Kaushik Barua’s novel Wind Horse recounts the history of the tryst of the Tibetans with the prediction of the 13th Dalai Lama that their end was near. That Barua has done his research and homework on Tibetans well is needless to say. The story is well-known. That is the bone. It is the flesh that matters, however—the writer’s fleshing of his narrative, and dealing with the flesh of ideas, of politics; of people in exile, in fighting, in ageing, in thinking, in dying is what makes this novel stand out. Tibetans have the culture of slicing up the flesh of their dead, and feeding it to vultures. One of the characters in the novel tells, “After the March uprising in Lhasa, no one knew what to do with the bodies. They were everywhere…How many vultures can you feed? They started burning the bodies, outside the Norbulingka. The smoke covered the whole city. It was always night.” The sight of death and waste that had made a Buddhist out of Ashoka, makes warriors of the Buddhists of Tibet. Filled with a perpetual night in their heads, the Tibetans cross over to India via Bhutan, and regroup themselves to fight back.This desperate fight, however, is to be fought by disparate characters, who have very little in common. All these characters are ideas, metaphors for ways of life, and I would go so far as to say that this is a novel of ideas. Thupten is the Rhett Butler of the novel—he believes in making a fortune against the wind. His business gone to the Chinese, and daughter to the vultures as a wily strategist he seeks the help of Americans and an Indian-born-connected-young-Tibetan. Athar is a monk, also a painter, who speaks very little till 12 monks are killed. When he speaks, he speaks of killing, and butchers 60 odd Chinese in cold blood. Lhasang is a village lad, who flees with his parents when the Chinese start sending the males of the village, in chains, to work at unknown destinations. In their flight, they meet a woman with a little child, but Lhasang is reluctant to help his compatriots. This doesn’t stop him from having wet dreams about her. The child, his namesake, dies in India, after making the arduous journey through passes and snows. Lhasang also, in their flight, kills a Chinese soldier who had saved him once. Barua evokes these two strong metaphors—the death of the young namesake, and the murder of the savior—but does not use them to great narratogical advantage. Both could have become haunting metaphors for the condition of the community, and a metaphor for war in general.
Then there’s Norbu, the Indian born Tibetan with a rich father. He goes to study in what ap pears like St Stephen’s (that’s an abiding fetish of all Stephanian writers); his father has charted out a plush career for him, but he realizes his calling is different once his meets his lady love Dolma, who’s also a Tibetan in exile. Dolma is the only character in the novel who is sure of herself, and she makes Norbu sure of himself, or rather herself that he thinks is himself.
That war is not a romantic affair is essayed through the travails of these characters, who are killed and who kill. This novel about characters, each of them “a pool of regret”; is a must-read, not just to revisit the travails of Tibetans, but to grapple with rhetoric and ideas floating around, and inside us.