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Bhutan | The Monarch on a Mission - His Majesty The King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck

06:30 PM Nov 09, 2023 IST | Bijoyananda Chowdhury
UpdateAt: 09:42 PM Nov 09, 2023 IST
bhutan   the monarch on a mission   his majesty the king jigme khesar namgyel wangchuck
Excitement and adrenalin flowed high in the premises and also in our beings, this was because probably most of us were being "met" by a monarch for the first time in our lives. Image credit: Facebook/ King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck.

A makeshift throne in the form of a high back plush sofa placed upon a slightly raised pedestal with a rich carpeted floor. And the microphone of course, the venue was the roof top garden of a five star property in Guwahati and we had been given audience by a true blue blooded royal - The King of Bhutan.

Excitement and adrenalin flowed high in the premises and also in our beings, this was because probably most of us were being "met" by a monarch for the first time in our lives. Royalty, they say and as we have read in books and seen in the movies, speaks of splendour, luxury, riches and many bejeweled personalities. The shamiana stirred with elements of surprise and stress of a happy kind!

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As we stood in line for the customary "Driglam Namzha'' (official code of etiquette), in walked His Majesty The King with an ease of a man eager to greet and meet his audience, probably his favourite people - the students belonging to the country of Bhutan and studying in various institutes and Universities here in Assam. My wife and myself were the only aberration in this group- more so myself- since the only connection that I had with Bhutan was through ardent friendships and my tusker elephant "Babu" who had the privilege of attending the coronation ceremony of His Majesty The King in 2008.

Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma with the Monarch. Image credit: X/Himanta Biswa Sarma

His Majesty The King and the ease following his entry exemplified as he stopped enroute his makeshift throne to greet me with a "Dudul"- my nickname and to enquire about my wife's eyesight and her thick spectacle lens! The shamiana stress simmered as the King took the microphone in his hands and entered the crevices amongst the audience with plain speak enquiries about their lives! This, I said under my breath, is surely a "People's King!" The next hour and a half His Majesty The King spoke with the students and his audience touching upon all aspects of a student's life while assuring them of full support from his office for any problem that they might encounter in a foreign land.

He spoke of progress, progressive thoughts, of making his youth, fellow citizens of the world while encouraging them to increase their awareness about the advances in science, technology and education in law and the social sciences. He spoke at length of artificial intelligence and how life has changed since then, how he wants his citizens to be involved in projects relating to AI, how not to rely too much on ChatGPT for doing assignments. He even related his journey to San Francisco and a visit to the Apple headquarters where he encountered the makers of "Siri" and how they told him that each time you ask "Siri" a question you are adding to Siri's quotient.

Here I thought was a monarch of our times, a monarch so well read, so in tune with the changing dynamics of the society and a monarch who wants his people to be world citizens and a monarch who is deeply inspired to provide support- both mental and physical to the next generation of the Bhutanese people. This is one of a kind King and probably we won't be able to find another, at least in the world today. We could fully understand why the Monarchy still reigns deep within the people's lives in this small Kingdom of Bhutan when the world today grapples with lack of empathy in their leaders. Empathy and emancipation leading to empowerment seems to be the watchword of His Majesty The King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk and his every move that evening on the rooftop of this five star hotel at Guwahati showcased a monarch on a mission, a mission to take his country forward towards the next century with world class citizens.

Bhutan in its entirety has always been considered a country lost in time, a country steeped in religion and beauty with happiness being their version of the GDP as Gross National Happiness. The constitutional monarchy of Bhutan and their erstwhile government disrupted their major economic index related to tourism (major source of the country's income) by passing the much talked about Tourism Levy Bill, 2020 in an ardent effort to save the country from marauding tourists. It was a move to save the country, said the Government and of course with the kind of faith the countrymen have on their Monarch and his Government, they accepted the same though the world raved and ranted on these changes while they paid up and learned the lessons of sustainable tourism from a country half their size.

This intelligent move not only changed the perception of the world towards respecting another country's culture and their value for their physical resources, it lead to no less than a revolution in Bhutan's Tourism sector which went from "more tourist, more income" to "less tourist higher income!" Yet as economists clamoured it did hit the travel industry in the country. This visit of the Monarch definitely showed his efforts to open up the economy of his country for its people. Setting up of railroads to the border towns with India as a neighbour at their helm, opening up of Special Economic Zones at the border town of Gelephu with investment from big business houses of India- he certainly was on a mission for the betterment of his countrymen and it all showed in this visit.

The first stop of his visit to India being Assam is a thoroughly thought out exercise, Assam through the years have shared kilometres of a physical border with the Kingdom of Bhutan besides sharing a relationship of the "kurma" kind amongst its people. The term "kurma" in Assamese refers to a guest who has a close relation to the host, close enough for the host to offer his house for the guest to spend some days- food and shelter included. People from Bhutan have through the ages visited Assamese holdholds as "kurma" and vice versa and this I have ingrained in my mind from the stories that I heard from my late father of his times.

Barpeta, my father's original home, has many households who still recall these visits by their Bhutanese kurmas! Surprisingly, when I recalled this to His Majesty The King he seemed to be aware of this word and smiled and added that when you visit Assam you don't feel you've moved into another country, it's so similar to my country in terms of culture and the physical landscape, he further reiterated. Babu the elephant was of course on the top of this conversation that I had with the monarch and after all these years he still had that special feel of bonding with my tusker - a thoughtful gesture on his part and a moment of pride for me and Babu.

Monarchies around the world have been swept away to oblivion, the wealth, splendour and luxury notwithstanding and here was a 21st century monarch- truly blue-blooded, exuding empathy and a will to take Bhutan and his countrymen forward into the next century. Symbolically appropriate the make shift throne, the high back sofa at the raised carpeted platform remained empty, the monarch never sat on it, he just remained engrossed amongst his people, talking and walking with them, assuring them of a royal hand of support in their times of need or otherwise. A true King indeed and the royalness showed in his kindness, his gestures of making the audience comfortable by throwing a joke so that the stiffness of meeting a monarch vanished with the laughter and the smiles that stayed long after he left us and went on his journey as a monarch on a mission. That was His Majesty The King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk the 5th King of Bhutan and one by the people, of the people and for the people.

It was a lifetime lived for me!