LIVING TIBETAN SPIRITS-MARGINALIZED EXISTENCE IN EXILE

Living Tibetan Spirits who inhabit my consciousness know the experience of my marginalized existence in exile. 

I am alive without Freedom or Free Will to choose. I can narrate my story either as a Blessing or a Curse. In my belief, when the man suffers, the Lands gets cursed. 

As the desire for Freedom is the root cause of my pain and suffering, how can I receive the Blessings of Peace?

Rudra Narasimham Rebbapragada

Special Frontier Force-Establishment No.22

Living Tibetan Spirits

Vanished homelands of Tibet

Meghaa Aggarwal  | Updated on October 18, 2019, Published on October 18, 2019

Living Tibetan Spirits. Marginalized Existence in Exile.
Living Tibetan Spirits. Marginalized Existence in Exile.

 Uncertain ground: The politics of Tibet’s geography is so contested that even a map of the region could land the publishers in trouble.

Madhu Gurung’s deeply researched anthology Tibet With My Eyes Closed, evokes the history, culture, and identity of a community that is at risk of being forgotten

Sixty years ago, Chinese occupation forced the 14th Dalai Lama to flee Tibet and seek refuge in India. Thousands of Tibetans followed him, giving up a nomadic, agrarian life for a marginalized existence in exile. The 11 stories that make up journalist Madhu Gurung’s anthology Tibet With My Eyes Closed are true accounts of displaced Tibetans trying to find salvation in the midst of heartbreaking loss.

Dehradun-based Gurung has worked with organizations such as Oxfam, UNIFEM, BBC, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Her first book The Keeper of Memories, historical fiction on the Gorkhas, was shortlisted for the Shakti Bhatt First Book Award in 2016. The author, whose mother was Tibetan, seems driven by a passionate need to inform. She begins the book with a background to Tibet, which instinctively makes me seek out a map. That’s when the irony hits home. We are talking of such fraught geography that even an innocuous map of the Tibetan region can land publishers in trouble!

Living Tibetan Spirits. Marginalized Existence in Exile.
Living Tibetan Spirits. Marginalized Existence in Exile.

Tibet With My Eyes Closed: Stories Madhu Gurung Speaking Tiger Non-fiction ₹350

Prayer flags of five colors — blue, white, red, green and yellow — representing the five core elements of space, wind, fire, water, and earth respectively are synonymous with Tibetan Buddhism. The stories in this anthology have been divided under the colors of the prayer flags and have some elements of the colors woven into their background. The author has also added an insightful introduction explaining the significance of the flags and how the elements have inspired her stories. However, the associations feel somewhat tenuous and I found myself wondering whether it was necessary to divide the contents as well as feature an introduction to explain the division. The anthology opens with stories of refugees besieged by memories of home as they try to regain their lives under a foreign sky. It then transitions to the experiences of a new generation of Tibetans born and brought up in India, carving out their paths and identities in the new land. Mid-way, one learns of the tragic guerrilla wars that the Tibetans waged for their homeland from the windswept Mustang Plateau in Nepal. Towards the end, it speaks of the human ability to persevere and dream of possibilities, despite great odds. References to the Chushi Gangdruk, the guerrilla Tibetan army that waged war against the Chinese, and the 22 Establishment, a secret force of Tibetans recruited by India in the wake of its humiliating defeat in the Sino-Indian war of 1962, appear several times across the book. However, sufficient variety is provided by the stories of a Tibetan man’s pursuit of an Indian passport, of a young man who gives up monkhood to embrace his sexual identity and of a grieving old widow who finds solace in stray dogs.

Tibet with my Eyes Closed is not an unputdownable page-turner. It is a compilation of stories laced with facts and observations that compel the reader to pause. The author takes no shortcuts in her effort to build narratives that are not only immersive but also greatly illuminating. However, in places, the details seem extraneous. For instance, in the story, Tibet With My Eyes Closed, the author speaks of Tibetan poet, writer and activist Lhasang Tsering whose poem inspired the title of this anthology. She writes about how he is greatly influenced by the saint and poet Milarepa who is revered in Tibet for his songs. But she doesn’t end there. She writes of how Tsering was born exactly 900 years after Milarepa and how his songs have also been translated in English, in a book called the Shambhala. Such additions appear somewhat forced, as the story would read much the same without them. I was fascinated by the author’s journey to Mustang in pursuit of former Chushi Gangdruk warriors, as documented in the story, In the Footsteps of Buddha’s Warriors. Not only is it a testament to the author’s keen research but also to the undaunted commitment to her subject. Unlike the other stories in this anthology, In the Footsteps of Buddha’s Warriors and Amala, which is a memoir of the author’s mother, are both personal accounts. This prompted me to wonder whether it might have been better to have them as part of a longer introduction that spoke of the experiences driving the author’s writing. These, however, are minor misgivings about this much-feted collection that has been endorsed by several prominent personalities. I just wished, though, that all these endorsements had been kept on the back cover or some of them shifted inside, to leave the reader with more room to admire the striking cover painting and design by Vikram Singh Verma. With the sky and mountains in shades of red against a monastery in tones of black and white, the cover is deeply atmospheric and stirring. If the role of literature is to create empathy and build understanding, Tibet with My Eyes Closed succeeds amply. It is an important piece of literature about a people and region, that, as Shashi Tharoor puts it in his endorsement, ‘are at risk of being forgotten’.

Meghaa Aggarwal works in children’s publishing and writes features on education and the environment

Published on October 18, 2019 book review

Living Tibetan Spirits. Marginalized Existence in Exile.
Living Tibetan Spirits. Marginalized Existence in Exile.


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