A Tibet of the mind

Like most Tibetans born and brought up in exile, I grew up, in India, with a certain idea of my homeland, one that was informed by two extreme but inseparable views. On the one hand was an idealised state of grace that existed before the Chinese invasion; on the other, the violated and transformed land – a veritable hell on Earth – that it had since become. We were taught that we, the exiles, were the keepers of the true flame of Tibet's national identity, the guardians of its culture and traditions, which, as far as we knew, were being destroyed in our homeland. And we were also raised to believe that one day we would triumphantly return home, that the entire raison d'etre for our displacement was to fight for that moment.

Over time, this lofty aspiration lost some of its bearings, instead becoming simply another component of our lives as refugees. Our world evolved its own particular reality; we were neither Tibetans in the way that our parents were – and Tibetans in Tibet still are – in the sense of having a physical connection to our land, nor were we truly a part of our adopted countries. Our peculiar in-between lives seemed to demand the expectation of returning to our spiritual homeland for sustenance, but not necessarily its fulfilment. As far as we knew, this was our life – being an exiled Tibetan, inhabiting an ersatz Tibetan world.

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Himal Southasian