Book Review: Non-fiction/ The Kingdom at the Centre of the World by Omair Ahmad, Aleph, 231p; R 495(Hardback)
I have been aware about Omair’s project on Bhutan since it was in ideation state but once I read it, I am better suitable to say he has written the political history of a tiny and insignificant nation with a pathbreaking articulation.
When the mad rush of the mainstream world is increasingly lured by misnomer like—‘things should be constructed too big to fall’,
Bhutan —the subject of this book opposes it with its indifference with popular notions of development and attached essential degradation. So, it’s not growing in general terms—and that is for good sake. With mastership over narration and facts —Omair is probably the best enthusiast on this small, sparsely populated kingdom at the eastern end of the Himalayas.
The book comes out in good spirit under the influence of same strong fundamentals and his incorrigible optimism directed in efforts. It justifies, in light vein too — the sense for history can flow very easily.
Omair’s The Kingdom at the Centre of the World speaks much with its name —even if not set asiding the subtle variation. It refers Bhutan has been a part of epoch-making transformations in Asia. Nevertheless it was never shown with degree of temptations to get aligned with the political-cultural conviction of the power mongers.
The book begins in a sort of travel writing format, and later goes deep inside the events of modern history without biases or contempt about the historical truths. It begins with an informed commentary over Padmasmbhava’s epic work, written to establish Buddhism in this unusual hilly kingdom.
Later, the book travels long to recall how Bhutan has emerged as an independent Buddhist nation in the 17th century under Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. The coverage of Jigme Namgyal makes this book a perfect guide to know difficult tussle was between Bhutan and British empire —and the nasty motives of empire were crushed by a very humble nation.
The Wangchuk monarchs and their accomplishments are placed safely inside the pages by the author. These kings, with different royal outlook have ruled Bhutan for close to a century. In separate contexts, the book in great deal looks back on the past events, mattered heavily for this undersized but sovereign nation.
The prominent among them are —the ups and down of Tibet-Mongol and British Empire—the complicated spread of Nepali-origin people across South Asia—Sikkim’s dramatic loss of sovereignty and its convergence with India, and the highly conflicting territorial ambitions of India and China.
With the sufficient background of details, the book ventures out to inform—Bhutan alone promises high for an alternative way of inclusive governance and moderate progress. In a terrible uniform world—Bhutan opts Gross National Happiness (GNH) over Gross National Product (GNP). This gives hope for a world away from frantic compulsions.
Bhutan faces the challenge of unsettled issues of refuges on its land —also it is coping to track a mean path while retaining its cultural distinctiveness along with the ideals of ceremonial democracy. But the good thing is—with or without money, Bhutanese are the happiest human species in the world.
It inspires to see the beauty of small but sustainable happiness, which cannot be marginalised with sudden influx or downward spiral of global economic order. The happiness matters, this book tells it and with it, offers the suffice food for thought for freethinkers and also to the official polemics.
With few books to recall on Bhutan—this one deserves to be called remarkable and its author should be known for it, by the reference. It’s a terrific entry in this years’ non-fiction category and exudes the elegance, for that Aleph is much appreciated and known.
-Atul K Thakur
(Published in Rising Kashmir on June16,2013)