By Tsering Tsomo,
My friend is glowing. I am meeting her after four long years. She is here for the Kalachakra teachings and has come all the way from Lhasa. A plain Jane of timid and bashful nature four years back, she used to be very expressive and vocal about issues like the Dalai Lama, freedom, culture, tradition and religion - the ideal girl any Tibetan guy would take home to mama. Educated in one of the exile Tibetan schools in India, she promptly returned back to Tibet after finishing school. But it gave me raised eyebrows when I found out she has changed: in her appearance, priorities in life, outlook and personality. She yaks for hours about life in Lhasa - love stories, chatting on the net, discotheques, fashion, clothes, cars and all the so called trappings of a good life. The glitz and glamour of the City obviously fascinates her. Not once in our long sessions of ‘monologue’- since she was doing all the talking - did I hear her mouth a single word remotely connected to the Tibet-China issue. ‘Is it amnesia or deliberate?’ I wondered. Yes, my friend is glowing. Glowing with the newfound wealth. Glowing with the smug self-assurance of booming business in Lhasa. Or it could be the powder and the rouge she was wearing. But I couldn’t help thinking “ hey, but the glow has come with a price too expensive”. Today, my friend has changed her priorities. It seems she has accepted things as they are. Maybe she has already swallowed the bitter pill of ‘reality’ –as it appears to her under the Communist regime. But my trusted instinct tells me the Communists cannot suppress the ‘truth’ for long; the ‘reality’ is yet to come and the design to buy the silence of Tibetans inside Tibet with superficial material benefits will very soon prove a cropper.
My friend is also the face of many Tibetan youngsters in Lhasa who are deceptively contented with a life that is made exciting by easy accessibility to discotheques, bars and brothels. I am told Lhasa City is flooded with cheap alcoholic drinks, cigarettes and the ever-increasing number of prostitutes: the surest ingredients for impressionable youngsters to make a mess of their life. A typical day in the life of an average Tibetan youth consists of doing trivial jobs as tour guides, waiters and bar singers (a former classmate sings at a popular bar in Lhasa!) in the weekdays and making those regular visits to discotheques and pubs in the weekend. And they live the so-called ‘life in the fast lane’ to the T. A negligible number of Tibetans boasts of long term career goals and future security. For them, life is as it comes.
Ever since Deng Xiaoping discovered the power of greed, China has relentlessly pursued the acceleration of economic and industrial development; filling the veins of its people and the young Tibetans with greed, making them comfortably numb about things like human rights and independence. For many Tibetan youths in Lhasa, money and material power has taken precedence over everything else. This is exactly what the bosses at Beijing aimed to achieve when they started commercializing and sinocising Lhasa. The much-touted Great Western Development policy comes with similar sinister motives. Brainwashed Tibetans are brought under the delusion of prosperity and wealth under the umbrella of the “Great motherland.” Smothered with seeming economic benefits and deprived of their basic rights, Tibetans inside Tibet are today forced to sell their freedom of expression, political thought and historical rights. Silence provides security, protection, material well being, business opportunities, social acceptance and hassle-free life. Breaking silence is akin to hara-kiri: torture, violence, beatings, illegal detentions, long prison terms, hard labour, social ostracism, sexual abuse and rape.
And as my friend glows, I feel a surge of sympathy and empathy. I imagined myself in her place; complete with those powder and rouge along with that ‘material’ glow on my face; poorly masking my real feelings as a Tibetan; denied of my freedom to express my patriotism for my country and my religious and temporal allegiance to my rightful leader; my voice gagged in my own country where I am made to cherish things ‘communist and alien’. Imagination over, I stood still. I sensed my heart beating faster. Was it ‘fear’? But my face and edges of my ears felt hot and there was uneasiness in my chest. It was anger. The emotions drained me out. But it made me realise the pricelessness and preciousness of my voice as a Tibetan in the free world. I have to shout and make my voice heard. For me, silence is not golden.
Tsering Tsomo can be contacted at email@example.com.