By Vandana Kalra
Tibet’s Generation Next attends 40-day workshop in Dharamshala to understand where they come from and where they are going
Mcleodganj, July 12: His head covered with a hood, dressed in a sweatshirt and branded jeans, 13-year-old Tenzin Sonam tucks his hands inside the pocket to pull out his iPod. He runs his fingers down the screen, shuffling between heavy metal hit Mettalica and Aerosmith’s hard rock. “They are my favourite bands and I listen to them all day,” he says. “The earphones are always on when I am at home in Massachusetts.”
Almost a world away, in the land of the little Lhasa in Himachal at present, this Tibetan with a US passport isn’t so sure if he will be able to tap to his choice of music as often. “I think we will be listening to more traditional Tibetan compositions. I don’t like them as much,” he states, turning for support from others in the the group of 20-odd, 7 to 20-year-olds who have assembled at the Tibetan Children’s Village (TCV), an educational institute atop Mcleodganj.
They have come from across the world — US to Canada, Hong Kong, Japan and France — to participate in a 40-day-long camp that will acquaint them with Tibetan history, politics, culture and the lifestyle.
At a time when Tibet is a hot-button issue given the recent Chinese crackdown and the Beijing Olympics next month, this unusual workshop is more than summer school. For these children, Tibet’s exiled and globalised Generation Next, it’s also an opportunity to tread the places where their roots are meant to be.
“The aim is to make them more aware of where they come from,” says Thupten Dorjee, general secretary of the institution, who conceptualised the camp six years ago. Its coursework includes lessons in Tibetan folk tales, history, language, and subjects like music, theatre and dance that provide opportunity for greater interaction. “The fieldwork will complement the theoretical lectures and vice versa,” chips in Tsewang Youdon, coordinator for the camp.
Applications started pouring in almost a year ago as word spread. Parents of Minnesota-based Tenzin Lhakey, 18, came to know about it through friends; Ngawang Tsetan flew in from New York on the recommendation of his aunt who is a staff member at TCV. “I thought it will be fun, even though I wasn’t sure about the details when I came,” he says, revealing how he was made to take vaccinations before boarding the flight and his luggage included 12 rolls of toilet paper.
“I did not know if it would be available here...I expected sand all around but found mountains instead,” adds the 12-year-old, adjusting the traditional Tibetan Chuba over his jeans at the orientation ceremony earlier this week. Topography apart, he’s more certain about his timetable over the next month — beginning with a bell that will ring sharp at 5.30 am.
After a bath and cleaning his sparsely furnished room that has a picture of Dalai Lama and Tibetan thangkas on its walls, he will head for breakfast and report for a prayer session at 8.30 am, followed by day-long classes, only to end the day with dinner of Tibetan dishes and turning in by 10 pm. “I’ll miss McDonald’s,” he says, adding, “I’ll ask my aunt to get some for me.”
Eighteen-year-old Tenzin Palkyi shares his anxiety, as she recalls persistent attempts to convince her parents in Minnesota to replace Tibetan meals with American cuisine. “I don’t have any particular fondness for Tibetan cuisine,” she notes, not very enthusiastic to learn how to prepare the Gyako meal — comprising several Tibetan delicacies — that Machen Nyima will be teaching during cookery lessons which are part of the curriculum.
The disapproval, however, turns to eagerness when it comes to Tibetan history and politics. “We discuss a lot of politics at home and I’ve been following up on news related to Tibet, especially the protest against the Olympics. There are lots of opinions and one needs be aware of them,” says Palkyi, who stayed in Delhi till the age of six, when her parents decided to move to the US, where her father works at the Tibetan American foundation and her mother is a nurse.
“They believed that America would provide me access to better educational facilities. We also have other family members settled there,” she says as she introduces her cousin Pema Khando, also participating in the camp. “Our parents decided that we should come together and do something constructive here,” smiles the 14-year-old. Her forte is dance, and she was looking forward to attending dance lessons back home this summer. “I was selected in the auditions,” she beams, adding, “but then the camp happened”. There are no regrets though, as she notes that Tibetan dance lessons will help her perform better onstage in Minnesota.
More than anything else, though, for camp coordinator Youdon, it’s the interaction between the students that’s the high point of the course. Field trips have been organised to areas like Bir, Sherabling, Suja and Sherab Gatseling.
“This will also help children realise how blessed there are,” he says, “they should be thankful for the luxuries that are available to them.”
Precisely the reason why Sithar Dolma accompanied her 11-year-old son, Jigme Tsering, from New York. “Parents can make attempts to teach things but surroundings play an important role in the conditioning,” she says. And even though her son, like any 11-year-old child, seems slightly nervous about the classes, he is confident he will make friends within ten days who will attend his birthday party on July 17.
Phone numbers and emails have already been exchanged and the first bonds of friendship are now being formed over momos and mock celebrations — from Tibetan marriages to Losar that marks the Tibetan New Year. There is knowledge being shared too, as Tsetan offers to improve 18-year-old Tsering Yangchen’s Tibetan lingual skills. “I converse in the language at home and even attend Tibetan weekend lessons,” he states proudly, strumming his fingers on the Dramyin and carefully jotting notes on how to play the instrument.
He is hopeful of meeting the Dalai Lama, to get him to speak about his grandfather who often narrates tales about their meetings. “He knew him personally and I want to know what does Dalai Lama remember about him,” he states, with slight mischief added to the monk-like smile.
And as the youngest in the group, seven-year-old Tenzin Tsayang, from Nepal, rattles the Tibetan national anthem, ‘Gyallu’, in the first day of the music class, others join in, marking the beginning of this journey. Back home, a fusion of hard rock and Dramyin may just take place — and Gyako may find a tiny place on the dinner table more often.