Conceived and founded less than a year ago after the first wave of the pandemic, we are delighted to bring from our quarantine caves the inaugural issue of Yeshe: A Journal of Tibetan Literature, Arts and Humanities.
This journal is a natural outcome of the expanding field of Tibetan literature and arts in terms of both its production and growing scholarly interest in the area in the last two decades. Yeshe is thus divided into two broad sections—literary and academic—with an equal emphasis on each, and a nexus between Tibetan writers/artists and dedicated scholars/translators. While the content in the academic section is sieved through the rigorous process of double-blind peer review, the literary sections are carefully curated by our seasoned editors, who have also gone the extra mile in translating into English some of the meritorious Tibetophone and Sinophone submissions we received.
Tsering Wagmo Dhompa’s essay “Against the Grain of History: Mutiny at the Ockenden School” is the first study of an important but forgotten incident at Ockenden School in India. Through an analysis of newspaper reports, letters, and pamphlets from the mid-1960s, the paper delves into the inner life of the Tibetan exile community with its own center/margin political space. Included in the article section is also the first-ever English translation of Chimay’s celebrated autobiographical verse poem “The Ring,” which Lama Jabb presents in his essay “The Immortal Ring of Samsara and Poetry.” Alongside his translation, Lama Jabb offers a critical appreciation of the poem’s imagery, its lyrical and technical aspects, its emotional and intellectual intensity, and the way it employs a figurative use of language to transcend suffering and counter forgetting. An enduring concern of modern Tibetan literature—how Tibet and its traditions ought to engage with the modern world—is investigated by Christopher Peacock in his essay “From the Yeti to the Ape-Man,” in which he examines the juxtaposition of scientism and superstition in Döndrup Gyel’s translation of Tong Enzheng’s “The Magic Flute of the Snow Mountains.” Placing Döndrup Gyel’s own works alongside Tong Enzheng’s story, Peacock considers what interest a seemingly obscure work of Chinese science fiction may have held for one of modern Tibet’s most influential writers.
In the art section, Chukyi Kyaping provides a critical review of Nyema Drolma’s exhibition titled Performing Tibetan Identities and explores larger issues around museum representations of Tibet. Isabella Cammarota’s “Transcending Boundaries: Curating A Digital Exhibition” takes us behind the scenes of the Yakpo Collective’s first group exhibition and the process of its curation. Delhi-based photographers and storytellers Tsering Topgyal and Tsering Choephel share a photo essay with commentary on the premise of the Tibet Memory Project while providing examples of the stories they collect and record.
Our book review section is yet another affirmation of the increasing expansion of Tibet Studies and the crucial role that publications like Yeshe can play in amplifying new works in the field. Sample from the latest releases Ruth Gamble’s The Third Karmapa Rangjung Dorje: Master of Mahāmudra, praised by Matilda Perks for its “compact, erudite introduction” to Rangjung Dorje, or Lucia Galli and Franz Xaver Erhard’s edited volume The Selfless Ego: Configurations of Identity in Tibetan Life Writing, which Jed Forman hails for its “Durkheimian methodology that conceptualizes the biography as providing some functional purpose within the Tibetan sociological context.” Kamila Hladíková highly recommends Tsering Woeser’s Forbidden Memory: Tibet During the Cultural Revolution for its “rare photographic material along with hardly available archivalia and oral testimonies.” Kati Fitzergald ferrets out, for the attention of readers, sections previously unpublished in Donald S. Lopez’s Gendun Chopel: Tibet’s Modern Visionary. Jyoti Deshwal discusses the late Tsering Wangyal’s posthumously published novel Another Place for its “attempt to locate, temporally and spatially, the de-territorialized Tibetan community.” Finally, Kalsang Yangzom highlights how Tenzin Tseyang Gonsar’s Dogs of TCV: A Collection of Stories recreates through fiction the experiences of the exile-born generation of Tibetans.
The prolific exile Tibetan writer Tsering Wangmo Dhompa speaks candidly about her writings and how the pandemic has felt strangely familiar to her: “the kind of solitariness and aloneness that some of my friends feel during the pandemic, I have always felt that.” We also hear from Pema Tseden about the trajectory of his filmmaking career, with occasional references to how it differs from writing, in a fascinating interview with Phurwa Tsering and Françoise Robin.
Pema Tseden also appears in the fiction section with one of, what our interview and fiction editor Tenzin Dickie calls, his “on-the-road stories.” Titled “I Killed a Sheep” and translated by Riga Shakya, this is a strange and irony-laden piece in which a truck driver takes a sheep that he accidentally killed to a lama for its last rites as a form of penance only to leave us wondering about the sincerity of that penance. Human irrationality and irony also surface in Akyab Dhargye’s “The Black Yak,” the story of a Tibetan herder trying to sell his prized yak on the black market in the dead of night. This piece, translated from the Tibetan by Holly Gayley and Tsewang Dorjee, is a sharp commentary on the Serta monastery’s ethical reform movement, which seeks to encourage vegetarianism among Tibetan nomads. Sangdor’s “Popping Over One Hundred Painkillers All at Once,” translated from the Tibetan by Lowell Cook, foregrounds disillusionment with life itself as the narrator looks back at the life of a monk-turned-macho friend who committed suicide, leaving his friends speculating if AIDS played a role in his death. Adding to the linguistic variety of Tibetan fiction, N. Dhargyal’s Anglophone story “The Tarzan of Kham Kathok” takes us to a small Tibetan settlement at a remote location in India. Chocho Dawa, who claims to have seen the popular Bollywood film Tarzan at least ten times, begins to act out the story for the children—but his dramatic re-enactment does not end well.
The incongruities between Tibetan and non-Tibetan worlds that we see in N. Dhargyal’s story are further highlighted in Huatse Gyal’s “XXX or FNU? Musings on Tibetan Names Abroad,” included in the prose section edited by Christopher Peacock. Huatse Gyal’s essay concerns all those “names that are being torn apart, degraded, and erased” due to the necessity of uniform documentation in the modern world. The essay, at once personal and political, offers us a humorous, painful, and deeply insightful take on the ways in which Tibetans are constantly forced to adapt themselves to the major culture—whether in China or the West. In an equally contemplative but philosophical mood, Long Rinchen’s “A Singer in Simple Clothing,” translated from the Chinese by Brantley Collins, reflects on the author’s upbringing in the grasslands and ponders what we humans can learn from the natural world. The essay, accompanied by Long’s own accomplished photographs, imbues the reader with the author’s passion for birds and life on the grasslands while leaving us with a bittersweet sense of how much is lost when the country is traded for the city.
The poetry section, expertly curated by Chime Lama, brings us right up to the present with new poetry and sketches byJangbu. The poet wrestles with the frustrating quietude of pandemic-living and asks, “Why is it that the darkness is darker than before, in the aftermath of the light?” The haunting spirit of darkness is also seen casting its shadow in other poems: we have the dizzying onomatopoeic lines of Sangdor’s Tibetophone poem “Liquor Bottle (Dizzy in a Karaoke Bar),” and the resistant silence in Nangsa Söyang’s Sinophone poem “In Tibet, Just Be a Stone.” Two other sensational Sinophone Tibetan poets—Pema Nordrön and Pema Yangchen—search for the female archetype and the ever-elusive Tibetan song in their respective poems. Chen Bhang and Sinpo take us from heartache to intense yearning for love, and Tsültrim Zanpo and Zhabkar Tsokdruk Rangdröl transport the readers to the subtle shades of nature. In Chal’s “Impressions,” one feels the slow but sure movement of time as home begins to grow on the poet. Tsa’s “Time in Broken Branches” also foregrounds the potency of time with the trigger of memory and consciousness by “a reddish light” that “flickers in one of Dechen Dabdrön’s eyes.” And in Da Tsenpo’s “Scribbles between Shanghai and Hangzhou,” where the poet moves between things, places, and people to finally arrive at the poem, one gets to know what is popularly called Tibet’s Third Generation Poetry. The work of these Tibetophone and Sinophone Tibetan poets was translated for Yeshe by Lowell Cook, Peter Woods, Lama Jabb, and our in-house editors. Turning to those who write Tibet from the Anglophone world, Lekey S. Leidecker’s two poems in English echo the concerns of poets in Tibet by moving between the uncertain future of Tibetans in the West and the necessity to prepare for the arrival of the impossible moment in the lives of the exiles.
Yeshe, along with its parent organization the Tibetan Arts and Literature Initiative (TALI), is an independent journal and wouldn’t be possible without our passion-driven, self-motivated, and dedicated team of editors and webmaster. Our advisory board members also brainstormed with us on the journal’s title, logo, and other aspects of its production. We are grateful to the peer reviewers, whose names must remain anonymous, for giving us their precious time and critical feedback. Gratitude is also due to Nortse and Rossi & Rossi Gallery for the cover image, selected by our art editor Thupten Kelsang.
Finally, we wish to thank each contributor for trusting our journal to house their respective works. We truly hope this debut issue of Yeshe will encourage and facilitate scholars in the field of Tibet Studies as well as Tibetan artists and authors in showcasing their meaningful works.
Patricia Schiaffini-Vedani and Shelly Bhoil
© 2021 Yeshe | A Journal of Tibetan Literature, Arts and Humanities