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Our Originality is Dead

Friday, May 14, 2010
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There comes a moment in the life of an exile Tibetan youth when he is seized by the need to express his Tibetanness.

It comes long after he’s suckled at his mother’s breasts, or shed copious tears at having been dropped off at the school gate for his first day in school, or drawn conclusions that nothing in the world were as important as the marbles and bottle caps in his pockets, or stumbled on comic books and felt wings of imagination push themselves through his brain’s shoulder blades, or experienced that first flicker of love at the sight of his seventh-grade crush, or, upon watching his favorite Hindi movie heroine singing semi-naked under the waterfall, felt a pool of hot lava gathering in his lap, in between his legs, leaving him utterly ashamed and helpless.

It happens past that station where motorcycles, or anything that has wheels save rickshaws and auto-rickshaws, become important, girls approachable, comprehensible, obtainable, sometimes, brutal truth be told, even dispensable. Stretched across the horizon of this junction are books, bad books first, decent books next, then good books which he’d earnestly read after many a false start and pretense of having had read them. Perhaps a few unrequited love; a heartbreak or two. Then a sudden realization that the world was in a doldrums, that perhaps the very purpose of his birth might have been to save it from its damnation, its ruins. One is convinced of the originality of his word, which has yet to register on his lips. He is the bearer of the flag around which will unite a people who are currently bereft of that word, those words. His words.

Tibet pushes its head somewhere in this equation. It begins to make itself felt broadly against the tableau of this first reckoning.

There comes a moment in the life of an exile Tibetan youth to swim in the intellectualization of all things Tibet and Tibetans. Some might deny it, some might admit to it, but most likely the first turning of that key would have happened because of Jamyang Norbu’s essays and books, more importantly his “Illusion and Reality!” Words and crafts of other few handful of intellectuals like late Dawa Norbu, Tsering Shakya, Lhasang Tsering, Tenzing Sonam, Namkhai Norbu and Bhuchung K. Dhondup would have cemented this ground. From Tibet, from era bygones, one would read about, more recently, the novelist Dhondup Gyal, and going back, Gendun Choephel, the thirteenth Dalai Lama, the sixth Dalai Lama, Milarepa et all, which would have further validated the adage, that one adage which is both his curse and his blessing, “Political is personal, national is individual.”

He’d begin to read, he’d begin to write, he’d begin to talk. And because he’s in exile, and because English is the obvious denomination of the babel of tongues around which he finds himself — only which language contains words mirroring his new personal, discoveries, his actualization of self — he’d find himself talking about Tibet in English. In his talking about Tibet, in his employment of arguments, in his endeavors to separate corroborated knowledge from rumors and guessworks, in his deployment of hard facts and irrefutable rationale, right down to the pauses in between sentences and gesturing of his hands, sometimes he’d bring to life the ghosts of his inspiration, Jamyang Norbu perhaps, Lhasang Tsering perhaps. His metaphors would be repeated, his ironies recycled, his sense of humor copied.

But that trapping is mostly inescapable. For early twenties is just that age to be awed; to take on that which seems inimitable.

But that trapping it seems has now swallowed us whole. Originality is dead! I could of course use broad statements and hint at a coming glory, but I feel my purpose would be better served if I were to be a bit more honest, to describe things as they seem to me, as they seem to be, as they are. I do not revel too much in being a bearer of bad news, in being the finger-pointer at shadows, but I do feel at this time, when our feet are ensconced on that very point of history, on that very pivot around which will transpire the most crucial turn, we owe it to ourselves to be true and honest.

Originality is dead. Our writing is bad, our films are bad, our songs are bad. The way we talk about Tibet is bad.

If you look at most post-colonial narratives, you’d find artistic outpouring has been most prolific, stellar even, in the first fifty years. The tragedy of our colonization is a continuing one. But our exile puts us outside that reality: it both makes us safe and endangered. It is an echo, a version, but still a world wherein are possible all our dreams, our hopes. The place it occupies is at best penumbral. We derive our solidity from the centrality of Tibet which is forever at the furthest end.

All said and done, our narrative, at least in exile, is somewhat post-colonial, in that it can provide a conducive ground for good art, because we are as yet not outside the accessibility range of the grandeur, the tragedy, the wins, the losses, as felt by our collective memory, or those of the generation of our fathers.

Where is then the good art? (one might say, Tibetan modern art, but of this I will discuss in my later blog).

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