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
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
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 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.
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
The water’s serenading sound
As if the youthful song of Gandharva
The divine music of Brahma
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
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
Water from the snow, rocks, slates and woods
Water from the mountains, valleys, ravines
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.
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
How could one whet the sword of language?
How could one sharpen the knife of arts?
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!
In the glittering ripples of your endless waves
And the splashing of your crystal droplets
The strength and resilience of the new generation of the Land of the Snow
With your ceaseless flow
And your rumbling pulse
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!
The waterfall that springs forth from the voices of the youth of the land of Snow!
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.
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.