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This book tells the story of ‘Roof of the World’ Tibet as never told before

Tausif Alam
20th Feb 2017
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White Crane, Lend Me Your Wings — A Tibetan Tale of Love and War, a book by Tsewang Yishey Pemba, the first Tibetan to be trained in western medicine, was posthumously released in Delhi on Friday evening.

(From left to right) Shelly Bhoil, Vijay Kranti, Tenzing Sonam, and Diwo Lhamo Pemba unveiling the book.

Published by Niyogi Books, it is a story of love, vengeance and warfare and gives a glimpse of 25 years of Tibet’s history.

The novel begins with the story of a failed Christian mission in Tibet, taking the reader into the heartland of Eastern Tibet and captures the period of the fierce warrior tribes of Khampas ruled by their chieftains. According to the book's description, it is a tale of vengeance, warfare and love unfolded through the life story of two young boys and their family and friends.

Their personal lives get embroiled in a national catastrophe as China invades Tibet, forcing it out of its isolation. Ultimately, the novel delves into themes such as tradition versus modernity, individual choice and freedom, the nature of governance, the role of religion in people’s lives, the inevitability of change, and the importance of human values such as loyalty and compassion.

Dr Pemba’s daughter, Diwo Lhamo Pemba.

At the book release event, the late Dr Pemba’s daughter, Diwo Lhamo Pemba, Tibetan film director and writer-essayist Tenzing Sonam, research scholar on Tibet Shelly Bhoil, and Indian journalist and photojournalist Vijay Kranti, who has been associated with the Tibetan cause for over 40 years, were present.

In a panel discussion moderated by Shelly, the speakers shared insights and views on Tibetan history, culture, religion and their independent struggle.

Dr Pemba, the son of a clerk at the British Trade Agency, was born in 1932 in Gyantse. At the age of nine, Pemba was sent to India and enrolled at Victoria School, near Darjeeling.

Aged 17, he travelled to London to study medicine at University College Hospital. Tumultuous events in the year 1954—the death of his parents, followed by the occupation of Tibet by China in 1955—convinced him not to return to his homeland.

Instead, he was recruited by the future Prime Minister of Bhutan, Jigme Dorji, to establish that country’s first hospital.

When Shelly asked Diwo why her father chose to make a person from the Khamba tribe as the protagonist of his novel, Diwo explained, “Khambas are honest, loyal, steadfast and fierce. And the great grandmother of the late author was a Khamba.”

Shelly observed that the world isn’t very aware of the Buddhist civilisation in Tibet, as it holds a limited view of the multi-faceted place.

A performance during the book launch.

Tenzing, pointing out that Tibet just does not host monks and passive civilians, said, “We have a history of fierce warriors emerging from the plateau of Tibet.” In the 75 years of its occupation, the region has put up many a resistance, both armed and peaceful, against Chinese oppression. The book by Dr Pemba explores this little-known aspect of Tibet by giving readers a glimpse of the resistance.

Vijay commended the writer for having summed up perfectly the attributes of the Tibetans. “The book refers to the period of 27 years, between 1924 and 1951. The writer was fortunate enough to live a long life and observe Tibet as an insider as well as an outsider who had lived in the West for many years. This gave him perspective and the ability to reflect upon the changing history of Tibet.”

Trisha De Niyogi of publisher Niyogi Books was full of praise for Pemba. Noting the lack of literature on Tibet, she called White Crane, Lend Me Your Wings — A Tibetan Tale of Love and War one of the best fiction books on the country. “While a lot has been written on Tibetan spirituality, Pemba has been able to give a very objective account of historical events and has weaved them into a fictional narrative perfectly.”

In all, around six books on Tibet have been written in the English language, but many are out of print.

“As a publisher, we have tried to do whatever little we could to help promote a culture and preserve Tibetan heritage. We hope others will join us in our endeavour,” she added.

(Photos by Manoj Upadhyay)

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