By Vijay Kranti
In my 48-year long association with His Holiness the Dalai Lama as a journalist and photographer, I’ve met many journalist friends, especially photographers who would confront me with an almost identical sarcastic question, “Don’t you feel sick of shooting the same man again and again?” And they are amused by my almost same answer, “Not at all dear! I find him so new and refreshing every time that many times I feel as if I am shooting him for the first time.”
Yes, I mean it. As a privileged individual who has had innumerable chances of sitting and traveling with him I have discovered that every time I come out of my meeting or shooting session with him I am mesmerized by the charm of his presence as well as his way of looking at life and the world.
One summer day in 1980 I received an electrifying telegram. It was from Rev. Tenzin Geyche, the private secretary to HH the Dalai Lama. I can still reproduce its words, almost verbatim: “I’ve been instructed by His Holiness to inform you that he will be traveling to Ladakh next month. You are welcome to join him as his photographer – Tenzin Geyche.” This was going to be Dalai Lama’s first ever journey to Ladakh. And also one of his rare outings from Dharamshala until then. For me too it turned out to be the best one-month outing of my life as a photographer.
Our association was already eight years old and I could always feel his special kindness towards me. But this invitation reflected far more than just his kindness. It was his personal concern for me which touched me deeply. Now I remembered that two or three years ago during one of my interview audiences with him I had expressed my desire to accompany him during his travel as a photographer. I was moved to see that while I had almost forgotten my request but he remembered it and he had the magnanimity to inform me well in time to prepare for a month long journey.
I joined his entourage in Sri Nagar when he was just getting ready to visit the local Tibetan Muslim community near Hari Parbat. I could feel the skeptic, tense and terse looks on the faces of some local Kashmiri security officers as well as the Liaison Officer from the ministry of external affairs who must have had many good reasons to dislike the presence of a stranger, and that too a media man with a shabby looking camera bag. But the moment Dalai Lama came out of the room and saw me, he not only gave me a big smile and a warm hug but he also quickly showed me around and introduced me to the crowd of officers saying, “Here is my Rangzen friend. His name is Mister Rangzen” (due to my staunch support to the idea of complete freedom for Tibet i.e. ‘Rangzen’, he has given me this name) . That was his subtle way of making me comfortable among the official crowd.
His Holiness rested for a night in the local Circuit House at Kargil before his caravan, comprising of dozens of cars and trucks loaded with sarkari baboos, security staff and food and electric generators for next fortnight in the remote valley of Zanskar 234 km away. He was going to give teachings and ‘Abhishek’ on ‘Avalokiteshwar Chakra’ in Zanskar where nearly a hundred thousand people had arrived from surrounding regions, many of them a week of foot journey away. Avalokiteshwar is the compassion manifestation of Lord Buddha. Incidentally, Dalai Lama himself is considered as the reincarnation of Avalokiteshwar.
Before His Holiness left the Circuit House he gave audience to a jam packed crowd, mostly comprising of local Shia Muslim community and Buddhists from surrounding villages. The road was reasonably good for first 70 km up to Panikhar but quite bad and rough for next 160 km which was to be covered in next two days. It was first time that people in Zanskar valley were going to see electric bulb and taps flowing with water in their thousands years of history. Dr. Farooq Abdullah was the Minister of Tourism of J&K and was appointed as the Chief of Protocol of Dalai Lama’s joruney. Seeing the road condition he got so worried about imported and ‘delicate’ cars of his department that he sent most of them back to Sri Nagar from Panikhar.
Many years later in one of our long sittings for my coffee table book “Dalai Lama – the Nobel Peace Laureate – Speaks”, His Holiness told me his experience of that day in Panikhar. Our subject was ‘happiness’ which, he says is the most common desire of all and can be the best connection between entire human race. “We all want happiness,” he said. “And a good heart is the only source of happiness,” he added. When I asked him, “How to have a good heart,” his response was, “That only you can develop for yourself.” And then he gave out his own secret of happiness. He told me an incidence which happened somewhere near Panikhar.
“After our night stay in Kargil we started next morning for Zanskar. It was quite interesting and beautiful area. In the car I suddenly needed my glasses to read something. And then I discovered that I had left my specs on the side table of my bed and had forgotten to pick up before leaving. It was a very comfortable and a good looking set of glasses which I personally liked. Moreover, it was quite a new one. When I told my attendant about it then we felt that we had already traveled quite a long distance and it was not practical to send someone back to the Circuit House.
“So now, I was unhappy for a moment for losing such a nice thing which was very useful and dear to me. Then I started thinking about it and I found a solution. It struck my mind that I may be unhappy for losing this set of glasses. But it will be a nice thing for the person who comes for cleaning the room and finds it there. It is possible that the number of glasses fits his eyes. Or may be to another family member or a friend. Even if the glasses are not useful for him the frame is beautiful and he can have new suitable lenses for himself. So, now I had found the solution to this problem. I quietly said my prayers and dedicated the specs to the person who finds it. Now it was a different situation. I’ve not lost my glasses but I have gifted it to someone. Now can you see there are two happy persons? One who gifted a beautiful thing and other who received it. So can you see that I am a happy Dalai Lama?”
Yes, a Very Happy Dalai Lama, who makes everyone around him happy!
Happy Birthday Mr. HAPPY DALAI LAMA !!!
(Views expressed are his own)
The author is a veteran Indian journalist and a life-long friend of Tibet.