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Writer and Historian
K. Dhondup (1952–1995)

Monday, May 15, 1995
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In 1979, when the Communist Party of Tibet was founded in exile, I wrote a long essay for the Tibetan Review — a critical study of Communism in general preceeded by a somewhat dismissive analysis of our new political party. Some months later I came across a newsletter published by the Regional Tibetan Youth Congress of Chandigarh in which the chairman of the Communist Party, K. Dhondup, was interviewed. When asked about my attack, Dhondup replied that though he did not agree with what I had written, he welcomed the fact that I was the only person who had come out openly and criticized it in print.

Dhondup-la had a quality that is rare among Tibetans, especially those having anything to do with politics. He had a “large interior” (khogpa chenpo). Even his enthusiasm for Communism, in a society that is near exclusively conservative, reflected this quality of the man, and also his ability to see both sides of a question. Of course, I felt his advocacy of Communism to be wrong (in later years he described his enthusiasm for Communism to being “an error of youth” [1]) but people who do things make mistakes.

I feel that Dhondup-la’s largeness of heart and mind grew out of the many books he had read. He was that rarity among Tibetans, a person who read books. I don’t mean religious texts. He was one of the few Tibetans with whom you could have an intelligent discussion on Western literature, movies, art and Tibetan history. He was himself a writer and historian, having published two works on Tibetan history. A third, on the history of the Imperial age, unfortunately remains incomplete. He was also the editor of the Tibet Journal, the primier academic journal on Tibet. He wrote many articles in the Tibetan Review and, as Review readers will know, countless letters reflecting his genuine concern for the Tibetan cause and people. He was also a poet [2] and edited the first literary journal in exile, Pema Thang (“Lotus Fields”).

Disillusioned with Dharamshala, Dhondup settled in New Delhi and became a successful businessman. But whenever there was something to be done for the Tibetan cause he did not hesitate to come forward. He used his location in Delhi to make many friends with Indian leaders and intellectuals. Last year, when there was a politically instigated riot against Tibetans in Dharamshala, Dhondup-la, though very ill, worked tirelessly, spending his own money unstintingly to bring to Dharamshala eminent Indian academics, jurists and political leaders from Delhi.

Dhondup-la was born in the tenth month of the Tibetan year (1952) in the village of Rupingang in the Upper Dromo Valley. His father, the late Kalsang Dhondup, was popularly known as “Acho Kay”, or Elder Brother Kay. His mother, Kalsang Dolma, was born in 1919–20. The family belonged to one of the four “tso” or clans of Upper Dromo.

As a child Dhondup-la studied at the Central School for Tibetans in Darjeeling, and later received his bachelor’s degree from Saint Joseph’s College, also in Darjeeling. He worked for the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives from 1975 to 1985, and was a member of the Governing Body of the Amnye Machen Institute.

He married Dr. Tsewang Dolkar Khangkar (the daughter of the well known Tibetan physician, Mrs. Lobsang Dolma Khangkar of Dharamshala) in 1977. Their eldest child Tsering Yangchen, born in March 1978, died in the same year. Their second daughter, Sonam Peldon, was born on 26 September 1980. Their third daughter, Dechen Dolma, was born on 31 October 1982.

Dhondup-la died on 7 May 1995 at 6 a.m. at his home in Delhi. He is survived by his mother, wife, daughters, and his sister Yangkee Yatung Angontsang.

Mang-tso (Democracy), 15 May 1995

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Reference notes

1. K. Dhondup, “Mumbo-jumbo in the Tibetan Society” (review of Civilized Shamans by Geoffrey Samuel), Tibetan Review, vol. 29, no. 3, March 1994, pp. 20–21.

2. One evening Dhondup-la asked me what I thought of Robert Graves’ belief in the “White Goddess” as a kind of primordial muse of poetry. I could see that the idea appealed to him hugely. I didn’t tell him that I thought his charming wife being named Dolkar or “White Tara” might have had something to do with his enthusiasm for Graves’ theory.

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