GROSS NATIONAL HAPPINESS

- AJEET COUR

It is a great opportunity to welcome all of you, my friends and co-travellors, to this Conference of Gross National Happiness.

Nineteen years ago when I launched the idea of this Foundation of SAARC Writers and Literature with the aim of bringing our neighbours closer, who have common cultural bonds and common problems of the gross lack of basic human amenities, I began discussing these issues in Writers and Intellectuals Conferences of the Seven SAARC Nations on home ground (India as well as our other 6, now 7 neighbours). It was a tremendously difficult and uphill task – no support, financial or otherwise, from ANY quarter, only the burning desire to initiate this much-needed dialogue.

In SAARC our destinies are intertwined due to our geographical proximity and cultural connectivity.

This Conference which is in the same line of thought, will highlight the various facets and dimensions of human development, and will focus on the quality of life of the common citizens of each of our countries. 
In these times of interdependence among nations, as well as mounting tensions which destroy the social fabric of societies, it is imperative that the subject of GNH be brought to the attention of the public, especially in our sub-continent.

This Conference is meant to place our concerns in right perspective, about the happiness of the teeming millions who have no say which way the national resources should flow. Should the resources keep flowing towards huge defence and administrative expenses, towards helping the affluent amass more wealth, towards selling off agricultural lands to multi-billionaires for setting up their tax-free mega-projects, towards ultra-modern technology and towards aiming at a 8-9-10 per cent GNP ?or Should these resources also create more access to food, employment, houses, education, medical facilities, better living conditions, elimination of malnutrition for the teeming millions, and for preservation of environment and earth-waters-rivers : all basic parameters of a healthy and happy nation.

For the last 32 years, in my own small way, when I set up this Academy, it was not limited to its name, art and literature, but also included in our programmes the desire to create some happiness in the lives of the girls and women living in the slums around, to set them up on their own two feet through vocational training classes and basic education, including even computer training, all completely free, exposing them to the world of cultural endeavours like classical dances, painting, art pottery, sculpture, art and books, which are normally the territory of only the privileged few. If you go downstairs in this building, you will see more than a hundred happy chirping faces ! That, I feel, is our biggest achievement : adding a tiny drop in the Gross National Happiness.

Today, we are really missing Hon’ble Mr. Jigmi Thinley, the Minister for Home and Cultural Affairs for whom an airticket had been booked, a suite was waiting for him, but unfortunately he was needed in Bhutan for some urgent business. We feel really deprived of his presence because he has put in a lot of hard work for transforming the concept of Gross National Happiness into reality, because the feasibility of this concept is important for sustainable development of our societies, and also for our coming generations.

I will like to end with two poems :

CHILDREN WHO DON’T PLAY 

A Hindi poem by Sudeep Bannerjee,

with a few brush strokes by the

translator Ajeet Cour

You should be terrified

Of course,

Of terror, and war, and bombs,

And landmines !

Of course !

Everyone knows that !

But you are perhaps not aware of the fact

That you should be more terrified

Of little children

Who don’t play !

In desolate, hungry villages,

And in the overcrowded,

Polluted cities !

Beware of all the hungry

Unhappy children

Whose eyes don’t betray any emotion,

Like deep, deep oceans !

Because, remember,

That there are volcanoes

Under the oceans,

Called ‘smoking chimneys’ !

They may erupt