July 06, 2006

Tibet from the 14th floor

Several years ago, a young man climbed the scaffolding on the Oberoi hotel in Nariman Point, made his way up to the 14th floor and unfurled a banner and a flag. This was no Spiderman, but a small-made, articulate, passionate fellow. The banner he unfolded up on the hotel read, in letters large enough to be seen on a thousand front pages, "Free Tibet".

Let me say that loudly: FREE TIBET.

Why did Tenzin Tsundue -- that's his name, this passionate fellow -- do this, and why at the Oberoi? Because the Chinese premier, Zhu Rongji, was in town. He and his entourage were guests at the hotel. "In no time," Tenzin told MidDay, "every window on the entire floor had a Chinese face looking at me. I was proud to show them the Tibetan flag. That one moment was worth it all."

Some of Bombay's finest eventually dragged Tenzin off the scaffolding and into custody. But Tenzin had made his point. He had reminded the Chinese premier, his entourage, and those Indians who cared to notice, that Tibet will not be swept under some bland Chinese carpet, forgotten forever.

Yet what drives a man to take a risk like that to make a point like this? After all, the most familiar response to mention of Tibet, or to incidents like this one, is indifference and a certain scorn. Far easier, you see, to disparage commitment like that than try to come to grips with the cause it represents. As Tenzin himself wrote in MidDay: "We know we are fighting a losing battle, with the world having given up on us." (Note that that didn't stop him from his climb).

Why should the world have given up on people like Tenzin? Why should India?

Well, partly because of a breed that likes to call themselves hawks. You know, those fellows who mouth profundities such as "jis ki lathi, us ki bhains" ("he who has the stick owns the buffalo"; or, as MS Golwalkar once told us, "a not-so-graphic translation into English would be, 'might is right'"). Apparently the rest of us should nod our heads at such ditties, recognizing that they capture the essence of that thing called "realpolitik" that drives the working of the world. China has taken over Tibet, it has now built a spectacular railroad in there, it is a powerful country, so why waste time considering the plight of a few hundred thousand Tibetans?

And yet, for all their knowledge of how the world works, the hawks forget the innumerable lessons of history, of a thousand struggles for freedom and justice. Of our own Indian struggle for freedom, the battle that defined us as a nation.

After all, the British definitely owned all the lathis. Where would we be today if the hawks had surveyed the scene, announced that might was right, and convinced such Indian heroes as Azad, Lala Lajpatrai, Bhagat Singh and Tilak -- not forgetting Patel, Gandhi and Nehru -- to give up the fight? To give up because what they were doing was, given the ownership of the lathis, futile?

Luckily, they didn't. Despite the lathis, India won freedom.

And that's why I admire people who climb scaffolding.

It is convenient these days for us Indians to deal with China, open passes for trade, welcome its assorted leaders when they visit, admire its progress and development. And hey, they recognize our accession of Sikkim, we recognize theirs of Tibet, simple. Realpolitik all over again, quid pro something or the other. Besides, we are desperate to emulate China's progress -- seen the "10 Wonders of the New China" message that's making the rounds? -- so we prefer to gaze at that, whatever it is. Tibet? What's that?

Only, the world really doesn't work that way. So again, that's why I admire guys who climb scaffolding and unfurl banners.

Say it with him today, World Tibet Day:



wise donkey said...

If instead of risking his life, he had killed few lives or thrown a grenade, he and the issue would have got more interest..
pointless to condemn terrorism, when we dont pay attention to peaceful protests..

Aqua said...

What a wonderful post Dilip. Kudos on that! Yes, the issue to Tibet cannot be swept under a bland Chinese carpet. I am proud of Tenzin Tsundue...who is one of the few vocal tibetan freedom fighters.

As for Wise donkey,...India won Independence through peaceful non violent means. Non-violence is what Tibet's leader the Dalai Lama stands for,...and we believe that truth will find a way someday! That's called hope!

milieu said...

As outsiders, we should certainly support the freedom of any people, wether they are Tibetans or any one else. But ultimately the Tibetans have to win this for themselves.
But we should certainly give them our support as much as we can.

Aqua said...

@ Tejal: yes, as you put it so well "there IS a role for every one to play in the struggle for freedom". my post was in direct response to wise donkey's comment. Throwing a grenade, or killing a few innocent civilian lives will surely get attention and interest...but then,...what will separate the Tibetan freedom fighters from rabid terrorists. Have the terrorists managed to achieve their cause? (apart from earning a special place in hell for themselves).

kuffir said...

free tibet.

km said...

Free Tibet NOW.

And thanks also to Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys for raising Americans' awareness about the Free Tibet movement.

Aqua said...

@ Nobody: I am apalled at your dismissing the Tibetan struggle for Freedom as a "problem between China & Tibet". No my dear fellow, we are not swayed by speeches of leaders,...we are swayed indeed...but by the longing and desire to return to our own country...the country of our ancestors...we are swayed by the intense desire to see our country free...to see the flag of Tibet flying high with those of other free liberated nations, we are swayed by the tears and sorrow of our grandparents who dreamt of going back to Tibet till they breathed their last in exile.
"How many chinese people want to torture tibetians or put them in exile?" you ask. Ask the 140,000 + Tibetan exiles living in India...Ask me...my paternal grandfather was put in prison in 1959, when Tibetans staged an uprising against the Chinese. He was freed about 14 years later...a tall strapping man on 6'2 came out of prison stooping and bent to half his size due to the torture inflicted on him by Chinese soldiers. Ask me...my father was among the first refugees to enter India...leaving his parents and 2 sisters behind in Lhasa.
I don't mind indifference...infact we are used to that. But please don't dismiss our struggle for Independence. That hurts more than indifference!

Aqua said...

Addendum to note to Nobody:
Dear Nobody,
you have a right to write off this struggle only if:
1. your parents and grandparents had to leave all that they owned and their beloved homeland
2. if your entire family has had to cross the himalayan range on foot braving the harsh elements and snow
3. after staying all their lives in cool climes, they had to spend days in a defunct refugee camp in tropical climes
4.if after a lifetime of good middle class prosperous life in their own countyr they had to build roads in an alien country while the government decided what to do with them
If in spite of all this, tibetans are willing to be peaceful and get their rights in a peaceful manner, it is not something to be made fun of or dismissed
Tenzing tsundue on the other has has faced all of the above...
in spite of all this, if he can control himself from hurling a bomb (even a stone hurled from the tower could have been lethal to the chinese premier), he is a true follower of the Dalai Lama and should be revered rather than ridiculed.

Aqua said...

1. While you claim indifference, you contradict it by the very act of commenting here (and quite vociferously at that!).
2. For all those who are not affected in any way, this is a purely voluntary act. you are not bound to help in any way unless you want to. However, discouraging others who feel differently than you is not
3. No one else has fought our battles. If you are under the impression that that is what is required you are mistaken. China calls the Dalai Lama a "separatist"..now you honour us Tibetans by likening us to a LTTE or Jamat-e-islami. Surely we deserve better :)
4. It is not just about land or "geographical independence". It is about people denied the simple right to live their lives in a way they have been accustomed to for generations.
5. It is about a culture that has been uprooted from a land about the size of India and is being kept alive in alien lands.

I would not like to waste any more of my time in this discussion. however my request to you is if you cannot help, please do not hinder the efforts of others who understand these things, and those who genuinely feel for this cause.

The Dalai Lama says that your enemy is your biggest teacher,..for he teaches you tolerance and compassion. Today I can understand what he means and I thank you my friend, for enabling my understanding.

Dilip D'Souza said...

I didn't quite anticipate that there would be this small discussion here, but then again, perhaps I know why Tenzin wrote that "the world has given up on us."

Nobody, you certainly have a right to be "indifferent to Tibet's problems with China." (Aside, I would dearly like to rephrase that to read "Nobody has a right to be indifferent to Tibet's problems with China." End of aside).

I can't argue with that. After all, so many of us have observed that right to indifference so many times: Rwanda, Armenia, the Holocaust, on and on.

In retrospect, after an enormous tragedy has happened, many of us look back and say: "I wish I had not been so indifferent". Or we say: "Never again." That's when we understand the price of our indifference.

Tibet is a chance to tell ourselves: sure I have the right to be indifferent. But I also have the right to throw away that other right and give a damn.

Anonymous said...

I do support act of Tenzin and that we should support Tibet's struggle for freedon.

What I do not understand is where was the need to bring in Golwalkar? Let's for argument say that the hawks (and I don't think they call themselves that but you do) may be responsible partly. But what about the major reasons? Left is in power now. What are they doing about it? They are ruling a state for more than 25 years! what have they done for Tibet? why single out whom you call the 'hawks'?

Dilip D'Souza said...

Bring in Golwalkar? I just offered you a quote from him.

But more seriously, what makes you think "the left" (whoever they are, and assuming with you for the sake of argument that they "are in power now") are not hawks? That I didn't mean them?

The "left" doesn't have much of a leg to stand on, re: China and Tibet.

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