My thoughts and activities in Dharamsala

Sunday, December 12, 2010

One Tooth Less

I left my room this Saturday morning with 31 teeth and returned this afternoon with 30 of them. Too bad my age doesn’t reduce as I get teeth extracted. Yesterday was the anniversary of HHDL receiving the Nobel Peace Prize on the same date in 1989. It was horrendous that this year’s recipient Lin Xiaobo and his family were unable attend. But his detention and the severe restrictions placed on his family just might serve to heighten the global awareness about P.R.C’s putrid human rights record. Remember that the last nation not to release an imprisoned recipient of the prestigious award, Carl Von Ossietzy, was Nazi Germany in 1935. I am not saying that the P.R.C. is like the National Socialist Germany but both could possibly possess the same shoe size. I am glad that the people who decide on these things picked Lin Xiaobo for this year’s prize. I am sure that there must have been at least a few recipients in the past who were not so deserving of the award but there is no doubt in my mind about this year’s choice. Props for those Nobel committee decision makers for sticking their neck’s out! I for one did not know too much about him until he was announced to be receiving the award. Tibetans are now definitely aware of him in a public sense if they were not before. I am now looking forward to reading his writings and I would encourage you to do the same.

For the pass two weeks I have been suffering from some of the worst toothaches that I have ever had thus far popping Advil like candy, my bottle is now almost empty . My gums were infected since I could feel with the tip of my tongue the puss ball floating above my upper left gum line at the exact spot where I had a filling placed this spring. I had all already visited another dentist recommended to me by a friend this fall but I did not trust her diagnosis which seemed expensive and extreme, especially after my misjudgment of the other dentist. Because of the Nobel Peace Prize anniversary for the HHDL, Friday was a day off and I needed to go a see a dentist stat. Some folks recommended that I go to Delek Hospital, the Tibetan hospital not far down the hill from McLeod Ganj, and others suggested that I head to the Rajendra Prasad government hospital in Tanda not too far from Kangra. I thought I should give Delek hospital a try first for sometimes they might have a western dentist there volunteering though I knew that its chances of being open were slim. Also I needed to withdraw some bucks from my already seriously depleted financial resources from the ATM in Lower Dharamshala. The bus stop by Sarah was full with staff and students headed up to McLeod Ganj to attend the ceremonies for the HHDL’s Nobel Peace Prize anniversary at the main temple.

Leaving Sarah’s campus is always an adventure, my out of this country features always attracts local gazers. If they happen to be cute local girls I always throw a wink out there with a good stare back which always catches them off guard quickly returning them back to their assumed poise of shyness. When the bus arrived already full we crammed right on in. Up we went on the twisty pot-holed road and after 45 minutes of being shaken and stirred we arrived in Lower D. From there one either takes a taxi or walks up to Delek Hospital by a steep side road. I hoofed it. Another 15 minutes later I was at Delek to find that my fears where well founded and I then felt like a total dumb-ass for I could have used that time to go the Indian Government Hospital instead. All the exile Tibetan institutions tend to follow the same holiday scheduling. Because of the HHDL’s Nobel Peace Prize anniversary and since the next day was the second Saturday of the month just as Sarah had those days off so did Delek Hospital.

Returning back the way I came, just as I was about to arrive at the bus station I ran into one of my classmates and I told him what I was up to. He helped me get on the right track making me realize that I had no clue where the government hospital was. He asked some nearby taxi drivers for me and gave me bus instructions. Off I went hopping on the first bus I could find heading to Kangra, the seat of the district. I had brought my textbook and my mp3 player with Gen La’s lectures on them to keep me busy while walking, waiting or sitting on the bus. Once I arrived at Kangra I realized that my classmate had also mentioned about a shorter way to get the hospital but since he could not remember the name of the town where you get off (in the Indian bus there is a conductor who comes to you asking where you are going and the bus fare is given accordingly) thus taking a rickshaw from Kangra was the easiest option. The rickshaws in Kangra are big; I think they are called tempos. They can hold a lot of folks, which I experienced many times these pass two days, but this time I had to take one for myself. It took sometime to get there but I was very amazed at what I saw. The hospital was also a Medical College; I was expecting one tall building not a whole campus. There were a lot of people there and when they saw me you could see the confusion shining out of there eyes.

After waiting for awhile for the driver to search for some change, because rickshaw drivers never seem to have change, thus causing him to turn back to the campus entrance where there were more possibilities of finding some, I walked up the entrance road to the hospital as I scoped the campus. In front of the main hospital building there were people everywhere, many squatting and sitting in different groups on the grass. Once inside the hospital I headed to the inquiry desk to ask where the dentist was. After an entry slip was printed and handed to me the desk guy told me, “Room 9 second floor”. Now for us from the U.S. the second floor means going up one flight of stairs. That is exactly what I did; I went up one flight of stairs and accidental walked into the maternity ward. I was like, “man, this hospital’s lay out is very confusing. I am on the second floor but no room 9 is to be seen anywhere”. I kept on walking around, I saw rooms 15 and 16 but no nine. So I headed back to the stairs and walked through some doors and I saw other rooms but still no nine. I did not see anyone around who looked like they worked there so I continued my wandering, reaching the doors that I had previous entered I saw a piece of paper with the numbers 8, 9, 10, taped to the wall with an arrow pointing to another set of stairs spiraling up. Aaa laaee! This must be where I am to go I thought. Obviously other folks must have also had difficulty finding these floors hence the need for the sign. While climbing up those stairs I realized that when it comes to counting floors that India uses the British, and probably the European convention of calling, what we call the first floor in the US, the ground floor and the next floor up is the 1st floor. Again, you can take the boy out of the country but you can’t take the country out of the boy.

I finally found the dentist room and was able to see the dentist immediately. I told her what had happened with the dentist that I had gone to this spring and about the diagnosis from the dentist that I had receive from the one that I had gone to this fall. She told me that my filling was badly done but that I would first need to get an X-ray before it could be properly diagnosed. She told me that I would have to return the next morning since the X-ray I needed is only done then. This dentist was not gentle. She sat me down in that chair and started whacking and scraping my teeth without any, “Ok, this is not going to hurt”, talk like we hear back at home. For one thing, I was right about not trusting the dentist that I had gone to in the fall since she wanted to give me an unnecessary root canal. This dentist told me that it did not look like I needed a root canal but if an X-ray was not taken then there was no way of knowing if one was truly needed. I was glad for her frankness but not her frankness when she was poking my mouth with sharp, pointy devices. So I had to return the next day.

Besides the hospital’s layout being a bit difficult to navigate, it was not nearly as clean as hospitals back home where you can feel any bit of bacteria that you might have carried on your skin with you die as you walk in. Here things just look dungy, that is general for most of India, except for the Delhi metro and some new malls. There were parts where it looked like folks were camping out in the hospital right on the floor with sleeping articles laid out and clothes hanging on some of the railings of the hallways like they were not going any where any time soon. Some of the sick were rolled around in wheelchairs, others where carried. Kids and adults with casts on various body parts seem to walk around aimlessly, well at least the ones who could walk.

It was depressing and enlightening at the same time. Many of us live our lives never encountering or avoiding the suffering of the masses. But we never know when that kind of suffering will come to us. In this hospital one easily encounters most if not all of the 4 signs (birth, old age, sickness and death); the ones that the Prince Siddhartha Guatama saw for the first time in his life when finally being allowed to exit his palace and to see the outside world with his own eyes. It was after seeing these signs that the Prince decided to renounce his luxurious life for that of a poor seeker of truth. All hospitals of course have these elements but here it is more in yo’ face. It is not hidden. I at times feel like most folks back home are more like the Prince before he first left his palace but are dulled by constant media and instant this and instant that. The difference being that the suffering is purposefully hidden to the extent that it seems not to exist here but in some far off god-forsaken place; this happens from the top down and from the bottom of up.

When I was on the streets as a young adult I definitely witnessed the unhidden suffering that happens out there for I was then in the midst of it, raw and unadulterated. But again it is not something that every one in the US sees. This on a larger scale also reflects India, where it is not a thing to build a mansion next to squalid slums. Could you image if Little Watts and Compton were right next to Beverly Hills? That shit don’t fly in the U.S. that is for sure, probably not in Europe either. I wonder if it were possible to hide suffering in India like it has been done in the West if Indians would go it. It is just human nature once one has risen to a certain status financial or otherwise to desire to be protected from the ghastliness that life can present itself or it is there also a cultural element to think about?

On my way back I walked to the nearest bus stop after some taxi drivers having finally understood my choppy Hindi directed me in the right direction. Tempos jammed full of people blew pass me. The sun was shining bright. Locals working the fields would sometime stop to observe the spectacle of me walking down their road. I passed by one very macked out garden that had some bad-ass looking heads of cabbage, with other luscious green growing in vigor behind a wall. I delighted walking through the village like this.

Once I arrived at the main road I took mental notes of landmarks and the characteristics of the area so that I could find it on my way back tomorrow. Again I crammed into a bus; I needed to take two buses at 5 rupees at pop, one from this spot to Mataur and from there to Gaggal. From Gaggal I walked to Sarah through a back path that requires two stone hopping river crossings. When I first entered the path leading there I saw some ladies sitting on the ground cooking and chillin’, they were not local ladies from the looks of it for they were darker, their dress was different and they had an attitude not found in the women of these parts. They started hollering at me; “heeeh, babuuuuu!” and then a wave of laughter undulated amongst them as they pointed their fingers at me as I passed them by.

As I was approaching the river I detected the distinguishable stench of human feces, river banks tend to serve as latrines. So as I walked to the river I had to be extra careful of where I stepped. Seeing the minefield in front of me it seemed like folks must just defecate in groups while gossiping just like that, in the open. It reminded me of being on the train on the way to the Kalachakra Initiation in South India the winter of ’06 when I woke up one morning and the train was passing next to a river as the sun destroyed the dawning mist in the middle of bumblefuck India and as I looked out the window I saw groups of people answering the call of nature out in the plain open by the river. Many of them waved at the passing train as they did their business, I too waved back.

After my two river crossings, up ahead on the a small hill I could see Sarah College, the newly finished water tower could be seen and also the top administrative building with the golden wheel of Dharma surrounded by two deer were I was downloading our main text two weeks or so ago. Since this path was not by a road it was nice and quiet. Off in the distance thermal seeking hawks circled the sky; I saw a fully naked tree with one of the largest wasp’s nest that I have seen. It seems so big that I wondered how the branch was able to support it. The next largest one I ever saw is a floor down and three rooms to the right of my room in the back corner of the boy’s hostel. I approached a village elementary school and saw the children were playing in the yard a game very familiar to me as a kid, duck duck goose. I stood and watched them for a bit, those kids for sure were having a good time.

Back at Sarah again, I stopped in for some grub at the school canteen after chatting with a small Vietnamese nun that I had met walking solo on the way up to campus and relaxed in my room for the rest of the day, finishing Shelby Foote’s second 1,000 page book from his trilogy on the Civil War, which I have been enjoining reading for the pass two years. Jeremy has been loaning me some of his history books for the pass two years. I am excited to start the final book in the trilogy but I will have to wait. Jeremy went to study at Dzongsar Shedra since all or most of monks in his class went to the winter debate session in South India on Dharmakirti’s Commentary on Valid Cognition. This is an old tradition from Tibet where all of the three main Gelukpa monasteries that surround Lhasa gather their monks for two months to debate this text in one spot, one session was held in the summer called Sang phu yar chö (gsang phu dbyar chos) the Sang phu summer debating session, because is was held at the site of an old Kadampa monastery in Tibet called Sang phu, and the other winter session was held at a place called Jang thus it was known as Jang gun chö (ljang dgun chos) the Jang winter debating session. In exile these inter-monasterial debates still happen but at one of the big monasteries relocated in South India and they have kept the use of the same names as were used in Tibet. Only monks can go to Jang gun chö so Jeremy went to Dzongsar Shedra, a Sakya/ Rime monastery four hours from here in Bir, where they allow lay males to debate. It seems like he is digging it, though their method of debate differs from the Geluk’s style as is learn at Dialectic School, there are also many doctrinal differences that I am sure will make debate the more interesting. I am hopping someday to follow in his footsteps in the future as my studies progress. And so until he returns I will have to wait. But luckily a friend let me borrow the HHDL’s “The Universe in a Single Atom”, which I have been wanting to read, like forever. It is like a “Buddhism meets Quantum Physics” type of book, for dumbies.

The next day being this morning, I reversed my tracks back to the Tanda Hospital. On the way I was, as can be expected, constantly being crammed in vehicles there and back, but being crammed in is the cheap way to go. I am used to it and I quite enjoy it in a weird way. You should see the looks I get, especially from the young and the elderly when I cram with them in the tempos. On the way back one little girl refused to enter the tempo when she saw me, her eyes bulging at me in terror, finally her mother sat next to me and slowly got the girl to sit on her lap. The girl’s little hands looked like it had alligator skin on them. Life on the wild side of an oversized rickshaw! At Tanda I went immediately to get my X-ray. Here they only X-ray the portion of the mouth that is giving problems instead of all of the teeth. I had to go twice since the first one looked like the tooth had a fractured root, the dentist asked me if I was ever hit in the mouth on that side and was I like no, though I did think of the near incidents of monks clapping pretty near by face in debate.

After the second X-ray they found no fracture. But I had another problem being that the filling that the dentist had given me in the spring was unnecessary and that tooth had infected my gums and that it had suffered some bone lost. First after sitting me in the chair she started to drill out the old filling and it hurt like a motherfucker, I screamed loud and clear, I know, I‘m a big wuss. She wouldn’t use any anesthesia saying that it should never be used for fillings because it could cause bad fillings like the one she was drilling out of my mouth. I never knew that but that drill was for sure causing me a lot of pain. She did spray some surface anesthesia but it didn’t help for nothing. So I accepted it I best as I could and let her do her thing. I cringe when I think about it.

Finally after she had gotten all of it out she then discovered the bone lost and that my tooth was barely hanging in there. It was quite loose. She looked at the X-ray again, always talking with her colleagues throughout the whole time. So told me that the chances of saving the tooth were slim and that a cyst surrounded the root of it was still in there. If it was not extracted the infection will spread to the other teeth. She also said that it must have been a chronic problem like since four or five years back. After she told me this and after she spoke with her colleagues I told her that if her medical opinion was the best option then pull ‘er out. And so, after quickly eating three bananas since the hospital canteen, which took me awhile to locate, had no proper warm food, she took the tooth out. She did use anesthesia this time though, whew. I was getting nervous, but I still felt some pain.

So now I need a bridge to keep my remaining teeth from slowing trying to fill the new vacant spot on my near upper back right hand side of my month. After she gave me a prescription and details on how to use them, her and her colleagues asked me where I was from, if I was tourists and what not, but the right side of my mouth was totally numb and I had to squeeze down on a huge piece of cotton in the vacant spot to stop the bleeding. I told them in slurred speech that I wasn’t a tourist but a student and studying Dialectics at Sarah College, but they had no idea about any of it. So I just showed them my text book, “Ah, you are studying Tibetan!” one of them said in seemingly disapproving tone. I gave a bone fade Indian wobble for confirmation. The bridge that I need to be done is in some other place; near Kangra called Dehra they don’t do it at the government hospital. They did not have a number or an address of this dentist so I need to ask the college secretary where this place is and how to get there. So I have another opportunity to have someone take jabs in my month. I will have to wait until the spot heals though and it will be quite expensive so I have to think about that too.

Outside the hospital after I had purchased my meds from the chemist I saw a large group of women in utter despair. They sat on the ground wailing in grief. Obviously someone dear to them had died. The sound of their wailing was so haunting that I still hear it in my head and it gives me eerie goose bumps.

At Mataur when I changed busses I saw a middle-aged Tibetan gentleman that I have seen around McLeod Ganj and had I also seen enter Sarah’s campus on the back of a motorbike waving Tibetan flags during the Lhakpa Tsering la’s welcoming a few weeks backs. I sat next to him and he started chatting me up. He said that he was coming from Kangra visiting an acquaintance in the hospital. It seemed like he also visited a Hindu temple since he had smudge of red powder on his forehead. I have never spoken to him before, at least I don’t think so, but he said that he recognized me from the VOA (Voice of America Tibetan News), for the impromptu interview during the freedom of language march and he remembered seeing me at Sarah for Lhakpa Tsering la’s welcoming. I told him what was up with me, showing him the cotton in my month. I am sure that he could tell by the slurred way that I was speaking that something was up with my month.

Anyways before I got off the bus, he thanked me for learning Tibetan, which was totally unexpected. I returned a ‘your welcome’ back to him and before I knew it I was off the bus in Gaggal walking back to Sarah. As I walked I thought about what he said. Studying Tibetan has been a real challenge and what he said really made me happy. There have only been a few times that Tibetans have thanked me for my efforts. I don’t think that it is necessary or that I even deserve them but do I think that such minor statements given by the people who speak whatever target language one is trying to learn helps and encourages those students. Especially with a hard language such as Tibetan, where as a beginner I received more discouragement than encouragement from native speakers and that really put be down many a times. What this Tibetan gentleman told me showed me that my efforts counted and what more was that it counted to him as a native Tibetan speaker. As I walked to Sarah I was like, “Right on”.

Because the Friday before the second Saturday was a holiday, our all-night debate looks like it will be postponed until next Friday but I am not sure if Gen la will give us that next Saturday off since we will have go to bed after midnight to be up by 6am the next day. We will see. It seems like Gen la is quite the writer/ scholar. I had a photocopied version of a slim book that he had written on a mnemonic grammar text called “The Good Explanations of the Divine Tree” (legs bshad ljon dbang) which all Tibetan third graders memorize. I had memorized it during my first year at Sarah and my Tibetan grammar teacher at the time allowed me to photocopy his hardcopy and I studied grammar from it. In our study of “The Presentation of Collected Topics” we used Gen la’s commentary. Also as we study “The Presentation of Signs and Reasonings” we are also using a commentary that Gen la had written. On Thursday in class he announced a new commentary that he had written on a text called “The Essence of Good Explanations”, (legs bshad snying po). It is also called “Privisional and definite”, (drang nges) written by the founder of the Geluk tradition Je Tsongkapa. This text is known for being extremely difficult but luckily we won’t be studying it for another two years.

Gen la needed us to help put the pages together. Sarah has a printing press and many books including the school magazine, in which I have been recently enjoying reading the current issue with articles, poem and stories written by some talented writers. So Thursday afternoon, Gen la had most of my classmates retrieve the papers for the books and had all them brought to the temple. Most of the small tables were lined up on the furthest left-hand side of the temple. After all the papers were brought in, the Indian printers came and organized the stacks in order from right to left on top of the small tables. Once that was done, it was our job to make the books by gathering the bundles in their numerical order. Starting with the first bundles of papers, which had in tiny purple letters the word ‘front’ written on the upper left-hand side of the pages indicating which way the bundles of papers should lay. By forming a line we each in turn grabbed bundles over consecutive bundles of pages until we reached the last table and handed them to the three Indian printers who sitting on a mattress in front of some empty tables where they were tapping the pages evenly on them in a rhythmic fashion. This went on for hours. Some of the guys were really fast so a ‘kind of race’ happened, seeing who could finish a book the fastest. Some errors concurred because of that though. I was slow rolling it. One guy told me that in the West they use machines to do such work but that Sarah they use us.

Gen la sat on a mattress watching and directing. At times he would gently laugh at us, like when he laughed at me as I goofily walked over to help my classmates with the project. The printers stacked the finished ones perpendicular on top of each other so that they didn’t get mixed up. As the finished stacks grew larger I wondered how Gen la felt about seeing his thought’s manifest on paper many times over. I don’t know how many were there when we finished but I would guess that more than 4 hundred future books were there. I thought about my own writing endeavors, I have only written for college making only the copies needed to fulfill an assignment and for this blog which has only the one blog that can be read by all who wish to. But books are a different gig, though I don’t know why. It just seems to have a different feeling; it is at a whole different level. I would like to write a book some day but I fear that I lack what it takes to do so. Anyhow, soon we will be in possession of Gen la’s new book and in a way I guess we will be the guinea pigs who will be analyzing his ideas in laboratory of the debate courtyard. Hopefully by that time I would not have had any more teeth yanked out of my mouth; I have already have two pulled since being at Sarah.


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