Not on Any Map

From as far back as I can remember, I knew that the places I called home were not really home. In Darjeeling, where I was born and where I spent my early years, there was a sense of temporariness, of constantly being told that our real home lay in Tibet, just across the towering Kanchenjunga range in whose shadow we lived. The comings and goings of various newly-escaped relatives and acquaintances from Tibet made me understand that my own parents had made this journey across the Himalaya, had left their homes and families behind. What kept us going through this initial phase of exile was the unquestioned certainty that we would be returning to Tibet, if not this year, then the next. My father, especially, was adamant on this point and until his death in 1999 in a Delhi hospital, he retained that hope.

I went to a Jesuit boarding school when I was nine. One day, in the heat of an argument with an Indian classmate, I was stunned into silence when he contemptuously called me a "refugee", the word loaded with implications of inferiority. This, and other encounters, where my stateless status was deployed to denigrate me, led me, perhaps unconsciously, to distance myself from my Tibetan identity. Through my college days in Delhi, my friends were all Indian and I was happy and secure within the bubble that we created, which had nothing to do with Tibet.

But I could not escape the fact that my friends' homes were unlike my own; they had a sense of permanence and continuity that I had never known. At the time, my father was serving a life sentence in a prison in Kathmandu for his role as one of the leaders of the Tibetan resistance that had operated out of northern Nepal (he was granted amnesty by the Nepalese king after seven years of incarceration). Every time I went to meet him, I was reminded again of the harsh truth of our existence; that we were homeless, not out of choice but because our homeland was under occupation, and that our lives in exile were about the struggle to redress that situation.

... contd.

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