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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

The Joy of Finding one's Roots in a Foreign Country!

July 25, 2010

By Tenzin Nyinjey
July 23, 2010

A year ago I went to meet the eminent Tibet
historian Prof. Eliot Sperling, who teaches at
the Indiana University in US, at a coffee shop in
the streets of McleodGanj, Dharamsala. The
meeting took place just a few days before I was
to leave for the US to study English literature.
During our conversation, I sought his views about
my passion to study English literature in the US
and whether I would find good professors who
could teach me well enough, so that my goals to
write well in English would one day bear fruit.
His instant reaction was not very encouraging at
the time - he advised me to read the Tibetan
classics before plunging myself into the sea of English literature.

I found him a bit discouraging and annoying then.
However, I didn't realize that he was simply
saying in his own way what His Holiness has been
advising us to do for so many years -that along
with modern education learn also the traditional
education of Tibet, which is possible only through Tibetan language!

Being born and brought up in India, once a colony
of Great Britain, English language has never been
a problem for refugee Tibetan students like us.
We have been used to speaking, reading and, at
times, writing in English - in fact all our
communication with our friends in far away
corners of the world are done in English through
emails. We are also used to watching American
soap operas, movies, reality shows. However, it
is an altogether a different experience living
suddenly in the same country that produced all
these entertainment shows. No matter how well
versed you are in English language, speaking it
with Americans in America is quite a challenging task for any one.

Apart from the minor problems a non-native
English speaker faces while communicating in
English, which can be dealt with easily as time
progresses and one gains more exposure, the most
severe and life changing crisis one faces is that
you never feel at home speaking English in the US
- you always miss your own language, which you
can't speak with any of the American people.

But like the Newtonian law, every crisis brings
with it an equal opportunity, and the identity
crisis of the sort that I went through in the US
brought the greatest and the most enriching
opportunity in my life - the realization of the
fact that until and unless one is rooted deeply
in one's own culture and history, one is never
going to gain the kind of self-confidence needed
to achieve any goals in this life.

With this realization, I decided to visit
Dharamsala during this summer break, so that I
could spend some valuable time at the Library of
Tibetan Works and Archives, reading Tibetan
history and culture. Of course, when I was
working in Dharamsala, I often visited the
Library and borrowed books on Tibet, but all
these books were in English and hence authored by
western scholars of Tibet. All these efforts have
been very helpful to me, as they have given me a
rare understanding and insight of our history and culture.

Despite all these efforts, I have never cared to
pick up a Tibetan classic and read it. I do know
many classical authors from the West, but when it
comes to our own writers, there is hardly any one
whose work I am familiar with and whom I can
recommend to my fellow Tibetan readers. Except,
perhaps, for Gendun Choephel, there is hardly any
one whose work I read and gained insight from!

I have always found exiled Tibetans (this
includes myself) - especially intellectuals, be
it a writer, poet, essayist, activist - searching
for his or her identity. Their works might be
brilliant, they might even have found some
recognition in our community, but I have always
found something missing in them. I haven't seen
the joy and self-confidence that sparkles in the
eyes of intellectuals from other free countries.

The root of this problem with me lies in the fact
that we are not strongly rooted in our own
culture and history - we never showed enough
respect to our own history and culture, never
cared to read the huge amount of Tibetan
literature available in our midst. Without a
solid foundation in our own history and culture,
how could we expect to make a contribution to
global culture and claim that Tibetan culture is
worth preserving in the 21st century?

If we really care about our own country, if we
wish to regain our freedom, the first basic step
is for us to learn Tibetan well, and read the
Tibetan authors, so that the real Tibetan in us
is reawakened! Or else I believe we lose our
moral right to condemn the Chinese of destroying
our rich culture and identity back in our homeland Tibet!
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