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The Restless Children of the Dalai Lama
NY Times[Monday, December 19, 2005 01:22]
By PANKAJ MISHRA

The New Guard: Tenzin Tsundue is by no means the anti-Dalai Lama, but his outspoken frustration with Buddhist passivity in the face of the occupation of Tibet has struck a chord with younger exiles. (Philip Blenkinsop/Agence Vu , for The New York Times)
The New Guard: Tenzin Tsundue is by no means the anti-Dalai Lama, but his outspoken frustration with Buddhist passivity in the face of the occupation of Tibet has struck a chord with younger exiles. (Philip Blenkinsop/Agence Vu , for The New York Times)
Early one morning in April 1998, a middle-aged Tibetan named Thupten Ngodup poured gasoline over himself in a public toilet in downtown New Delhi and struck a match. Outside, the Indian police were breaking up a hunger strike organized by the Tibetan Youth Congress, the largest pro-independence organization among the approximately 140,000 Tibetans who have lived in exile since the Dalai Lama fled Chinese-ruled Tibet in 1959. The Tibetans had been protesting for more than six weeks against U.N. inaction on Tibet, which China invaded and occupied in 1950, subsequently killing - through execution, torture and starvation - as many as 1.2 million people, according to Tibetans, and destroying tens of thousands of Buddhist monasteries and temples.

Ngodup, too, had intended to go on hunger strike; he was scheduled to replace those Tibetans then nearing death. He had told a radio interviewer five days earlier that the Dalai Lama's peaceful approaches to the Chinese regime had "achieved no results" and that the situation was "desperate." He went on to say, "I am giving up my life to bring about peace and fulfillment to my unhappy people."

When Indian authorities, apparently wishing to please a visiting Chinese dignitary, decided to end the hunger strike, Ngodup acted quickly. As policemen dragged away Tibetan strikers and beat back protesters, he emerged from the toilet, fully ablaze. Shouting slogans of Tibetan independence, he ran through a stunned crowd. Then, as the fire consumed his body, he brought his hands together in a gesture of prayer.

The next day, lying in a hospital with burns over virtually all of his body, Ngodup was visited by the Dalai Lama. The spiritual leader of the Tibetans, the Dalai Lama abjures all violence and considers even hunger strikes and economic sanctions illegitimate means of political protest. He told Ngodup that he should not feel any hatred toward the Chinese. A reverential Ngodup tried to sit up but failed. Later that night, shortly after inquiring about the fate of the hunger strikers, he died.

Beyond Buddhism: Tibetan exile activists gather in their new office and library. According to Tsundue, the revolution will begin in reading rooms like this. Tibetan exiles, Tsundue says, have enough religious tracts. They need access to books about the rest of the world. (Philip Blenskinsop/Agence VU, for The New York Times)
Beyond Buddhism: Tibetan exile activists gather in their new office and library. According to Tsundue, the revolution will begin in reading rooms like this. Tibetan exiles, Tsundue says, have enough religious tracts. They need access to books about the rest of the world. (Philip Blenskinsop/Agence VU, for The New York Times)
Pictures of Ngodup in flames are ubiquitous in Dharamsala, the town in the Himalayan foothills of northern India that has served as the capital of the Tibetan exile community since 1960. He is a martyr and hero to a new generation of Tibetans born and educated in India - a generation that is beginning to call into question the longstanding Western idea of the Tibetans as devout Buddhists, willing to embrace only the quietest ways of protest and political engagement. They speak of Ngodup as the kind of freedom fighter Tibet urgently needs: someone who acts out of his own feelings and conviction, rejecting the passivity required of him by the Tibetan leadership.

No one has taken Ngodup's example more to heart than a young poet and writer named Tenzin Tsundue, the new and most visible face, after the Dalai Lama, of the Tibetan exile community. In January 2002, Tsundue scaled 14 floors of scaffolding attached to a Mumbai five-star hotel; Prime Minister Zhu Rongji of China was inside. As angry Indian policemen threatened to crush him under a service elevator, he tied a 20-foot banner inscribed with the words "Free Tibet: China, Get Out" to the scaffolding. Then, as Chinese officials watched, he unfurled the Tibetan national flag and shouted pro-Tibet slogans before policemen captured him.

Tsundue (pronounced SUN-doo) had barely finished fighting the case against him in Mumbai's glacially slow courts - he was let off with a "severe reprimand" - when the new Chinese prime minister, Wen Jiabao, arrived in the southern Indian city of Bangalore in April of this year. The Indian police arrested many potential Tibetan demonstrators pre-emptively. But Tsundue managed to evade them. Standing on the balcony of a 200-foot-high tower at the Indian Institute of Science, just above the building where Wen Jiabao was meeting Indian scientists, Tsundue unfurled a red banner that read "Free Tibet" and threw pamphlets at bystanders, shouting, "Wen Jiabao, you cannot silence us."

Tsundue was again arrested and, he says, beaten by the police. "But I have got used to this by now," he told me when I met with him in Dharamsala not long ago. A slightly built man, Tsundue wears a red bandanna over long braids, inviting curious looks. He speaks softly, in long lucid sentences that seem to have been formed and refined in a restless solitude; and from time to time he briefly withdraws into silence. But his writerly, deliberate manner can mislead; he is, above all, an activist with a clear political passion.

Like many Tibetans, he grew up demonstrating outside the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi. In 1997, soon after finishing college, he walked across India's remote and inhospitable Ladakh District into Tibet - he didn't think that hard about what he was doing, he told me; he simply wanted to see his homeland. Arrested by the Chinese, he was taken to Lhasa, Tibet's capital, and imprisoned there for three months before being deported to India. In his early 30's, he has already known six different prisons. "I would strongly recommend a spell in prison to anyone," he told me. "It is really essential for your personal growth."

Saying this, he laughed, and his friends joined in. We were at the Peace Cafe, a Tibetan hangout situated among the convenience stores, souvenir shops and cybercafes that largely cater to foreign tourists in Dharamsala. Tsundue's cellphone rang often, with news from other activists and reminders of articles to write, demonstrations to organize. He would soon be on his way to Mumbai to hold a news conference on behalf of three nuns who had recently escaped imprisonment and torture in Tibet.

At the moment, though, he was focused on his plans to set up a public library and reading room in Dharamsala. Tibetans like himself, he said, needed to read more than books about Buddhism and the other religious texts that were available to them in Dharamsala. They needed to know about the modern world; above all, they needed to know about China. Reading rooms and libraries, he said, are where new political ideas and movements begin. As the Tibetans gathered around Tsundue's table nodded, I couldn't help thinking that this was how Tibet's adversary Mao Zedong began his career.

Most of Tsundue's friends and colleagues were born and educated in India and had traveled to Dharamsala from across the country in order to work full time for Tibetan freedom. Others had arrived recently from Tibet after a hard journey over the Himalayas. A true Buddhist is expected to bear with equanimity the prospect of an endless exile, but Tsundue's friends spoke approvingly of violence as a possible means to Tibetan freedom. One talked of the "many Chinese embassies in the world that could be targets," naming possible sites with disturbing precision. Another interjected: "Look at Palestine and Israel. Such small places compared to Tibet, but the world pays them so much attention because of the Intifada, the suicide bombers and Osama bin Laden. What has nonviolence achieved for the Tibetan cause, apart from some converts to Buddhism in the West?" The passionate voices of the Tibetans echoed in the small cafe. But they knew, and it was easy to see, that violence does not come easily to a Buddhist. Walking up a steep mountain path earlier that evening, I saw one of Tsundue's friends stop to pick up an ant and place it gently to one side, out of harm's way.

Dharamsala, like the 36 other settlements that the Indian government allotted to Tibetans fleeing Chinese-occupied Tibet, was meant to be a temporary refuge. But four decades after these settlements were established, Tibetans born in India still belong to the category of "stateless people." As permanent refugees, it is not easy for them to get jobs or own property. Tibetans selling woolen clothes and cheap electronic goods are a common sight on the streets of Indian cities. Even in Dharamsala, the Tibetans told me, they live in constant fear of India's often highhanded police. A few days before I arrived in Dharamsala, the police intervened in a dispute between an Indian shopkeeper and Tibetans by frog-marching the Tibetans through the main street. Yet few Tibetans wish to return to what they regard as a country under brutal occupation. According to recent Human Rights Watch reports, which confirm many Tibetan accounts, the Communist regime in Beijing continues to detain without trial, to torture and to execute those it suspects of being separatists or merely sympathizers of the Dalai Lama. More than 2,000 refugees arrive each year in Dharamsala from Chinese-occupied Tibet.

Tsundue's own parents left Tibet in 1959 when they were still children, trekking through the Himalayas to India. Hundreds of Tibetans who accompanied them died soon afterward, victims of the severe Indian heat and humidity. Tsundue was born sometime in the mid-70's, when his parents were working as laborers on a high Himalayan road. He knows neither the exact place nor the exact date of his birth. His father died soon after he was born; so did his two elder siblings. Only Tsundue and a younger sister survived the malnutrition and infectious diseases that are common among roadside laborers. Educated in three different Tibetan refugee schools, Tsundue went to college in Chennai, in southern India, and then on to Mumbai.

When I first met Tsundue in Mumbai in 1999, he was a graduate student, often spoken of in the city's literary circles as a promising poet, and had the intensity and shyness of a self-taught man. He told me that he admired Albert Camus, but didn't say much else at our first meeting. As I left, he gave me his first collection of poems, "Crossing the Border." They were about his life as a Tibetan exile in India, his sense of a lost homeland and identity, what it meant to belong to a nation that the world did not recognize but to which it always pledged its support. ("Tibetans, the world's sympathy stock," he noted wryly in an early poem. "Serene monks and bubbly traditionalists.") His reputation as a writer and activist has grown in the last few years. An essay of his on Tibetan refugees won a major national award in India in 2001. He has also given renewed chic to a cause long espoused by Richard Gere and other Hollywood stars; the Indian edition of Elle named him among India's 50 most stylish people in 2002, two rungs above the Dalai Lama. The photograph accompanying the article showed Tsundue wearing his red bandanna, which he has vowed not to remove until Tibet is free. The Dalai Lama, Tsundue told me, jokes about it every time they meet, asking, "Don't you feel hot and sweaty on your forehead?"

Tsundue is relatively privileged among Tibetans in being able to exchange a few words with the Dalai Lama. It seems easier for a minor Western celebrity than a well-known Tibetan like Tsundue to achieve a private audience with the Dalai Lama. And it is not clear what the Tibetan leadership makes of Tsundue. The Dalai Lama did not respond to my request for an interview, and I wondered if this was because it had been forwarded to his secretary by Tsundue. (Later that same month, Tsundue seemed dismayed when I told him that a German teenager had managed to interview the Dalai Lama.) Tsundue told me that he appreciates the popular support for the Tibetan cause that the Dalai Lama has generated in the West, but that that support does not amount to much if Western governments continue to pursue business deals with the Chinese and sell them weapons. For Tsundue, it is more important to build up a sympathetic constituency within India, the country with which Tibet has long had cultural and political links; his writings in the Indian press reflect this view.

He is always busy. Last spring, he helped organize a meeting in the town's central square to commemorate the victims of the massacre in Tiananmen Square in 1989. He recently finished work on a joint translation of a long poem by a Tibetan writer facing official disapproval in China. Unlike most activists, he doesn't offer a solution for every problem. Instead, he seems engaged in a long and uncertain quest - and this reflective manner is part of his charisma, what makes him attractive to young Indians and Tibetans. "The biggest question for us," he told me, "is what can we do? How do we find a solution to our dilemma? It is so easy to give up and invest all your faith in the Dalai Lama. We have to do something else. But what is it?"

For more than four decades, Tibetans in exile have looked up to the Dalai Lama for release from their predicament. Aware of the expectations placed on him and of the lack of progress on any kind of Tibetan independence, the Dalai Lama has tried to encourage democracy - an elected parliament and government - within the Tibetan exile community. In September 2001, Samdhong Rinpoche, a monk and philosopher, became the first elected head of the Tibetan government in exile, which lays down social and economic policy for the Tibetan community in India. (Dharamsala serves as the unofficial capital.) Recognized by no nation, this government reflects the Dalai Lama's power but also its limits.

Repeatedly denounced, ignored or rebuffed by the Chinese regime, the Dalai Lama has rarely looked less likely to lead his people back to an independent state. In 1988, he dropped his longheld demand for an end to the Chinese occupation of Tibet. He and Samdhong Rinpoche now assert that they do not oppose Chinese sovereignty over Tibet. They say they are willing to settle for what they call "genuine autonomy" for Tibet within China, and they pin their hopes for a political breakthrough with China on annual meetings between Tibetan representatives and midlevel Chinese officials. Wishing to appear conciliatory to their interlocutors, Tibetan leaders frown upon anti-Chinese protests by Tibetan activists.

But this official position increasingly dismays and divides Tibetans. Although the Tibetan Women's Association supports the Dalai Lama's call for "genuine autonomy," Gu-Chu-Sum, an influential group of former political prisoners, continues to demand independence - in accordance, it says, with the wishes of Tibetans living in Tibet. As Lobsang Yeshi, an official of the Tibetan Youth Congress, the major organization for Tibetan independence, put it, "We are not opposed to the Dalai Lama - his blessings are crucial for us - but we do not believe China and do not want to be part of it."

The most vehement critics of the scaled-down demand for autonomy are Tibetan exiles in their 20's and 30's - many of whom, born in India, have never even seen Tibet - and Tsundue has emerged as their most articulate representative. His views, amplified regularly in the Indian press and on the Internet, most vividly reflect the widening gap between Tibetan leaders and the children of Tibetan exiles. In the tradition-bound Tibetan community, where criticism of elders is rare and obedience to them the norm, Tsundue expresses what many people feel when he describes "genuine autonomy" as mere "wishful thinking" on the part of the Tibetan leadership. One evening at the Peace Cafe, he told me that he could not rule out violence as a last resort. "Seeking Buddhahood," he said, "is one thing, and freedom for a country is another. We are fighting for freedom in the world and not freedom from the world."

Many young Tibetans increasingly express doubts about the efficacy of monks and philosophers in politics. Buddhism directs individuals to a self-aware and ethical life in the present and encourages a suspicion of social or political utopias. It does not blend easily with modern politics, particularly the demands of mass nationalism: a separate state with an ethnically homogeneous population. Unable to find examples of political activism in their own religious tradition, the Dalai Lama and other senior Buddhist monks have always expressed their admiration for Gandhi. In an interview with me last year, Samdhong Rinpoche (Rinpoche is an honorific given to senior lamas) defended Gandhi's nonviolent politics as best suited to Tibetans. According to Samdhong Rinpoche, the Gandhian political strategy of satyagraha (literally, truth insistence) wasn't aimed so much at achieving large-scale results like national independence as at helping individuals achieve dignity and confidence in their daily encounters with repressive authority. He explained that satyagraha properly began with small, achievable things, at the grass-roots level; it sought large-scale structural change through a profound change in basic human attitudes. Nonviolence, he said, wasn't a tactic, or a means to a predetermined end. As a form of self-control and carefully measured action, it was an end in itself.

"Our ultimate goal," Samdhong Rinpoche told me, "is not just political freedom but the preservation of Tibetan culture. What will we gain if we win political freedom but lose what gives value to our lives? It is why we reject the option of violence. For respect for life is an inseparable aspect of the Tibetan culture we are fighting for."

Tsundue, however, remained unconvinced when I reported Samdhong Rinpoche's views to him. We were in a small bookshop owned by a friend of his, browsing through the collection of Tibet-related books. Tsundue immediately said that he could not identify Tibetan culture exclusively with Buddhism and that the preference for nonviolent politics could also become an excuse for passivity and inaction. "Our leaders quote Gandhi," Tsundue said. "But Gandhi saw British rule in India as an act of violence and said that resistance to it was a duty. I see the Chinese railway to Lhasa as a similar act of violence. What's wrong with blowing up a few bridges? How can such resistance be termed wrong and immoral?"

Many young Tibetans speak with admiration of the Khampa warriors of eastern Tibet, who fought against the invading Chinese Army in 1950 and, in 1959, initiated the bloody revolt against Chinese rule, effectively forcing the Dalai Lama to choose between a subservient status in Tibet and exile in India. An account of the Khampas, published by the acclaimed Tibetan novelist Jamyang Norbu in 1987, inspired many Tibetans of Tsundue's generation to consider more militant solutions to their problem. As Norbu, who now lives in the United States, told a filmmaker producing a documentary for PBS in 1997, "Some people don't want to be enlightened, at least not immediately." Norbu went on to say: "We are ordinary Tibetans. We drink; we eat; we feel passion; we love our wives and kids. If someone sort of messes around with them, even if they're an army, you pick up your rifle." Tibetans, he added, have an "affinity to their place they live in. And they don't want the Chinese there. And his Holiness cannot understand this."

This was not just rhetoric. In the early 70's, Norbu was among the young Tibetans who dropped out of school, picked up a rifle and joined the Tibetan guerrillas operating out of Mustang, a piece of Nepalese territory that juts into Tibet. The C.I.A. began financing these guerrillas in 1956 and arranged for more than a hundred of them to be trained in the Colorado Rockies in what was one of the most secret anti-Communist operations of the cold war. In 1958, the C.I.A. first airdropped arms, ammunition, radios and medical supplies into Tibet. Three years later, Tibetan guerrillas based in Mustang ambushed a Chinese military convoy inside Tibet and captured documents that revealed the low capacity and morale of the Chinese military. This turned out to be one of the C.I.A.'s most valuable intelligence hauls during the cold war. American support for the Tibetans, however, was halfhearted at best, designed to undermine Communist China, not to achieve Tibetan independence. It began to peter out by the late 60's and finally dried up altogether in the early 70's, after Kissinger and Nixon befriended Mao. Then in 1994, much to the dismay of many Tibetans, Bill Clinton uncoupled trade agreements with China from the problematic issue of human rights.

India also began by helping the Tibetan guerrillas, after a border dispute with China ended in a humiliating military defeat in 1962, but by the early 1970's had withdrawn its support. Abandoned by their sponsors, many Tibetan guerrillas were attacked and killed by the Nepalese Army. Finally, in a taped message in 1974, the Dalai Lama ordered the Mustang guerrillas to give up arms and return to India.

Lhasang Tsering, a bookseller in Dharamsala, was one of the Tibetan guerrillas in Mustang. He later headed the Tibetan Youth Congress and even worked for the Tibetan government in exile before resigning in protest against the Dalai Lama's decision to drop the demand for full independence. He told me that Tibet faces a cultural genocide. Han Chinese immigrants, China's largest ethnic group, are pouring into Tibet, threatening to make the Tibetans a minority in their own country - a process likely to speed up when the Chinese finish building the railway line between the Tibetan capital of Lhasa and the Chinese province Qinghai.

Tsering, who is in his mid-50's and wears a suave goatee, told me that he still feels bitter about the Dalai Lama's decision to withdraw the guerrillas from Mustang. Like many Tibetans, he is convinced that the freedom struggle for Tibet will turn militant after the Dalai Lama passes away. He reminded me that Tibetans had fought fiercely for their rights even during the exceptionally fearful days of the Cultural Revolution. Armed with swords and spears, a young nun and her followers attacked their local Communist Party headquarters and killed Chinese officials and their Tibetan collaborators before being captured and executed.

Tsundue and his friends, who had taken me to see Tsering (SEHR-ing), seemed to revere him and Norbu. And Tsering became expansive in the presence of these admiring young Tibetans. He spoke very fast, with many dramatic emphases, as if he had said similar things to many people. "A few people in exile," he declared, "do not have the mandate to change the goal of Tibetan independence." Dismissing the search for "genuine autonomy" as a waste of time, he added, "I want to go back to Tibet, but not on my knees."

But Tsering's activism is now confined to the worldwide network of pro-Tibet organizations and conferences. Like many of his young admirers, Tsering seemed more inclined to talk about than to realize the possibility of armed struggle. He and other Tibetans I spoke to did not wonder if China would respond to a militant freedom struggle in Tibet as severely as it has dealt with restive Muslims in the northwestern province of Xinjiang. Nor did they speculate much about what a free Tibet might look like - it seemed too far in the future. But they were nearly unanimous in asserting that it would have no place for Han Chinese.




Hard-line nationalism finds little favor with the old guard. Samdhong Rinpoche has actively distanced himself from an ethnically based nationalism, insisting that it is possible for Tibetans and Chinese to coexist peacefully in a free Tibet. To many young Tibetan exiles, this embrace of the Chinese only makes Tibetan leaders seem politically naïve. In an article last year on a current-affairs Web site run by Tibetan exiles, phayul.com, Jamyang Norbu charged Tibetan leaders with having "an imperfect understanding of the politics of nation-states and the Darwinian reality of our modern world."

Oddly, such criticisms often echo Chinese accusations: that Tibet's pre-Communist Buddhist regime failed to modernize the country, and indeed remains fundamentally incapable of doing so. Tibet became a protectorate of China in the late 17th century, retaining cultural and economic autonomy; it did not expel Chinese troops and officials until 1912, when it began to function as a de facto independent state. But according to the Chinese version of Tibet's history, before its "peaceful liberation" in 1951 (when Tibet was required to recognize Chinese sovereignty), Tibet was a benighted place where a few "feudal" and "reactionary" aristocrats together with monks oppressed a majority population of serfs and slaves, mostly by addling their minds with ritual and superstition. This may sound like Communist propaganda, but Chen Kuiyuan, one of the Chinese technocrats to have ruled Tibet in recent years, didn't exaggerate much when he pointed out in a 1997 speech that "when the Dalai ruled Tibet, there was not a single regular school; children of the working people had no right or opportunity to receive an education, and more than 90 percent of the Tibetan people were illiterate."

Even Samdhong Rinpoche admits this is true but is quick to add that the Dalai Lama, with his interest in modern science and preference for democracy, is much better placed than Chinese Communists to undertake Tibet's modernization. Not to mention that whatever benefits the Chinese bring in the form of new roads, schools and regular jobs have so far failed to diminish the popularity of the Dalai Lama. Tibetans inside Tibet still express their rejection of Chinese authority through their complete devotion to their exiled spiritual leader. Even as Chinese authorities closely monitor the monasteries, frequently subjecting monks to "patriotic education," monks and nuns continue to form the most visible face of the Tibetan nationalist movement inside Tibet. Over the last two decades, as Chinese authorities began to relax their restrictions on the practice of religion, monasteries and temples were rebuilt, attracting great crowds of pilgrims, and Buddhism again flourished, though China's repressive police and an efficient network of spies have ensured that no Gandhi-style mass movement emerges within Tibet itself.

This new flowering of Buddhism greatly pleases Tibetans like Samdhong Rinpoche. Yet Buddhism's revival in Tibet does not make it any more likely that the Dalai Lama will return to his homeland, not least because of Chinese efforts to install someone in his place at the Potala Palace. Over the last decade, Chinese authorities have sought to solidify their occupation of Tibet by imposing their own candidates on the important seats of Tibetan Buddhism. In 1995, Chinese authorities tried to circumvent the Dalai Lama by kidnapping the boy whom the Dalai Lama identified as the 11th Panchen Lama - Panchen Lamas are second only to the Dalai Lamas in Tibet's Buddhist order - and replacing him with their own candidate. In an attempt to forestall the Chinese regime from gaining control over his successor, the Dalai Lama has announced that the next Dalai Lama will be born among the Tibetan community in exile. In a recent interview, he said that he could die happily in India if Tibet's political status did not change in his lifetime.

Yet India, which continues to absorb the majority of Tibetan exiles, has drawn closer to China in recent months. Though it is unlikely to grow as harsh as neighboring Nepal, which recently told the Dalai Lama to apply for his Nepalese visa in Beijing, it still limits the political activities of refugees on its soil. The 17th Karmapa, the 20-year-old leader of one of the four major Tibetan sects, who angered China by escaping to India in 1999 and whom many believe will be the most important leader of the Tibetan exile community once the Dalai Lama dies, is a virtual prisoner in his monastery near Dharamsala. The Indian government, which restricts his movements and insists on calling the Dalai Lama a spiritual rather than political leader, may well fear that Tibetan self-assertion in Dharamsala will strain India's increasingly friendly relations with China. It is certain to respond punitively if, unlikely though it seems now, the appeal of Buddhism diminishes among Tibetans and Tsundue and his colleagues move toward organizing a fully militant movement.

was still in Dharamsala when Tsundue returned from Mumbai. He said that the news conference with the nuns from Tibet had gone well. He had taken the nuns to Mumbai's biggest shopping mall; they enjoyed their first ride on an escalator. He was looking forward to organizing a film festival in Dharamsala. But when I called him from London a few weeks later, he seemed unhappy again. He told me about the fresh round of talks in Switzerland between Chinese officials and representatives of the Tibetan government in exile. He said he thought that the Chinese maintained contact with the Tibetans only in order to gain some measure of diplomatic respectability before the Beijing Olympics in 2008. The Chinese had not budged at all while the Tibetans had further compromised their position. Tibetan leaders, he told me, were still trying to appease China. The Dalai Lama, he said, had gone to the extent of declaring the railway line connecting Tibet to China a sign of progress.

When I spoke with Tsundue in early December, he was in the midst of a long journey through Tibetan refugee settlements in the northeastern Himalayas, trying to raise $10,000 for the purchase of a passport that, issued by the Tibetan government in 1947, had ended up with an antique dealer in Nepal. The passport, which carried visas from seven countries, including the U.S., the U.K., France, Italy, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, was valuable proof, Tsundue said, of Tibetan sovereignty. His voice sounded cheerful on the phone. It turned out that he had raised more than $6,000. He also seemed buoyed by events in New Delhi. The previous day a small group of Tibetans led by the president of the Tibetan Youth Congress vaulted the gates of the Chinese Embassy to protest the repressive "patriotic education" campaign recently enacted in Lhasa by Chinese authorities. Tsundue knew all the protesters; pictures of them, accosted by police, appeared in the New Delhi papers. Most of them, he said, were extremely young and well-educated students in New Delhi; they had surprised their own leaders by their energy and boldness. "Having no place to belong to," Tsundue said, "they have attached their emotional identity to the Tibetan problem and are always ready to do anything." He added: "When people ask me, 'Which place do you belong to?' I, too, have started to say: 'I belong to a problem called Tibet. And there are many more of us where I come from.' "


Pankaj Mishra is the author of "An End to Suffering: The Buddha in the World" and "Temptations of the West: How to be Modern in India, Pakistan, Tibet and Beyond," to be published next spring.
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