Until recently we were concerned about the dilution of our culture due to the influence of the West. We were not alone. The whole of Asia, home to rich cultures and traditions, was worried. To counter the decadent western influence, some rose to the occasion.
Then came what is called hybridisation to counter westernisation. Unfortunately we are caught between westernisation and hybridisation. If American MTV has influenced the lifestyle, habit and thinking of one generation, it is Korean pop today that is storming our youth.
We are silently seeking to come to terms with new cultural identities, embracing modern media technologies, while at the same time wanting to preserve our culture. To a large extent, we are better off because of our wise policies and the close knit society we are, in preserving our culture.
We may not realise, but most visitors see a pristine country and strongly visible culture. Take for example an auspicious day in Bhutan. We will see both young and old in ghos and kiras visiting lhakhangs and dzongs. Visitors often leave with pangs of nostalgia of a world that is largely unchanged when they see the local festival, a village choku or enjoy local hospitality.
In most parts of the world, governments are trying to revive the human element in the lives of the people. Some have incentives and subsidies to encourage social and family values that have fast disappeared. We believe we are far better off.
But a symposium on safeguarding intangible cultural heritage in South Asia on Wednesday reminded us of how much these beliefs are true. The finding is that we are losing a lot of intangible culture, like languages, folksongs, drama indigenous games, folktales, legends and many more.
This is a good reminder. As we change from a rural to an urban setting, some of the core values that formed the essence of a traditional society are changing, even breaking down. This includes family cohesion and, in extension, traditional social systems.
The last time Aum Rinchen, 75, met her childhood friend in the same village was a year ago. At this time of the year, they would be weeding the rice fields together. Both are landlords today in South Thimphu, but the tall concrete buildings have separated them.
The average guests at their annual choku are friends of their office going children, if they are present. There is no singing or dancing, because the tenants would complain of disturbance. The young are not interested in zhungdra unless it is a competition. Computer games and movies have replaced bedtime stories. If there is no hearth, nobody gathers around their parents to listen to stories. Everyone has a smartphone to kill time.
A law is being drafted to safeguard our intangible cultures, but that will be restricted only to documentation. The living culture will be reduced to the syllabi of performing arts centres or academies. As we chase images of luxury, richness and beauty hammered into our brains by excessive advertisement, we can only feel nostalgic, like the tourist who is coming to see the last few things remaining.
Times have changed.