A faraway place called home

Another article which establishes our stand on Tibet and our outright rejection of the convoluted Tibet-policy of this current Indian government.



Can exile ever be an apolitical condition, asks Tridip Suhrud

Edward Said begins his reflections on exile by stating, “Exile is strangely compelling to think about but terrible to experience. It is the unhealable rift forced between a human being and a native place, between the self and its true home: its essential sadness can never be surmounted.” Being in exile is not a romantic notion, its purpose is not to humanise the world, despite the most evocative literature that exiles from the times of Ovid have created.

Exile is not a condition of one’s choosing. Either one is forced into exile or one is born in exile. Exile in its classical sense of banishment has come to be replaced by modern political categories — the refugee, the displaced, the immigrant. The sheer scale of anonymous refugees and displaced persons that the 20th century created through its wars, its totalitarian states and developmental projects somehow does not allow us to reflect on the irreparable and interminable loss of exile.

It is a condition that is marked by deep longing, and a sense of estrangement. Longing for the home that is no longer available and being estranged from the place that gives one refuge. Without this longing, without the need to return, without the promise that one would eventually return, the exiled would become an émigré, not that the immigrant does not long for home or does not feel strange in the adopted land. As Dante said, only the one in exile knows “how salty another’s bread tastes and how hard it is to ascend and descend another’s stairs.”

The Dalai Lama speaks of himself and his people as a people in exile. He also says that Tibet today is a community built on suffering and exile. As the Dalai Lama, he has twin responsibilities. He is to his people a manifestation of Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of compassion. So long as the people of Tibet have faith in the institution of the Dalai Lama, he is duty bound to lead them spiritually and as a spokesperson of their struggle for justice. His being in exile places on him the second responsibility. He must keep the possibility of eventual return alive. Not as longing but as promise.

When Pranab Mukherjee, as external affairs minister, characterises the Dalai Lama as a ‘respected guest’ and then advises him to refrain from political involvement, he displays astonishing ignorance about both the institution of the Dalai Lama and responsibilities of one who is in exile. A person in exile cannot but be political. It is politics itself that has created the condition of exile.

The people of Tibet have a right to their politics, however uncomfortable that might be to the Indian state. And as India finally affirmed, political protest is a way of life in a democratic society, and this right is available in equal measure even to those in exile. It is available to the people of Tibetan origin against the apathy of the Indian state as much as against Chinese repression.

Let us remind ourselves of another of our famous émigrés who more than a hundred years ago, in distant Johannesburg, took a pledge in the name of god to fight injustice unto death. That act, which we celebrate officially, was also an affirmation of the right of the émigré and of the exiled to assert political and cultural rights. It is natural that such great acts make, to borrow from Salman Rushdie, ‘a great noise in the mind, the heart.’

A people in exile will try and recreate home in a new land as a people in search of their roots, past, land and heritage often do. A certain kind of inwardness is written in this process. This inwardness is the only source, however feeble, to contain estrangement. Simon Weil spoke of the need for rootedness as one of the least recognised of human needs. The little Tibet of Dharamshala is one such attempt, without which the promised return would become even fainter.

That the Dalai Lama sought refuge in India, and continues to remain in exile in India and that India promised him refuge is not only an accident of geography. Spiritually, the Dalai Lama cannot be in exile anyplace else but India. For him, India is the land of two masters, one Gautam and the other Gandhi. He has often spoken evocatively of his debts to the two. He is in this sense exiled at a place that could have been his only home outside of Tibet. He is exiled at home.

The writer is a social scientist based in Ahmedabad

2 thoughts on “A faraway place called home”

  1. I commend for thsi beautiful article. ‘Tibetan Cause’ is a beautiful case study of teh problems of the nationhood that emerged in the last century. I have read many book son Tibet mostly by the tibetan refugees and I sense that teh new definition of nation that came into existence after 50, which happens to be more political rather than adddressing culture, has shaken the ethnic interests of society.
    Now the prob is that no one wants to indent china on this very reason, to my surprise even UNO. Theer is every proof that Tibet was a separate nation that was ruined, ransacked and seiged but which nation will speak for it. This is not hing but the dilemma , helplessness that has been gifted to us by the tenbets of ‘Nationhood.’
    exiles get acclamatised over generations with the culture and society and culture of the coutry they take refuge in… The question in the wake of this perception is the younger generation of Tibetans has adapted but they have a yearn to move back to Tibet. what China is looking for is teh end of Dalai Lama and the first generation of exiled Tibetans so that he can deny every ’cause’ related to Tibet….Nationa in present scenario cannot do anything , theyir hands aer tied with UNO and then with Globalisation and WTO. People haev to coemforward to decide their and nations destiby as well.

    mail me if you can. I am also interested in exiles and cultural studies. I have done MA in English and Sociology. currently working on exiles and diaspora

  2. Dear Chandra,

    This is the kind of response we are hoping to generate through this blog, and you are the king of people we are seeking to partner with towards Srijan Foundation’s goal of altering people’s conscience and lifting their consciousness about life and times we live in; to enable people to take a step back and wonder if this is where we wanted to go?

    I would like to extend an invitation to you to write for Srijan Foundation’s blog.

    Warm Regards,
    Rahul Dewan

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