Review of Free Tibet by Pramod Wadnerkar
Published by Step by Step Publisher, New Delhi
Tibet has always enchanted travellers, writers, soul seekers, missionaries and adventurers since the ancient times. As a result a large number of books were written about it — ranging from absurd fiction such as The Third Eye by Lobsang Rampa (assumed Tibetan name of Cyril Hoskins, a plumber’s son from Plympton in Devon, England) to fantastically well-researched political books like China’s Tibet? Autonomy or Assimilation by Warren Smith.
Fitting in the bookrack is Pramod Wadnerkar’s Free Tibet, a work of fiction based on Tibet — or more aptly based on Tibet’s struggle for freedom from the Chinese occupation. The fun with such work of fiction based on contemporary Tibet is that we come across characters we know well in our daily lives. Wadnerkar’s book has many such people.
Tenzin Dojee, “the supreme leader of all Tibetan organizations of freedom-fighters”, is a former Indian army and the recipient of the Vir Chakra.
A commander in Dorjee’s resistance group is Namgyal Choephel, a former Major in the Indian army; and his colleague, Niroula, is a businessman of Nepalese stock, who fights alongside the Tibetans.
Kirti Rinpoche, a high-ranking lama with his monastic base in Gyangtse, is the leader of the group who want to solve the Tibetan issue with Chinese through dialogue and non-violence.
Ganden Tashi is a Tibetan Fulbright scholar, who came to India as a small child. His mother is jailed by the Chinese authorities for her part in a peaceful protest.
Other major characters include Sonal, an Indian living in the US; Roland Smith, an American with a murky background; and Dr Bhargave, a disgruntled Indian nuclear physicist helping the Tibetan youth group to develop “non-nuclear electro-magnetic pulse warheads.”
What these interesting characters do in Wadnerkar’s Free Tibet is like a bunch of mountain rats nibbling at a large loaf of bread on a hillside powdered with barley flour. One cannot blame the author because writing a novel based on an issue as complex as contemporary Tibet is not easy — especially when you involve a CIA operative and a nosey Indian journalist with love interests. Wadnerkar has intentionally, it seems, made the matter even more complex by bringing in geo-political games and global strategic interests by China, India, Russia, US and Pakistan.
As a result it’s hard for readers as multiple events move from back and forth with the flip of a sentence. Things that the characters do resemble hordes of flies struck on a spider web being blown asunder by a whirlwind.
There are also sweet donuts to be picked up along the way. Such as:
“Definitely Tibet is going to be an independent nation. But when? Those who are starving for this dream have to understand the value of each passing moment,” lectures Tenzin Dorjee to his comrades in arms in Free Tibet. This reminds of the real-life Tenzin Dorjee, the Executive Director of Students for a Free Tibet, who I would imagine will make a similar statement in similar circumstances. But of course the real Tenzin Dorjee does not approve violence as a means. The principle strategy of the organization that Dorjee leads is non-violent direct action.
“We’ll achieve equality and welfare not with arms but with change of heart. Not rights but duties guide our life. And as for our heaven, it is here, on this very earth,” says Kirti Rinpoche to the ranting Chinese officers, who accuse Tibetans of being superstitious and backward, and their claim to have brought happiness to Tibet. The real Kirti Rinpoche, who is the head lama of Kirti Monastery based in Dharamsala, India, would have said the same thing if pestered by the Chinese. Monks of his monastery are the well informed about the current affairs and are politically very active.
The united actions by the various Tibetan groups in Free Tibet forces the Chinese president to choose between bombing Tibet to ashes using nuclear warheads and suffer lose of face internationally or to accept their demand for a free Tibet. Beijing, ever so conscious about its image, very grudgingly chooses the later.
The culmination of the novel, for me personally and for any Tibetan reader, is when the Dalai Lama, the undisputed Tibetan leader, declares Tibet an independent country.
“On this day of Tibet’s independence I again pledge myself to the enrichment of Tibetan civilization. We have Ahimsa, love for nature and compassion in plenty to give to this world,” declares the Nobel Laureate.
Free Tibet should have ended right here on a happy note. Free Tibet is the final destination of our struggle and the sacrifices Tibetans inside and in exile undergo. But the fact that Wadnerkar wrote two more chapters is a different matter. Fiction matches reality only to a certain extent.
Wadnerkar, however, should be given a round of applause for his keen observations and grasp of not only of the knotty Tibetan political issue involving various players, but also of the intricate methods that Beijing practices to banish Tibet and Tibetans into forgotten memories.
The importance of Free Tibet is that it was written in Marathi — a regional language spoken by over 96 million people in India. It has never been the forte of Tibetan Government-in-Exile to reach the massive Indian populace. Works like this are an ideal way to re-introduce Tibet and the Tibetan issue to ordinary Indian people. Doing so will give them a sense of what the vexed issue of Tibet means for them — the long-term geopolitical strategy and national security.
I envy those who can read the novel in original Marathi, in which case one does not have to suffer its strained rendering into English with a series of typos, miss-spelt words and names. The erratic editing is bothersome as well.
Somewhere in Free Tibet a CNN reporter asks the Chinese foreign minister, Fang Xai Shi, how is Tibet a part of China. The clever minister loudly and shamelessly says, “[because] Tibetans look like Chinese, they eat and drink like Chinese.”
Bravo, Wadnerkar, you got it absolutely right. That is exactly how Beijing justifies its violent occupation of Tibet.