Heart and Soul
A group of Tibetan volunteers pour energy, prayer and practice into rebuilding two villages INDIA TODAY, 2001.02.26
FEBRUARY 20, 2001: The group sings a song in chorus, a lilting melody of freedom that no outsider can understand. But they know it must mean something for there to be so much emotion. “In our dream last night we were in our beloved Tibet But when we woke up we found ourselves in India We miss Tibet So let’s get together and get what we desire: Tibet.”
These days, when Dawa Tsering and his team of 134 Tibetan refugees wake up, they find themselves in a terrain somewhat removed from Lhasa’s Potala Palace. Kabrau and Desalpar are villages near the triangle of death marked by Bhuj, Anjar and Bhachau. Kabrau tallies a deathcount of 72, and the village of 1,200 flattened. Desalpar, much smaller, records its 40 houses beyond salvage. And when they sing the song of Tibet, which ollows a heaving chant, “don’t be selfish, be dedicated”, Tsering & Co are usually lined up in a human chain, clearing debris with their bare hands.
It’s a clash of cultures that few deride. At 9 a.m., when they start work, fresh from prayer, breakfast and plans for the day, villagers greet them in the traditional way, “Ram Ram.” They reply with folded hands, “Ram Ram.” If the accent sounds odd, nobody minds. When the team arrived in Bhuj on February 6, armed with Rs 22 lakh, a busload of provisions and the blessings of the Dalai Lama, they went straight into action, removing rubble with their hands to extricate bodies-they pulled out 10-from a spot that better equipped rescue teams had given up on. Another team went to Kabrau, almost untouched by officialdom, where the first building they cleared was the Ram temple, a pilgrimage for devotees from 70 villages in that area. This firmly established rapport with the villagers. “For the past 40 years India has looked after us as a mother looks after her child,” says Tsering, team leader and a welfare officer with the Tibetan government in exile. “This is the time to repay that debt.”
They are being realistic about it. Finding that Kabrau is too big a village for them to rebuild, with limited resources coming in from Tibetans settled abroad-their final purse won’t cross Rs 60 lakh-the team decided to adopt the smaller village of Desalpar. A breakaway team of 70 is at work there, clearing debris, inquiring about quake-resistant house designs for their Desalpar project. They plan to rebuild the village again in about three months. Says Pasang Dolma, joint secretary of the Tibetan Women’s Association and a team member: “Our contribution might be just a drop in the ocean but it is giving us tremendous self-satisfaction.” Mahadev Patel, the sarpanch of Desalpar, won’t have any of that. “To us it means everything,” he says, adding, “these Tibetans have conquered us.”