My thoughts and activities in Dharamsala

Sunday, November 07, 2010

A Diwali Post

On the eve of U.S. Prez Barack Obama and his wife Michelle’s arrival to India, after the dialectical fireworks of last night’s damja, a few of my classmates and I headed the roof of the boy’s dorm look at the fireworks that was happening all around us. Yesterday marked the Hindu festival of Diwali that celebrates the Goddess of light and wealth Lakshmi and the Hindu New Year. Every year during this festival fireworks are sold indiscriminately to the young and old. On the days that lead up Diwali, the sounds of fireworks become more and more intense reaching the grand crescendo on the night of the actual festival. Since campus is cropped up on a hill and the dorm is five stories high, see could all the glittering sparks of fireworks that were launched from different places within the valley in front of us. About 15 minutes by bus, southwest of campus at capital of our district, the city of Kangra was very active, though at the time in was under a black out, the skyrockets were still being continuously launched. Directly to the south of campus lays Gaggal with is about a 10 minutes walk for here. There too the fireworks were raging. Most of the surrounding areas are villages, which were by no means lacking in the pyromaniacal fun of the celebrations. From the vantage point of the roof we had an almost 360 degree view of all the action. We made commentary grading the various skyrockets exploding around us depended on how elaborate and beautifully they exploded in the sky. Their booms echoed at various points, from varying distances and if it wasn’t Diwali, I could easily imagine that some kind of skirmish was going. Even some guys came up later on to light some firecrackers but all of their attempts were rather ridiculously dismal.

Rewinding, on the 28th of October as I was going to the temple for our daily mandatory study period from 2 to 4pm, I noticed that in the courtyard in front the temple that a P.A. system was set up along with a row of tables and chair arranges as if a talk was about to happen and in front of that most of the student body were squatting on the grass. When I saw one of my classmates and asked him what was going on he told me that a group of seven Americans have been riding motorcycles around the world to bring awareness to the Tibet issue and that they are about to arrive here on campus and give a brief speech. When he said that I did not think too much about it because every now and then you might hear such a thing; like folks cycling around India to bring awareness to the Tibet issue so on and so forth. After a bit of indecision I went and joined the rest of the folks. The motorcyclist did not arrive until an hour or so afterward, so we sat in the courtyard just shooting the shit while we waited. There was apparently phone connection with the group for the staff knew how far they were from campus and gave us regular updates.

When it was close to the time that they were to arrive every one lined both sides of the campus road to welcome them. When they arrived I realized that my classmate was rather misinformed. It wasn’t seven Americans both one American and this American was also Tibetan. Behind this one motorcyclist were about 20 or more supporting local bikes riding with him, many of the riders donning traditional Tibetan attire waving Tibetan and TYC flags and shouting, “Böd Gya Lo”, “Victory to Tibet” as they rolled in. Members of the Tibetan Youth Congress seem of have made up a majority of the support bikers. It all clicked to me then. I had read about this guy on when I was in the states during summer vacation. A Tibetan from New York: Lhakpa Tsering la, he had decided to motorcycle around the world to bring awareness about Tibet’s political situation. Here is his website link. This ex-nomad’s iron steed was no rinky dink motorcycle, but a regal BMW motorcycle the first one that I have ever seen. Many of my classmates and the boys in general were awed at this specimen of a bike. It did not have the bulldog machismo of a Harley-Davidson or of a Royal-Enfield. This bike was a gentleman’s bike. After the rider got off of his steed many flocked around the bike to take pictures of it with their cell phones and generally just to check it out. Towards the back of the bike there were two steel boxes on each side were folks from all over the world had written something on it, along with flag stickers from various nations. Above the rear wheel was a New York license plate with TIBET1 written on it. Seeing a NY license plate at Sarah seemed surreal and very out of place to me but it also gave a big smile when I saw it.

After he was settled at the tables and chairs at had been arranged in the courtyard, all of the Sarah class captains were called up to offer Lhakpa Tsering la kataks. Someone from TYC gave a brief introduction and then he took the mike. After a brief speech in which he stated his thanks to Sarah for the wonderful welcome and the reasons for taking the journey, he got on his motorcycle with his posse and skedaddled up to McLeod Ganj, where I am sure he received an even grander welcome. Still after he had left, talk about his bike was floating about. I told one of my classmates jokingly that it seems that more attention was paid to the bike than to the person who rode it. At this he giggled and said, “True, true”.

That next Saturday we had unexpected day off because it was the 50th anniversary of the Tibetan Children’s Village in upper Dharamshala and since probably that a majority of Sarah’s student body including staff are TCV alumni we got the day off. HHDL was expected to be there, so that day Sarah was the most quiet that I have ever seen it. There was barely a soul to be seen. I swear that I saw tumbleweeds rolling around campus as if it was a western ghost town in the US desert.

This week one of our lay students from the “Land of Snow” is now in the process of returning to his snowy homeland. He departed few days ago and he told me that since he was travelling by road that it will take him two weeks or more to get there. What he is returning to would not be the same place that he had left since his hometown was recently devastated by an earthquake. But I knew that that was a stress for him being here while such a thing was going on at home and so after procuring all the necessary papers to enter this land he packed his belongings, he briefly spoke in class to wish us the best in our studies and how much he enjoyed our company. We will all miss him for sure; he is a funny cat always kidding around and we had a lot of fun together in and off of the debate courtyard. I hope that his journey back home goes unhindered and that the reconstruction of his hometown goes as well as it was promise by the higher ups.

This pass Thursday was another unexpected day off for Sarah students, the night before at a talk, Tendor and Lhadon Tethong were at Sarah talking about the demonstrations that are happening in Amdo, Eastern Tibet, by students who are demanding that Tibetan Language be taught in their schools. I remember seeing some essays written by Sarah students stating their support of these students in Amdo posted on a bulletin board. A march was being organized for students of Tibetan schools around the Dharamashala area to walk in solidarity with these students in Tibet who are protesting with the threat to their very lives and families to have the Tibetan language taught in school and not only Chinese. I have been hearing about these demonstrations off and on for some time but this was the first time that I have seen something happen on the public face that addressed the issue. Families in Tibet have sent their children, a majority of the times on foot over the Mighty Himalayas, to India so that they can attend a Tibetan school and keep the language going. With these demonstrations in Tibet which do not seem to be getting any outside attention beside from the Tibetan-Exile community, shows that the students themselves are willing to risk a lot to have their voices heard and to have their language taught.

Since Sarah is an institute for the preservation of the Tibetan language, classes were called off and it was strongly suggested that students participated in the march. These days it takes a lot to get me to go up the hill to McLeod Ganj but I decided to go. The march commenced at the Main Temple in McLeod Ganj and finished at the Kacheri gas pump in Lower Dharamshala. Marching with my schoolmates various calls in Hindi, Tibetan and English were chanted. It looked like all the marchers were students. TCV students led the march with Sarah, IBD and Norbulingkha Institute students taking the rear. We slowly winded down the road in between traffic and dodging cars into Lower Dharamshala on that eve of Diwali. Many of my classmates made excellent chant leaders, especially for the calls in Hindi. I find it so ridiculous that there are places on this planet where in order to learn ones native tongue in ones native land that they have to risk their lives to have their voice heard or escape to a foreign land to learn it. There is something seriously wrong with this scenario and I think that there is no ultimate reason for it to happen, but the fact that it has happened does not shine a good light on us as Earthlings, especially those in power. I hope that the demands for these students are met and that if they are not that they don’t give up, that Tibetan will be taught in its land of origin with government support or clandestinely. Learning ones native language should never be a crime.


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