Every week, I buy almost all available Bhutanese newspapers in English. On an average, I spend around Ngultrum 100 buying newspapers alone. On top of that I always buy Bhutanese magazines on trial basis from the book stores. If it is worth, I continue buying every succeeding issue. Ngultrum 100 is more than my week’s earning in 1998 as a boy in the village. As a boy I used to toil myself out every winter vacation so that I could cover at least half of my expenditures. I used to carry manure for rich people, sand for local subcontractors who were building schools, basic health units etc. I used to earn only ngultrum 10 per day which I used to buy school uniform and a pair of shoes at the end of three months of vigorous slavery. Today with my weekly expenditure of Nu. 1500 (excluding expenditures for food and rents), I think I am quite lavish. Last week, I heard that my friends pocket money for the month (though he earns more than me) is Nu. 1000. I realized my average spending on newspaper itself was more than half of his total monthly pocket money. No doubt I end up broke by the end of third week of the month. Although I am simple corporate employee at the base of hierarchal rung, I spend so much on trivial matters as if I were a corporate executive or like a rich senseless man. However, last night I questioned myself because I was short of money. My bank account showed I have only Nu. 500 which I couldn’t withdraw. Then I find the ways to cut unnecessary expenditure. Of course I may not implement it at all. I realized I could save around 350 ngultrum just from newspapers. I could rely wholly on Kuensel soft copy which I get officially every day.
Besides, I have internet facility at home. Thanks to data card service of telecom. I can always read news in their respective websites. But it may take time getting used to reading only soft copies. Even though I get three newspapers soft copies from the office, I always buy the hard copies. I have an odd compulsion to buy hardcopy which my lecturer in the college described as habitual disease. Ngultrum100 a week in Thimphu is nothing as reasoned by one half of me. It reasoned, ‘for knowledge you should pay.’ In 5th century A.D, Thumoen sambota of Tibet went to India just to study crossing most difficult terrains, with risks of contacting malaria and with risk of murderous robbers on the way. ‘What is a hundred ngultrum,’ it reasoned further. However, my other half argued whether it is worth it.
I inculcate the habit of reading newspaper when I was in the college in India. To kill the boredom in weekends, I used to buy Hindustan Times and Times of India. I would read page by page from morning past midnight. As a young man who hadn’t set my foot even out of my own district who was in others’ country, the time was worst of my life. Loneliness and homesickness almost killed very vein of my existence. Newspapers were only sources of companionship, inspirations and entertainment especially in weekends. I couldn’t afford Television at first. Later, me and my friends who were from same background saved whatever we could from our stipend and bought a small TV sets. Thus the newspapers were only means to kill boredom, update on current affairs and get some meaningful page-3 news. And it was worth it.
After graduation, I left all that is Indian as I was not really fan of what that was Indian including what I learnt in the college. But I brought two things; pass certificate and the habit of reading newspaper. Back in Bhutan, I continued my habit with kuensel. Every morning, I would wait by grocery shop waiting for kuensel van to drop the paper. The kuensel initially seemed to serve the purpose of publicizing the vacancy announcements that every graduates search with over zeal. However, the news was not worth most of the time. As one paper couldn’t satisfied my thirst for news, I started buying other papers whose costs were double the Kuensel and whose contents were not as half the good as Kuensel.
The papers were fraught with grammatical mistakes, spelling mistakes and factual errors (though I am bad on all above fronts but even I seem to find mistakes). The Buddha Dodema’s height became 138 feet, CSO became Civil Service Organization, BCSC’s general category second toppers’ percentage became 78 while I knew for sure the first topper’s percentage was only 75.5%. Also “whether” was substituted for weather, lucky dip became lucky tip. All of them were examples from an edition of a paper. The reportages are biased, one sided and directly from the press releases. My idea of soft news was quite different because I used to read news week in India. Here the soft news seemed like a high school essays and articles. Sometimes research articles and opinions available in Google were bhutanized. Most of the time, I regretted for not getting my money’s worth.
Even though I haven’t stopped buying almost all the newspapers available in the market; I am really cogitating whether I will continue spending money on something that isn’t worth a dime. I am not doing charity for business of newspapers that came into market to share the pie of government advertisements budget more than the claims of being fulfilling democratic mandates. They don’t have qualified (I am not referring to degree or journalism) people including CEOs and proprietor themselves as most of them jumped into fray for government’s benevolent gesture of distributing the pie. Today, due to financial crisis and budget cut, government is trying to cut unnecessary expenditures on ineffective and inappropriate medium. These same media who never showed sign of improvement when they had an opportunity now shouted against the state accusing government of trying to muzzle the press, jeopardize the democratic estate, encourage media monopolization etc. They are as sly as fox in trying to hide the real intentions; the affect on profits. Having said that, I am not for or against those papers claims, I just want to read quality newspapers which are worth my dime. I truly believe improving the quality may be possible in reducing the numbers. If not I will have to reduce my expenditure by spending on few best papers. One can’t cover whole world with hide, thus it is better to wear the shoes.