'Little Tibet Grows'
Mumbai: The tiny Tibetan community in Bombay city is becoming a more prominent cultural presence
Like something that exists on the edge of consciousness, Tibetans in Mumbai - a minuscule community of about 50 - rarely provoke any thought until one reads something about their silent protest or sees itinerant traders selling sweaters during the city's token winter.
However, unnoticed by most, they have been slowly growing into a cultural presence, the latest expression of which was the recently concluded exhibition of Tibetan thangka paintings at rhe Hacienda Art Gallery.
Of the handful of Tibetans in the city, only eight to ten are permanent residents, the rest are students. Besides, around 250 sweater-sellers converge on the city in this season. But Tibetan art is rich and ancient and deserves to be seen by Mumbai, one of the most culturally active cities in the country. To this end, The Indian Aesthetics Alumni organised this exhibition, where besides the thangka, the creation of the Tibetan mandala was on view.
Lamas in religious robes bent over the floor, pouring careful jets of powdered stone colour and working toward the completion of a mandala, often illustrated as a palace with four gates, facing the four corners of the Earth, is wiped out once it is completed, reconfirming the Buddhist belief in the transience of life. Writing about Tibetan activities - cultural or otherwise - requires more thought, not because of their tiny numbers, but primarily because the idea of Tibet is intricately linked with its politics and the colonisation of the 'Plateau of the World' by the Chinese.
However, the purpose of the Hacienda show was not politics. It was concerned only with the rich articulation of the thangkas, as Gopal Mirchandani, a member of Indian Aesthetics Almuni, says, "This exhibition has nothing to do with politics. With this we hope to raise awareness about this wonderful expression of art. The project was initiated when I met Shinza Rinpoche, a reincarnation of a revered Tibetan lama, at the Sera Jhe Monastery in Bylakkuppe, Karnataka."
Occasionally, though, benign cultural activities have been stifled. In August 2004, the Asian Film Festival dropped few films, including Martin Scorsese's Kundun, because of pressure from the Chinese Consulate. In defiance, the organisation Friends of Tibet immediately screened one of the dropped films at Jai Hind College, Churchgate.
CA Kallianpur, all-India Coordinator, Friends of Tibet, who attempted a failed intervention at the film festival, says, "The Deputy Consul-General of China should been summarily expelled. A diplomat of any country cannot call up a citizen of this country and make such demands."
He adds, "As a community, Tibetans have a voice, and we hoped that through Friends of Tibet, we could help it be heard a little louder and clearer."
Friends of Tibet has initiated various projects and cultural events, the most recent in Mumbai being Indian Cartoonists on Tibet. The exhibition of selection of cartoons by OV Vijayan and RK Laxman among others.
It is an irony that among Tibetans working in the city as chefs, some cook at restaurants owned by, as Kallianpur says, "Culcutta Chinese". One such restaurant happens to be Flamingo, Juhu. The sign above the restaurant indicates a strange amalgam: 'A Chinese Tibetan Restaurant'.
More of this irony is evident in Tenzin Tsundue's poem 'Tibetanness'. Poet, activist and general secretary of Friends of Tibet, Tsundue is at present traversing North India, campaigning to raise funds for the Tibetans. Known to most of people as the man who scaled the scaffolding and reached the Oberoi Towers, unfurling the Tibetan flag and a Free Tibet banner down the facade of hotel. Inside, Chinese premier Zhu Rongji was addressing a conference of Indian tycoons.