Ode to a Blade of Grass

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If I could live like you

Quietly

Amidst the roar of the forest

Perhaps I wouldn’t live in my dreams

My words won’t falter so much

And my mind will not be plagued

By insidious thoughts

Gripping pain

Searching

Yearning

And nothing is ever good enough.

 

If I could let the dewdrop slide

Just like you

In complete equilibrium

My prayers will be spontaneous

My breath softer

Perhaps my soles won’t feel the sharpness of the trail

And no matter what happens

I’ll walk on

Amidst criticism

Against rejection

For there is always rain.

 

If I could be as unsullied

As truthful and grounded as you

I may see that the soil from which you spring

Is the very depth of universe

Inseparable

Relentless

Hurling a branch of a very old poem

That winter wind once carried

But here it returns

Falling right next to me

As if it never left.

 

If I could remain with you until the mist disappear

To catch a glimpse of Mila in repose

Touch his outstretched arms

And his single white cloth covering the ground

I can embrace

This mirage

This phantom journey

With its aimless wanderings and countless days

Spent in odd pursuits

Amongst which is an incomplete ode

To a lithesome blade of grass.

 

Entangling Rangdrol

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If you are wondering “Entangling Rangdrol” is my deliberate attempt at ironic juxtaposition…

After my last reading of Dhondup Gyal’s poem, I received several requests in my inbox from readers and friends to re-upload the video with Tibetan subtitles. Originally, I had decided against subtitles because I wanted the reader (rather the listener) to engage in active listening but on second thought here is the revised video with flashing Tibetan subtitles.

The English translation is courtesy of Tsering D. Gonkatsang, University of Oxford with some poetic brushes by yours truly.

The Torrent of Youth

The clear blue sky
The gentle warmth of sunlight
The vast expansive earth
The beautiful fragrant flowers
The high majestic mountains…

Ah!
Even more delightful to behold
Is the cascading waterfall
Coursing its way through a sheer cliff!

Look!
The pristine droplets, pure white
Shimmer as if a peacock’s feather
A parrot’s plumage
A pattern on silk brocade
Indra’s bow

Listen!
The water’s serenading sound
As if the youthful song of Gandharva
The divine music of Brahma
Saraswati’s voice
A cuckoo-like tune

Pray!
This is no ordinary waterfall
It possesses a magnificent presence
A heart without fear
An indomitable courage
A majestic form
Bejewelled in finest ornaments
An enchanted melody…

This!
Is the waterfall of youth of the Land of Snow.

This!
The Twentieth Century
Tibetan Youth of the 80’s
Their courage and innovation
Their solemn struggle
Their youthful refrain

Pray!
O Youthful Torrent
Torrent of Youth!
From where did you acquire -
Such fearless heart
Unwavering pride
And boundless strength?

Yes!
The rain that falls in the three months of spring
The streams that sprout in the three months of summer
The nectar of frost and hail in the three months of autumn
The ambrosia of ice and snow in the three months of winter

And more!
Water from the snow, rocks, slates and woods
Water from the mountains, valleys, ravines

In short!
Water of auspiciousness
Water of virtue and prosperity
Water of fulfilment
Water imbued with eight purities
Water adorned with the three perfections.

One hundred and eight different rivulets
And tens and thousands of tributaries
You! The unifying water of friendship
You dare to step off the precarious cliff
You! The wish fulfilling water
You dare to leap into the steep gorge
Amassing fresh new waters along the way.

Your mind wide and open, your form inspires awe
Untouched by vanity, undefiled by arrogance
Your course runs deep
Imbued with a power to cast aside impurities
Unblemished body and mind
Your youthful beauty continues to flourish.

O Waterfall!
You are witness to history
Guide of the future-
Carved on each pristine droplet of yours
The rise and fall of the Land of Snow
Shining on every glistening droplet
The destined growth of the Land of Snow

Without you
How could one whet the sword of language?
Without you
How could one sharpen the knife of arts?
Without you
The tree of healing sciences cannot bloom
Nor can the fruit of Buddhist Philosophy and Logic ever bear fruit.

Perhaps
Even in your crystal mind there still linger
Wounds of history
Chronic scars of old battles
Lesions of ignorance
Dregs of conservatism…
Yet how can they persist?

Because
Your youthful strength and innate wit
Will never let the biting cold of the three wintery months
Numb your mind in its icy fold
And even the hundred sharp cuts of a storm
Can never hurt or halt your flow.

The reason is
The source of your water lies in the snowy peaks
And your tail is merged in the ocean’s depth
The long history of your unabated flow
Gives us pride and honour
The melodious chime of your flow with time
Lends us inspiration and power

Can you hear, O Waterfall?
These questions from the youth of the Land of Snow
Can you hear?
How can you let the supreme steed of Poetry suffer thirst?
How can you let the elephant of Rhetoric suffer heat?
How can you let the lion of etymology get drunk with conceit?
How can you let the child of Dramatics get orphaned?
Who will inherit Astrology’s legacy?
How shall we welcome the youthful groom of science?
Who shall be our groom for the bride of Technology?

Very well! O Waterfall!
The answers sent by your clear and harmonious melody
Are forever etched in our heart as if carved on stone.

Truly
A thousand brilliant accomplishments of the past
Cannot replace the present
Yesterday’s salty water cannot quench today’s thirst.
History’s shrivelled body is lifeless
If bereft of today’s soul
The pulse of progress cannot beat its rhythm
The blood of evolving spirit cannot flow
And a forward step is even less likely!

O Waterfall!
In the glittering ripples of your endless waves
And the splashing of your crystal droplets

You are
The strength and resilience of the new generation of the Land of the Snow
With your ceaseless flow
And your rumbling pulse

You are
The inspiration of the new generation of the Land of Snow!
Conservatism, cowardice, superstition and sloth
Our generation has no place for them
Backwardness, barbarity, darkness and reactionary ideas
Our times can never shelter them.

Waterfall, O Waterfall!
Our hearts and minds in pace with your gait
Our blood circle in rhythm with your flow

The future ahead
May hold more twists and turns
But the youth of Tibet without a trace of fear
Indeed will surge forward to open new paths for our race

Look!
The masses striding in unison
They! The new generation of the Land of Snow
Listen!
The harmonious music
The marching footsteps of the youth of Land of Snow!

A propitious highway
A glorious responsibility
A joyous life
Songs of struggle!

The waterfall’s youth shall never fade
The torrent of youth shall never dissipate!

This is
The waterfall that springs forth from the voices of the youth of the land of Snow!
This is
The waterfall that flows within the hearts of the youth of the land of Snow!
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Dhondup Gyal (1953-1985), widely referred to as ‘the Father of modern Tibetan literature’. He wrote under the penname of “Rang-drol”, meaning self-liberated. This ground-breaking poem “Torrent of Youth” (lang-tsho’i rbab-chu) penned in 1983 caused a sensation when it was published, both for its radical literary innovation and bold nationalistic sentiments.

“Muchness” and a reading of Dhondup Gyal’s Waterfall of Youth

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It has been several months since the onset of ‘acute career angst’; the roots of which I can trace back to decisions made years ago in a daze of moral righteousness and the appeal of job security. However in time my buried dreams gathered steam, percolated and gained its momentum to form a life of their own, whistling in my head and refusing to just die or let me delude myself that I am indeed fulfilled. I am now no longer in self-denial and my feelings are a vortex of excitement, fear and anxiety punctured by heavy deliberations. As I write, it has also dawned on me that this acute state of being is not necessarily bad for the psyche since it is often from turbulence, chaos, that new life and insight emerges. At least that is the Freudian hope. Psychoanalysis apart, I am reminded of a similar phase years ago…it was shortly after that I decided to leave Tibet, which was without a doubt a major life changing decision for me.

The disquiet and inner conflict I experienced in the past months and my decision to search for the “muchness” I have lost (a la Lewis Carroll) made me venture further into the rabbit hole. I wonder how many Tibetans go through similar ‘upheaval’ and have serious second thoughts about their life and vocation. Furthermore are such realizations powerful enough for them to break through years of utilitarian conditioning? It must be difficult for anyone and maybe particularly tough for those who are in careers that are viewed as rewarding and of tangible value to society.

My (overly simplified) theory is, when we became refugees the unpredictability of our fate may have caused us to place emphasis on communal goodwill and unity at the cost of individual choice and freedom. Poverty and survival were great motivators to rebuild our society but it also may have meant that realism had a more important place than idealism hence dreams were measured not by their height but by their down to earth weight for the community. You and I are products of such endeavors raised to be well meaning, within-the –bell-curve Tibetan, who are by and large tailored to be future teachers, nurses and civil servants for the new society. There may have been a few anomalies amongst us but quite frankly they are the rare outliers. For the majority, the scale of our thoughts and ambition even at its peak seldom cross the national geographic boundary. Of course it is all very understandable and even essential given the context of the time. One may even argue that those who traveled the prescribed path may have led happy lives and that though it may be political propaganda, idealism is inseparable from the notion that we are fighting for the six million Tibetans and are the ‘true’ representation and voice for the voiceless.

But what happens when you leave that cocoon and your worldview shifts as it is bound to with time when you move further and further away from history? What happens when you become aware of possibilities but paralyzed by the sheer magnitude of choices previously unknown? For it is only the naïve and the inexperienced who think options make life easier. This post is for those who have made compromises and have been restless ever since. It is for those who more often think of what they could be doing instead of what they do no matter how meaningful it may seem. At whatever stage you are in this cycle of self-realization, I wish you resolution and freedom. Resolution and freedom to undo what may have been planted within you with the best of intentions but has since become a weed festering on your happiness and development.

Continuing on with my theme to break through conservatism, here is my reading of Dhondup Gyal’s popular poem Waterfall of Youth. The poet’s message to Tibetan youth, his vision of the future and possibilities is apt considering the post.  My other agenda in doing so is to promote poetry as an alternative for those who can’t sing if they life depended on it. Often when we gather as a community or as a group we sing Tibetan songs and perform dances but popular poetry/prose recitation doesn’t happen as much. This video is to plant that seed… perhaps at the next gathering you can opt to recite a stanza of Tibetan Poetry

Spoiler Alert and an Auditory Warning:

My central Tibetan accent may not capture Gyal’s Amdo aesthetics but it would be defeatist not to try. Wouldn’t it?

Sunya

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In the back lane outside the locked door sits the cold damp air with a mutinous group

Souls washed away by the white sea, souls who perished when God came to town

What remains are some tiny eagle feathers and they make the city beautiful cry

She in turn hides her sorrow and each night sleeps with ten thousand cars.

 

Traveling in a time machine the union of ill matched headbands stray

At the holographic edge of methamphetamine and crack

Tick Tock t-i-c-k- t-o-c-k kept calling the deep end

But unheard screams and sudden paranoia nudge them further in the sand.

 

Another amongst them is gone… another one with a toothless smile

who searched for nylon socks, love and alternative philosophy

Leaving me stories of rats that tied her when mama went to work

And bed bugs saw her die on torn sheets.

 

Through all that time healing lived in an oblivious world

Offering occasional silicone to mask the broken doll

Axis 1, 2, 3, 4, what is the point now? I see her unhinged, pupils dilated

Saying over and over again a life guru once told me it’s only sunya at the end.

Anything but a “Happy” New Year Post

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It has been a while not because I haven’t been writing per se. If you ask me, I attempted three half poems which subsequently got couriered to E-trash because I couldn’t stand them. In between I was struggling to see what Dolma (can’t get more cliché as Tibetan names go) will do as she becomes an outcast in her community in the second half of my story. I tell you the “short” story is growing up and becoming a messy, rebellious teenager…I am fighting to contain it but so far it hasn’t stopped sprouting its shoots. Sometimes I think it’s not bad at all but other times I just don’t want to touch it because it seems THAT pathetic. Driven by utter hopelessness (I can be quite melodramatic) I hung onto what I do best; work and read.

One of my friends selected Compassion Fatigue and Countertransference: Two Different Concepts as the topic of discussion for our next work-related journal meeting. The article argues that compassion fatigue and countertransference (amongst therapists) are two distinct concepts. But what spurred this post is a discussion within the article on ‘enactment’, which formed part of the authors’ conceptual framework. I quote “Enactments occur when the therapist is induced into reenacting a part of the client’s internal world, perhaps forged in early traumatic experiences” (Berzoff & Kita, 2010). The idea is that enactment as a therapeutic tool assists the client’s mental processes and strength to revisit a past trauma in a safe environment thereby making it less traumatic over time. The post below revisits a political event, which I have alluded to from time to time in a self-righteous, patriotic sort of way, but today I want to write about it from another angle with the hope that one day I can get some closure.

I am talking about the time when the Chinese government instructed all their Tibetan employees to bring their children back from India. We were that group. After years spent in exile schools with heavy discipline and an austere, non-family life we had returned home to Tibet where doting parents over-compensated for their years of absence combined with the guilt of having torn us away from completing our education.

Not surprisingly the overwhelming majority of us ended up becoming English tour guides. The lucrative and carefree life of a tour guide at the time meant that frequent travel, fancy clothes, good food, rides and night clubs which were previously beyond our grasp was well within reach and soon we were lost to a different life. We were teenagers and young adults thrown in a fast environment, moving from town to town with a job that ensured we always had plenty of cash. For us there was no sense of balance and only few were wise enough to know this was not going to last.

Starting in the late 90’s, the political backlash against tour guides was in full force leading to the development of black list (Hei Ming Dan) which primarily consists of names of those who have been schooled outside of Tibet. Those in the black list were banned from working and as a result many became jobless. In an attempt to survive, we created new resumes that did not include any educational experiences in India. I remember my resume stated that I was a middle school drop out who learnt English at the Ghangshon Evening School. When I was called for an interview at the Tourism Bureau, I had to dumb it down and pretend that I couldn’t understand some of the basic questions that were asked in English in order to ensure that my resume reflected my short years of education. But these farcical tactics didn’t last long and our covers were blown in no time.

Around that period NGOs also began to see a surge in applications from former tour guides for translation and interpretation work. Unfortunately their hands were tied since the recruitment process involved sending resumes of potential employees to the Public Security Bureau for their approval and for them we were a political liability. Moreover the trend had started towards hiring people that could write and speak Mandarin fluently so that organizations can build better relationships with the local government bureaus. Hence, invariably we got rejected.

As the situation deteriorated the implications on our personal lives were tragic. Friends informed against each other to secure favor with the Tourism and Public Security Bureaus. If anyone within our group was still employed we suspected they had done something political to retain their job. Families advised against hanging out with the very people with whom you share similar childhood memories and background. The dust of family unification had settled and looking at our lives anew parents saw us for what misfits we were and openly regretted their decision to sent us to India. We spent our days aimlessly on the street and in the tea stalls with fellow unemployed. Many turned towards excessive drinking, frequent brawls and suffered further blows to self-esteem as marriages failed and became the talk of town. People wondered how we who had “received the Dalai Lama’s blessing” could be so unsettled and blamed us for dishonoring his name while party loyalists saw it as validation that children turn out better if raised and educated in Tibet/China. We were social failures.

What made it worse was that we internalized the views held against us and openly projected our perceived deficits onto each other. We felt it was better to dress like the locals, hang out with those who have been educated inside Tibet or China (better still were cadres), adopt their mannerisms, imitate their speech and learn Mandarin really fast. We secretly derided those who came after us from India…their speech, their accent, their lack of manners and showed little empathy for their integration and acculturation process. I was struck by the irony of it all when I visited India and found similar prejudices against the newly arrived Tibetans from Tibet. The difference was that no matter what the locals’ personal views, politically the ones from Tibet had the institutional support whereas for us there was no place in the system. Nowhere to turn to we were perfect victims for the police. Our “foreign” backgrounds are tarnished enough to be always a political suspect but unlike the monks and the nuns the police don’t have to worry about angering local sentiments since we are not that popular. Anytime there was a slight hint of unrest we were the first to be rounded up, questioned, finger printed, intimidated and detained. With the political upheaval since the 2008 demonstrations and ongoing self-immolations, I am sure their lives must be a nightmare.