Call of the Homeland

Jolden Tobden, the name always amused Kuhu. She found it funnily rhyming. Like many other students in her class Kuhu also often made fun of Jolden for his Chinese eyes, almost non-existent nose and tiny ears. The entire class used to call him ‘chinky’. Even the teachers often made fun of him.

Jolden never mingled with students in the class and stayed to himself. He never played during the recess with other kids and sat on his desk alone, either eating or reading some books written in an unknown script which the other kids deduced as Chinese. Later Kuhu came to know that it was Tibetan.

Jolden used to take the same school bus that Kuhu took. In bus also Jolden sat alone on the front seat next to the driver. The bus conductor and driver also referred him as the chinky boy. One day Dharmesh the rowdiest boy on the bus from senior school kicked Jolden for no apparent reason. Kuhu felt bad that day. She wanted to protest however she was too scared of Dharmesh.

Few days later Kuhu found Jolden crying in the class. He was sitting on his bench and his nose was bleeding. Kuhu was with few other friends. When her friends saw Jolden crying they found it funny and few even said that he was such an idiot sitting and crying like a girl. Nobody bothered that his tiny nose was bleeding. Kuhu wanted to ask him how it happened but she was afraid that her friends would start mocking her. So she didn’t ask anything right away .

She went out to the playground with her friends but then excused herself and came back to the class. Jolden was still sitting alone and crying. His tiffin box opened and untouched in front of him. Kuhu went near him. He was little surprised to see Kuhu near him. His tiny eyes became wide and they stared at Kuhu.

There was thankfully nobody else in the class. Kuhu looked at his nose and asked “how did this happen?” he didn’t reply. He looked down and kept quiet. Kuhu asked again. This was the first time that she was speaking to him. Jolden was not replying but Kuhu stood there. After sometime he looked up at Kuhu and said “Dharmesh kicked me on my way to the washroom and I fell down.” He again lowered his eyes. Kuhu felt sympathetic for Jolden and angry about Dharmesh.

Kuhu rushed out of the class and went to get the first aid box from the teacher’s staff room. She came back; cleaned Jolden’s wound with cotton and dettol and then put some ointment. Then, she sat next to him and asked him to eat his food. He was not talking but obeying whatever Kuhu said like a robot. He started eating his food. Kuhu smelt a strange new smell from his tiffin box. She saw he was eating some dumplings. She didn’t know what it was. When Jolden saw Kuhu looking curiously at his food he offered her. Kuhu took a bite of that meat dumpling and loved the apparently bland taste.

Momo even now reminds Kuhu of Jolden and their first meeting.

Next day morning after boarding the school bus Kuhu saw Jolden sitting on his usual seat next to the driver. Unlike other days they smiled at each other. There was a sense of gratitude in Jolden’s smile. During recess Kuhu tactfully avoided other friends and came near Jolden’s seat. He was eating the same dumplings with a red sauce. Jolden offered Kuhu his food and in return Kuhu offered her food to him. They both sat and ate their tiffins picking food from each other’s boxes.

Kuhu and Jolden became good friends and started spending time together in school bus and class. One day when Dharmesh was bullying Jolden, Kuhu came forward and warned that if she ever saw him troubling Jolden again she would take him to the Principal. Looking at her ferocious temper Dharmesh squirmed like a scared kitten.

Unknowingly Kuhu turned herself into a protective shield for Jolden. Whoever teased Jolden Kuhu would start fighting. Slowly many from their class started befriending Jolden. Life for Jolden became easier in school. Thanks to Kuhu.

Soon Kuhu and Jolden started visiting each other’s home. Jolden loved the Bengali food that Kuhu’s mom cooked and served him with much care and affection. Similarly Kuhu loved the food and ambience of Jolden’s home. Whenever Kuhu entered their home she always was greeted with a nice fragrance of the typical Buddhist incense sticks. She always felt the ambience of Jolden’s home was as tranquil and serene as a Buddhist monastery. She loved the huge framed picture of Dalai Lama that adorned the hall of Jolden’s home and the various thangka painting, wind chimes and bells inside their home. Jolden’s home was very different from all the other houses that Kuhu had seen in her friend circle. Kuhu especially loved to visit their home during Losar or Tibetan New year when his mom made the tastiest delicacies.

Jolden’s father had a small souvenir shop near Connaught Place. He sold Tibetan artefacts and handloom products there. Kuhu often started visiting their shop with Jolden. On few days she even sat at the cash counter or showed customers various artefacts. Most of the customer in their shops used to be foreigners. Kuhu enjoyed going to their shop.

After the board exam, each day afternoon Kuhu and Jolden used to be together either at their shop or at home of any one of them. Couple of times they also went for movies. Both of them loved golgappa and dahi chat. One day Kuhu and Jolden also went to paratha galli opposite Red fort without telling their parents. Both of them were scared that if the parents found out then they would get good scolding yet they enjoyed this secret adventure.  It was a big achievement for them as going alone meant they were big kids now.

Once the results of their exams were declared Jolden came to bid adieu to Kuhu. His family was shifting to Dharamshala and he was going to complete his education in Tibetan studies from Sarah College. Jolden would not attend the colleges that Kuhu and other friends would attend.

They sat on the bed in her room. Jolden was looking little nervous. Kuhu asked politely “What happened, Jolden?” He replied in his usual soft tone “Kuhu, you are the only friend I have in my life; I am feeling sad to leave you”. He paused for a while and said very innocently “One day, I will come back and marry you.” After saying this Jolden looked at Kuhu, she was smiling and he smiled back.

Jolden and his family shifted to Dharamshala. He started sending Kuhu letters frequently. In those letters he mentioned about his new life in Dharamshala. Kuhu used to eagerly wait for his letters. She always replied his letters as soon as she could. In her letters she wrote about her life in Delhi. She was studying in LSR. Her father had bought her a scooty to go to college. She often went to Connaught Place and went to Jolden’s old shop which was now turned into a Khadi Emporium. She even wrote to Jolden about her new friends. She even mentioned him about Partho.

Partho was a boy whom Kuhu met in a college fest. Partho was not good looking but had a boyish charm. He liked Kuhu. One day when Kuhu went to Delhi Hut she met Partho. They sat there in a small cafe and started talking. After talking for a while Partho said “Kuhu, since long I wanted to tell you something, however am little nervous.” Kuhu was surprised and she asked “what is it?”

Partho said “Kuhu, I wanted to tell you that you are extremely attractive and beautiful. I really like you” Kuhu interrupted and said “I can understand Partho, but I am already engaged to someone else.”

Kuhu rejected Partho because she couldn’t think about anybody else except Jolden however Kuhu started noticing a change in Jolden. The frequency of his letters reduced and there was a change in his writing. Now his letters appeared more matured. They spoke about Buddhist philosophy. They spoke about Dalai Lama, the plight of Tibetan refugees in India and how one day he wants to go back to Tibet.

When in second year Kuhu decided to visit Dharamshala with few of her friends. She wrote a letter to Jolden who said he would pick her up from Mcleodganj bus stand. Kuhu and her friends reached Mcleodganj and Kuhu was waiting for Jolden. She saw a Tibetan boy with shaved hair, wearing red and yellow lama costume coming near her. When the boy came near she realised it was Jolden.

He was looking so different. He was holding prayer beads in his hands. Kuhu was happy to see Jolden after such a long time but his transformation was making her uncomfortable. Kuhu’s friends were also surprised to see Jolden in that attire. Kuhu had told them about Jolden however they had imagined him to be any regular college boy.

However after reaching Jolden’s house Kuhu felt nostalgic. She smelt the same fragrance of incense sticks, the wind chimes, Buddhist paintings, everything seemed so familiar. She devoured the food that Jolden’s mom offered.  Everyone in his family was happy to have Kuhu at their home. They were also being very nice to her friends. However Kuhu noticed a change in Jolden. He was aloof and maintaining a distance from Kuhu. He didn’t seem much excited after meeting Kuhu.

Later in the night when everybody fell asleep, Kuhu was awake. She went out of their wooden house to the backyard. She saw Jolden sitting there. Kuhu went and sat next to him exactly the way they sat the day Jolden proposed to her. Kuhu lightly touched Jolden’s shoulders but Kuhu felt he slightly shivered and then moved away. Kuhu found this strange and asked softly “What is wrong with you Jolden? Aren’t you happy to see me?” He replied “No, I am happy.”

Kuhu asked “Then why are you behaving so weirdly?”

Jolden replied “Not weird, it is just that things have changed between us.”

Kuhu was surprised at this answer. She asked softly “What have changed Jolden?”

His face was looking so different and unfamiliar to her. He was no longer the timid Jolden she knew in school. This Jolden was matured and strong. He replied “I have decided to become a Lama. I am planning to take the Bodhisattva vows.”

Kuhu didn’t know how to react. She just stayed there staring blankly at Jolden, who seemed like a complete stranger to her. After staying silent for some time she asked “Why do you want to become a Lama all of a sudden?”

Before she could finish the entire sentence he interrupted and said “Not all of a sudden, I have been planning this for quite some time. I want to give up all earthly pleasures and go back to my homeland Tibet.”

Kuhu was surprised at the last part of his statement. She never thought that Jolden considered Tibet to be his country. She said in a surprised tone “Jolden, you were born and brought up in Delhi, how come Tibet became your homeland?”

“Yes, I was born and brought up in India but still I am not an Indian.”

“Why?”

“Because we are refugees and not Indian citizens.” He said hastily.

“My parents were also refugees when they came to India from Bangladesh. But I never feel like Bangladesh is my home. I feel Delhi is my home” said Kuhu.

“The situation of your parents and my parents are different. Tibetan refugees will never become Indian.”

“Suppose if you go back to Tibet, will you be able to adjust there?”

“Why not?”

“Will you not miss India?”

“Probably I will miss India yet I would be happy there.”

“You won’t get golgappa and tandoori chicken in Tibet.” Kuhu said this to dilute the tensed atmosphere. She tried hard to smile.

“Maybe, I will open a golgappa shop in Lhasa.” Jolden said this grinning.

Jolden continued “I love India but yet I do not feel a part of this country. Wherever I go I am treated like an alien. Remember how they used to bully me in school for my looks and name. How hard we try we will never be accepted by mainstream India, we will remain refugees. Please forget me Kuhu. I am sorry I will not be able to keep my promise. I like you a lot but now my only aim in life is practice the principals of Buddha and fight for my homeland in a peaceful way.”

Kuhu hung her head down and kept silent. She almost felt ashamed on behalf of her old school friends. She then lifted her face and looked at Jolden. She saw a strong determination on his face and Kuhu could understand that things have indeed changed between her and Jolden.

“Somebody said to me:
You are Tibetan, I am also Tibetan.”
“I am Tibetan.
But I am not from Tibet.
Never been there.
Yet I dream
of dying there.”
You once again speak the truth!
Excerpt from “My Tibetanness” By Gade Tsering
— Dedicated to Tenzin Tsundue
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