The questions of home, or nationhood come into open, ironically, in the absence of one. Irony is, of course, purely human. We always long for what we have lost. Tibetans who have been living in exile probably know it better. Pico Iyer’s, Experiment in Exile (Time Asia) gives an account of Dharmashala, a settlement of Tibetans living away from home.
Dharamsala is not really a community, in short, but an experiment, in which the Dalai Lama and the people around him craft a new incarnation of Tibet—a Tibet 2.0—that aims to be modern, open to the world and, for the moment, outside of what is traditionally, physically, Tibet. The idea reflects what one sees in Shanghai, in Vietnam, even in Cambodia: out of hardship, people will try to create possibility.
This is probably a bigger irony. While the intelligentsia in India debates the notion of nationalism, and whether it is just a concept blindly copied from Europe, for those who’re trying to recreate a sub-culture across the boarders, away from their home nation, the notion of nation that they’ve left behind and haven’t gone back to in years still remains the distant dream around which their lives are centered — at least for some of them.
When I look in on the Dalai Lama one morning this past spring and ask him what qualities Tibetans can offer fellow refugees around the globe, he says, after a careful pause, “Maybe, first, hope and determination.”
That culture can be preserved, if even away from home is what he was talking about? For he has reportedly said later:
“If you make the effort, for example, to keep Tibetan-style long hair in the heat of India—unrealistic!” The famous laugh breaks out, as he contemplates the absurdity of holding onto what is no longer useful and not moving with the times. But in terms of a way of thinking, not just of living—a language and a set of ideas—”these things are worthy of being preserved, and can be preserved.”
But aren’t way’s of thinking a byproduct, largely, of history of regions, and hundreds of other local variables? When a culture is preserved outside of its home, does it grow? And if it grows, is the result hybrid (and non-local) and if so, isn’t one of the basic aims lost? If the insistence of preserving an endangered culture outside the native homeland is praiseworthy, what about the insistence on preserving an endagnered (even if to a lesser degree) culture inside its homeland? Why does that become retrospective or anti-modernization?
Pico Iyer emphasizes that:
“The idea that lies behind all the activity is a planetary one: Tibetans can offer a model to Kurds, Palestinians and many others who have lost their own homelands, by showing that cultures can be sustained in exile as long as they are constructed inwardly.”
And when, and if, they do, do those new places, the brewing pots of this test-tube culture so to say (and I don’t mean it derisively at all), become their new homelands? Do they become homes? What is the nationality of those in exile, and their future generations, if they can practice their cultures more freely at these newfound homelands? In a sense, is it not the same dilemma that Indians who have migrated to waste for various reasons have to confront with, especially the next generations? And lastly, what about those for whom exile is cultural, not political or geo-political? What do they call their home?
In-spite of (or probably because of) all these questions that crossed my mind, it was a beautiful piece worth reading.