developed countries.
On the other side, one finds a big contrast: Kerala’s mental illness index is double and the suicide rate 2 ½ the national average; the per capita alcohol consumption and divorce rates are the highest in India. Interestingly, there are more women divorce applicants than men applicants. The biggest numbers of cynics are in Kerala. And, the state is the biggest market in South Asia for psychiatric drugs.
The ‘Kerala Model’ is thus a riddle apparently. It’s the failure of the state’s successes. Put differently, ‘success’ per se need not be success. Perhaps, Kerala planned, executed and achieved success with no eye on the meta-success scenario. No shock absorbers were, therefore, devised for the possible demerits of success. When highly qualified Keralites outnumbered the coconuts, the planners overlooked the depressed job market – leading to unemployment, clever crimes, brain drain, and the NRI (Non-resident Indian) affluence and social stratification etc. Besides, high consumerism, spouses’ economic independence despite threatened family solidarity and so on ensued.
Are there signs of failures of success in Bhutan?
Bhutan has traditionally espoused frugality and practised the triple ‘l’s – ‘learn to live with little’. However, at a certain juncture of Bhutan’s recent history, the average Bhutanese turned a consumerist, blindly imitating the western lifestyles of ‘conspicuous consumption’ (after Thorstein Veblen, 1899) – an ostentatious show of status through the accumulation of material goods and comforts. To take reasonable liberties with the words of Shakespeare’s Portia in ‘The Merchant of Venice’, the hot temper of consumerism leapt o’er the cold decree of moderation in consumption. That is what former Lyonchhen, Jigme Y Thinley termed “the tenacious grip of mindless consumerism.” His affirmation in his speech in New York is worth a mention here: “I believe an economy is not an economy if, at the very least, it does not cause economy.”
One cause of ‘mindless consumerism’ is the admass – mass-media advertisements. With freedom of expression and mushrooming of media, aggressive ads – most of them highly creative – penetrate rape-like into our senses, sensitivities and sensibilities such that TV ads and billboards buy our psyches first and then our hard earned Ngultrums. As J B Priestly (1955) describes in ‘Journey Down a Rainbow’, we are often so dazzled first and then hypnotized then by the consumer glitterati as to smother our creativity and identity. Ironically, we pay for it financially and culturally. The ‘rupee crunch’ of 2012 is nothing but the offshoot of the twin grips of consumerism and admass. No wonder, Jeffrey Sachs (2012), Director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute urges for government intervention to limit advertising so as to protect its society from hyper consumerism.
‘Migratory tendencies’ is perhaps a euphemism for the potentially risky phenomenon of ‘brain drain’, which is not less common in Bhutan, to make it ‘Kerala Model’, besides consumerism. Migration is not only rural-urban within but also inter-national. Rural-urban migration involves a brain drain of indigenous wisdom, time-tested customs, nature-nurtured skills and foolproof practices. The youth in the villages move to towns to find their fortunes, a segment of which finding their dreams flounder, slips to bars or nestles in the pseudo-coziness of gangs. If statistics speaks, Bhutan has at least one bar for every 56 adults and are the unemployed disgruntled youth eschewing the Buddhist spiritualism turning spirituous?
Youth unemployment to the tune of 9.5% (male) and 11. 6% (female) in 2013 triggers the above malady. However, the unrest among the educated but unemployed youth poses the questions – Does our education make them literate or educated? How many of them are drop-outs, cope-outs and push-outs? What percentage of them are mere rote learners and memory sticks, pruned off their creativity and originality? Did Mark Twain mean it? – ‘Never let the schools interfere with your education.’
Equally perhaps relevant is the issue – how equipped are our service sectors to retain merit and prevent brain drain? Professional discontent often leads to marital cleavages and strained families.
Broken families, even of educated couples, betoken a fragmented community. Emotional warmth and mutual caring-sharing are on the wane. It’s good to ask ourselves how applicable or not are Gabriel Okara’s (1921) words to today’s Bhutanese society:
And I have learned too/to laugh with only my teeth / and shake hands without my heart. / I have also learned to say, ’Goodbye’, when I mean ‘Good-riddance’:/ to say ‘Glad to meet you’, without being glad; and to say ‘It’s been/ nice talking to you’, after being bored.
The boys and girls of today at large go for romance of convenience, short-term cohabitation and shun marriages, for they mean commitments. Besides, as in Kerala, divorce rates cut a sorry picture of 13.3% in Thimphu, 12.75 in Punakha and 0.08 in Dagana as per a 2012 Labour Force Survey. This is not a pleasant picture because the more fragile the institution of the family, the more vulnerable women, men and children become to social evils.
Let’s therefore learn from others’ experiences. Along with tall bar graphs of material prosperity as indices of rapid growth, let there be tall bar graphs of people’s emotional well-being. Let IQ (Intelligence Quotient) co-exist with EQ (Emotional Quotient). May our students in schools see God’s greatness in the strength of a tiger’s terrible beauty and Nature’s benevolence in the rainbows that charm and the rains that lisp.
Beyond the Mathematical formulae and chemical equations, let them see the resounding symmetries in life and the caressing patterns within and without. Let our elders role-model GNH and other values. Let our youngsters see adults –parents and teachers – who pat originality and critical thinking. Then – then only – our successes will be failure-free.
Senior Lecturer, Samste College of Education