'Extraordinary People'


by Pratish Nandy

Times of India.

Tuesday, March 26, 2002

"How does an unemployed 27-year-old following a career path in poetry and politics survive in Mumbai? Meet Tenzin Tsundue"

Everyone read about Tenzin Tsundue when the Prime Minister of the People's Republic of China came to Mumbai some months back. Tenzin was the young Tibetan boy who climbed up the scaffolding of the Oberoi in Nariman Point and hung the flag of a free Tibet from the fourteenth floor. Of course the cops got him down quickly and took him away before it could become a major international incident. But Tenzin got his five minutes of instant fame and media headlines worldwide.

Though he is of Tibetan origin, Tenzin, 27, was born in Manali. He's never seen his real father, and lived with his mother and foster father till college took him to Chennai, after which he moved to Mumbai to follow his chosen career as a poet and political activist. Tenzin has no formal job. He works along with his friend Sethu Das, a graphic designer, to promote the cause of a free Tibet. The organisation Friends of Tibet which they jointly founded in 1999 has become the rallying point for many young Tibetans who believe that the cause of a free Tibet must not be given up, however difficult the odds may appear to be. For him, Mumbai is a great city because it allows him the freedom that his own country never did. The freedom to articulate his political position without fear.

Q: Why did you climb up the scaffolding of the Oberoi and hang the Tibetan flag from the fourteenth floor? Were you seeking instant stardom?

A: No. I just wanted the Prime Minister of China to see me. I wanted our eyeballs to lock. He symbolises for me the tragedy of my people. I wanted to remind him that six million people cannot be held as slaves forever. We want our freedom. We demand our freedom.

Q: Have you ever been to Tibet?

A: Yes, I sneaked in across the border. After graduating in English Literature from the Loyola College in Chennai, I went to Ladakh and from Ladakh I sneaked across the border to Tibet.

There I met many people. I figured out how deeply committed the Tibetan people are to their cause of freedom. They are the hope. They are the future. Not us. What can we do from here?

Very little. They are the ones struggling out there and I admire them very much. I was caught and imprisoned there for three months and I know how difficult life out there is. The police interrogated me for weeks on an end and then threw me out! They cannot even tolerate that a young man can want to see his own country.

Q: What do you do for a livelihood?

A: Nothing. I have no job. I do not even need one. I have two pairs of torn jeans and two old T-shirts which speak of my love for my motherland. I eat once a day and my friends, who are mostly Indians, take me out for the occasional movie. My cause is my livelihood.

Q: What do you do to promote the cause?

A: I work with Tibetan youngsters. I network with them. I teach them that the time for romanticism is over. We must learn to live with the truth. And the truth is that we have a long and very difficult struggle ahead of us. My visit to Tibet was an eye opener. My hope lies with the Tibetans in Tibet, many of whom are languishing in jail. Their belief in their future is very strong. Their convictions are unyielding. Many of them have never seen or met the Dalai Lama but they are completely loyal to him and, above all, to the cause of a free and independent Tibet. They will never give up. "Rangzen" is their birthright. "Rangzen" is freedom.

Q: Have you ever met the Dalai Lama?

A: Yes, I have. I respect him very much and very deeply. But I do not agree with his stand on autonomy. I want complete independence for Tibet. I cannot even dream of living in peace with the enemy. He is compassionate. I am angry. I am restless. I am young. I live and dream only of a free Tibet.