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Up Close To H.H The Dalailama

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By: Ganesh Saili 

At the release of the book ‘H.H. Dalai Lama’ organised by Roli Books in Rajpur’s Aurbindo Ashram the other day, I found myself face to face with the gentle author Tenzin Geyche Tethong, or TGT (as his friends call him) who was a close aide of H.H. the Dalai Lama for forty years. He has written the story of a man who was forced by circumstances to leave the comforts of home on the Roof of the World, arriving in Mussoorie’s Birla House in Happy Valley, where even today lungtas (Tibetan prayer-flags) flutter in the wind.

‘Their arrangement is not random,’ explains a Tibetan priest. ‘Always in odd numbers, they move from blue, white, red, green to yellow.’

Sixty years later, comes this authentic and intimate biography of the Dalai Lama, with rare and stunning pictures that illustrate a tale well told. To read this book is to enter the fabled world of James Hilton’s Lost Horizon. You will fall in love with the simplicity of this Laughing Buddha.

‘When I first met him in Mussoorie,’ TGT reminisces, ‘I was amazed at the sagacity of one still in his twenties. While most older refugees believed that this was a passing phase, a temporary exile. H.H. knew it was a long haul and from day one, he plunged into the task of settling his unrooted people.’

As his long-time personal secretary, TGT was privy to the Dalai Lama’s difficult relationship with India, with many challenges arising from the host country’s ambivalence to the Tibetan cause. He candidly discusses India’s lacklustre attempts at uplifting his people — denying them official documentation, restricting employment, and crowding refugees in the remote locations, citing its fear of angering China.

TGT adopts a reasoned approach towards the Dalai Lama’s non-violent struggle for Tibetan autonomy. He explores the numerous political difficulties faced by the Tibetan’s cause in the years before its worldwide recognition. This chronicle presents a close first-hand narrative of the Tibetan tale.

‘How come your family’s always been close to the Dalai Lama?’ I ask.

Chuckling he says: ‘May I sum it up in one word? Karma?!’

Another place, another time, I met the Harvard-law graduate Dr. Lobsang Sangey, the Sikyong (President) of the Tibetan government-in-exile. ‘Refugees? We have proved to be ideal refugees!’ he thunders. ‘All a Tibetan refugee has to do is arrive at the doorstep of a wholesale merchant of woollens in Ludhiana and say his name is Pemba, or Tashi or Dorji from the Tibetan settlement and he will get an instant line of credit.’

‘No Tibetan wants to die in debt – it’s their ultimate nightmare.’ Sangey tells me. ‘Even in death, arrangements will always be in place to redeem the debt!’

During the Second World War, Heinreich Harrer, an Austrian who escaped from an internment camp in Dehradun’s Premnagar to arrive in Lhasa, met an eleven-year-old Dalai Lama. He introduced him to the world outside; he helped him rig up a movie projector powered by an old jeep engine and started the only ice-skating rink in Lhasa. These and other tales are told in his best- selling book Seven Years in Tibet.

The Dalai Lama asks Heinreich, why he loves climbing mountains?

Heinreich answers: ‘The absolute simplicity, that’s what I love. When you are climbing your mind is clear, free from all confusions, you have focus and suddenly the light becomes sharper, sounds are richer, and you are filled with deep, powerful presence of life. I’ve only felt that way one other time.’

‘Dalai Lama: When?
‘Heinreich: In your presence.’

After four score and six years, it is his presence that has made all the difference. He has, a bit at a time, worked tirelessly , to take care of his people while helping spread the Dharma to the corners of the earth.

This book is the story of a simple monk, no more, no less.

Does he too sometimes feel homesick for the magical mountains of Tibet? Does he too, after all these years in forced exile, hear the cries of the wild geese and cranes and the beating of their wings as they flap over the Potala on a cold moonlit night? I often wonder.

Ganesh Saili born and home-grown in the hills belongs to those select few whose words are illustrated by their own pictures. Author of two dozen books; some translated into twenty languages, his work has found recognition world-wide.