Lhasa Diary – From Delhi to Tibet, and Back

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Delhi to Lhasa and back

My search for home.

[As told to Mayank Austen Soofi; the narrator lives in Amar Colony and doesn’t wish to be identified; picture by Mayank Austen Soofi]

Like many fellow Tibetans in Delhi, I too went to Jantar Mantar and demanded independence from China. As friends shouted slogans, their fist punched high into the air, I wondered what if we really get freedom. After all, we are messed up kids: India-born but not Indians.

You know we Tibetans keep crossing into India but I was crazier. I’m one of those very few who did the reverse migration. After working for 8 years in a travel company in Delhi, I somehow managed to get a 1-year visa for Tibet.

It was a long journey: 2 nights, 3 days in a bus from Delhi to Kathmandu; 2 more days and then Lhasa. My Lhasa. Blue sky. Cold, thin air. Yak meat momos. Monasteries. Potala palace. But no portraits of the Dalai Lama. Nowhere. Not even in homes. Chinese don’t allow that.

In India, a fresh arrival from back home is called a kaccha, because we imagine her to be innocent who has to be taught Hindi and trained to live here. So I was shocked when Lhasa folks called me (me!) kaccha. Being from India, I was deemed innocent who had to be taught Chinese and trained to live there.

But they were right. I was a foreigner in my homeland. I didn’t know Chinese and it was everywhere. In restaurants, menus would be written in Chinese and I would ask stewards what was what. I would pass by the city’s only theater that screened Hollywood films, dubbed only in Chinese. It was difficult to make out things. I was lost.

And yet, home is home. Lhasa was like a large version of Majnu ka Teela. There were Tibetans all around and I was just an anonymous face in the crowd. People too were gentler than in Delhi. Especially the boys. Delhi men are too…I don’t know…Hindi films do something to them.

Lhasa’s young people, however, don’t have a bright future. In Delhi we work in call centers, hair salons, and restaurants and have fun only in weekends. But there each day was a weekend. I hardly saw youngsters working routine jobs. They danced all night long in discos and days were wasted away in boozing (beer being very cheap). Sometimes I feel Tibetans on both sides of the Himalayas are kacchas. Will we ever ripen?