His teeth started to chatter and despite himself his body was shivering uncontrollably. The tiny hairs on his body were standing upright and his skin felt cold. He had to be silent else the noise would give him away and he knew they were looking for him. To have stayed behind would have meant imprisonment and torture and forced denunciation of his ideals. This was not something new; his friend had been caught and convicted for writing a poem in his native dialect. The charges laid were of “inciting secession” and he was deprived of his political rights for five years. Some considered him lucky as his family at least knew his whereabouts, the Xichuan labour camp, instead of an unknown fate.
Then some years ago he heard about 'Lhakar'. It was a strange choice of word for a protest movement. It didn't mean 'freedom' or 'activism' or any other 'ism'. It just stood for a day of the week - the ‘White Wednesday’ - a reference to the Dalai Lama’s soul day. It's a day where special prayers are offered for his Holiness's long life. They would use this day now to assert their cultural identity. It would be a day for making a political statement by wearing traditional clothes, speaking in the Tibetan language, eating in Tibetan restaurants, reciting Tibetan prayers and buying from Tibetan-owned businesses. This was their way of saying that while you may own our lands, you do not own our souls. Our language will not die, our customs not stale and our will not enslaved.
This was his day of expression and he wrote as if possessed by the spirit of the epic king Gesar who fought against the enemies of dharma. Gesar who rode his miraculous steed Kyang Go Karkar, and waged military campaigns, together with 30 companions, against the frontier countries that represent evil. He never took the country's name because it was abundantly clear which evil empire existed in his world. His readers awaited the little leaflets churned out in his clandestine press. He printed text from the Bardo Thodol for his readers. The Tibetan Book of the Dead is not about death as such. Thodol means "liberation through understanding." Bardo means a "between state," an interval or transition between two mental states, whether experienced in life or after death. Or as he pointed out in his essay, a state between freedom and oppression.
When he found out from his contacts that he had been handed a sixteen year prison sentence for “inciting separatism” and “subversion of state power” he invoked the ancient warrior spirits known as drabla (dgra-lha). From them he gathered up courage to escape and carry on the fight from exile.
So it was that he found himself on a bus from Lhasa to Shegatse, a total of thirty people travelling together. From Shegatse the group was joined by four guides who would take them on a trek to freedom. They started walking at night and the trek would twelve days before they reached the border. Human greed knows no race or creed and after eight days of walking the guides left them and disappeared. With no guides to take them further the group was further divided in three groups of ten people each. Each group was to follow a different path in its quest for freedom. There was a family of five seeking a better life, four monks fuelled by search for spirituality and him. The youngest child fell ill and the family decided to turn back. It was him and the monks. They encountered a group of nomads who gave them directions. They had to cross two big lakes before they came to the Snow Mountains.
It was late in the evening when the snipers ambushed them. He saw the young monk who was leading them fall to his feet. He saw the blood red colour seeping from the forehead of the young man and gradually spread on the white snow. He turned and ran as the gunshots echoed in the mountains. There was a narrow crack in the mountainside, not a cave but just a little space to seek shelter. There was a snow covered rock in front of the crack, just big enough to obscure its view. He huddled behind a rock and waited.
There he was now three hours later. The bright moon hanging high in the sky over the mountain gave enough light to see around him. But he knew now what he had to do. He reached inside his rucksack and bought out a diary and a pen. He opened it and with trembling hands started to write.
"Writing, to me, is a way of keeping my culture alive. Growing up the first thing we learn about our culture is that it faces a threat like no other. Tibetan culture is like a fragile flower: beautiful to look at but incapable of defending itself. With my words I seek ways to nourish it. Writing gives me a voice to reach people that I would never meet. It is the life breath of our people. It is the 'prajna', the wisdom of the heart that sustains our life."
And the pen slipped out of his fingers as he slid down on the snow covered ground.
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