Tsomo, a young girl, was unaware of the tragedy that devastated the life of her family and country people. The elders never spoke of the past for fear of reprisal. It was in the course of her pilgrimage by prostration from her home town to Lhasa, the Forbidden City, a stretch of over 1000 miles, that made her gradually aware of what happened before she was born. She also came to understand the perpetual fear in which her fellow country people were living. Her pilgrimage took a new turn…
A captivating tale of a young girl. Impossible to put down. It will live with you.
This reportage is based on interviews conducted in India in 1994. The characters presented as alive in that year, with one exception, are fictive. None of them corresponds to any of my informants. The personal events in which they take part are entirely fictional; the public events are entirely historical. The figures in the story presented as no longer living and the events in which they took part are, with insignificant exceptions, historical.
Directories of geographical names and of names of fictive characters and historical figures who appear in the text and a brief glossary may be found in the appendices. They are included with a view to making the book more accessible to readers unfamiliar with its setting.
Dharamsala, March, 1991
It was mid-afternoon, the end of March, seven or eight weeks since they had arrived at Holiday Home. Palden Gyurme appeared at the nunnery and asked for Tsomo. “There’s someone for you to see,” she told her.
Palden Gyurme led Tsomo over the path to the road through Dharamsala and up the road to a flat spot where taxis waited for fares. Across the street was a restaurant called “Sonam’s Rice Shop.”
Sonam’s Rice Shop was the first restaurant Tsomo had ever entered. There was a scattering of customers drinking tea in the front of the room but in the back only a single man sitting at a table in the corner. He looked at them steadily as Gyurme Palden brought Tsomo forward. He had piercing eyes and she halted and stood motionless a moment about twelve feet in front of his table and dropped her eyes to the chair pushed in opposite him.
‘Do you know me?” the man said.
How could she?” Palden Gyurme said.
‘You look like my father...” Tsomo said but suppressed the continuation of the thought “except for the fierceness in your eyes.”
‘And I should by nature,” he said. ‘This is your Uncle Jamyang,” Palden Gyurme said and they sat down at the table. “I am his younger brother,” Jamyang said. He ordered a thick Tibetan soup for each of them although it wasn’t meal time. ‘Yes, and you’ve got four cousins down there. Down in the south of India. I married a Golok woman after I left Tibet.” The Golok lands were immediately north of Kham, six or seven days ride from the Oto valley. “Were you the one who told about the man who said he was glad his son had been killed?” Tsomo asked.
“That was Lama Yuru. Yes, I was. Yuru Pan was his son.”
“I used to wonder why he was glad.”
“He was glad because they would have tortured his son if they’d captured him alive.”
“My mother and father never explained. It more or less hung in my mind...”
“We didn’t speak of such things to children. They would come up the valley and ask the children questions. It wasn’t safe.” -
“I didn’t learn what the word ‘torture’ meant until much later. People just said, ‘Hush’ when I asked.”
“We knew what speaking your mind would bring — the road gang or the prison.”
“We — we children — felt danger hovering around... We didn’t know why no one explained anything...”
“Well, it was because the adults understood all too clearly.”
“I must have been three or four when you were there. I remember your shadow jumping around the ba with you between me and the fire, speaking, using your arms...”
“You were two and a half or three.”
“And I remember that you always hid or got away if anyone was coming...”
“They would have sent the army up if they had known I was there. I’d sneaked back into Tibet to see if the resistance could be revived. Death was better than the Cultural Revolution and we all thought so but there was no way to supply a resistance. The Americans had stopped supplying us without any warning more than two years before. After two or three months in Tibet, I got away to India again but it seemed as though there wasn’t any more life to lead.. But you have to live with your karma. Then I married a Golok woman. She’s the mother of your cousins. We have a coconut plantation in the south.”
“Is that far?” “Very far.” The waiter brought the soup.
“What happened during the resistance? What did you do?” “Different things at different times. It went on for fifteen years. It ended two years after you were born.” “Tell me.”
“Ask Ani Palden Gyurme.” “Ani” was the courteous form of address for a nun. “She understands these things very well. She was a leader of the resistance.”
“I have nothing to say,” Palden Gyurme remarked. “I was in prison for all but twenty months.” It was widely known that Palden Gyurme would not speak about herself. Neither would she give teachings although it was
plain she was advanced in the practice. “Tell her the story, Jamyang. Probably the young should know.”
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