The Raven » column Your Monthly Guardian Mon, 20 Jan 2014 16:00:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 ELECTION AFTERMATH: A MILESTONE OR A MILLSTONE? Tue, 03 Sep 2013 11:06:04 +0000 Sonam Ongmo Read more »]]> SONAM ONGMO is the editor-at-large of The Raven. She can be contacted at

SONAM ONGMO is the editor-at-large of The Raven.
She can be contacted at

I arrived in Bhutan a few days after the second general elections – a milestone in the journey of our country’s fledgling democracy.

A milestone unfortunately marred with ugly accusations hurled at each other from both sides of the two political parties that had contested – The People’s Democratic Party and Druk Phuesum Tshogpa.

The air over Thimphu, I found was heavy with mistrust, fear, whispers and confusion.

The rumor mill was busier than usual and many had taken to social media to air and battle out their differences. The most insidious of these posts and comments on social media seemed to come from those who have much to gain from inciting fear and hatred by branding people as “anti-nationals” and “Ngolops” thereby expressing their hate and hoping they appear “patriotic.” Some of these posters were ostentatious enough to let others know that they were the only ones concerned for the King and country.

Having split my life between Bhutan and living overseas for over a decade now I can only speak from what I have witnessed outside and from the experiences of what others in the world have gone through before us in history. When segregation is promoted and a group of people are targeted and branded as traitors simply because of their race, religion, caste, color, choice of a political party, and for speaking their thoughts, then it means that people promoting it are ignorant enough not to understand what a functioning democracy is. This behavior actually undermines the democracy it pretends to promote.  It, therefore, makes me wonder, is it a true democratic culture that we aspire to build or do we want to become a caricature of a democracy like those we see all to often around us in the region.  A caricature where a small few inspire outrage and violence because they cannot tolerate the views or differences of those in the community.

Without fail, those inculcating this climate of fear have vested interests to control the dialogue and outcome for the larger population because this is what fear-mongers do. If leaders and a government heed to the divisive calls of these small-minded inciters then our country will likely go down the path of many other nations that have suffered immensely from these consequences. We are not starving for examples either. There are plenty of them out there in the world today where categorization of a group of people through hate speech, fear, and incitement can have such unthinkable consequences.

The individuals who have called to “hang” certain people or demanded the death of certain individuals only goes to show that we have amongst us, ignorant blinkered individuals who have no understanding of the consequences and implications of their words and actions. Individuals who in fact look to nations beyond our borders not to learn to curtail them within our borders, but to promote violence/imprisonment/hanging/death-threats on their adversaries through hate speech. What is worrisome is when they see nothing wrong in doing it or think it is justified because of their cause.

While thankfully our differences and the election results have not ended in such an outcome, we are no strangers to such a situation. I come from a generation that once experienced that difficult time in our history when there was a painful atmosphere of segregation and mistrust. Our Lhotsham brothers and sisters can tell of how being labeled “Ngolop”, or being branded traitors simply for being Lhotsham or through guilt by association; because they were related to someone who plotted against the government, were made to feel in the 90’s. What is disappointing is that even after 20 years, some of us have not progressed in our thinking about the treatment of our fellow citizens.

Is this the kind of democracy that we aspire for, one in which we only have contentious elections but none of the functionalities that will help us grow and become a great nation; an example to the world; one in which, not just us as Bhutanese, but the architect of our Democracy, His Majesty the Fourth King of Bhutan, would be proud of?

But it is not surprising that the second elections culminated in this.

We Bhutanese are still green and wet behind the ears in what it means to have a functioning democracy. It is not just we the people that are in the learning process, but so also are our governments and its members. And as we continue to embark on this process of nation-building, we should not lose sight of the fact that disrespecting the constitution, spreading fear, indulging in unethical practices for party politics and promoting corruption will not a great nation make. Instead, the unethical practices we may indulge in simply for party politics will leave the country vulnerable and exposed to those who wish to take advantage of us.

There is no ideal form of government out there, but “Democracy” with a constitutional monarchy was chosen for us. His Majesty the Fourth King when he stepped down from the throne deemed it the best form of government for the country. His Majesty the Fifth King, meanwhile, has said that it is a responsibility that each one of us should shoulder.

And how do we do this? By inculcating the democratic values within ourselves and within the system. By tolerating our differences be they racial, cultural, political, religious, or sexual. We strive to promote basic freedoms and civil liberties so that people can live free of fear.

It is at critical times like these when a nation is hurting from finger-pointing, from accusations and rumors being flung left and right; when people are unsure of the truth, that puts to test our individual characters and of who we are as Bhutanese. Because people, not just leaders, of honorable and good character work hard at building trust and nation building, not tearing it apart.


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The Art of Writing Is The Art of Leaping and Letting Go Mon, 11 Mar 2013 08:54:38 +0000 Sonam Wangmo Read more »]]> Sonam Wangmo is a mother of two. She worked at Chemonics International Open Society, and Asia Society. She now divides her time between her family and developing her writing craft at Grub Street in Boston, U.S.

Sonam Wangmo is a mother of two. She worked at Chemonics International Open Society, and Asia Society. She now divides her time between her family and developing her writing craft at Grub Street in Boston, U.S.

I must confess; I never want to go bungee jumping. But I have experienced the overwhelming feeling of sheer fright and exhilaration, when one leaps with complete abandon into the unknown. Submitting my piece of fiction – labored over hours in front of a computer screen – to a group of fine eyes, is like throwing myself into the dark, with only a rope at my ankles to keep me from complete obliteration. There are psychologists, social workers, lawyers and sharp yummy mummies in my writing group. Surely they will rip into my writing!

And they do. But I am a better writer-in-progress because of that. Here’s what I’ve learned over the course of writing and rewriting:        Explore and Discover: “Write about what you don’t know, about what you know,” says Eudora Welty, a Pulitzer Price winning novelist. Pick a writing inspiration – images, characters, memories – that is familiar to you, and you are curious about. That desire to know more than you know will energize your stories.

 It is not just talent, but your stubborn persistence on the page, laboring hour-by-hour, sentence-by-sentence that will land you with a finished manuscript ready for publishing.

Character, Want and Conflict: Your character/protagonist is the king of the story. Plot, narrative arc and climax are second to your character’s wants. The meat of your story is how your protagonist’s desires are conflicted (internally), or come into conflict because the external world won’t allow it.
Hook the Subconscious and not the Conscious Mind: Suzette Martinez Standring, a syndicated columnist explains it like this: You need to hypnotize the readers. Keep the person in a trance, as if in a dream, by appealing to the feeling, and not the analytical part of the readers. You do that through images and simple details that drive right to the point. And John Gardner in the “Art of Fiction” makes no bones about saying that in bad fiction, one “snaps” out of the dream when the reader is “forced to think of the writer and the writing.” In other words, writers do step aside, unless you are Nabokov (in Lolita).
Active, Simple and Direct Language: To keep the readers engaged and in that lucid dream, use simple and direct language. Energize your story by using active words. Cut out the adjectives and adverbs, and get at what you want to say in the most direct way possible. Use language that your characters would use.
Show and Tell: Writing is not just showing, but showing and telling. It is the mix of exposition, summarized dialogue and dialogue. Often we are told: show, don’t tell, but good writing is a combination of showing and telling.
Sentiment and not Sentimentality: Sentimentality is when you force sentiment. When your characters have not earned the right to feel rage, sorrow and unbridled happiness, your readers will taste its overly sweet juices and become sickened by it. Sentimentality is Bollywood on steroids. I love Shahrukh Khan, but don’t you cringe when he overacts? Similarly, when your characters explode with clichéd emotions in clichéd situations, you have not connected with the characters of your story at a deeper level. Sentiment is connecting with your readers through reaching the inner depths of your character’s emotions.
Revise, Revise, and Revise: The first draft is just the beginning. Your real story will come to you at revision (unlike Arundhati Roy, who wrote God of Small Things in one mighty sweep without revisions). Jumpa Lahiri, a Pulitzer Price winning novelist says, “All the revision I do — and this process begins immediately, accompanying the gestation — occurs on a sentence level. It is by fussing with sentences that a character becomes clear to me, that a plot unfolds.” Your unique and exact way of looking at things happens, when you’ve written your sentences over and over again.

Read, Read, Read: To become a better writer, you have to read. And read obsessively. Examine sentences, dissect them, and reread the words of your favorite writers, so you can learn how they create magic on the page.
Create a Routine and Join a Writing Circle: Sitting on the chair at the same hour every day is essential to writing. And don’t keep your writing to yourself. A writing group will propel your work forward to a higher level.
It is not just talent, but your stubborn persistence on the page, laboring hour-by-hour, sentence-by-sentence that will land you with a finished manuscript ready for publishing.
Writing is similar to the art of Mandala painting in colored sand. Like the lamas, you’ve worked many hours with close attention to painstakingly create a beautifully detailed novel. And now you must abandon it, let it go. The sand mandala is swept away and disintegrated into tiny pieces for distribution into the universe; similarly, you will release your written work into the world.
May your written words heal and enlighten the people who read it. And may you leap into the unknown, drive through the dark and let the words come through you, as if in a vivid dream.

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Questioning the Quality of Education Sun, 10 Mar 2013 13:20:25 +0000 LP Tashi Read more »]]> _LP-TASHIOf late there has been a barrage of criticism, ranging from intensive press coverage to “educated” views hurled at the education sector on the perceived decline in the quality of education in Bhutan. Some of these views are expressed out of concern, some in jest, and some, simply to ridicule. However, in view of the incessant scrutiny and indiscriminate emotional outpour of thoughts and opinions, it would be worthwhile pondering on what the big fuss is all about. As the editorial page of one newspaper stated, all the voluminous observations on the supposed decline in the quality of education “have to be a superficial analysis at best. It is not based on a substantive study.” It would also be worth while bearing in mind that we are talking quality of education against the backdrop of ‘national apathy’ for teachers and working conditions of teachers that sometimes border on the primitive. Quality education needs quality teachers who are human beings after all! Unless basic issues confronting teachers and schools are addressed first, such accusations will only serve to demoralize the teachers and kindle the flame of despair.

The recent incidents of abuse that have been highlighted in the press should not overshadow the hard work of the rest in this sector. People should not pass a blanket judgment over the entire Education System simply based on these few incidents. Surely we cannot forget or dismiss these incidents, but rather learn from them. What we also have to understand is that like every sector, despite all the advancements we will make in Education, there will also be setbacks.
Quality is defined as “the standard of something when it is compared to other things like it – how good or bad something is.” If we use this definition to gauge the rise or decline in the quality of education, then a comparative analysis with a time-tested yard stick might have to be used and will be more accurate. How do we then measure the present standard of education? All the accusations against the ‘perceived’ decline in the quality of education are hypothetical at best and over-zealous at worst. When we say that there is decline in the quality of education, we use certain pointers, certain yardsticks, as it were, and do a comprehensive analysis before arriving at such a convenient conclusion. A comprehensive study, if one were taken, would have to look into the present system of education that goes far beyond the four walls of the classroom. With emerging and re-emerging educational philosophies and studies, the scope and horizon of schools as societies and places of learning have under gone dramatic changes. The once accepted model of teaching/learning is simply inadequate and does not address the changing needs of the students and the society. Hence there is the need for diversified programs and activities, whether academic or ex-academic, to address the growing and developmental needs of the learners. In that sense, the quality and variety of educational programs have increased and widened. The focus on basic rudimentary skills not withstanding, the fluency over language and arithmetic have shown an upward rise. Teachers struggle with all these, day in and day out, while the rest of us are busy dedicating and rededicating ourselves to the service of the Tsa-Wa-Sum from our revolving chairs.
At the ground level, at the frontiers, the educational programs today are well packaged to meet the changing needs of the students and the society. Development of life skills, holistic growth of students, encompassing all forms of intelligences, are topics that are being taken very seriously by the Education system in Bhutan. (I just thought it sounded too light  and not serious enough by saying its offered on the menu like a restaurant.)
In the final analysis, besides the ability to read and write -incidentally all that talk on declining standard of education is based purely on this premise, there are a whole lot of aspects that holistic education needs to encompass. And our schools, and teachers, are well on their way to providing just that – preparing students for life.

The writer works in the Ministry of Education.
He can be contacted at

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