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Buddhadharma : Spring 2008
buddhadharma| 55 |spring 2008 Nepalis, Tibetans, Indians, Westerners, lepers, beg- gars, merchants, monks, nuns, pilgrims, Hindus, Buddhists, and hippies. In Dharamsala I run into Westerners who have been here so many times they essentially live here, and others who have come on a brief mission just to do whatever they can. I’m walking up Temple Road one day when an American, in blue jeans and a black Patagonia vest, his springy black hair streaked with gray, says, “Excuse me.” He’s man- ning a small folding table by the side of the road. “Can you help?” he asks. He explains that he is hiring unemployed young Tibetan men to clean up the roadsides. Behind him, a youth brigade fills up black plastic bags. I give him the few rupees in my pocket, sorry that I couldn’t do more. The next day the brigade is gone. English and European languages are the main- stay of the local restaurants. So many people meet so casually here that McLeod Ganj sometimes has the air of a college town on spring break. I’m in a café that serves good cappuccinos when I hear an Australian couple explaining at length—to the two young Tibetan men who own the place—about the difference between “sunny-side up” and “over easy.” It occurs to me that young Tibetans face changes of sometimes quite a subtle nature. My husband and I are sitting in the fine little café of Namgyal Monastery, awaiting an excel- lent thin-crust pizza, when two Canadians and a Tibetan monk ask if they can occupy the empty chairs next to us. We learn that one of the Canadi- ans, Shakti, is a retired teacher who volunteers at Dolma Ling, speaking English with the nuns, who have been trained by books and seldom get conver- sational experience. Mohan, her son, has struck up a friendship with a shy young woman who works in the office at Dolma Ling. He shows me a packet of her poems, including one she calls a “love song to the Dalai Lama,” which includes the lines: Wind flicker, water flicker Trees move, flower blossoms Air cools people, wind swept by Your moving nature touches all “This is not Shangri-la,” warns an information officer with the government in exile. “The image of Tibetans as cuddly teddy bears does harm to the Tibetan people.” The pressures of a distant world can be felt sometimes like the sharp edge of a rusty can. One day I walk up Jogiwara Road, eyeing the shops filled with hand-sewn bags, brightly colored woolen shawls, jewelry, and religious artifacts, some made locally by Tibetans, others imported from Indian village artisans. I’m think- ing of nothing in particular, when I turn into the town’s small plaza and discover that the street is filled with silent, kneeling Tibetans, many of them monks and nuns in red robes lit to fiery hues by the sunlight. It’s one day before the Chinese president, Hu Jintao, is due in Delhi to discuss “mutual interests” with the Indians. For several days, loudspeaker trucks have been rolling up and down the narrow streets, broadcasting loudly in Tibetan, reminding me of those propaganda trucks that deafen Tokyo with fascist-imperialist, top-of-the-volume slogan- eering. In this case, however, young Tibetan activ- ists have been urging a march in Delhi to protest Hu Jintao’s arrival and pressure the Indian govern- ment not to give in. The local action is this silent, daylong hunger strike. Around them circle West- ern photojournalists, expensive cameras swiveling. The protests in Delhi made the English-language Indian newspapers, and the world press snapped them up. Several days later I’m in the same square, and this time the protests have turned angry and loud. I can’t understand the chants, which are in Tibetan. But I do hear the name of the Dalai Lama, and I’m viscerally shocked to see him used as a rallying point for violent words. The local papers describe several young Tibetan men who have grown impa- tient with waiting, with the doctrine of kindness dAveMArKWArren Tibetan youth in McLeod Ganj protest the Chinese prime minister’s visit to India.