It was an extraordinary moment in the life of a nation. The benevolent Fourth King, who had reigned over Bhutan for 34 years of unparalleled progress and peace, had just ushered in democracy and a new King was being crowned.
As the Coronation was broadcast live on TV on November 6, 2008, some of us couldn’t help but feel nostalgic about the past yet enormously excited of the future. We also knew that for all its potencies, democracy was but an infant in our midst and citizens would look to their new King for afresh national narrative in the new political landscape.
But whatever qualms I had dissipated the next day. In front of a packed Changlimithang Stadium and with the nation watching on TV, His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, Bhutan’s Fifth King, delivered one of the most stirring speeches in recent memory which would become His hallmark.
Speaking smoothly and confidently, His Majesty framed a passionate narrative by describing the work that lay ahead of all of us, of our mutual journey toward progress as one nation and as one people, of the common thread that bound us to one another, and of His own role as a vehicle to help drive home the narrative.
“The future is neither unseen nor unknown. It is what we make of it. What work we do with our two hands today will shape the future of our nation.”
The speech was a touchstone of national unity and a soaring manifesto of hope and inspiration that would form the foundation of our citizen’s dreams and aspirations in the new political landscape including many of our young people. It was the beginning of His Majesty’s story to the nation.
The stories our leaders tell us matter, probably almost as much or more as the stories our parents tell us as children, because they orient us to who we are, where we come from, where we should go, what we could do; to the world views they hold and to the values they hold sacred.
Over the years, the stories from His Majesty have resonated profoundly with me as it has with other fellow citizens. They form the basis of my inspiration to want to be a better person, to work harder, to give my 110% in my work, to excel. It’s hard to overstate the effect of His Majesty’s stories, a lot harder its power to inspire his subjects to want to get up and do something good with their lives. Words and imageries are powerful.
It’s not just that stories flow from His Majesty’s lips. His Majesty lives and breathes in these very stories. He is a tireless champion of our nation’s development, demonstrating an unflagging devotion to improving the standard of living of the Bhutanese people. His Majesty’s regular trips on foot to the far flung pastoral regions to gain first hand knowledge about His people and the issues affecting them has been emulated by many of our politicians today and characterizes His Majesty’s immense love for the country. The fact that His Majesty in all these travels takes with Him a small contingent of doctors and nurses to treat the ill and the suffering is what I would imagine a true Dharma King would do.
It is for these reasons and others that many Bhutanese feel a deep spiritual connection with His Majesty. They see Him as a caring father of the nation, an embodiment of stability in the country, and an epitome of our best Bhutanese values and beliefs.
Inspiring leaders don’t set out with the intention of being inspiring, it happens because of who they are, because of the stories they leave behind. In His words and His deeds, His Majesty has been a model of class and dignity, radiating an ethos of integrity, humanity, good manners and elegance that has been the hallmark of His Majesty’s personal and public persona throughout His decade-long reign.
Such is the power of inspiration and great example that in all likelihood it appears to have rubbed off on so many of our political leaders today, many of whom were just ordinary characters floating around politics and in the public space just a few years ago. You need only to listen to them and follow their actions. It’s hard to exaggerate the symbolic significance of such a heartening scenario and what it could mean for the collective future of a nation.
But it is the nation’s youth that His Majesty seems to reserve His best stories for.“It always makes me very happy to meet and spend time with you.” Perhaps it is because of His Majesty’s own deep conviction that future Bhutanese prosperity and security will depend on the education and collective actions of the young people.
It is also with the young people that His Majesty seems to be in His element. Like a father persuading his children to get out and push the family car stuck in the mud to safety, he fires up their passion, to study harder, to work harder, to seize the opportunity to forge the future we imagine, to have ambitions knowing that each of us is here because our past Kings set forth an ambitious vision for us. The stories are a summon to reasonableness but His Majesty makes it thrilling.
“If there is anything your heart desires, anything you want to achieve, the time to start is now. Don’t be afraid of challenges and obstacles.”
A recurrent theme which His Majesty carries it in all His speeches, and especially so when He is with the young people, is the story that we rise or fall as one nation, that even as we embrace change, to never forget our “Bhutanese character”, to never lose touch with the “fundamental values on which rest our character as a nation and people” no matter “how far we look back into the past or into the future”.
As stories go, we haven’t even reached the end yet. And that is the best part about His Majesty’s amazing and unfolding story. The chapters are being written every day even as you are reading this. I can’t wait to find out where this story will take us.
By Kencho Wangdi
The writer is a former editor of Kuensel and is currently a filmmaker. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org