Tag Archives: Tibetans

24 Tenzin’s Story Zermatt to Tibet

Tenzin T is an ex-political prisoner. He was my “volunteer” subject. My job was to help him practise English. He had entered a monastery when he was 7 in his native Tibet. One day he joined 2 older monks in a freedom demonstration. He was put into jail for 2 years. He was 12 years old at the time. When he got out of jail, he tried to escape to India across the Himalayas, as life became unbearable for him and his family. He was caught. He ate his identity papers because he had already a record. They beat him up and let him go.

At 16, he gathered money and tried again. This time he succeeded. Now 21, he looked like he was in his 30s. He had been living in India for 6 years, first at the Tibetan Children’s village, then when he turned 18, he ordained as a monk. He left after 2 years because he wanted to be more socially engaged. He wanted to campaign actively for his country. So he came to the Gu-Chu-Sum, an NGO that provides support to political prisoners and organises campaigns for their release. He’s only allowed to live here for a year. During this time he takes computer, Tibetan and English courses. On Sundays, his off-days, he shows videos of the life of Gandhi to school kids and monasteries. When his year is up, he needs to move out and get a job. Money will become an issue. Jobs are scarce for Tibetans. He is also waiting to move to a western country on their refugee program.

Tenzin shares a small room with another young man who smiled a lot but didn’t talk much. One day he offered me some plain boiled potatoes. I didn’t feel right having any, and I didn’t ask him about his story. They each had a single bed and a desk. A door curtain ensured privacy and without shutting out the world. 

Tenzin spoke of the instruments used in prison, and his injuries from being beaten up. He suffered electric rods, belts, whips that break your ribs. He said facing racial prejudice in the US or Australia would be peanuts after his prison experience. In all his conversations having his country back is the only and most important thing. There was no anger, no animosity in his manner or speech. “All this is past” he said with a shrug and a smile. His is not the worst story, probabaly becuase he was only 12 years old at that time. And he never saw or heard of the other two monks who were arrested with him.

The night before my departure, Tenzin presented me with a white khata. It was a very nice way to wish someone well. I had nothing for him in return, except my Swatch watch. He had talked a lot about snow mountains so I decided to give him my Zermatt Swatch. He refused, and grabbed my wrist to stop me. I felt his quiet strength and singularity of purpose. His face was completely relaxed and his eyes were clear. There was a glow about him. In the end we exchanged watches so now I have a casio watch with the Tibetan flag on the the face. 

On parting, he asked that I support the Tibetan cause by talking to people about it. From his manner, he is still very much a monk, and much wiser than he ought to be at 21. In the end he helped me much more than I helped him. I’m seeing that there are many different ways to be. I’m noticing the emergence of my “I”, “my”, “me”, and “mine”.

At 7.45pm, I’m standing in Lung Ta Restaurant with a khata around my neck and tears running down my face. Luckily neither Liz or Thomas thought it weird.

22 The Freedom Concert

I didn’t have any trouble locating the Yongling Kindergarten. At 6.45pm, I simply flowed with the people draining downhill and there I was. The stage was set in the courtyard. The backdrop was the Dalai Lama’s “Never Give Up” poem. The Tibetan flag was in the foreground. The little kids sat upfront on jute bags just 2 meters from the huge speakers. They were causing havoc for the official video crew as little kids do. It was just like in Bodhgaya. With their mischievous smiles and curious faces, they wrapped themselves around each other to get into frame. The space behind filled up quickly with monastic and lay people, locals and foreigners. 2 guest artistes came on and sang to music backing on a CD that skipped badly. The applause showed that it didn’t really matter. They were really good, soulful, pining, hopeful. The mother of the JJI Brothers spoke into the mic, “Are you ready to ROCK And ROLL….?”. Three roars of “FREE TIBET” followed. The band then came on. The first song, said one brother, “was for the prisoners in Tibet who are suffering because of the f*%$ing Chinese, you know?”.  I noted the powerlessness and anger in his voice. The three brothers played better than they sang, I thought. The audience got the message loud and may be not so clear. But hard rock has a way of emotional expression beyond articulation. What you feel might not be understood but you certainly feel. A dog fight broke up amongst the resident mongrels who came to party. The organisers quickly got into gear and in 4 or 5 seconds hauled the 3 dogs outside. The concert continued gamely. I put in my ear plugs to mitigate the noise level and stayed for 4 more songs. There was only so much angst and anger I could handle.

20 Reflecting on McLeod Ganj

I had a reasonably good night in my 60rs room, but after breakfast was inclined to look for something a little less rustic. Hard travelling had taken its toll on me, and I was ready for a little creature comfort. I’d rather liked a room with an attached bathroom with a hot water shower. It gets chilly at this altitude. After walking around town and Bagsu and Draramkot, the Green Hotel still looked like a good bet at 250 rs for all that I want, plus a nice view. It ain’t the Taj, but it’ll do for me.

Being here isn’t like being in the rest of the India that I saw. There were few beggars and few touts. There seems to be lots to entice the New Age types – classes of all descriptions, alternative therapies, music, spirituality, nature… There are many beautiful people with clear eyes and bright smiles. There are Bob-Marley-dreadlock-dope-smoking types, mantra-chanting-prayer-wheel-whirling-mala-clicking types, Kishmiris, Tibetans Nepalis, Punjabis, and other Himalayan peoples, new age buddhists, old school hippies, add to that the diverse international and Indian tourists… The whole world does seem to meet here.

And who are the foreigners? Some look like first world rejects – healers, spiritual seekers, yogis, musicians and their hangers-on, those running from themselves and those who are looking for themselves. Young rebels with their belly button rings and dreadlocks denouncing the materialistic world. Here almost everyone is making a statement about who they are or aren’t, usually by some sort of head gear and hairstyle. A lot of the foreign men wear bandanas or scarfs, or are shaved bald, or have topknots or long braids. But alas they are no match for the men of the exotic east. 

An abundance of young foreign women seemed infatuated with the exotic east. The exotic east seem only too happy to oblige. Bare bellied nubile blonds lounge with arms around ear-ringed Tibetan youths with shining, long black hair. They look into those long, sensual eyes set on high cheek bones and hear  sad stories of heroic sojourns across the mountains into freedom. I can see how girls fall hard and fast.  If truth be told, most of those young men were born outside of Tibetan and made no such journey. Disenchanted and unrooted, they seem to be looking for validation and their reason to be. Living in exile must leave a deep scar unable to heal. What does a young man in his prime, with no job, little prospects, awaiting for a first world country to approve his refugee status do with all that restlessness, longing and angst?

Here, unlike in south east Asia, I did not see local young women  flirting with foreign men; no sign of the sarong party girl anywhere. Except for vendors and nuns, women seem kind of rare.  The most gregarious of women seem to be the middle age matrons who man the stalls in the streets. 

Kishmiris come to sell handcrafts, since tourists are not going to Kashmir, Kashmir has come to the tourists. So here buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, new agers, bohemians, monastics, materialists all exist in mutual dependence and relative prosperity. All this is, because His Holiness, the Dalai Lama resides in McLeod Ganj, and is this part of the Himalayas’ biggest draw.

McLeod Ganj probably has more Tibetan culture per square inch than in Tibet itself. The Dalai Lama predicted that Tibetan culture will only exist outside of Tibetan in the decades to come. The Chinese are taking over Lhasa it seems. Tibetans have become the under-class in their own country.