Change Change Change

In One Hundred Years of Solitude, the master wordsmith Gabriel Garcia Marquez tells the story of Colonel Jose Arcadia Buendia and his incestuous family stuck in a time warp in Macondo, a small town located somewhere in that appallingly chaotic continent of South America. In the end a child with a pig’s tail is born to Aurelio, the seventh and the last generation of the Buendia. The newborn baby is consumed by a feasting sea of red ants as his mother lies dead on the bed.

I surely do not see such a hellish end for Tibet — or for that matter anyone else. However, lessons must be drawn and learned from fiction as much as from reality. Garcia tells the story of the Latin America that he lived and experienced with a super dose of magic and irony.

It has been fifty years since we came into exile, and almost ten years since the prime minister was directly elected by the Tibetan people in exile. Samdhong Rinpoche won the first two elections hands down. No match. No question. Clean “people’s mandate” as he called it.

Based on this people’s mandate Rinpoche has initiated many drastic changes, both in the management of the exile government and in external affairs — renewal of talks with China, privatization of business enterprises, introducing organic farming in Tibetan settlements and wide-ranging adjustments in financial accounting within the administration. Some were successful. Some were not. Some will have a long-lasting impact.

Samdhong Rinpoche’s term ends on 14 August 2011.

“What happens if His Holiness is no longer with us?” is the most frequently asked question. And it is absolutely valid. I’ve pondered over this for many sleepless nights. Many agree that there will be some setbacks. “But the Question of Tibet will not die,” His Holiness says.

Then there is the other question. “What happens if, when Samdhong Rinpoche’s term is over, we don’t have anyone who is as capable as him?” This is not only an invalid question, but also reflects a ’second class’ attitude that we have of ourselves.

Many years ago, the Tibetan Medical and Astro. Institute did not allow books authored by Tibetan doctors working for it to be displayed or sold at its bookshop. Meanwhile, books on Tibetan medicine written by passing travellers and Westerners with shoddy research were sold. This is a typical example of an others-are-always-better-than-us perception.

“For God’s sake open the universe a little more,” writes Saul Bellow in his novel The Dean’s December. Change is inevitable. With change comes risks, failures and eventual success. This thing called CHANGE comes only when we come out of our shell. “Stretch your hands, stretch your legs, stick out your nose, stick out your ears, stick out your tongue, stick out your eyeballs, stick out everything,” sing the JJI-Exile Brothers, a promising Tibetan rock band. Familiarity brings comfort. It also brings stagnation and worst of all it brings about death of the imagination. The time has come for us to “stick out everything” and be useful.

During a public discussion about the next prime minister — organized by the National Democratic Party of Tibet — one of the participants, a member of the Exiled Tibetan Parliament, said that since the basic policy to resolve the issue of Tibet, which is the Middle-Way Approach, cannot be changed, the next prime minister should be someone who is able to manage the administration and look after the Tibetan settlements.

Really? Policies regarding Tibetan struggle for freedom cannot be changed?

If a democratically-elected prime minister cannot initiate policy changes, then who can? Such assumptions and premature articulations not only undermine the position of the prime minister but also weaken our nascent democracy and the decentralization of power that His Holiness has so patiently and carefully initiated and nurtured since the early days in exile.

Accepting the existing setup without logical questioning and putting up creative challenges is what our own Nobel Laureate abhors. His Holiness is supposed to have said, “Don’t you have any fresh ideas?” to a gathering of Tibetan VIPs a few years ago. In a sea of forever-bowing bunch of bureaucrats and politicians, people get suffocated. Too much bowing and too much readiness to accept “received wisdom” are also unhealthy for democracy.

The dreadful fate that the last of Colonel Buendia’s family suffered at the end of One Hundred Years of Solitude was because they never changed. We live in a different age — nanotechnology, superfast computers and a sky full of information. We must move forward or “move ahead” as the exiled Tibetan prime minister once said. He who fails to change with time is likely to be a museum piece.

What is to be done then?

Opening up our universe and sharpening our imaginations are good ways to begin. We also need to shake ourselves from the stupor of self-satisfaction — and “the most successful refugee community in the world” tag. Successful or not we are still refugees, a ’stateless’ people.

We also need to reject any undemocratic ideas, such as making amendments in our constitution to give the incumbent prime minister a third term in office.

Prime Minister Samdhong Rinpoche himself has rejected this absurd idea saying that what could not be done in ten years is unlikely to be achieved in another five. Rinpoche’s decision is absolutely correct and is perfectly in tune with democratic norms. Such constitutional amendments to extend terms are generally done by power-hungry rulers with dictatorial inclinations. It is strange that a tiny group of exile Tibetans want to push through this proposal.

Once, while talking about the possible next prime minister, I was asked who I would vote for — Gyari Lodoe Gyaltsen or Juchen Thupten Namgyal? At that time, I was into Dostoevsky’s Idiot, so I became Myshkin and said I had no idea.

Gyari Lodoe and Juchen Thupten are figures on the horizon. Both of them have served Tibetan society in various capacities throughout their lives. They made contributions to a varying degree. However, to be brutally honest, their peak days are behind them. One must have no illusions about the evening sky. It is always followed by night.

“Who then? Kalon Tripa needs experience. Anyone can’t do it just like that?” says my friend. True. Just anyone cannot do it. That is why we need foresight, imagination and inquisitiveness to find out, talk, debate, ask and sometimes also be frustrated. I will even go to the extent of suggesting that every now and then we become the totally quiet and clever Balram Halwai in Aravind Adiga’s White Tiger, a driver who listens, learns, plans and then acts with full knowledge.

So, for any Tibetan who sees only familiar characters for the post of the next prime minister, I must repeat Bellow again — for God’s sake open up your universe a little more.


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