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A Story of a Flawed, Poetic Man

Thursday 27 December 2007, by Topden Tsering

I feel myself
Standing in the wilderness
beauty all around me

pain constricting my heart
the road of life lies long and empty
and no balm exists to sooth me
of this loss and broken heart..

So wrote the least likely of Tibetan poets who was known to his friends by just these two initials: G.C. He was perhaps Dharamsala’s first official Tibetan junkie, his name quite inextricable from marijuana in the hilly town’s history of drifters and vagabonds. To the community at large, his living, like that of others like him, was an anomaly, an aberration to be swept under the carpet of social acknowledgement. As such, he skirted around the periphery, like an outcast. But even in his banishment, he was a king, claiming as his own everything that passed between the sky and the earth.

I first got to know him when I was a school-going boy in the eighties. He was the local pakla every parent would forbid his child from talking to, but for some reason I had endeared myself to his group, and during my absences from school, I’d hole up with G.C. and his friends in some dingy tea shop and watch them smoke marijuana and talk sex with western women. In return for their making me privy to their escapades, which brought to my teenage angst a certain sense of freedom and abandon, I’d have to run for them random errands like fetching a packet of cigarettes or buying "Johny Walker" from the nearby liquor store. On good days, I’d bring them my mother’s cooking, which would inadvertently put me higher in their brotherly affection.

G.C. was in his early thirties. His black hair was long and wavy. His attire comprised of black leather jacket and torn jeans. He was medium of height and scrawny of built. There was nothing striking about his physical attributes. That is, unless you observed carefully his face. He had high cheekbones that protruded over his round face; the tone of his skin was leathery. His cheeks were little sunken and a bristle of moustache topped his narrow mouth. His slanted eyes peered from below drooping lids, alert and tired at once. His face was commonplace, but in this ordinariness, he exuded something very different: it was the quality of ancient. Later when looking at old photographs of pre-1959 Tibet and seeing faces of indentured Tibetan peasants with their oily, dirt-covered and sun burnt cheerfulness, it was G.C. who came to my mind.

G.C. had an expression that even in its poker flatness spoke of something funny. It was the curl on the sides of his mouth. It was as if, whenever you’d look at him, that he and you were both smiling at something. Only you wouldn’t know what it was that you were smiling at!

Very few people knew he dabbled in poetry. It was not something he talked much about.

He more played himself as the drifter, the drunkard and the addict. He was most often to be seen lurching on the steps of this hotel or that, as he and his inebriated friends pulled drags from a passing joint, plucked on their guitars, flirted with female tourists, and dodged reproachful glances from the various passersby: monks in red robes, elderly ladies twirling rosaries, local officials in their crisp, white shirts.

As night fell, his group would make its way to Bhagsunath, an Indian village tucked into a corner with its gurgling streams and Hindu temples, and their retirement spot could be anything between a rented quarter and a cave by the water. Sometimes, depending on what got better of him, whether the booze in his guts or his sense of propriety, he could also be seen snoring away on the roadside, his jacket folded into a pillow, an empty bottle by his side, presently dancing to the wind. And when children trudged on their way to school in the morning, all screaming and laughing, he’d gather himself from the ground, give his jacket a good shake and shout out to them, "Good Morning, children!" much in the fashion of a schoolmaster.

There’s a joke about how G.C preferred his drink, which has entered the realm of legend, as most other anecdotes about him. On turning up at the liquor store once, the Indian shopkeeper asked him: "Kaun Sa Chahiye (which one)?" To this, G.C. replied, in his characteristic good humor, "Sab Se Jaldi Maarne wala (that which will kill me the fastest)". Invariably always it was a bottle of "Boxer" the amused shopkeeper would then bring to the countertop, as his friends slapped backs and laughed.

The man however was far from suicidal. In his voracious consumption of liquor and drugs, his seeking of sexual pleasures, in his rebelliousness and disdain for the social and political correctness, there was something spiritual. It was as if he knowingly embraced the trappings of personal damnation with one eye set upon the liberation that he knew lay only at the edge of his own consciousness. Little wonder the Buddha was to appear in almost all his known poems:

You are nothing but everything
So simple yet so complicated
So near yet so far away..

Your life is my guide
More than anybody’s fantasy
You are so eternal so balanced

How I wish I am Buddha

In certain ways, G.C. revealed himself as the poet to his friends through this one incident: On a normal day of their wandering into the marketplace, G.C. had run into an argument with a Westerner, and now the two men were exchanging the choicest abuses. Finally, G.C. scooped up from the ground an empty cigarette packet, pulled out its leaf and on it he began to write something. He then gave the scrap to the confused tourist. Moments later, the man walked up to G.C. and held him in a tight embrace, crying: "Oh, G.C., my man!"

What G.C. had exactly written is not known. But words of mouth indicate it was probably a poem. And knowing his penchant for philosophy, for the works of Krishnamurti and Milarepa, it is not unimaginable that G.C. might have subdued his counterpart from the West with some words of Eastern wisdom couched in lyrical verses.

G.C usually survived on the money that his foreigner girlfriends would ply him with, or on small loans from hesitating friends. And when these resources ran dry, he’d turn to his father who at the time was working as a cook in the Namgyal Monastery. Once, in the full view of monks and other devotees, G.C’s father berated him mercilessly. An hour or so later, tired by the embarrassment of it all, his father finally caved in and dished out a fifty rupee note. Taking it, G.C. carefully tied a string around one end of the note, then put it on the ground, and holding the other end of the string over his shoulder, he started walking away, dragging the money behind him; all this time, he was mumbling: "Yu Tsapo Dug, O (Such a fuss over it)!"

It was much later that I realized G.C. stood for Gedhun Choephel, the name little failing to impress upon me the power of its historical connotation. After all, another Gedhun Choephel had lived in the first half of the twentieth century, before Tibet was lost to China, a wild Amdo monk who was a womanizer, a chain smoker, a user of opium and liquor, and physically unkempt; a scholarly man who’s penned such important works of translations, from his journeys to India, as the Blue Annals and the Kamasutra, besides his two original works on Tibetan history.

Amdo Gedhun Choephel, along with Kumphela and two other idealists, had dreamed up a vision of a reformed Tibet. Their revolution was however nipped at the bud. And the Dharamsala Gedhun Choephel, while alive, lived his own revolution, through his countercultural wanderings. He reveled in his being a misfit, and around him, all he saw were misfits too, only each side was looking at the other through the opposing ends of a telescope, one magnifying and the other diminishing, both actually just the same, equally lost and equally gained.

G.C’s poems are full of introspections; his words though not exact are evocative: in talking about "Society’s pompous system," "People’s exploded expectations," "School’s stereotype education", he was laying bare the wounds of his own disenchantment and failings, and by extension that of many others like him. "I am the judge of the senses. But I always have moments to feel:" here, he articulates the freedom of even the most desperate man, as would befit the observation of a junkie poet, who observed life from the periphery, his past and his future equally abrupt, equally expansive, as his present.

If I die my dear ones
Don’t cry for me
For I never cried for anyone
It’s time I part with me…

Your prayers will not hear me
For I have parted with my hearing
Your worries will not affect me
For I will still be looking for compassion…

G.C. died one night from a fall from the terrace of a building. It might have been that before he slipped over the concrete edge, he was swaying in all four directions, all at once, his one hand holding a whiskey bottle, his other hand a burning joint, looking at the glistening white of the peaks beyond, and shouting: "Kyi hi hi!" Or it might have been that he was taking a leak and fell to his death, his end as much an aberration as his living.

When it was time for his cremation, his friends partied. His body crackled in the flames, while his friends passed around gigantic chillums, took swigs from big whiskey bottles and sang Bob Dylan songs. The revelry lasted until the next morning when the group had finally been silenced to sleep, and from his burning pile a dying ember let out its final sizzle.

(Originally published in Tibetan Bulletin)

1 Message

  • A Story of a Flawed, Poetic Man 1 March 2010 at 21:46

    Topden La.
    I very much enjoyed reading this wonderful piece.At the same this is a very sad one too.
    I don’t know much english, but i can see that you are a great writer. You can be G.C III, Haha…
    With Love ,an Amdowa reader.
    PS: Can you post more of your articles on this site so that readers continue to enjoy your writings.

    Reply to this message

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