This banner features ripe pine corns above Tandin Ney in Thimphu. Picture taken on April 15.

Monday, 23 April 2012

When Thimphu becomes one

It's a poor mobile phone picture 
Last Saturday, I watched the grand finale of Bhutan Lil’ Champs at the Clock Tower square in Thimphu. A huge crowd had gathered at the otherwise empty place an hour before the show began. The show was supposed to start at 6 pm, but by the time the presenter appeared on the stage, it was already 6:30 pm. By that time, the crowd had swelled and the sky had become dark and overcast. Huge, sporadic drops of rain had made some people in the crowd predict aloud that it was going to rain.

At long last, the presenter, Tawchu Rabgay, introduced the judges of the show after he sang Nyilam Nangluya Mena Mo (Isn’t it in a dream?), one of the first rigsar songs that originated in Sherubtse campus in the college’s heyday. It was composed and sung by one Tashi, a popular singer then. It is a haunting, soulful song of a lover trying to come to terms with separation from his love. In the song, the dejected lover likens himself to ‘the rocks on the earth’ and his love to ‘the stars in the sky’.

As Tawchu Rabgay introduced popular singer Ugyen as the ‘cheychey’ (darling) of the Bhutanese people, the crowd broke into a thunderous applause. Young boys craned their necks to catch a glimpse of him from behind an impenetrable wall of cheering people. Unable to see the singer, one of them shouted to his friend in the front, “I presume he is in the same black gho.” His friend didn’t care to respond, but he was right.

Halfway through the first song, the sound system failed completely. The excited crowd fell silent for a moment and then became noisy. The organisers scurried about trying to fix the problem. A chilly gush of wind laden with rain droplets swept through the crowd, and everybody shouted in unison, “It’s raining!”

Without the help of a microphone, the organisers had no line of communication. But as the crowd became increasingly restless and impatient, Tawchu Rabgay reappeared on the stage, raised his joined palms to the forehead in a gesture of supplication, and made an apologetic bow.   

After about 15 minutes, the problem was fixed and music came back. The child singers kept shouting ‘jabchor zhugay la’, which literally means ‘support please’, while they meant to say ‘applause please’. The DDC secretary once rightly remarked that the Dzongkha equivalent for ‘applause’ could be ‘lekso’ and not ‘jabchor’. But Bhutan’s reality shows keep using the word ‘jabchor’ to ask for a round of applause as well as SMS votes.

For all the shrieks for applause, the singers couldn’t drive the audience wild. This was not because the audience didn’t enjoy the show, but because getting wild and boisterous is not in the Bhutanese culture. This could be because generations of Bhutanese, through centuries, have known only serious, contemplative zhungdra and boedra. Traditionally, it would be considered disrespectful and rude to shout and sing along in enjoyment. So, if you are a singer, and if the audience is unusually silent next time you perform, do not get them wrong.

The small town square was overcrowded and throbbing with life. As always, there was a huge appetite for music. For a few hours, thousands of Thimphu residents, who at other times argue over different matters, came together to partake of something they all agreed was sweet. And for an evening, Thimphu truly became one. It’s a powerful unifying agent, music. As a newspaper man, I have realised how often the news media pit our people against one another. Like in all other things, it’s inevitable and not necessarily bad, but sometimes it’s painful. That’s why music is there, I think.   


  1. We may disagree on so many issues but, when it comes to music (good music of course)we all agree in unison. It is beautiful indeed!!!

  2. Keen observation yet contradictory though but good writing.