My Tryst with the Poet Nissim Ezekiel
Bhuchung K. Tsering
I first came to know of Nissim Ezekiel when his poem, Night of the Scorpion, was part of the syllabus in my school. At that time I was struck by two things; first the simplicity of the language that brought clarity to the message; and secondly the realization that people could survive even after a scorpion sting. Until reading it, I somehow had this understanding that a scorpion sting was always lethal.
Here is a taste of the poem describing the situation just after the scorpion had stung the mother’s toe:
With candles and with lanterns
throwing giant scorpion shadows
on the mud-baked walls
they searched for him: he was not found.
They clicked their tongues.
With every movement that the scorpion made his poison moved in Mother’s blood, they said.
In any case, I read more about Mr. Ezekiel thereafter. While in college in India in the early 1980s, I reached out to Mr. Ezekiel, both to get his counsel on my personal career as well as to understand his thoughts on Tibetan-Chinese relationship.
He was kind enough to respond, mostly through the familiar Indian postal department’s yellowish postcards. We even kept a steady communication thereafter; he shared his thoughts about what certain developments on the Tibet front would be seen from the eyes of the international community and also offered space in the Freedom First, a liberal monthly, which he was editing then.
Beginning with an article on “The Tragedy of the Tibetan People” in Freedom First’s October 1981 issue, I had the privilege of writing a few articles for the magazine.
Mr. Ezekiel passed away in 2004 and I will always be grateful for the brief period of interaction that I have had with him.
In the years thereafter the liberal group of writers, artists, and scholars in Bombay (now Mumbai) to which Mr. Ezekiel belonged has continued their interest in Tibet, hosting events and raising the awareness among the people there.
Physical Demise of The Tibet Mirror Press in Kalimpong
Bhuchung K. Tsering
Just as the shops run by “kayens” that have historically catered to the Tibetan traders, there is another landmark in the Indian border town of Kalimpong that is dear to the Tibetan people; Babu Tharchin’s Tibet Mirror Press. It is from this small nondescript place on Rishi Road that Bapu Tharchin attempted to create a literary revolution in Tibet through the publication of the only Tibetan language newspaper, Yulchog Sosoi Sargyur Melong, (Wylie: yul phyogs so so’i gsar ‘gyur gyi me long, i.e. Mirror on the news from the respective countries, given in English as just Tibet Mirror). In the post 1959 period, books published by it have also contributed to the revival of Tibetan language, literature and grammar among the Tibetan speaking community outside of Tibet. Although Babu Tharchin and his Tibet Mirror Press did not hide their Christian missionary zeal and objective yet these did not hinder them from embracing the Tibetan Buddhist community in their natural setting.
Like other Tibetans, I have a reverence for Babu Tharchin although I have not been lucky enough to meet him when he was alive. In the late 1970s I had the opportunity to have a peek at this historical site, while on a visit to my relatives in Kalimpong. In between I had the opportunity to read the three-volume biography of Babu Tharchin, The Life and Times of a True Son of Tibet, Gergan Dorje Tharchin, by H. Louis Fader and also reviewed one of them for The Tibet Journal.
Earlier in 2013, in yet another brief visit to Kalimpong, I went to look the place up. Unfortunately, “modernization” had taken over and all I could find was a sign beside an empty plot where the press stood. I don’t know when exactly the physical structure was demolished but as I did a touristy thing of having a photo taken of myself beside the sign, I had a feeling of sadness.
Here are some photos, the first one is by me and the other two from the informative website about Kalimpong that gives you a glimpse of the Tibet Mirror Press in the past. I can only echo the feeling of the writer on http://www.kalimpong.info who said, “It is a pity that Kalimpong’s rich and colorful history has been reduced to this.”
Recently I had the opportunity to rummage through a box of some of my stuff that I had not touched for several years. In the box was a copy of August 1990 issue of March, the magazine of the Delhi Tibetan Youth Congress. It had carried an article of mine and, since I see its relevance still holds, I am posting it here, even though I can no longer be considered a part of the “young” generation. The article comes with the following note about me: “The author is a former student of Hans Raj College, Delhi University. Presently, he is a deputy secretary in the Office of Information & International Relations, Dharamsala.”
Tibetan Youth and Society
Bhuchung K. Tsering
(Magazine of the Delhi Tibetan Youth Congress)
The monthly Tibetan Review carried in its September 1989 issue an article of mine on corruption in the Tibetan community in exile. In that article I have tried to analyze why, despite being a small community, such malpractices as embezzlement, misuse of public fund etc., seem to take place in the various offices under the Tibetan Government.
Since the article’s publication I have had quite a few reactions from both within the Tibetan as well as Indian and Western communities. Some praise me for having the ‘courage’ (I don’t know what they mean by that) to write such a piece. Others castigate me for having written it. In this article I would like to dwell on the latter (the adverse reaction) and attempt to show the importance of social awareness among the Tibetan youth.
Some of the adverse reactions have been conveyed to me directly while a few others have been heard from a third source. First, the reaction among the Tibetan community. Most of the young educated Tibetans appreciate the thrust of the article though some of them feel it would have been better if I had written it in a general way instead of pegging it on some scandals. A few others, mostly officials, feel a bit affected for having dwelt on such negative aspects of Tibetan officials. Among the older Tibetans, again some of them have heard about the article and appreciate it. A few others, I heard this from a colleague in McLeod Ganj, say, “that is the true colour of the Tibetan youths. They bring out the bad things in their own generation” or something to that effect. Read More…
Chinese President Xi Jinping has talked about making arduous efforts to achieve what he calls the “Chinese dream” (Zhongguo meng) – a great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.
Participating in a CNN discussion on the concept, Wu Jianmin, a former Chinese ambassador to the United Nations, said, “Reemergence of China is the Chinese dream.” He expanded, “China used to be a leading nation in the world for many. many centuries. But in the past two centuries, China lagged far behind the industrialized countries. Chinese were down and out. Chinese always dream of better future.”
More interestingly, Ambassador Wu said “we need rule of law and democracy” in the definition of the Chinese dream adding, “Rule of law and democracy is the goal of our political reform” and “Xi Jinping was very clear on that. We need rule of law and democracy.”
I had an experience of a different kind of Chinese dream the other day when I attended a talk by a visiting Chinese professor of history. His topic was the Cultural Revolution in his region. For more than half an hour, he went into details about the existence of factions and their nature during the Cultural Revolution and how these had impacts on the society. The Chinese professor had collaborated with an American professor in researching on the issue and published a series of articles in international research journals. I thought he was forthright on issues, including in calling the Chinese regime a totalitarian one.
As he ended his remarks and after the chair had taken advantage of his being the chair and thus asking the first question, the next question was posed by an elderly gentleman who asked whether the many articles that he had written were solely in English or also available in Chinese and accessible to the Chinese people in China. The Chinese professor responded that these were available at his university but not to the general public in China.
This question was followed by others about how the Cultural Revolution was being explained to the Chinese students currently and whether he could use terms such as “dictatorship” (which one questioner said he had used during his presentation here) while teaching to his students in China.
The Chinese professor responded that he was part of a committee discussing content of a text book for high school students in China and that Cultural Revolution was covered in just three pages. He said he would not be able to use terms like dictatorship in China. In short, it was clear that only sanitized versions of such issues were being made accessible to the Chinese people.
As I sat listening to these I began to realize the existence of another Chinese dream; projecting two versions of China – one for the Chinese public and the other to the international community. Read More…
Bhutanese Democracy has won!!
Bhuchung K. Tsering
Last night, I went to bed comparatively late by my standard, after watching a portion of the Tonight Show by Jay Leno, but got up quite early this morning. Today is a Saturday and I could have got up leisurely, but I was keen on electronically following the results of the elections in Bhutan that was taking place today.
The July 13, 2013 elections were the second general elections since Bhutan became a democracy in 2008. The first elections resulted in a lopsided parliament with the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) winning almost all of the seats, with just two seats won by the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), which formed the opposition.
In the course of the past few years, Bhutan took steady steps towards strengthening of its democratic experience. In the Parliament the small opposition, under parliamentarian Tshering Tobgay, played its constitutional role very seriously.
Unlike in the past when the King was the sole and predominant symbol of the Bhutanese nation, the elected Lyonchhen or the Prime Minister began to assume a higher profile, domestically and internationally, in matters of governance of the country.
The Bhutanese people were gradually tasting the fruit of democracy and learning to adapt to it; something that is novel considering that most of the older generation have grown up in a society whereby they have only learnt to respect, and not question, authority, just in the case of the Tibetan society.
Today the Bhutanese people showed once again that they can adapt quite well to democracy, thank you. They have shown a desire for change and in the process raised their expectations of their elected leadership. PDP has, at the time of writing, won more than the minimum number of seats needed to form the government. But at the same time, the DPT has won a sizable number of seats to form a vibrant opposition.
Mr. Tshering Tobgay, the opposition leader in the previous Parliament, is sure to be the new Lyonchhen. It will be an interesting time for the coming years. Given political differences his tenure will not be as easy as that of the previous Lyonchhen Jigmi Thinley because of the increased strength of the new opposition.
Whatever be the case, today’s development is a sign of the maturity of Bhutanese democracy, which is the ultimate winner. As many Bhutanese have commented: Palden Drukpa Gyalo!!
Tibetan Americans make their presence in Washington, D.C.
Bhuchung K. Tsering
May 19, 2013
Some people might feel that I am making a mountain of a molehill today, but that is for good reason. The Tibetan American community in the Washington, D.C. area has finally made its presence felt in the Asian American community in this region. On May 18, 2013, the Capital Area Tibetan Association participated in the 8th Annual National Asian Heritage Festival that was held in the heart of Washington, D.C., in close proximity to the United States Congress and the White House.
Since May is designated Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, the Asia Heritage Foundation (AHF) organizes events during this month to “share, celebrate, and promote the diversity of Asian heritage and culture through the arts, traditions, education, cuisine, and way of life represented in the Washington DC Metropolitan area.”
Even though Washington, D.C. has seen much grander Tibet-related events, whether it is the many days of the Kalachakra teachings by His Holiness the Dalai Lama in 2011, the Congressional Gold Medal event in 2007 or the Smithsonian Folklife Festival devoted to Tibet 2000, yesterday’s event, Feista Asia Street Fair, was in a different framework; it placed the Tibetan community in the Asian American family here.
And, it was certainly a coming out party of sort. The Tibetan troupe was selected the “grand champion” among the participants in the Cultural Parade that marked the formal beginning of the fair. Coincidently, during the line up for the parade, the Tibetan group became placed after the Nepali group and before the Chinese group; symbolizing the geographical locations of the homeland of the three communities. The Nepalese were pleased to see the Tibetans and there were several rounds of discussions in the Nepali language as well as singing of Nepali songs by Tibetans on the sidelines of the events. Among the Chinese participants there were some who joined the Tibetans, including in the traditional circle dance, but there were some who seem somewhat bewildered by the Tibetan presence this time.
The Tibetan adults performed a lively “Gyalshay” dance while the youngsters had an active “Droshey”, a ceremonial drum dance. They both represented the two generations of Tibetan Americans well and were well received by the audience.
In addition to CATA’s presence, there was a Tibetan from Maryland who had a stall, Dorjebajra Tibet Shop. There was a Nepali restaurant from Maryland that had a stall selling momos among others.
As we participated in the parade and mingled with the crowd subsequently, there was a feeling among the Tibetans that we certainly did not lag behind in terms of cultural richness or presence.
A small step by the Tibetan community in the Washington, D.C., but a giant leap for the Tibetan American community here; can I say this?
My Talk in Minnesota on Understanding the Reality in Tibet
March 31, 2013
A shortsighted and meaningless effort by the Chinese Consulate in Chicago to propagandize about Tibet at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis led to an opportunity for me to go there and share my views on Tibet. The Tibetan American Foundation of Minnesota, the Students for a Free Tibet, Tibetan Youth Congress and the Tibetan Women’s Association in Minnesota asked me to come and be a part of the activities to present the Tibetan viewpoint so that we could challenge the Chinese exhibition on Tibet that was being organized in the University.
So, I spoke on March 27, 2013 at the venue of the Tibetan people’s exhibition on Tibet at the University, which was next door to the one organized by the Chinese students and funded by the Chinese consulate (the story of how the Chinese had to cancel/withdraw their activities in the light of this Tibetan onslaught is a different story, some of which have appeared in the local newspaper, Star-Tribune). I titled my talk “Reality in Tibet Today.”
In my talk, I talked about the different aspects of the Tibetan issue, including political, environmental, human rights angle, and how His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan side had responded positively to Deng Xiaoping’s message that “other than the issue of independence everything else can be discussed and resolved.” I said His Holiness had not only presented his Middle Way Approach as a response but that he had also prepared the Tibetan people to accept that this was in the best interest of both the sides. I told of my own experience of interacting with ordinary Chinese and how we Tibetans have been educated by His Holiness to differentiate between Chinese Government and people and how we should be reaching out to the people. I said, however, the Chinese side had not fulfilled their part of the commitment made by Deng Xiaoping about everything else could be discussed and resolved. The Chinese side has also not prepared the Chinese people and instead is projecting the Tibetans as being against the Chinese people.
But this blog is about another talk that the organizers had arranged for me, which was to the Tibetan community. This took place on March 26, 2013. Despite it being a weekday and people had to go to work, there was a reasonable turnout of Tibetans, old and young. Read More…