At the eighth event in the Bhutan Seminar Series for 2021, we watched the international co-production “Happiness,” a coming-of-age story focused on Peyangki, a young Layap boy. The Layap are an ethnic minority of semi-nomadic yak-herders living in northern Bhutan.
Eight-year-old Peyangki wants to live with his family and their yak, but because his family is poor and can’t send him to school, he is entered into the village monastery, where his days of devoting himself to monastic training begin. The training is strict, however, and, still only a child, Peyangki often slips away to see the school he can’t attend and visit his family before returning to the monastery.
When electricity comes to the village, Peyangki goes with his uncle to the capital of Thimphu to buy a television. Everything in the big city is new for Peyangki, from the cars to the abundance of sweets and toys that he has never seen before. Young Peyangki is stunned at the sharp contrast between city life and life back in the village.
One reason for the trip to Thimphu was to meet his older sister. She is supposed to be working at the town hall, but Peyangki can’t find her anywhere. When he finally tracks her down through one of her friends, she’s working at a nightclub.
The film closes with Peyangki back in his village watching television in the darkness with his family and neighbors. Peyangki’s expression as he stares at the screen has none of a child’s innocence and happiness. The images from the television simply reflect off his eyes.
Through the many things that happen to Peyangki, the film poses viewers the question of what is happiness? Is it the convenience that comes from the advance of informatization, not being a burden to your family, earning money? What life will Peyangki lead in the “happy country”? This is a film that makes you think deeply about Bhutan and about happiness.
Our commentator Sakiko Takihara drew on her experience of study in Bhutan in describing people’s lives during the COVID-19 pandemic and her own daily life as a student.
Ms. Takihara explained in some detail how the Bhutanese have dealt with COVID-19, including the changes in Bhutan pre- and post-lockdown and what people are doing to avoid infection. She also painted a clear picture of her life as a student in Bhutan, illustrated by photos of daily life in her dormitory and her homestay. It was clear that Bhutanese people’s lives are quite different according to where they live and how much income they have. Seminar participants found Ms. Takihara’s talk extremely interesting, and she was very patient in responding to the many questions and comments.
The seminar really made us think deeply about Bhutan.
(Airi Yamamoto, first-year student, Department of Languages and Culture,
Faculty of Letters and Education)