By Ugyen Gyalpo
As the dust settles, where praises and insults, mockery and flattery, despair and hope, all collided on the stratosphere of Internet following the coronation of Miss Tibet, 2016. I chose to simply listen from the sidelines and watch, comprehend and process, the mindset of our people at all levels from bottom tiers of triviality to top tiers of nuance and cliche.
A nation is a nation that has attributable characteristic, such as that of language, customs, traditions, ethnicity and common territory. A nation has a collective population that shares those characteristics. A nation also has populace, that speaks more than their native language or the language of the diaspora country, they were born into or born in a nation under colonization.
In the case of Tibetans in Tibet, apart from their native language, many speak Chinese under circumstances they were born and coerced into. Unlike Tibet, where the Tibetan culture and languages are forced out under the barrel of a gun, Tibetans in diaspora are at risk without any outside force to loose a grip at their culture and under the serenade of foreign influences, will face unhinged challenges to uphold the abrasion and resign of our culture and language.
Apart from Tibetan language and the unforced erosion of the language due to the infectious cultural assimilation, Hindi and Nepali is the foreign language most spoken and then English, depending upon the percentage of the population, who had the opportunity to learn English at any school or speak English naturally in the English speaking country they were born to.
Deciphering through the recent barrage of obliterated and entangled opinions, some stark, some progressive and some very far leftist and dogmatic, I have come to a rational understanding and educated analyzation that Tibetan language and its importance, varies from person to person, group to group, depending upon the environment they grew up in and how good or how bad one is at speaking and comprehending the Tibetan language. I have also noticed amongst Tibetans, who are very opinionated and well versed in English and highly qualified and who wryly harbor political ambitions and how Tibetan language has become, but a staggering “wall of obstruction” for them to climb up the ladder of Tibetan bureaucracy.
But before I make a point, lets recoil and unwind the forces of uproars and rage that brewed and simmer through the immaturities, irrelevance and bias criticism that slipped through the roof of the tongue of social medias.
The culmination of such a suppressed debate had to find a face and medium for eruption and it did so by default ever so unintentionally, when taunted “Toromoros” or “Tiblish” personified in flesh, with beauty only skin deep, took the crown of Miss Tibet and graced the media by superfluously poor Tibetan and stumblingly promised, she would bring pride to Tibet and humbly work as an ambassador to promote goodwill and cause of Tibet and also improve upon her Tibetan language.
As Tibetans are known to harness the fountain of criticism upon themselves, there was no dearth of disenchantment, when the world of Tibetan social media exploded with distaste into dissecting the essence of Tibetaness and how or when should language play a role in defining one as Tibetan.
I personally think Tibetan language is the ultimate factor that gives us a unique identity and separates us from not being Chinese, Nepalese or American and I truly believe is not only requisite but paramount in serving or representing Tibet and its cause at any forum. It’s like the backbone of our civilization, without which nothing like our culture and religion can be transmitted and brought back alive.
It’s a fair argument, when someone feels looked down upon and scorned at, at their inability and in most cases at their use of broken Tibetan to digress their points. I am totally against such acts but again, I can’t distance myself from the compelling reality of the significance of our language and how imperative it is for someone to be eloquent enough in their native language, at-least to be dreaming of climbing the political ladder of Tibetan politics.
It’s ironical, that same people who despised a candidate in Lukar Jam, who spoke impeccable Tibetan and who possessed forthright vision and innovative substance was hacked down, imploding that he didn’t speak English at all and therefore, would not make a good representation for Tibet. It’s a fair argument and English being the universal language of diplomacy, I had distanced myself from the candidate of my choice. Although, I supported his Independence call for Tibet. That being said, I would not dream of accepting a leader even on the capacity of a Chitue, who does not have good command of its own native language, period!
Spoken and written English is commonplace and universal and everyone and everywhere potentially masters these days. Even older Tibetan who arrived in the US, some fifteen years ago, never having seen the light of a classroom, are able to communicate in broken English.
But then the problem arises such as the debate above, when extremely capable and ambitious leaders are born and are obstructed from their political ambition in the world of Tibetan political hierarchy because of their own limitation and the failed understanding of our native language, something they wry and complain on being judged not on their content and substance of their initiative, but on the medium they choose in English to steer their message.
Our society is not bereft of double standard and rampant opaque hypocrisy. As in this instance, the very people who think Tibetan language is insignificant and that, you can advance your substance of thoughts without it, were adamant in supporting Lukar even though his English was almost to the level of an illiterate. But his vision and forthrightness was unparalleled and he was man of the future and Tibetans were half baked for his ideologies, but that is another story that does not concern me anymore!
As a parable, one can look at great world leaders, such as Angela Markel from Germany, Japanese PM and many other leaders, who only speak but their own language and yet are able to effectively make a difference by subscribing to interpreters. And that is totally fine. But to egregiously tread on self denial and moor on the island of egotistical disbelief and play blame game for their shortcomings is irrational and childlike crankiness.
The apparent language shaming and ridicule is for real and I have seen it happen first hand. Even though, I went to CST Darjeeling, my Tibetan, if I have to rate from 1-10, 10 being the highest, I would give myself south of 4. “Toromoro” the lingo for language shaming, especially targeted towards Tibetans hailing from northeast India mainly Darjeeling and Tiblish, the broken Tibetan spoken by children born in the west are ridicules that needs to be stopped and discouraged.
To be judged every time and scrutinized on obstructing scale is demoralizing for many, who are filled with guilt at first of not knowing their language and second on being at constant self denial on not being Tibetan enough and not making that effort to improve on the Tibetan language.
Let’s not forget that people in Tibet risk their lives everyday to preserve their language at the face of imminent death and torture. They uphold their language and culture amidst enforced cultural reforms that promises to systematically wipe Tibetan languages at schools and replaced by Chinese mandarin. And here we are, at the heels of all this obliteration, debating about whether or not, our language should be the detrimental factor in defining one as a Tibetan. Give me a break! While there are few, who likes to bring any metrics to bring about an equilibrium and get the pendulum swinging by sounding off Tibetan language as insignificant so long if that person upholds and incorporates buddhistic values into their lives to make someone “wholesome Tibetan” thereby, downplaying the language significance. Let’s not forget that Tibetan is a race and more than the genomes, the DNA, the only thing that separates us and makes us unique to other race is our beautiful language and culture and let’s not compromise on that too. We already compromised enough !
The writer is a Tibetan blogger living in Sunnyside, New York.