By Chewang Ngokhang (a.k.a. Ajo Che)
We, too, were noodle makers in the '60s in the beautiful town of Kalimpong, nestled in the hills overlooking the majestic mount Kanchenjunga, West Bengal, India. Loss of Tibet meant the end of my late father's lucrative Tibet wool trade, and he took new steps in other businesses. In addition to the noodle production, my father also ran a store with mishmash of miscellaneous items catering mostly to the people of the Himalayan regions. It also included taxi service and had a contract with Tsatrultsang tea gardens located in the lofty hills of the Darjeeling district, in retail or wholesale of Jharil (Tibetan tea balls).
He was a successful business man for he managed to enroll most of us (10 children) in private English speaking schools since 1956. The reason I'm writing this is because as a Tibetan, I feel the responsibility to articulate my views at a time when our democratic credentials in diaspora outshine China's which at the time seems to be backtracking. In addition, we are neither kudraks (aristocrats) nor nomads but somewhere in between thriving on whatever life dishes out to us. We are just ordinary folks excelling in extraordinary times with twists and turns in the juggernaut of global politics.
I enjoyed reading Mr. Gyalo Thondup's book titled "The Noodle Maker of Kalimpong", and the revelations of some interesting episodes. Kalimpong used to be the most most vibrant town for Tibetans in the '50s and '60s. Since my coming to the U.S. in 1971, I had visited the old town a couple of times. The last one was in October, 2012. At the time I visited the beautiful Shakabpa house in 9th mile, where I was overcome with nostalgic emotions because now the place looked so empty with an old caretaker looking a little emaciated and who coughed incessantly. Excitement slowly replaced melancholy at the thought that it once hummed with flurry of patriotic activity, when the late Tsepon Shakabpa toiled tirelessly for the cause of Tibet until the sunset of his life. He was much respected by Tibetans, especially in the Kadorgangsum (Kalimpong, Darjeeling and Gangtok) areas.
Though the book contained some very interesting things to enlighten us, I was a little stunned by much jaw-dropping finger-pointing and mudslinging infused with unmitigated allegations devoid of substantiation. It painted a rather ignominious picture of kudraks. I'm not so amazed that most kudraks had benefited from dayang, the Chinese silver coin. So did just about everyone at the time including the muleteers, yak herders, merchants, monasteries, road labourers, etc. So went the street song "Gya Kungten zerwa kadin chenpore. Da yangchen chapa bhabpare." Translation: Chinese communist are so kind. Down pours silver coins like the rain.
Similarly, today many of the top universities in the west are also benefitting from revenues generated as a result of having Confucius Institutes on prestigious campuses, in the process compromising their academic freedom. Deja Vu! Needless to say establishment of AIIB (Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank) to develop Asia attracted almost 60 members surpassing Beijing's wildest expectation. Adding insult to injury United States major allies like Britain, Germany, France, and Australia too have unhesitantly jumped on the bandwagon, and Great Britain being one of the forerunners of founding members leading the European pack.
More than ever today monetary incentives seem to be the elixir to resolve many of the economic and political problems. Needless to say, application to join the AIIB from the only China's ally was understandably denied. That applicant happens to be no other than the supreme leader of Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Kim Jong-un. August 3, 2015 Huffington Post Blog mentions about Jimmy Carter's answer to a query about 2016 elections "So,we've seen a subversion of our political system as a payoff to major contributors,"as unlimited secret money (including foreign money) pours into U.S. political and judicial campaigns.
As such, the kudrak-dayang connection is obsolete. And, it's also about time that Tibetans cease the kudrak bashing. It certainly appears the more people are ignorant the more they resort to lambasting kudraks for the most debilitating loss of our homeland. In fact, it was the most meticulous works of kudraks that today the bulk of the younger generation is amplifying Tibet's prior independence status. This feat was clearly demonstrated during the 1914 Simla Convention. It's time for all to galvanize together and persistently persevere for our cause, under the leadership of our most precious leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama who has resiliently toiled for over sixty years, and already passed the baton to the new generation in democratic process based on meritocracy. Although he has timely separated Gadhen Photrang from the running of the CTA, as a constituent he is constitutionally entitled to voice his opinion in line with democratic principles when it is necessary. When Kundun speaks everybody listens. Incidentally, Kundun always speaks highly of both Yuthok and Surkhang and affectionately.
Another kudrak family in Mr. Thondup's blacklist is the two Tsarongs. Tsarong Dazang Dadul was accused of malfeasance based on a hearsay from Hisao Kimura. I have read Kimura's book long ago and can't recall anything to that effect. His book mentioned four agents of Japanese Imperial government sent to Inner Mongolia and Tibet initially, which ultimately ended up with Kimura and Nishikawa in Tibet mainly the first half of the '40s. Their mission naturally ceased after Japan surrendered in 1945.
Far from the ignominious painting of Tsarong, Tibetans in general speak very highly of him and the family. Personally, I have not heard any derogatory comments about the two Tsarongs from the general Tibetan public. On the contrary, in the late Dr. Pemba's fictional book "Idols on the Path" he mentioned a Tibetan patriot who went back to Tibet from the sanctuary of Calcutta, to serve our present Kundun at the most turbulent time, just like he had served the 13th Dalai Lama during flight to India. Dr. Pemba, personally, reiterated to me that fictional charactor was no other than Tsarong Dazang Dadul.
As for the second Tsarong's ill fated outcome of the iron and steel company in Bihar, it is rumoured that substantial amount of the investment funds was appropriated by an Indian businessman who had bamboozled the company.The marwari had craftily advised Tsarong that he should visit some successful similar factories in foreign countries, in order to procure some knowledge in running the business profitably. Instead he should be given the power of attorney during Tsarong's absence. Indeed, a sagacious business advice cleverly designed to tell the truth. Once he got the power of attorney, he faced no obstruction in ultimately siphoning out funds, and the conniving marwara had cunningly hidden all the funds in numerous family related members' accounts in distant parts of India. There also was another Newari businessman who, too, had swindled but not necessarily on the same scale.
So goes the street rumours but it does sound plausible. What the truth was nobody seems to know for sure even though the matter was vigorously discussed in the Chithue tsogdu (Tibetan Parliament sessions). What we do know is it was extremely difficult to operate successful factories in states like West Bengal and Bihar even by shrewdest Indian business men, due to bureaucratic red tape under a system leaning heavily on socialism. This predicament is clearly reiterated by TATA conglomerate chairman on CNN, Fareed's GPS recently. After suffering numerous setbacks and loss he relocated the automobile manufacturing plant from West Bengal to Gujarat where he prospered by leaps and bounds. On the other hand the Bhopal paper mill under Sadhutsang initially suffered some drawbacks but it eventually recovered, and was able to reimburse investors their initial capital investments and some additional incremental dividends. The source of this information was no other than my own father who had at the time invested in the venture.
As for Mr. Thondup's comments on the10th Panchen Lama it's always safe to listen to different sources and versions before jumping the gun. Yes, the Panchen Lama did acquiesce to the new overlord before he defiantly called for the long life of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in 1962, just like Kundun had no choice but to acquiesce to the Chinese demands in forcing the two prime ministers to resign in 1952. As the adage goes that every coin has two sides it's important to look to both sides before drawing conclusions in the heat of the moment. How could the Panchen Lama turn his back on China right away when it was Beijing who forced the then Tibetan government to recognize the 10th Panchen Lama during the 17 point agreement negotiation in 1951? And, his predecessor facing monumental obstacles from the central Tibet authorities for him to return to the Tashi Lhunpo monastery. Sadly, Panchen Choekyi Nyima died in exile.
According to Surkhangs' refutation, it is clear that Pandit Nehru had thought that Mr. Thondup was unbalanced and spoke foolishly. Jawahar Nehru was educated in Harrow school and Trinity college, Cambridge University, and spent much of his life with the British royals with optimum standards of etiquette and decorum. In addition he also was a barrister. Even China's suave Zhao Enlai was always ready to play the second fiddle in the presence of the refined and highly educated Nehru on international stages. India's Panchsheel Treaty or Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence might have happily ensconced Nehru in the belief of no imminent danger from the north. It is also ironic it was Mr. Thondup who spoke very highly of Nehru.
Mr. Thondup by his own admission didn't really care about studying when Chiang Kai Shek had given him $50,000.00 for his academic program. Instead he used the money for the cause of his country and started business ventures. However, it is reasonable to assume that Mr. Thondup's seemingly foolish words must have struck a chord and rung so true when China invaded Indian territory in northern India 1962. No matter what Nehru ultimately felt the sting. No wonder the highly respected leader lamented in disbelief that they went back on their words. Certainly, Mr. Thondup's words were not a case of floccinaucinihilipilification.
It was then Nehru who lost his equilibrium. His equanimity was out of balance. Accordingly to his secretary Nehru then stopped working altogether when in the past he always worked indefatigably into the wee hours of the night. He was so disillusioned and dispirited that his health rapidly deteriorated and he succumbed in 1964. In short, Kundun had spoken about Mr. Thondup aptly in one sentence on Youtube just days before the book hit the bookstores. Kundun stated Gyalo Thondup is a little 'waari-wuuri' (bold, blunt and boisterous) but he's a good man. In my mind, you are all patriots in the service of our beloved occupied homeland. Perhaps a little lost, confused and frustrated in the labyrinth of dirty international political intrigues in the karmic cycle of life's vicissitude, further exacerbated by unethical business associates. Or, outright swindlers. Nothing more, nothing less. So, let's leave it at that and move on