To Get Them Back On Their Feet

Bhutan Times - - Home - Tandin Dorji tndn.dorji@gmail.com

Twenty some­thing youths 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 youths met with the thukpa sellers to taste their thukpa (af­ter few months of ban) and hear their sto­ries.

I was one of the youths. 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. (We’re young bloods af­ter all!) And 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 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 (Oh! I couldn’t have had a bet­ter mother. Think­ing of her love and care and her sac­ri­fices for me, I bet my life, there’s no one else who’d have done more). She is the bread­win­ner of her fam­ily. 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 coun­seled her that education was very im­por­tant for her kids.

Then 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 women, 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 in 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 be­lief, 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 in­form 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 thuk­pas and momos and sup­port­ing their fam­i­lies with dig­nity. As for us, fel­low cit­i­zens, I be­lief 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 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.

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