Death by Reading in Bhutan

For a small nation, Bhutan has remained impressively resilient in the wake of COVID-19, a pandemic that has now taken over 1.5 million deaths globally; moreover, news of COVID vaccines (among whom Pfizer has just administered its first vaccine) brings renewed hope in the Bhutanese populace. However, the nation was shaken violently with the news that was broken yesterday evening on national TV by a team of experts at the epidemiology center about a new disease that seems to have originated from within the country.

As the discovery is in its early stages, experts are yet to give a proper nomenclature that correctly identifies and classifies the disease but as of yet,

some senior members of the Epidemiology Center have begun calling it, ‘Severe Allergic Orthographytites’ (SAO) since the disease seems to be triggered due to reading.


The first confirmed case of SAO was registered at the capital hospital at 1:30 AM two Sundays ago when a 36-year-old man from Olakha was rushed at the ICU with anaphylactic shock, a symptom resembling serious allergic reaction. Along with conducting extensive blood and skin tests, a full report of all the meals and food ingested within the past 24 hours was produced; however, doctors were baffled as the tests results came out normal and the possible causes of the allergic reaction were all ruled out by an exhaustive process of elimination in the following week. It was only last Wednesday when the daughter of the patient brought him a book to read at the hospital that the reaction was triggered again.

Photo by Pedro Ribeiro Simões

After the symptoms subsided, the daughter explained the event in detail to which the attending physician suspected that the allergen could have been carried through the book since that was the only foreign object admitted into the cabin chamber. After samples of the pages were sent to the epidemiology center for analysis, the results came out inconclusive. The accidental discovery was made only when the attending physician was in the same cabin at the moment the patient grabbed a magazine for reading when the violent reaction was triggered. Following the incident, Dr. Nima Khandu contacted an expert team at the epidemiology center and confirmed the new disease caused by reading.


For most professionals across various organizations and offices whose primary work is conducted through e-mails, the news comes as a revealing discovery that explains the otherwise baffling phenomenon of people calling the office to seek simple information that had been provided multiple times in writing through the e-mails.

Karma Dema, a finance officer at the National Banking Reserve spoke with great relief at this discovery which finally explains several incidents where she had informed the person calling to check through their e-mail sent just 5 minutes ago and they had vehemently objected, instead requesting Karma to just explain the entire document through the call.

She said, “I feel so bad about all the times when I thought the refusal to read was due to their laziness. I now know that it is due to a medical condition and not a matter of choice”.

Mr. Sangay Ongchu who currently runs an Efficiency Audit Consultancy also remarked how the discovery of SAO finally answers the persistent question which him and his team have been asking for a long time: ‘Why most meeting attendees simply won’t read the previous meeting minutes or the necessary preparatory documents?’ He shared his findings how this seemingly small task compromised up to 60% of the efficiency and clarity in communication in almost all the organizations.

Photo by London Lights


Interviews conducted with vendors of almost all online shops revealed similar concerning trends in the rise of SAO. Sangay Wangmo who currently runs an online-based pet grooming supply store remarked with great frustration, how she had kept track of her hours replying to

private messages asking for the ‘price’ of a product whose price was stated in the product title

and realized that she spent over 8 hours per week on this. “I knew there was something seriously wrong with our public and somehow no one could place their finger on why this was so. At least up until now”.

Likewise Karma Chophel who currently deals with farm machineries and equipment also remarked how SAO would finally help understand the rising cases of dissatisfied customers who had used the machineries without reading the manual thereby damaging the product. Upon inquiry Karma expressed how he had explicitly informed the customers that they follow the instructions on the manual and to call him if anything was unclear. Till date, he had received no calls from a single customer but have seen no shortage of the number of disgruntled customers who demanded their money back after using the sold equipment incorrectly. Karma now rests a little more at ease knowing the predominant number of Bhutanese suffering from SAO.

Photo by Adam Sporka


Needless to say, news about the Severe Allergic Orthographytites (SAO) have caused havoc in Bhutan as people debate how we will move forward as a nation and society in a 21st century world where letters and words dominate basically everything! There have been generally two schools of thought emerging so far:

The first school of thought have already begun advocating that in the interest of saving Bhutanese lives from potentially life-threatening cases of SAO, we should return to the point in time before words and reading became a necessity in life. They have even gone so far as to argue that being orally-rooted has been an integral part of the Bhutanese people in the past and that a return to that could only mean strengthening and affirming our cultural roots. They believe that reading (especially foreign contents) has corrupted our tradition and heritage.

Photo by Hriday

Another camp of thinkers believes that like other severe allergies, SAO could be passed down genetically from parents to children. They have already crowd-sourced the funding to launch a large-scale research project to study the impact that non-reading parents have on the likelihood of their children suffering from SAO. Some supporters of this school of thought have cited evolutionary models about

incremental increases in the likelihood of progenic SAO occurrence through non-reading parents over multiple generations, eventually crossing the minimum threshold to trigger life-threatening allergic reactions to reading.

Educators and proponents of literature have found allies in this camp as they advocate for an immediate nationally-sanctioned reading initiative to combat the disease.

This finding also remains consistent with the shocking incident of 2016 when a group of young children mysteriously lost their lives on a Sunday afternoon at a reading session at the Thimphu Public Library. Aum Sedon, the librarian recalled that regrettable incident from four years ago: “People said that the place was cursed by a powerful dhuem (demoness) and since then the library has been vacant. I try telling people that I have been there for decades and have never been affected but some have even spread the rumor that I, myself am possessed by the dhuem and am only looking to claim more victims”.

Till this day, the Public library remains as dead as ever and in light of the recent discovery that has been one of the best decisions from parents to discourage their children from visiting the library.  


Even as national and international health organizations study this bizarre phenomenon in Bhutan, experts from the epidemiology center are advising the general public not to panic and recommends that the most effective way to prevent SAO is to avoid reading.

The center has already published a picture-only guide towards communicating with each other without the use of words or letters and initiated a nation-wide campaign to burn books in order to prevent further deaths of Bhutanese through reading. They are also seeking approval from the cabinet to confiscate all technological devices but popular activists have put up a counter proposal that requests the government to allow smartphones since all communications happens via emojis and videos anyways.

But the bottom line still remains, ‘Stop reading if you want to live! IMMEDIATELY!’


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