Memories are terribly fascinating. They make you concoct, resist and
then embrace them in a whole new light. Well listen to this… the
other day when I was perusing Facebook and chatting with a friend, all of a sudden I had this abrupt shift in consciousness. I am teleported back to a moment in my childhood where I am sitting cross-legged on the wooden floor of the great Dekyi Tsering hall. I see myself; an awkward skinny little girl wearing a faded blue and white checked shirt, my hair flopping unattractively over my eyes, fast in conversation with a fellow in front of me.

It was a conversation about ‘that person’ on the upholstered board directly in front of us who neither of us had ever seen or known but nonetheless we talked about him. I can barely recall the name now…Choeyang? Choeying? Let me call him Mr. C.
Anyway, his name was on the board for he topped the class during the final year of high school and theirs happened to be the first ever group of  graduates from our school. I have no idea where my source got his information from but rumour had it (so I was told) that Mr. C set out to become a chartered accountant. Apparently it was such a difficult thing to study that he still hadn’t graduated and/or he had failed multiple times. This is where my older head is playing tricks and I can now no longer recall whether the former or the latter is true of  our conversation. Here I sympathize with critics of blocked memories questioning its ‘authentic’ existence. Now forgive this deviance, let me get back on track.

What happened to Mr. C? Was it true that he wanted to become a CA? Was it true that he failed? Or was he the first ever T.C.V. graduate CA ? I hope for his sake that he succeeded if that was what he wanted to become. What I do recall is that often when I was in the hall I would look at Mr. C and wonder…Where was Mr. C? What was he really doing? Was he miserable studying accounting? Would he ever come back to the community?

Over endless prayer sessions and “resource person talks”, my imagination would spin tales. Mr. C deep in study, hunched over a mammoth textbook next to a candle occasionally nodding his head at a formula. Mr. C the rebel, burning his books (this was definitely a Hemingway phase). Mr. C the hippie with some young Israelis smoking pot and lazing under the Bhagsunath sun. Mr. C with a slight belly, a functional alcoholic with wife and average kids lost in the maze of India’s urban jungle. It wasn’t an obsession but it wasn’t just a passing fancy either. There was something about Mr. C and the unknown.

Perhaps Mr. C knocked my door again for I am at a crossroad. Is he a warning or a blessing? I don’t think one can ever tell for each of us are motivated by different things and our interpretation of success and failure varies. What I (grudgingly) reflect is that I will not ever fully understand his path even if I may persuade myself that I share some of his trepidation. 

Mr. C the Accountant

Ode to a Blade of Grass




If I could live like you


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



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



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


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…

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

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

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

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…

Is the waterfall of youth of the Land of Snow.

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

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

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.

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?

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.

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

The masses striding in unison
They! The new generation of the Land of Snow
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!

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


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?



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.