The sudden demise of Prof Dawa Norbu has left all of us shell-shocked creating a void that can never be filled. A true son of Tibet, he was a person far ahead of his time and one of the exceptional few who combined rare intellect with practical insights and honesty. The first lesson that he gave me when I met him as a doctoral student was “don’t appease me because I am a Tibetan since your primary duty as a student of history is to be faithful to the sources.” This can be seen in the opposing viewpoints expressed in the theses of many of his students some of which were at a distance from his convictions.
For a person who rose from very humble beginnings and attaining such great heights he never forgot his roots and instilled a sense of humility among his students and colleagues.
The students who had the opportunity of knowing him from close quarters were in a sense really privileged to have frequent interactions that went beyond the classroom person. To many of the students he was more like a friend and whenever there was any success story of a student getting a fellowship or a job or that called for celebration Prof Norbu always insisted on making it a very simple affair so much so that he preferred to be invited to the hostel mess along with the students and he used to be there with his family.
Once Prof Norbu was in search of his books and had come to our hostel and incidentally there were eight research scholars in our floor working under him and he went to one room and then to the other looking for some book that he had lent to the students and I also joined him and remarked that he was like the dob-dob or the monastic police during Monlam Chenmo in pre-modern Tibet after which he started humming a tune and we went further. One of my friends was discussing his doctoral work and Prof Norbu asked him about the sources and language to which he replied that they were all British records in English. Suddenly Prof Norbu flared up and said that this was another instance of colonialism, neglecting the vernacular languages. Two minutes later he came back to our room and said on second thoughts there are many methodologies to give voice to the sources and asked my friend not to take this as a bad remark. This incident elicited so much reaction that many students envied us for being Prof Dawa Norbu’s students since he was ever flexible.
The discussions extended beyond the classroom to the corridors, canteens or under the trees where he trained a generation to look at society with multiple perspectives combined with a humane approach, a lesson that all his students and others who interacted with him at Jawaharlal Nehru University fondly recall. Prof Dawa Norbu was placed in a rare situation that made him engage with all sections of the students, students could relate to him as an Indian since he knew so much about the intricacies of Indian society and politics in this highly politicized campus and as a Tibetan he was above all Indian categories like caste and region and therefore all students could relate to him.
Breaking all conventions, Prof Norbu’s informality extended to all spheres and as an academician, he was unparalleled in his achievements having many books and articles that are being reprinted year after year pointing to their popularity. As an authority on non-western nationalism, he was one of the greatest Tibetan
Intellectuals. His path breaking work on the cultural roots of nationalism at the University of California at Berkeley has informed scholarship about the intricate role of culture and how new arrangements need to be worked in multi-ethnic states which derive from indigenous rather than wholesale western categories.
His works will inspire generations to come and provide us a path to deal with the Tibet question. May his soul rest in peace.
OM MANI PADE MUM.
Dr. M.N.RAJESH, M.A.,M.Phil Ph.D.
DEPARTMENT OF HISTORY
UNIVERSITY OF HYDERABAD
Central University, Gachibowli
HYDERABAD– 500046 INDIA
Dr. Rajesh can be contacted at email@example.com