WHO Tenzin Tsundue is a poet, writer and Tibetan activist based in Dharamshala. The author of three books, he has written for various global publications and won the first Outlook-Picador Award for Non-Fiction (2001).
You’ve been arrested, beaten, starved, thrown out of Dharamshala. What keeps you going?
We’re fighting China, the biggest colonial power in the post-colonial era. It runs the largest slave labour force of about 900 million Chinese with investments from the West. The Tibetan faith and practice of non-violence pushes our idealism further into impossibility. But without a seemingly impossible dream, what is life about anyway? These experiences, like going to jail 14 times, sharpen my skills and they enrich my life.
Is the movement to free Tibet turning violent?
If you call self-immolation — one of the most non-violent acts, carried out with a calm serene mind — “violent”, what word are you left with for organised terrorism? Our people have given their lives to speak to the conscience of the Chinese. They have not hurt anyone else. Till date, 57 Tibetans have set themselves on fire. The freedom movement is growing stronger, even confrontational, but must remain non-violent.
What is more effective, your daredevil stunts or your activism through your writings?
When I climbed the Mumbai hotel scaffolding in 2002, it caught the attention of a consumerist world hooked on cosmetic beauty. But culturally empowering activities using various arts help sustain the movement. Although Tibet today is battered by the military, the police and multiple waves of consumerist market economy, artists and intellectuals are leading the movement from the grassroots. While jailed Tibetan singers and poets are loved and idolised, the military dictators and puppet babus are feared and despised.
How effective is poetry against the economic and military might of China?
The first man who inspired the voice of India’s freedom was not a politician or an activist, but a poet — Sri Aurobindo Ghosh. At the time, India’s condition under British occupation was similar to that of Tibet under Chinese occupation today. Art inspires people to free themselves and reach for beauty and glory. Then, they can neither be threatened by fear nor bought by greed.
NOTE-- The above interview is republished from the Indian Magazine Tehelka, Vol 9, Issue 44, Dated 03 Nov 2012 (To be published)
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