Just my two cents worth


October 2011

The Day I Met Salman Rushdie

Ethics invariably tend to get secondary considerations when the thickness of one’s wallet is inversely proportional to the cost of the things that one desires.  This issue came to my mind recently when one of the books that I borrowed from our public library was the novel Luka and the Fire of Life by Salman Rushdie.  That reminded me of my days in Delhi University in the early 1980.  As can be expected, my interest in reading was not matched by the content of my wallet and that forced me to look for less than respectable means to quench my thirst for reading. One such options was going to Connaught Place, or CP as it is called, where there were some roadside hawkers selling books around Janpath.  They would have almost every latest fiction for sale, at a price that people could afford. I think it was 10 rupees then for a book.  The printing was passable and the paper quality not very good, but it was far worth the monetary price one had to pay to read latest books.


Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie was one of the “in” books then and of course I got my copy from CP and relished it.  Interestingly, and to my pleasure, it so happened that the author himself came to give a talk at the University around that time and it was a pleasure seeing him in person although I do not recall now what he had to say. What I do recall was an incident following his talk when it was announced that he would do a book signing. A line of people soon formed and I too joined, with my “copy” of Midnight’s Children in hand. The line moved slowly and eventually I could see Mr. Rushdie making small talks as he signed books. And then I saw something that made me drop out of the line.  I don’t remember now whether this was because I had heard his actual words or whether it was a combination of words and action.  The truth of the matter was that the author was refusing to sign a book brought by a person as it was a bootlegged copy.  Of course, I had no doubt that the book in my hand fell into the same category. Rather than suffer the same embarrassment of a personal insult from the author, I chose the less obvious path of escape.


I, however, shamelessly continued to patronize the CP hawkers.  But those were the days.


Talking about my reading experience, my thoughts go even further to my teen days. Bollywood gossip was got through the very many printed magazines like Picture Post, Filmfare, Star & Style, etc. I have some vague memory of being able to recite from memory many of the headlines of stories in the Readers’ Digest size Picture Post.  Then there were comics like Phantom, which today’s generation of Americans are not familiar with, not to speak of novels by Enid Blyton.

John Galtung and Tibet

Just the other day I was watching China’s CCTV’s discussion program called Dialogue. The Norwegian sociologist and scholar on peace, Johan Galtung, was one of the guests. The topic was about how China could improve its international image and John Galtung mentioned about respecting the rights of the Tibetan people as being one way. I don’t recall his exact words but I thought it interesting that he had the space to say that on a Chinese TV.

John Galtung is not new to the Tibetan issue, as can be ascertained from the following editorial on Tibet that appears on the website of his organization TRANSCEND International.
I thought it might interest you all to read this although it was written in 2008.



by Johan Galtung

All over the same story: nations imprisoned in statesagainst their will, wanting freedom-independence-autonomy, like forTibet, the “Xizang autonomous region” next toNepal-India-Bhutan-Myanmar;
– once–like Samis in Norway–primitivehunter-gatherers and then traditional agriculturalists, united by the5th Dalai Lama in 1642;
– then the Big conqueror/civilizer, the Qing Chinese dynasty, came in1720 and occupied till the Qing collapse in 1911 (Sun Yatsen);
– independence declared, but to Chiang Kaishek they were Chinese;
– then the Communist-capitalist dynasty from 1950, quelled the 1959uprising, annexed Tibet in 1965, destroyed the rule by holy monks andserf-owning landlords, massive Han migration, material benefits andTibetan culture put on the way of American Indians, Samis, etc;
– the 14th Dalai Lama escaped to Dharamsala in India for a diaspora with traditional Tibetan culture, and envoys in many countries;
– then the March 2008 uprising for a Free Tibet, hitting Beijing’s bidfor legitimacy through the Olympic Summer Games. End, so far.
And then there is, as usual, the other story:
– in 2002 The CIA’s Secret War in Tibet was published by the UniversityPress of Kansas where the two authors –Kenneth Conboy of the HeritageFoundation and James Morrison, an Army veteran trainer for theCIA–describe how the CIA set up and ran Tibet’s so-called resistancemovement. The Dalai Lama himself was on the CIA payroll, and approvedthe CIA’s plans for the armed uprising;
– there have been several revolts staged by the USA recently–based onthe revolt against the Milosevic regime–the colored revolutions inGeorgia and Ukraine that USA wanted as NATO members–rejected byGermany and France among others–to weaken Russia; and
– most of the reports from Tibet include a note that much of what theyare reporting cannot be confirmed; the sources are “unknown”.

As reported by Michel Collon recently we get on the one hand:
– “John Ackerly, of the International Campaign for Tibet, a group thatsupports demands for Tibetan autonomy, said in an emailed statement hefeared ‘hundreds of Tibetans have been arrested and are beinginterrogated and tortured.” Ackerly, president of the InternationalCampaign for Tibet, appears to work closely with the USA. Both theState Department and Congress; and on the other hand:
– Qiangba Puncog, the Tibetan who is chair of the Tibet AutonomousRegional Government, said that allies of the exiled Dalai Lama on March14 “engaged in reckless beating, looting, smashing, burning and theiractivities soon spread to other parts of the city. These people focusedon street-side shops, primary and middle schools, hospitals, banks,power and communications facilities, media. The violence was the resultof a conspiracy between domestic and overseas groups that advocate’Tibet independence’. The Dalai clique masterminded, planned andcarefully organized the riot.”

Which story are we to believe? Both, of course.

All over the world people want to be ruled by their own kind.Identification with the ruler is a key part of identity in general.

And all over the world the USA launches covert and overt operationsagainst whatever they see as a threat–labeled as “communism”,”terrorism”–to USA hegemony–labeled “security”. Anything Big, likeRussia and China, are by definition threats. China is big andcommunist, hence a candidate for destabilization.

However, that CIA favors something does not make it wrong. During theCold War we said “2+2=4 even if the Communists say so.”

I interviewed Dalai Lama in Dharamsala January 1961, met him manytimes, have traveled in occupied Tibet 1986, met with Dalai Lama’senvoys at a meeting in Zürich. He stands for autonomy, notindependence; for nonviolence, not violence; and for the games.

But he has not come up with a concrete image satisfying most Tibetans,yet not threatening Beijing with what they fear most: a domino effectto other parts. Status quo is the obvious prognosis, with the Chinesecenter controlling han and non-han peripheries through carrot(clientelism, privileges to attract local leaders), stick (repressionin Tibet, Xinjiang and Inner Mongolia), and normative (Taiwan) power. China works as a super-nation trying to make do with nationalitypolicies similar to Soviet efforts. And with the same weakness: nationswant to determine, themselves.

But the West cannot demand a self-determination for Tibetans they denytheir own, like American Indians and Hawaiians, Scots and Ulsterites,Corsicans and Basques, Samis. That accounts for much of their silence,in addition to heavy business interests in China.

An acceptable, sustainable outcome will exclude such extremistpositions as a Chinese unitary state (with the present borders +Taiwan, the “run-away province”), and secession from that unitarystate. In-between are the classics: devolution, federation and thelooser confederation; outcomes not located in the Chinese past, butcoming up frequently in dialogues with all the parties. Autonomy indomestic affairs would be guaranteed. In federationsforeign-security-finance policies would be common; in confederationsthey would be coordinated, but with sovereignty. One scenario might befederation, another closer to confederation; the five advancing in stepor separately. The underlying philosophy, from Chinese culture, isdaoist: in strength weakness, in weakness strength. Force revealsweakness, strength that one can do without force.

How about the 1997 agreement, Hong Kong, China, comma!? Part of China,yes, but autonomous enough to have their own consulates abroad? Couldwe possibly be heading for Taiwan, China; with Tibet, China next inline? In the interest of all, but CIA?

Impressions on a Train journey

The following are jottings that I did while on a recent train journey.

The voice over the public address system said, “Wilmington, Delaware.” Someone could be heard laughing in a seat a few rows behind me.

The train stopped. Through the window I could see quite many passengers.

A female railway officer seem to be attempting to catch hold of the baggage of alady, a lady passenger, the reason for which I could not ascertain. They were both of the same racial background. She got something that seemed to be a ticket pouch from her, which she gave to a male train attendant. He peeked through it and went away carrying it. I wondered what could be the content of the document in the pouch. The lady officer meanwhile started an engrossing conversation (which could be seen through the hand gestures although there was no way to hear what they were saying.) with another lady passenger of a different racial background.

The train began moving. Sunlight streamed through a patch of cloud after we passed by a building or so. Across the sky, six or seven birds were fluttering by.

I looked out the window and saw long lines of cars on the road parallel to the train track.

The sun was behind the patch of cloud now as the train rattled by. We passed by barrack like low buildings, may be some sort of factory.

Introspecting on the self-immolations by Tibetans

I wrote the following for the ICT blog some days back in my attempt to put the developments in Ngapa in context. I hope this serves as a food for thought to some of the readers.


Introspecting on the self-immolations by Tibetans
Bhuchung K Tsering
October 18, 2011

I have been trying to find possible reasons for the ongoing tragic developments in the eastern Tibetan region of Ngapa where now nine Tibetans have indulged in self-immolation, some with fatal consequences. Therefore, I tried looking up reports from Ngapa for the past year or so to see if there was a clue there.

The immediate cause seems to be Chinese response to the pan-Tibetan demonstrations in 2008. “On March 16, 2008, at least 10 Tibetans – including a 16-year-old schoolgirl, Lhundup Tso – were shot dead when police opened fire on unarmed Tibetans who had joined a spontaneous protest following a morning prayer session at Kirti monastery,” an ICT report began.

In subsequent months the Chinese authorities resorted to force to resolve the issue rather than trying to find the underlying cause and to address them. While reporting the self-immolation by a monk from Kirti Monastery, our another report said more than a year later, “In February 2009, a Kirti monk in his mid-twenties was shot by security personnel when he set himself on fire as a form of protest after prayer ceremonies at the monastery were cancelled, according to several sources in the area. The monk, Tapey, had been holding a home-made Tibetan flag that had at its center a photograph of the Dalai Lama.”

“The security crackdown in Ngaba has been particularly severe following the March 16, 2008 incident. Many more monks and laypeople have been detained, tortured or ‘disappeared’ since then, and during police raids on their monastery photographs of the Dalai Lama and senior religious leaders were destroyed,” it added. Continue reading “Introspecting on the self-immolations by Tibetans”

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