Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A Youth Born In Exile

Being an exile is perhaps one of the worst things that can happen to somebody, it could perhaps be one of the best things that might happen when your country is occupied, or it could be a culmination of both. Whatever it is, life in exile, away from one’s country, is an experience filled with complexities and moments when you question your identity, especially when you are born in exile.

Growing up in exile is a hard process, not because of material amenities, rights or physical comfort, but simply because you so long to belong. It is hard when you look around and no one recognizes you. A Tibetan born in exile is perceived mostly as a Nepali, Burmese, Bhutanese, Chinese, Japanese, and Vietnamese or anything but Tibetan. It is hard, when every time you say you are a Tibetan; one has to answer “What does that mean? Isn’t it the same as Chinese? What is the difference and why is it?” Being born in exile for a Tibetan youth is more than being the purveyor of a glamorous cause, it is more than being recognized as the followers of His Holiness The Dalai lama, it is more than being displaced from one’s lands, it is a burden. A burden we are born with, a burden we didn’t choose and a burden that will probably outlast our lives.


Being born in exile is a struggle for every young Tibetan. Most of us are born in India. One tries so hard to be a Tibetan, where it is so hard to be one. You are sent to a Tibetan school, where most of the teachers are Indians, who in fact do a wonderful job. But you end up learning in an environment and are groomed with ideas which are not essentially Tibetan. You pray every morning and every evening in Tibetan, and yet most of us don’t realize what we are actually praying about. It is in exile, that we are striving so hard to keep Tibetan language and script alive, when English and other native languages dominate 3 quarters of our everyday life. We get so exposed to Bollywood, Hollywood and everything that had been alien to us, that our idols end up being icons from other cultures. It is not a bad thing of course, but it surely makes it hard, when you are trying to be a Tibetan, where no one else is. It gets even harder, when your whole existence as a unique and different cultural group is defined by reference to one single figure, His Holiness The Dalai Lama. Tibet and Tibetans have become synonymous with “The Dalai Lama”, not that it’s a bad thing, but surely it makes it even harder to prove one’s identity somewhere, where there is none.

When you are born in a community of exiles, you grow up with this constant struggle between the values that the exile community wants you to have and the values of the country where you are exiled. Amidst all this, what should be and what ultimately become your values, is far from same. For a Tibetan in exile, it then becomes a much harder task to define what a Tibetan truly is or what he/she should have been. This leads to a struggle of perceptions among the younger and the older generation of Tibetans, each trying to dictate “what it truly means to be a Tibetan”? But isn’t that’s what’s happening everywhere, in every culture, the strife between old and young, time and progress.

What makes all this more difficult, is the swiftly decreasing boundaries in the world. Internet and technology has brought the world far closer than it ever was, and it’s ever becoming smaller and smaller. Would identity, at all remain a matter of importance in the times to come? This is a question which cannot be just answered philosophically, but would more or less also depend upon the structure of the future we will live in.

In times when global citizenship is promoted as an idea, even by “The Dalai Lama”, for a Tibetan youth born in exile, it’s a hard strife between truly identifying who you are and where you belong. Personally, I have chosen the middle ground. Cultural identity is of course a very important thing, but I believe that identity should not be the reason in finding out how different you are from others. I believe, it should rather be a reason in finding out, how similar you are to others. A small idea, and yet it makes my day easier, my struggle easier and my life easier, in a land where you could easily choose to be different. It’s not easy to be a youth born in exile but its perhaps the best thing that happened to me.

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