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Tibet’s bread-and-freedom poets

Monday 12 August 2013, by TW

Pa Topgyal is 79 years old. While speaking to his elder daughter on the phone he wails like a three-year-old boy. She is in the US, an illegal Tibetan without papers. He is a refugee living in India for over 50 years. She is 38. They haven’t met for 17 years. If numbers alone represent sorrows, it’s a hundred and eighty four years of pain and dislocation, longing and desire, grief and resignation, promises and disappointment, hope and surrender. Despite five decades of selling sweaters in the plains of India, Pa’s Hindi is rudimentary and the number of words he knows in English is less than the fingers on his hands. He is an old man, his mind full but voice restricted. Tsundue gives voice to Pa’s desperation:

I am tired/ I am tired selling sweaters on the roadside,/ 40 years of sitting in dust and spit.

Tenzin Yarphel is a twenty-year-old college-going guy. His mother is 40. She was born somewhere between Manali and Spiti. His fater is 47 and was born in the year Tibet lost her independence. If numbers alone can be confusion, it’s a hundred and seven years of chaos and turmoil, romantic illusion and harsh reality, an idea of home and a sense of not belonging, and an everyday struggle to assert identity. Yarphel is educated, upright, and humble – perhaps a little too humble. At times, his humility is bombarded by a salvo of questions about who he is and where he’s from. He is lost between a strong desire to answer and not knowing quite how.

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