Towards the last two months of my last visit to India in the spring of 2012, I encountered the Tibetan community in exile in India experiencing painful news of their people self-immolating in fire one after another in China-occupied Tibet. My experiences in the past visits in India (drawing a cremation site in Varanasi, documenting fire pits, cremation alters, and contemplating on life and death around fire) synchronized with this particular movement, an extreme way of ‘offering’ their bodies to ‘fire’ for asking freedom and peace.I could not help drawing large and small drawings as emotional response and with a sense of mourning.

After coming back to Vancouver, the self-immolation kept happening and I felt that my personal and professional task is not finished.

I have come back to India to continue to document and draw under the same theme.

26 January 2018

Crossing The Border

Crossing The Border  

Creeping in the nights, hiding in the days,
We reached the snow mountains after twenty nights.
The border was away by several days still.
The rugged terrain withered us to strains.

Over our head a bomber flew,
My children shrieked in fear,
I covered them under my bosom.
Exhaustion tore my limbs apart,
But my mind warned me.
We must go on or die here.
A daughter here, a son there,
A baby on my back,
We reached the snowfields.

Through many monstrous mountains we crawled,
Whose death-blankets often
covered travellers passing by.

In the middle of the white killing fields,
A heap of frozen corpses
Set out weakening spirit trembling.
Blotches of blood spattered the snow.
The army men must have crossed their path.
Our land has fallen to the red dragons.
We prayed the ‘Yishin Norbu’.
With hope in our hearts,
Prayers on our lips,
Hardly anything to eat,
with only ice to quench out thirst,
We crawled for nights together.

Then, one night, my daughter
complained about a burning foot.
She stumbled and rose again on her frost-bitten leg.

Peeled and slashed with deep bloody cuts,
She reeled and writhed in pain.
By the next day both her legs were severed.
Gripped by death all around,
I was a helpless mother.
‘Amala, save my brothers,
I shall rest here for a while’
Till I could no longer see her fading figure,
Till I could no longer hear her fainting wails,
I kept looking back in tears and agony.
My legs carried me, but my spirit remained with her.

Long after in exile, I can still see her
Waving her frost-bitten hands to me.
Eldest home must have been tough for her.
Every night I light a lamp for her,
And her brothers join me in prayer.

Poem by Tenzin Tsundue 

Tenzin Tsundue is a Tibetan poet born in exile in India, during the chaotic period of Tibetan refugee resettlement in the early seventies. He did his schooling in Tibetan Children’s Village (TCV), Pathlikuhl and later in Dharmasala.
Write to Tenzin Tsundue at: Note:  I owe much to this poem in process of making a mixed media installation completed in 2014 to 2016, which includes cut-out blue legs, symbolising crossing the snowy mountains to the free land, and cut-out blue arms, reaching to loved ones far beyond the borders or died in crossing the border. 

25 January 2018

The World's Third Pole

Our land
Ten thousands of glaciers
Hundreds of the snow-capped mountains
Origins of great rivers

Sacred water that has nourished pastures, animals, and us, humans for thousands of years

Glaciers are melting
Mountains and the earth are dug
Water is poisoned

And our pastures are fenced

Just as our lives