The story of Tibet is one that has ensconced within itself a vastly unknown narrative about the triumph of greed and expansionism over humanity and cultural values. What happened in Tibet in the fifties decade of the last century is something that has beyond doubt affected generations of Tibetans. After their migration from Tibet in the face of the invading PLA, the Tibetan community settled in India and in many countries of the West where they took their Mahayana Buddhism oriented cultures and spread its awareness among different communities of the world. Since then, in India and in all these places where the Tibetan refugees migrated, their growth and development have been varied and multifarious. Some weaker sections of the Tibetan population in exile are living in extreme poverty while other sections have more or less done well in resuscitating their lives in alien lands.
But no matter where they have reestablished themselves, the heart of the Tibetan population has always remained embedded in the vast, unending plains and mountains of the “Land of Snow” as Tibet is known to the Tibetans. Each new generation of Tibetans grows into adulthood and realises how deep the wound runs for their parents, and the pain of losing a homeland is extended further. Mark Stephen Levy’s novel TIbetan Spring talks about this intergenerationality and this mnemonic possession of a homeland now lost to the machine guns of the Chinese. Thousands of monasteries destroyed, nearly a million Tibetans dead either in the violence or in ways that have been created by the violent takeover of Tibet, a complete way of life wiped out, and a deep sense of loss that transcends generations and nations – all of these are themes that occur in literary production about Tibet and Tibetan cultures. In this third book, Levy brings to life in a lucid narrative idiom the intergenerational cultural belonging that still enervates the Tibetan heart in this seemingly never ending exile.
The monsoon season was quickly approaching in Nepal. Rain was a constant. During the breaks of clearing skies, Yangchen and her two younger brothers and sister would meet up with friends outside to play and laugh before the next rain started again. She lived in a modest home with her parents and siblings in a Tibetan refugee village about ten kilometers from Pokhara Nepal. At eight years old, Yangchen was already a born trailblazer. She would always lead her brothers and sister on hikes around the village saying the Tibetan customary greeting, Tashi Delek to the neighbors. And often the neighbors would comment amongst one another how nice and polite those kids were.
Yangchen molded herself after Joan of Arc, the eighteen-year-old French girl born leader and heroine that helped alter the course of French history in the 1400’s. Her grandfather gave her a child’s book version of this story and Yangchen was fascinated by it. Reading that Joan of Arc was put on trial for various charges by the English and found guilty and burned at the stake, horrified Yangchen. She was most inspired by Joan of Arc’s courage.
“I will be a leader just like Joan of Arc,” she boldly told her grandfather. “Except I will not be burned.” It was as if Yangchen formed her life’s mission from this story. She loved her grandfather and even though Yangchen had three siblings, he would privately tell her she was his favorite. It was their secret. He would often tell her of when he and his wife, and Yangchen’s father lived in Tibet and what life was like in Lhasa.
“When you are in Lhasa, in the early morning, listen for the monk’s chants at Drepung and Sera monasteries. The beautiful sound will stay with you for all of your days.”
“It sounds wonderful, Grandfather,” Yangchen dreamily said. “I really want to go.”
“We cannot, my dear Yangchen,” her grandfather responded.
“But why not?”
“Politics and policies, my dear Granddaughter.”
Even though Yangchen and her siblings were Nepalese born and raised, she remained proud and fascinated by her Tibetan ethnicity and roots. She put away her Joan of Arc book and started reading all about Tibet, and its proud but disturbing history. And just like Joan of Arc’s France, Tibet had suffered similar fates. This was not lost in the young and impressionable Yangchen, and these concepts were never far from her mind.
Often, she would ask her grandfather to tell her further stories about Tibet. And the more she heard, the more she wanted to go. Her grandfather told her he was a High Lama and would often meet with other leaders and even the Dalai Lama himself. She was enthralled. He showed her pictures of Lhasa, of the stately Potala Palace and the sacred Jokhang temple.
“They are beautiful,” she exclaimed excitedly. “Do you think I can go when I am older, Grandfather?”
“I surely hope so, Granddaughter Yangchen.” He responded with resignation in his voice.
For Yangchen’s eighteenth birthday that coincided with high school graduation, she was given a shiny new smartphone, equipped with all the communication tools one comes to expect from the device. She immediately opened accounts on all the social medias. She was the last person in her class to have a phone and friended and followed everyone.
She was ecstatic. Yangchen spent all her free time on her phone chatting with her friends, combing through news feeds. She even joined Tibet refugee clubs and chatrooms. It was there she made a surprising discovery: most everyone was like her. The people in these on-line clubs were classified as Tibetan refugees that came from Nepal, Bhutan, Sikkim and Dharmshala, India. This is where she spent much of her time online comparing their parents and grandparent’s stories. She discovered that mostly everyone’s desire and life’s goal was to go to Tibet.
“How can we get there?” Yangchen asked. And every time the answer was the same from everyone. “We can’t.” She was disconsolate. The more she was told no, the more she was determined to somehow go there. Someway.