Tibet's Bread-and-Freedom Poets

Hindustan Times (New Delhi, India), August 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

Tibet's Bread-and-Freedom Poets


India, Aug. 9 -- An essay on the poetry of exiled Tibetans, with special reference to the work of Tsundue, here is an excerpt from an interesting book on Tibetan writing, music, film and politics.

By Bhuchung D Sonam

Title: Yak Horns

Author: Bhuchung D Sonam

Publisher: TibetWrites

* Rs. 200 * 242 pp

Pa Topgyal is 79 years old. While speaking to his elder daughter on the phone he wails like a three-year-old boy. She is in the US, an illegal Tibetan without papers. He is a refugee living in India for over 50 years. She is 38. They haven't met for 17 years. If numbers alone represent sorrows, it's a hundred and eighty four years of pain and dislocation, longing and desire, grief and resignation, promises and disappointment, hope and surrender. Despite five decades of selling sweaters in the plains of India, Pa's Hindi is rudimentary and the number of words he knows in English is less than the fingers on his hands. He is an old man, his mind full but voice restricted. Tsundue gives voice to Pa's desperation:

I am tired/ I am tired selling sweaters on the roadside,/ 40 years of sitting in dust and spit.

Tenzin Yarphel is a twenty-year-old college-going guy. His mother is 40. She was born somewhere between Manali and Spiti. His fater is 47 and was born in the year Tibet lost her independence. If numbers alone can be confusion, it's a hundred and seven years of chaos and turmoil, romantic illusion and harsh reality, an idea of home and a sense of not belonging, and an everyday struggle to assert identity. Yarphel is educated, upright, and humble - perhaps a little too humble. At times, his humility is bombarded by a salvo of questions about who he is and where he's from. He is lost between a strong desire to answer and not knowing quite how.

Tsundue sums up this confusion:

I am more of an Indian./ Except for my chinky Tibetan face./ I am a Tibetan. But I am not from Tibet.

There are hundreds of young Tibetan refugees studying in various colleges in India. Every now and then they are asked if they are Manipuri, Nepali, Thai, Japanese, Chinese or Korean. They trudge on, shouting 'I am a Tibetan!' Once one of them wore a Free Tibet T-shirt and was asked, 'From where can I get it free?' If only he wasn't suffering from student poverty he would have freely given the T-shirt. Most Tibetan students live on a shoestring budget: Tsundue was one of them. Penniless and with nowhere to stretch his tired legs for a night in Mumbai, Tsundue found a reliable companion in words which comforted him in his homeless hours:

Your walls open inot cupboards/ Is there an empty space for me/ I'll sleep under your bed/ And watch TV in the mirror

He seldom complains about his predicament. Instead, as he once said, he tries to face them with composure and narrate them with comical twists:

On your forehead/ There is an R embossed/ My teacher said./ I scratched and scrubbed,/ To find a brash of red pain

Exiled Tibet has a young generation of aspiring poets and writers. They are unknown, often unclaimed, individuals producing verses between the need to earn their daily bread and a strong quest for freedom. Some of them moonlight in Indian metropolises like Delhi and Bangalore; some are in offices of the exile establishment; and a few sell bread and laphing in the streets of McLeod Ganj. Fewer still try their luck with not-so-young foreign women. They are bread-and-freedom poets in testing circumstances. The writings of these young poets are testimony to a displaced people trying to find their roots. …

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