‘The struggle starts now’, retorted the besieged warrior to an imperious threat by the green uniformed Chinese officer. It was surely a befitting answer from someone whose life symbolizes courage, patriotism, defiance and loyalty. After that Reting Tenpa Tsering spent almost 20 years in prison. This is from an episode in the life of the patriot, now staged by the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (TIPA) as a drama called ‘Khyareng khi Pho-ngya’.
Many aspects of traditional Tibetan society, like the period when the nomads ruled the highland pastures and the high ranking lamas exercised great social duties, are now only historical facts, rather than a reality of life for the Tibetans in exile. All these are rarely seen, though they are heard often enough through stories passed on by the elders and in printed works. The play ‘khyareng ki Phongya’ presented by TIPA, comes close to filling this void and enables the viewers to more clearly understand these social and political realities of Tibet.
As the curtain is raised and the stage lights up, a huge painting of Reting Monastery looms in the background. It instantly transports the audience to a different era. Throughout the play huge boulders lay strewn around. At times these boulders are used as a hiding place for the young , bubbly characters, at others for a more intimate scene and even as a cave where the Tibetan guerilla leader Andrug Gompo Tashi meets his lieutenants during the most trying moments.
The life story of the gallant freedom fighter as presented through the drama is described by the narrator, director and scriptwriter as ‘one of a kind ever tried by Tibetans in exile’. This claim can hardly be disputed, because drama for the general masses in Dharamsala has always been set on a stage created to resemble the world we live in. In effect, leaving little room for imagination. But this play sets a new tone with its special visual and musical features.
The narrator even unabashedly likens the play to a musical, simply because the story meanders on with the music leading ahead. The characters played by the professional dramatists follow discreetly every nuance in the music, which progresses effortlessly with the changing scenes. Thus making it hard for any observer to challenge the claim announced at the beginning of the show.
The story of Reting Tempa Tsering reflects the lives of those Tibetans who have lived in both good and bad times. It is a story of the first generation Tibetans, who had both the luxury of a free Tibet and misfortune of suffering occupation. The continuing flame of the Tibetan struggle movement has its ember glowing in ‘khyareng ki Pho-ngya’.
Though attempts to tinker with the story were made while penning it into a play script , the director hopes the play will do justice to the book on which it was based. He spent more than a year overcoming the logistical hurdles and creative challenges involved in making it to the stage. As a reward for that labor, the director can probably enjoy a positive response from the audience.
So far TIPA has staged three shows. The director now hopes to take it out of Dharamsala.