Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Burning Fire - A Song for Tibet

‘Twas a windy day as we roamed the streets of Mcloedganj, a beautiful little town in Himachal Pradesh. The air was laden with the fresh scent of pine trees and the cool wind blew in our faces. Me and my oldest school friend Divya had decided to go for a girl’s trip to explore Dharamsala & Mcloedganj.
As we made our way through the crowded by-lanes in the market, we saw plenty of curio shops with “Free Tibet” signs outside. Prayer flags adorned every tree, every shop entrance and every house, creating a very festive & colorful atmosphere.

We spotted a quaint little organic café to our right and meandered in. I love the relaxed pace of everything during holidays. Meandering ( I love the word!) is something I am very fond of, given the hectic pace of my daily life.
As Divya explored the handicrafts display in the café, I noticed a lady wearing a traditional Tibetan dress sitting by herself with a cup of coffee .She was chatting to the store owner in Tibetan while showing her some pictures on her phone. The Tibetan language, with its high-pitched tones & intonations, sounded almost like a bird song. Suddenly the Tibetan lady broke out into a lovely folk song; her voice engulfing the room like waves of sound gently brushing across the ocean sands. Enraptured, I knew I had to speak with her and find out more about the tune.

“You have such a lovely voice”, I said. “I am a musician from Delhi and would love to learn a Tibetan song from you”.
 She looked at me and smiled kindly. I continued, “Could you tell me the lyrics so I could write them down?”

Surprised at the unexpected attention, she looked around shyly at first, but after a bit of egging on from my end, she obliged. As she narrated the words I wrote them down on a paper napkin I borrowed from the lady at the counter, who looked amused and delighted at the same time. She taught me the song line by line and we sang it together, the café echoing with the sound of our voices. We finished to a round of smiles & cheers from the other customers at the café. We were the stars of a mini concert in Mcloedganj, unbeknownst to all.

I was curious about the meaning of the song and asked her to explain it to me. She told me it was
about a bird flying above the mountains looking for freedom. From the tone of her voice I sensed that there was a hidden personal element to the story. As we chatted, she opened up and shared a little more about herself and her roots.
She was born in a beautiful little village in Tibet where she and her husband, a school teacher lived an idyllic life. This was until China occupied Tibet and mayhem ensued. Scores of monasteries were broken down. Strict oppressive laws were brought into place. People that raised their voices mysteriously disappeared. Musicians that sang about injustice were jailed. In desperation, monks started self-immolating to bring attention to the cause.  India opened her arms to hundreds of Tibetans, led by his holiness, the Dalai Lama that took asylum in Dharamsala.

”A lot of people tried to flee Tibet during this time” she said. “Those who were fortunate escaped, but many didn’t. I managed to escape to India with my children but my husband was not allowed to leave.”

She rummaged in her purse and pulled out a photo concealed in plastic for protection. Two handsome young men looked at me forlornly from the picture.

“These are my boys”, she said with pride. “One is 19 and the other is 17. We live in Bangalore, where I work in a healing center.”
 “And your husband? When did you last see him?” I asked almost dreading the answer. With a faraway look in her eyes she said “I haven’t seen him in seventeen years”. SEVENTEEN years!! 
“I speak with him when I can on the phone but most of the times I can’t reach him and don’t know if he’s ok. When I miss him a lot, I sing these songs to remember him and our times together. I don’t know when I’ll see him again but I pray that someday I will. Pray for me.” 
Something about her story struck an emotional chord in my heart and I couldn’t hold back my tears.
 “Could I give you a hug?” I asked. She gave me an emotional nod as we hugged and sobbed in each others arms. Not saying anything, but understanding everything. Two strangers, now friends; bound by a story of love, loss and a song.

We sang the song together again, one last time in unison. This time with a silent prayer & the conviction that one day the bird would indeed fly to freedom and be re-united with the sky.

All of us with the Tibetan lady at Rogpa Cafe

P.S This story and that of whats been happening in Tibet inspired me to write "Burning Fire" ..a song I'll be releasing in Feb 2016. Divya and me went back to Dharamshala and shot the video for this song..Stay tuned for updates.

1 comment:

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