Submitted by Tenzin Phuntsok Sungkhor
Kalsang Wangchuk la (1937 – 2014)
Toronto, January 27: For many of us in Toronto, the sight of a distinguished-looking elderly Tibetan Pala and his beloved wife, with their trademark knapsacks on their backs, on the streets and avenues of Parkdale was a familiar sight. Sadly, we will not be seeing this loving couple in pair again.
Kalsang Wangchuk la, also known as Ku-ngo Wangchuk la, passed away peacefully on 23 January 2014 in Toronto, Canada, following a brief illness, with his beloved wife Tsamla by his side. To those few who did not know him, and more so, his background, this obituary is a homage to a man who dedicated his life in fulfilling the aspirations of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and in the service of the Tibetan people and its Government in Exile.
Born to Pema Goykey and Dekyi Bhuti in Khaka valley in the district of Gyantse in 1937, he escaped to India with His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s entourage in 1959. Right from 1960 onwards, he started serving the exiled Tibetan administration in various capacities, initially as a translator and interpreter at the Tibetan camp in Shimla, as a typing staff at a Tibetan office in New Delhi, as the manager of a photo studio in McLeod Ganj, and later as the director of a branch in the Department of Security, Central Tibetan Administration (CTA).
In October 1977, he was promoted to the position of a staff holding the 7th rank in the CTA. He then went on to serve as the Welfare Officer of Bomdila and Kullu Tibetan settlements, the director of Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (TIPA) in McLeod Ganj, headed both the handicraft centre and the welfare office in Shimla, and was deputy secretary of the Tibetan Refugees Reception Centre in McLeod Ganj. After being promoted to the rank of Joint Secretary in 1992, from 15 November 1993 until his formal retirement on 1 July 1995, he served as the Welfare Officer for the Tibetan communities of both Kalimpong and Darjeeling.
For many of us, a life after retirement is one of not doing much of anything. However, for Ku-gno Wangchuk la, it was different. He actively undertook leadership roles in many activities in his non-official capacities. At the behest of the community members of Dekyiling Tibetan Settlement where he took residence after his retirement, he was instrumental in the erection of the Mani Lhakhang stupa and overseeing the completion of a school for disabled Tibetan Children (Ngon-Ga Lopda) in the Settlement as per the directive of His Holiness and the Department of Health. He also served as the Regional Vice-President and President of the community, consulted and offered advice to Parent-Teacher Council and was called on to judge on various school performances and activities. He was also requested to visit various Tibetan settlements and communities in India to educate the public on Central Tibetan Administration’s Middle-Way approach in resolving the issue of Tibet. He moved to Canada in January 2009 with his beloved wife Tsamla.
Ku-ngo Wangchuk La was a man with varied interests. He loved songs, especially Tibetan songs. A song he composed and sang in the 70s called “Phayul Drenlu” went on to become a hit among Tibetans after it was broadcast live on All India Radio. At community gatherings in Toronto, he was a frequent guest singer, bringing back old melancholic Tibetan songs that brought instant nostalgia. He always preferred sweet milk tea over “Bhoe-Jha”. He loved life and was jovial and active till the last days of his life. More importantly, he had unflinching faith in the goodness of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and loved his country so dearly. It is perhaps because of his lifelong dedication and service to His Holiness and the people of Tibet that he passed away so peacefully and painlessly, even though he was besieged by an illness that is known to cause much pain. In him, we have lost a true son of Tibet.
Ku-ngo la is dearly missed by his beloved wife Tsamla and family.
OM MANI PADME HUNG!