Last week, my father-in-law, Tashi la, passed away in Dharamsala. I have never had a substantive conversation with him but I have greatly admired him for his determined sense of dedication.
Although he was not educated in the modern sense, my father-in-law had spent a major portion of his life serving the previous Ling Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist master who had served as a tutor to His Holiness the Dalai Lama. My wife would tell me how she used to visit the Rinpoche at the Ling Labrang, known by its cottage name of “Chopra House,” in Mcleod Ganj when she was small and how the Rinpoche would give her treats or play with her. Those who know of his work during those days say that he served Ling Rinpoche loyally.
When I came to know him, my father-in-law had retired from Ling Rinpoche’s service but was active in the local Tibetan community. He was serving as a group leader or Gyapon and the title virtually became a part of his identity. Everybody seemed to know him as “Gyapon Tashi” and he was bound to be there in any local event in the Tibetan community in Dharamsala, whether it was a Lhabsol, some social work, a public meeting, or a demonstration. One gripe the family had was that he would disregard his work at home to attend to some public engagement, but they nevertheless supported his endeavor. His singular sense of dedication to the Tibetan Government and holding that as a standard sometimes got him involved in local controversies, too.
Eventually, he retired from his Gyapon position. But until the last few months leading to his demise he did not miss his daily circumambulation on the Lingkor. Every time I visited his residence when I was in Dharamsala, if it was in the morning, I would see him with a prayer wheel in one hand, and may be an umbrella or a bag slung around his shoulder, about to leave for his kora or returning from one.
He was also an ardent listener of the Tibetan radio programs (but not much of a fan of the TV program because he found this distracting). When I met him in later years, he had relocated himself on the rooftop of their humble place in Dharamsala, with a transistor radio beside his bed. Whenever we met there was not much of a conversation between us except for the customary greetings and a few words about this or that. During such brief exchanges, he would talk about some political news he had heard on the radio or even recall an interview with me that he had heard on one radio program or the other.
My own father passed away many years ago and with the passing away of my father-in-law now I am reminded of the gradual generational change taking place in the Tibetan community.