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It was another beautiful day in Dharamshala, a small hilly town in Northern India. Although the sun was yet to throw its first rays from behind the nearby hill, it was already bright and the air cool and crisp. Gen Tashi, an elderly Tibetan, a former Special Frontier Force personnel who lived at the old people’s home nearby the Dalai hill, was on his way to his daily kora to circumambulate the small hill on top of which Tsuklagkhang monastery was located.
Gen Tashi was not interested in earning merits like many others of his age. He did the kora as part of his daily exercise routine. Although he was already in his late seventies, his body was still robust and healthy, owing to his twenty-plus years of hard training at the Chakrata army camp. He saw many Tibetans, young and old, circumambulating the hill with rosaries, some even with prayer wheels in their hands. They didn’t make much sense for him as he had joined the Indian army only hoping that one day he would get an opportunity to fight with the Chinese. He never got a chance. Sometimes, he felt cheated as he had fought quite a few wars for India and not even one for his home country, Tibet. Now that he had aged and grown old, all he cared about was listening to the Tibetan radio programs that occasionally talked about the Tibetan freedom movement.
Soon he found himself at the roadside makeshift Indian tea stall owned by an elderly local Gaddi called Kishore. Kishore’s stall was located near the monastery. The radio on his dusty countertop blared an old Hindi song by Lata Mangeshkar and framed photos of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Shri Krishna dangled on top of his head on the wall. He also had a stack of Tibetan scarves, incenses, and candles besides tea and Indian savories. While Gen Tashi was busy adjusting himself into his chair, someone waved at him from the corner. He couldn’t figure out who the person was as he was seated in the dimly lit part. He could see a man with earbuds listening to something on his cellphone. Gen Tashi inched towards the figure. He was Migmar la, a middle-aged gentleman, one of the senior civil servants at the Central Tibetan Administration, Gangkyi.
“Oh, Migmar la, didn’t recognize you.”
Migmar la, while removing earbuds from his ear, replied, “Sorry, I was listening to a talk.” Migmar la dragged the nearby seat towards himself and asked Gen Tashi to sit. The old Gaddi, Kishore, served Gen Tashi a hot cup of tea. “Kya haal hai, Ji?” How are you?
“Main trek hung, Ji.” I am fine.
“I am glad that the winter is over now,” said Kishore.
“Of course, who loves the cold and dreaded winter?” Gen Tashi answered. Kishore chuckled and got back to his counter.
“I haven’t seen you in a while, Gen Tashi la,” Migmar la said.
“Indeed. What are you listening to?”
“A talk by Kungo Zoksang la.” Migmar la closed both of his eyes briefly in awe and respect for Kungo Zoksang la and continued. “A scholar in the true sense. He is a Buddhist scholar and a great statesman. His talk always produces goosebumps in me. If we have a few more people like him in our community, our situation would be much different now.” He then remembered something. “Oh! Have you read his latest book Embracing the Middle Path?”
Migmar la continued with both of his eyes tightly shut again. “I am reading it for the third time, and every time I discover more and more layers.”
“What is it about?”
“About the power of the status quo and its role in maintaining peace and stability. Kungo la argued that making compromises and developing understanding is the only solution for all the complicated situations on this planet. There will be no more conflicts, wars, and violence if both parties understand and restrain their actions. He also commented on China and Tibet’s situation at length. Tibetans should not upset the Chinese leadership by engaging in protests if we want to create a conducive environment for a meaningful dialogue. And he was damn right. How could they invite us for a talk if we keep on hurting their sentiments and feeling? Isn’t it?”
Gey Tashi couldn’t stomach what Migmar la had just said. All kinds of questions arose in his mind. He was raised in a discipline that required one to be decisive and take sides, especially for important causes such as nation and people. Tashi wanted to ask if Kungo’s take on life and politics were even realistic in today’s environment. He wanted to point out that all the significant changes and scientific achievements that had changed the course of humanity had resulted from challenging the power and freeing the shackles of the toxic status quo, even if it involved blood and tears. But he chose not to ask his questions. He clearly saw how Migmar la’s thinking was marinated in Kungo Zoksang la’s Utopian talks and writings to the core. It would take a lifetime, if not eons, to detoxify him.
Suddenly, the man seated next to them, eavesdropping on their talk, turned his eyes to Migmar la. He interjected, “Sir, I disagree with you. Leave aside the bigger issues such as countries and societies. Look at my neighbor, Popo Nyima, and his next-door neighbor, Acha Tsultrim. Maybe you know from their case at the Welfare Office, right?”
Migmar la shook their head rather nervously as he didn’t know who the man was or the persons he was referring to.
“Well, they are my neighbors. Poor Popo offered more than a quarter of his land to Acha Tsultrim and she extended her living room and bathroom. Later, the ungrateful Acha accused poor Popo of encroaching on her land. Isn’t it outrageous? This is what one gets for being generous and considerate nowadays. When such things are happening right here in Dharamsala, under the nose of His Holiness, there is no hope in other places.” The man shook his head in despair.
“Excuse me, do I know you?” asked Migmar la, somewhat annoyed.
The man, oblivious of what he had just asked, continued. “Everyone hates this horrible lady who is always after Injis (Caucasian tourists). Last time I asked her for a cup of tea, do you know what she said?”
Both Gen Tashi and Migmar la shook their heads, not knowing what to answer precisely.
“She said, I only drink tea with Injis. Can you believe that?”
Suddenly the heavy woman seated opposite the man and playing with her cellphone jumped in. “Don’t you think it is unfair to comment on someone, that too a woman, in this manner?” Again, Gen Tashi and Migmar la didn’t know who she was. They had never seen her before.
The woman continued, “For your kind information, Popo had long had a crush on Acha and offered a part of his land to her. Popo then dragged her to the Welfare Office when things didn’t go as planned. Now, whose fault is it?”
The man burst into loud laughter. This enraged the woman who now yelled at him at the top of her lungs. “Do you think this is funny? Don’t you have any work besides gossiping about women? For the record, the estate on which they built the structures belongs to the forest babu and not even Popo in the first place. Besides that, I know what you men want when you ask women for tea. Stop being a pervert!”
People in the stall looked at them with surprise. The man was embarrassed, having been scolded by a stranger in front of everyone.
“Excuse me, lady, do I know you?” He asked the lady.
When he heard the fuss going on, Kishore, the stall owner, came near them to see if everything was okay. Meanwhile, Migmar la tried to calm them both down. Gen Tashi, who understood that things were about to get ugly here, stood up, paid for his tea, bid farewell to Migmar la, and left.
Gen Tashi was now on his way back to his house. Many people were still circling the hill. He felt somewhat down. In fact, he was bothered more by Migmar la’s comment than the scene created by the man and the woman at the stall. Pondering what Migmar la had said, Gen Tashi wondered how a human mind could decay to the extent that he couldn’t even see an obvious thing that an eight-year-old boy would see. He then saw a youth with a bullhorn making an urgent announcement at the corner.
“Hello, may I have your attention, please! Tonight, we’ll have a candlelight vigil for those who sacrificed their lives for Tibet. Please report at the Mcleod square, 6 pm.”
Around 5:30 pm, Gen Tashi freshened himself up, wore his Chupa, the Tibetan traditional dress, and headed uphill towards the Mcleod Ganj square for the vigil. He reached the court, a prominent tourist spot in Dharamshala which was a small, paved ground circled by hotels, shops, and others. He saw people from all over the world- Caucasians, Indians, Asians, Tibetans, and others hanging around. However, there were not many Tibetans present at the vigil. All he saw was a banner with the names of those who had sacrificed their lives for Tibet, a few elders, some curious tourists, and monks and nuns with candles and scarves in their hands. Gen Tashi lit his candle and scanned the crowd to see if there was anyone he knew. Unfortunately, there was no one. He didn’t see any of the Tibetans he had seen at the tea stall earlier, including Migmar la. Gradually prayers were said for the departed souls.
“Jangchup Semchok Rinpoche.
Makey Panam Kyegyur Chig.
Keywa Nampa Meypa Yang.
Gongney Gongdu Phelwa Shog.”
(May the seed of compassion be embedded in those who don’t have it. May it flourish in those who already did.)
However, there was no official program to condemn China—a China that was responsible for the absolute havoc brought upon the Tibetans. There was no “Free Tibet” and “China Out of Tibet” slogans that were otherwise a usual part of every such gathering in the past. Gen Tashi felt that something was missing and empty. The small crowd then moved to Tsuklakhang Monastery chanting prayers. Eventually, he left the group, and soon he found himself seated at the same tea stall sipping a cup of tea.
“I am glad that the winter is finally over,” Kishore commented.
Although Gen Tashi knew he was answering the same question again, he replied.
“Of course, who loves the cold and dreaded winter?”
Both Kishore and Gen Tashi chuckled.
Dawa Tsering is the pen name of the author of this story. Dawa is passionate about Tibet-China politics and closely follows its developments.
© 2021 Yeshe | A Journal of Tibetan Literature, Arts and Humanities