Written by MK Kathmandu Host
The venue of our gathering was at SIT Study Abroad Nepal: Tibetan and Himalayan people, which surprised most of us since it was a lovely location still in touch with nature and old Himalayan architecture styles, smack in the middle of bustling Boudha in Kathmandu.
Our Khabda started with conversations and introductions, which was followed by a brief overlook on Pekar’s works and the reading that described her journey so far. While in the process of the brief introduction on her struggles of fitting in the society in Dharamshala after coming from Tibet, we were all able to relate on some level of the inclusions and exclusions that take place within the Tibetan society in exile. This opened a really long and complicated discussion on Tibetan identity. An important point made that was highlighted in the discussion was the derogatory name that is used even today in exile societies to call Tibetans coming from Tibet. Used with the intention of making them feel unwelcomed, and different. Not realizing that when one leaves Tibet due to desperate measures, in search for a better life, hope and a new home. They are very vulnerable. Many leave families behind, and journey alone with no one to rely on and no one to console them in a country they have never set foot on until now. Although maybe there are good facilities and systems now to help them re-settle, a lot of times in such programs we do not discuss about their mental health. In the case of Pekar’s story, we can see how society can make a person who is confident come to a breaking point, the conversation on mental health, depression and such related topics even today are hardly talked about in the society. It was sad to see the society hound Pekar and call her a ‘madwoman’ instead of supporting her and encouraging her in her fragile state of mind. There are so many things we need to improve on, I know there is no perfect society but there needs to be progress in the right direction. We as a society need to discuss such issues, learn from them and evolve our mindsets, to see how we can practice more of the compassion we always talk about in our day to day lives.
The heavy discussion on the inclusion and exclusion in terms on Tibetan Identity, we talked more in depth about being comfortable with being Tibetan, as much as Nepali, or Indian, or American or German, etc... Not criticizing each other but accepting and respecting every individual's journey, and giving them a supportive environment or space to explore it. One interesting personal experience someone shared with us was about how difficult it is to travel with an RC or the Tibetan Refugee identity, the person is young but with the identification he had, travelling was hard and many times personally very uncomfortable in terms of how he was received or treated by officials at checkpoints. He recently got a Nepali passport, and he described this feeling of being empowered, to be able to go anywhere, to be able to ride a plane, to be able to just travel. This did not change how he felt, he did not become less of a Tibetan. The idea being that we decide who we are and take the steps to empowering ourselves.
Then came a really interesting discussion on how many cultures in Nepal, identify themselves as Nepali but speak Tibetan. We had a lovely person share her experience openly about her mixed heritage, she being Gurung and Tibetan. Feeling very comfortable in both, but many a times there is quite a big population that maybe speaking in Tibetan, but feel Nepali, like the Mustangs, Gurungs, Dolpo, etc… and why so. This maybe an interesting discussion in the future to have as well. But, in many ways even within the people who very much identify themselves as Tibetan we do need to acknowledge that we too have our comfort zones. Like Tibetans who went to TCV, or who went abroad, Europe or USA, or Nepal, within that being U-tsang, or Kham or Amdo and speaking in that dialect or a regional dialect. All of it, we do have these different experiences but what unites us is being Tibetan, feeling Tibetan, identifying as one. But we do not give that space or are exclusive many times about the space we give when we are a certain kind of majority to the minority. Something to think about in general.
In the end, we went back to Pekar’s experience and words from Fading Dreams that really stood out to many of us:
How beautifully expressed are the words of Pekar, it was brought up how Buddhism played an important role in her experience to becoming who she is. The idea of practicing Buddhism in order to find peace and liberation is something to rethink and look more deeply into. Every journey is different, but in Pekar’s maybe practising buddhism and compassion in a society that traumatized her resulted possibly in her breaking down. Practicing Buddhism has brought many to the point of breaking down, it isn't all peace but an inner battle. How do you practice compassion in an environment so negative. While doing so, we many a times neglect being compassionate to ourselves, we don't take care of ourselves. Maybe that was her journey to her liberation. Being compassionate, is deeper than we think and many times it breaks us apart, so we can rebuild ourselves. Just like a white lotus that grows out of the muddy water. Today Pekar, is an inspiration to so many women out there, We personally draw so much strength from her work. We find parts of ourselves scattered in her artwork, in the story she tells and it gives us courage to be true to ourselves. It is time women are appreciated for their work and their contribution to society, for women to explore their potential, for women to be equal to their male counterparts and for women to have safe spaces within the Tibetan society.
Also, at the end we must acknowledge and respect the people who supported her and helped give her the environment to build herself up. We need more spaces like Amnye Machen Institute and people like Gyen Tashi Tsering, Jamyang Norbu, Lhasang Tsering and Pema Bhum. They provided a safe space to many and are a great role model on what kind of spaces we need to create and the mindset we need to incorporate in our society today.