The 3rd of June 2012 is a significant day for the people of the UK. It is the start of a three day celebration honouring the 60 years reign of Queen Elizabeth II. It is her diamond jubilee. London has been busy preparing for this occasion over the past year and there has been timely news and updates of how her tribute would be celebrated.
The day is a dull one. There is a ‘bokpi’ drizzle as the Sharchops would call it yet the British people are in high spirits and the unpredictable but familiar weather pattern is part of the cityscape! The weather is London is the most temperamental one I’ve experienced in my entire life. It can change by the hour. Most Londoners are aware of this and an umbrella or a rain coat is usually a ‘must have’ item in their bags.
Anyway, I join the throng of people not for the celebration or festivities but more to travel towards a certain destination. I sit on the south west train and pass by station after station jam packed with people dressed in distinct clothing that suggests their eager participation: the Union Jack. The Union Jack is show cased everywhere. On clothes, on banners, as streamers, on bags, on various kinds of hats, on fingers nails as varnish, on lipsticks, on rings, on face paint, on hair and on every imaginable space where the flag can be printed is has be displayed.
People have come from all over the country to get a glimpse of the Queen as she participates in the Thames Pageant riding in a gold crested barge made especially for her. There is jubilation and celebration everywhere.
I am near Putney station my destination and stand up to walk towards the train door and realise that I am caught between a packed train and an even more packed station outside. I panic a little, especially as the train usually stands on the station only for half a minute before it moves off and I am worried I won’t be able to make it out. I push my way through the maze of Union Jack donned people and finally step off the train onto the crowded platform. I stand there and slowly inch my way forward towards the exit, very cautiously trying hard not to make any body contact with anyone. I make myself as tiny as I possibly can; folding my arms in front, squeezing my shoulders together and sticking close to the wall as I climb up the steps toward the street.
I finally touch out my oyster card and walk the fairly empty street. I wait at the cross roads for the walk signal to appear and I over hear two women talking. ‘Today, I finally feel like a Brit’ she says. ‘Me too’ says the other. The green walk signal turns on and I deliberately stay behind a few paces just to get a glimpse of the physical evidences that could suggest their patriotism. One lady has a Union Jack floppy top hat fixed firmly on her head teamed with a pair of leggings that has a massive red, white and blue British flag boldly printed on it from her waist till her ankles. The other is more subtle in her display. She is wearing a white t-shirt with the flag printed on the back and a small flag sticks off her head band.
I look at them and I question myself and my patriotism in Bhutanese terms. What makes me a true Bhutanese? Does going to Changlingmithang ground to celebrate national day make me a patriot? Am I a true Bhutanese when I plant a tree on 2nd June? Does celebrating losar and tshechus qualify me as a genuine Bhutanese? Is enjoying the fiery national dish ‘ema datshi’ heat enough to ignite my Bhutanese patriotism? Will singing the national anthem with passion prove that I am patriotic? Patriotism is indeed a wonderful feeling and in spite of living away from home for long periods of time I always feel very ‘Bhutanese’.
As a Bhutanese who has lived abroad for studies and work, I’ve realised that being and feeling Bhutanese is a wonderful experience. Living away from home had taught me many things. It has allowed me to develop a deeper sense of patriotism than most of my compatriots back home, who prefer not to venture outside. Being an immigrant and trying to create an identity and niche for myself has been emotionally challenging. Trying to be an individual with a distinct identity and culture in most countries where they know little or nothing about Bhutan can make one feel insignificant. Many people have looked at me and classified me as a Chinese. I’ve also got the odd ‘are you from Peru/Guatemala?’ question. Thus, dealing with identity generalisation has convinced me and made be become fiercer at finding a place and a culture which I belong to and feel part of. It is through these ‘identity less’ experiences that I have truly becomes a Bhutanese and truly feel the urge to belong.
The things we take for granted back home like the comfort of family and friends, the live discussions and debates on current national issues, wearing the kira and walking through the market, going up into the serene mountains and listening to the sound of a spinning mani, the smell of burning incense, the pine forests, the asphalt roads, and the sound of the laughing white crested thrush, the cow bells, the dhungs and the jallings is appreciated more when one travels beyond the comfort of one’s home and country. It painfully widens one’s perspective and defies you to defend an identity and culture which defines you but is being threatened.
Thus, every occasion one gets to be a Bhutanese one grabs and celebrates it with gusto. All information on Bhutan is read and savoured deliciously. The kiras and ghos are worn with pride and dignity. All issues and problems that Bhutan faces are felt with deep pain and emotion. All achievements made by Bhutan is honoured and gratefully appreciated. So, if this is what defines me as a true Bhutanese then I am proud to be one!