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Pomp Without Circumstance

Tibetan Blog Station is launching  with a piece written by Tsering Wangyal,  known by his readers and friends simply as ‘Editor’, in the pre-historic internet year of 1985. He served as editor of Tibetan Review from 1976 to 1996 when the magazine was the most vibrant source of news and information on Tibet in English.  One of the things its readers relished most in every monthly issue were the ‘Editor’s’ editorials, which without failure provided razor sharp commentary that cut through bureaucratic smoke and mirrors and spoke truth to power, and did so almost always with his trademark humor and wit. One of the things that endeared the ‘Editor’ to Tibetans is that even as he used his editorials to expose weaknesses and faults in Tibetan institutions, and indeed society itself, one always sensed his deep affection and empathy for them even as he understood how they could be different and better. The ‘Editor’s’ death in 2000 robbed Tibetans of an important mirror and conscience for our society.  

For years I have been attending the biennial general meetings of the Tibetan government in exile in Dharamsala in the hope of witnessing some dramatic change in its proceedings. I was there again when the latest one began early this month. However, I gave up after attending just one session and decided that I would be making better use of my time by sitting here at my desk and giving the galley proofs of the month’s issue an extra reading. The meeting was supposed to last seven days,; now, at press time, it has been nearly a fortnight, and still there is no news of its having reached a conclusion.

This is because Tibetans don’t regard a meeting as successful if matters are promptly settled and the whole thing wrapped up on schedule. This can be done, for instance, if a speaker each for and against a motion puts his views and only those who have something new to add are given an opportunity to voice them. Instead, a vast majority of the participants are allowed to stand up and make more or less similar speeches, which are intended more to trumpet the speakers sincerity and patriotism than to offer a concise, constructive suggestion towards overcoming the problem supposedly under discussion.

Often the scene resembles a market-place haggling—with hours wasted on debating minor discrepancies in account or the sentence structure of reports submitted for scrutiny. These should have been settled with the concerned offices or persons before the meeting, which would then be free to devote its time more fruitfully on larger, national issues such as the undertaking of certain projects, our attitude towards Peking, improvements on the running of the government-in-exile, finding ways of giving our youth a better education, etc.

Unequivocal criticism of certain government policies or “important” persons is seldom heard, although these form common topics of gossip in tea shops and bars. Some of the junior officials who could but do not raise these issues told me in private that doing so could result in their being transferred to some godforsaken place for eternity—not to mention that delicate matter of future promotions. SO participants are generally interested in saying the ‘right’ things and, moreover, being seen and put on record as having and the ‘right’ things. Hence the endless repetitions of the same points. If, for instance, ‘A’ says that the Dalai Lama is important ‘B’—and the rest of the alphabet—would also feel compelled to stand up and say that the Dalai Lama is important; otherwise the community might get the impression that only ‘A’ considers the Dalai Lama important. This is how a 2 to 5 pm session often drags into past dinnertime, and has to be extended not only for more afternoons but to include Sundays and mornings, thus leaving the offices in deserted chaos and the sensible officials in frustrated boredom.

As I said, I only attended one of the sessions this time. However, that single attendance gave me no reason to expect anything different from the rest of the proceedings. If it turns out that I have been wrong, it would be pleasant surprise indeed; and I would be more than happy to offer apologies all around for being rather hasty in putting pen to paper, or rather—as it happens fingers to typewriter.

Editorials of Late Tsering Wangyal a.k.a.


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