Friday, December 07, 2012
Tibet's Man on Fire
From National Geographic:
More than 80 Tibetans have self-immolated to protest China's policies in their homeland. This is one man’s story.
At the time he decided to set fire to himself, Jamphel Yeshi was living in the Tibetan refugee colony of Majnu ka Tilla, on the northern outskirts of Delhi. The colony was first settled in 1963, four years after the Dalai Lama escaped to India from advancing Chinese forces. The early residents built thatched huts and made a living brewing and selling chang, a traditional Tibetan barley-and-wheat alcohol. As refugees from the roof of the world, they were unaccustomed to the heat and humidity of the low-lying plain. They had no idea how long they'd be staying but imagined they'd return home soon.
Today, about 4,000 people live in the colony, which has been overtaken by the city: A busy thoroughfare runs alongside it, and Indian neighborhoods have grown up nearby. New construction in the colony is illegal, yet ragged workers continue to dig foundations, carrying rubble and dirt in handwoven baskets balanced on their heads and dumping their contents on the nearby banks of the Yamuna River. They navigate a warren of multistory buildings, a shambolic jumble of several hundred homes with colored prayer flags fluttering from the rooftops. The alleyways, many just wide enough for two pedestrians to pass, are populated by crimson-robed monks and nuns, mangy dogs and barefoot kids, activists and drifters, petty merchants, and beggars with missing or mangled limbs who offer a broad smile and warm thanks for receiving the equivalent of 20 cents. A Tibetan far from home can enjoy familiar scents and tastes here: salty butter tea, steamed dumplings, Tibetan bread and biscuits. (Learn about Tibetan traditions under Chinese Rule.) Jamphel Yeshi—Jashi to his friends—lived with four other Tibetan men in a one-room, windowless apartment they rented for the equivalent of $90 a month. The entrance to the room is through a tiny kitchen area, which is separated from the sleeping quarters by a threadbare curtain in a Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck motif. Jashi's mattress still lies on the floor in a corner, below posters of the Dalai Lama and other senior lamas. His mattress and four others form a U-shape around the perimeter of the room, which is illuminated by three fluorescent tubes. A thin cabinet still holds many of Jashi's books, including several well-thumbed collections on Buddhism, Tibetan politics, and history. During the day, the men would store their personal belongings in two tiny alcoves. Jashi's small nylon suitcase remains where it was when he was alive, holding most of what he owned, including three ID cards, two plastic pens, two rosaries, four cotton sweaters, four pairs of pants, a vest, a scarf, a green and a red string, and a small Tibetan flag. (Related: "Buddha Rising, Buddhism in the West.")
On the night before he set himself on fire, Jashi was in a cheerful mood.
Posted by Azra Raza at 07:39 AM | Permalink