Thursday, February 28, 2019

The Kaladham Diaries Day 2

A walk in the morning around the township. Met Piyush along the way and we explored a bit. Breakfast at the Convertor and then off to see what's around.
In our minivan

Inspire Institute of Sports
First stop, the impressive 200 crore Inspire Institute of Sports, Parth Jindal's idea that has the ambitious aim of producing medal-winning Olympians. The best facilities in India, international coaches, education and a two-year contract. Currently, the areas they have targeted are - track and field, judo, wrestling, boxing and aquatics (not yet started). CEO, Rushdee Warley has coached Olympian swimmers and so has Antony Yaich who has coached Olympians in the track and field. The facilities are outstanding, the idea audacious.
Entrance of the IIS, check out the countdown to Olympics above
Combat hall - 5000 sq mt

Judo, Wrestling and Boxing

Track - Coach Antony and his wards


Sharon and the High performance Center

Athlete hostels to house 300
OPJ Centre
We visited the OP Jindal Centre which houses several activities - Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Steel Tech, IGNOU Study Centre, NTTF Vocational Training Centre, Training Centre for Textile and Apparel, Training Centre for Differently Abled Youth, JSW Foundation, BITS Pilani Centre, School of Nursing, Centre of Excellence, Tamanna School for Specially Abled Children, Skill Development Centres.

We visited the Vocational Training Centre the Textile and Apparel Centre that provides an opportunity to women. Apparently, Bellary which is 30 kms away is a major centre of denim production. They were stitching denim jackets, trousers etc. Piyush and George bought a jacket each.
OP Jindal Centre

The campus
Me and the students
Getting a lowdown 

George in the textile centre
Boys and toys

Piyush and Sharon doing what they do best - pulling each other's legs (don't miss Piyush's Pink Freud!)

We stopped for tea.

Tamanna School of Specially Abled Children
The area has a high incidence of specially-abled children due to marriages between close relatives. The Tamanna School for Specially Abled Children sends out buses to villages nearby, picks up the children and brings them to school. It's a beautiful school, well maintained and done with care.
The lot - Elisabeth and Shireen had not yet come - Shubra, Vishakha, Nimmi, Chandrahas, Piyush, Sharon, Brandon, George and Me

Chatting with the Principal of Tamanna

Buying stuff at Tamanna

Superb pic by director Piyush

Another arty composition by the talented Piyush

That was it for the morning. We headed back for a spot of lunch and a plan to regroup at 4 in the evening for some more checking out. We were getting a sense of the place by now. The Jindal factory and township pretty much sustained a lot of activity around this place.

Writer Profile 2 - Piyush Jha, Ad man, Indie Film director, Crime Fiction Writer
You cannot ignore Piyush. Handsome, articulate, approachable, easy to talk to, knowledgeable, man of the world - among other things. A Bihari who pretty much grew up in Mumbai all his life thanks to his father who worked in the services, Piyush, is a full-on Mumbaiwala. Forever fifteen is his motto. However, there is that bit of a Bihari in him which makes him all that more interesting. A degree in Psychology from the University of Mumbai followed by an MBA, and then a successful career in advertising. Then the creative bug got to him and he split, set up his own production house, made ad films, and then directed his first film - Chalo America (2000, financed by the NFDC). In 2004 he directed 'King of Bollywood' with Om Puri and Sophie Dahl (Roald's granddaughter). In 2009 he made 'Sikandar', a movie set in Kashmir. Funnily for a good looking guy he never acted in his own films (didn't answer me when I asked!).

As a writer,  Piyush has written crime fiction - 'Mumbaistan' is his first book, followed by 'Compass Box Killer', 'Anti Social Network' and 'Raakshas: India's No 1 Serial Killer'. Also a satirical novel 'The Great Bowel Movement'. He played me a voice over he had done for an ad film. And he was part of a band when in college. And he was Secretary students union. And surely other things he didn't tell me about.

For someone who has accomplished quite a bit, Piyush is very approachable and great fun. He shared his experiences easily, asked questions about our lives, has a fine sense of humour, gave advise to George and me on how to close deals with projects we don't want to do. He has tremendous energy, has firm beliefs in sustainability, has turned vegetarian and teetotaller. He has endless stories about Bollywood (or anything you care to talk about), is very knowledgeable about books, movies, web series. Knows people, is very generous. To top it all he sings so well as we found out on the Hampi trip - English, Hindi. There's not a dull moment with Piyush around. I enjoyed my walks, my talks, take his advise seriously and am really keen to watch his movies over the weekend.

Piyush and I spent all our writing time in the Board Room. It was a place for the backbenchers - we'd head off for chai every hour, play music loudly and do all the things writerly chaps or creative chaps don't do. And we were okay with that. Like I told Piyush, a lot is owed to his approachable and amiable character - if he had been stuck up about his accomplishments - the entire retreat could have turned out differently!  He was there at the morning walk and last to go to sleep at 11 in the night. Good fun Piyush. Like you say, PBC.

The Kaladham Diaries Day 1, Spaces Between Words - The Unfestival

The Invite
"There's a 10 day Writer's Retreat at the Jindal township near Hampi. I would like you to come,' says Sathya on the phone. 10 days? Away? Writers? This was scary. What if they find out I am not a writer? What do real writers behave like? What if I find out I am not?
I kept quiet.
Gently she said. 'You will like it. Come.'
When someone says Come like that I cannot say no. I said yes. Not knowing what it was about.

I asked the two women in my life - Shobhs and Anjali. Both felt I should go. Maybe they needed a break. So, go it was. Rescheduled stuff.

Day 1 - The Journey
On the 13th I got to the RGIA airport at Hyderabad. Wandered about. Checked out my co-participants on the net. Piyush Jha (could not find him initially but he had directed movies, written books, done a lot), Nimmi Raphel (performer, director, playwright, Adishakthi from Auroville, Pondicherry), Brandon Damian Ingram (actor and author, Colombo), George Mathen (artist, graphic novelist, from Bangalore), Sharon Irani (poet, editor), Shubra Krishan (writer, travel and cookbooks), Chandrahas Choudhury (most literary of the lot with 3 books, known personality, I went to his book function for his highly acclaimed Arzee the Dwarf in Hyd with Vinod), Vishakha Jindal (artists, designer), Shireen Quadri (writer, editor of Punch magazine)

Saw Sathya who was talking to Nimmi. Saw Piyush and Vishakha in the background. Hopped on the flight and off we went. Five from Hyd. From Bangalore George, Chandrahas, Sharon, Shubra. Brandon was already in his room. He came a day early.

The half kalash
At the Vidyanagar airport which nestles between the Jindal steel plant which at 18 MTPA is one of the biggest steel plants in India, we hopped off. We were welcomed by Rajsekhar and got on to a minivan. In 10 minutes we were at the Hampi House, nestling inside a very welcoming and promising green township. We passed the Hyatt where Shobhs and Reena and Ramani stayed on their way to Goa for their rally. Nothing to complain so far. The township looked awesome.
The quaint market place, Dominos on the right
The Hampi House
This is where we would stay.

A lovely place with a restaurant 'The Convertor'. Superb design everywhere - blending in with the Hampi architecture, with nature.

We walked to our rooms - Hampi House A and B. We were in A (or was it B).  I was lodged in 203, second floor.
Well furnished. Writing desk (hope to use it), TV (will never use it) etc etc. No problemo.
What became the beer place later!

The garden
Headed down to eat lunch. After a spot of lunch we sat at the lawns and hung about till tea time. After which the Bangalore crowd came in.
Piyush, Sathya, Vishakha and Nimmi (me missing)
More talk. Then Sathya led us on a small walk - along green lawns, past a well-designed museum and to a small man-made lake with ducks.

Heading to the lake

The ducks and the lake (pic Piyush Jha)
Piyush does not want to sleep in early. Most others seemed fine with heading back. I stayed back with Piyush and George. Both had all the traits of backbenchers - my types.

Tomorrow we will be shown the place - taken around. Not a bad idea.
Definitely, need to check out the place - walk around perhaps.

Plans made. Was not a comfortable night. What lay on the other side?

Writer Profile No 1 - Sathya Saran, Editor, Writer, Curator
Featuring Sathya, the curator of this show - 'Spaces Between Words' - The Unfestival. Sponsored by the JSW Foundation, part of the 13 billion Jindal group. The JSW Foundation is headed by Ms. Sangita Jindal whose taste and love for all things old and beautiful shines through her work. Sathya got this idea of an Unfestival she said, one night. Most writers are disillusioned by lit fests and their pecking order and stuff and there is enough literature on lit fests already so I can totally get it. The idea was to get 10 writers of different genres together, curated by Sathya, get them to spend time together, let them absorb Hampi and Vidyanagar, and perhaps if they are inspired, get some creative output located in the environment. Wonderful idea and I loved the way Sathya held back from giving too much information -she let it flow as it should.

For the uninitiated, Sathya is a much-accomplished lady. As editor of Femina, India's first women's magazine, for 12 years, she is well known. She won several awards and has written books - bestselling autobiography of Guru Dutt, biographies of Jagjit Singh, S.D. Burman. 'Night Train and Other Stories' and a book on Gulzar's 'Angoor - Insights into the Film. She also wrote one on how to become a beauty queen or something like that - Femina definitely was involved in the Miss India shows - they were called or probably still are Femina Miss India. As consultant editor of Harper Collins she brought together this marriage anthology last year 'Knot for Keeps' for which I contributed a piece on my own marriage titled 'The Imperfect Marriage'. Sathya teaches at NIFT, writes and edits books, consults and does many things.

For all her accomplishments, Sathya comes across as someone who had found the perfect balance. She has a childlike enthusiasm for everything, has tremendous energy and grit and when needed, can be firm and decisive. She does things just right - economy of words, actions and I think is a perfect teacher and mentor. The kind who does a lot without seemingly doing anything. Sathya has this signature plait that reaches her knees, has a terrific sense of fashion and has this Hyderabadi connection - she studied in Nizam College!

As for her writing, she is very diligent. Does not waste a moment, produces different material copiously. Every day, she had something to read. Her commitment to work was something to learn. More on her in later posts.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Anjali - What If Someone Says There Is Something Wrong With Me

Anjli asked what one was to do if someone implied that there was something 'wrong' with her. I guessed it was about some tiff with a friend. It was obviously important to know if it was true.

Firstly I guess there is nothing 'wrong' with anyone. It's some behavior that others do not like or approve of. They could find something 'wrong' about us because we do not agree with them.

But then we cannot fully live so we are 'liked' by others.

Anjali said that if they were really her friends they will accept her as she is. Everyone has something that does not fully fit with others. And if they feel something is wrong with her why should she put up with them?

Fair enough, I said.

'I read somewhere about toxic friendships. They damage your self-esteem,' she said. Whoa!

I guess that's a measure of the relationship. Is it making you feel empowered or is it making you feel less? For everyone involved. In which case I guess one has to move to a place where they feel more empowered. More expansive.

I guess the old saying that relationships should be equal to make sense holds.

The Year in Movies - 2018

That's 101 movies - one more than last year. I tried to choose my movies and am glad that I generally seemed to have seen more good ones than bad. Thanks are owed to Sagar, Abhinay, Vasu, Shobhs, Anjali, Niveditha, Satish, Naresh for recommending or watching with me.

1) Wizard of Lies
2) Pedar
3) Sara
4) The Unknown Girl
5) Faces
6) Opening Night
7) Wonder
8) Wind River
9) The Spy Who Came in from the Cold
10) Paris, Texas
11) The Star
12) Amarcord
13) Bladerunner 20149
14) Despicable Me
15) O Brother, Where Art Thou
16) Life and Nothing More
17) 3 Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missourie
18) The Darkest Hour
19) The Post
20) The Florida Project
21) The Shape of Water
22) Loveless
23) Lady Bird
24) Maze
25) Jumanji
26) Angamaly Diaries
27) Paper Moon
28) Villa dwellers
29) Maheshinte Prateekaram
30) A  Bronx Tale
31) The Square
32) Thondimuthalam Drikshakshaym
33) Jacobinte Swargarajyam
34) American Made
35) 102 Not Out
36) Farewell My Concubine
37) Nude
38) On Body and Soul
39) The Crimson River
40) The Proposition
41) American Graffiti
42) Call Me By Your Name
43) Surya s/o Krishnan
44) Julius Caesar
45) Il Bidone
46) Thithi
47) October Sky
48) The Pelican Brief
49) Parmanu
50) Raazi
51) The Verdict
52) Artificial Intelligence
53) Everest
54) The Gambit
55) Hotel Transylvania 3
56) Rampage
57) Hotel Transylvania
58) Hotel Transylvania 2
59) Mahanati
60) Tumhai Sulu
61) Hichki
62) Blackmail
63) Sully
64) Rangashtalam
65) Parched
66) Premaku Raincheck
67) c/o Kancharapalem
68) Descendamts
69) Descendants 2
70) Manto
71) Goodachari
72) Tamasha
73) October
74) Baby
75) Kaarwan
76) Pather Panchali
77) Unishe April
78) Batti Gul aur Meter Chalu
79) Gumnaam
80) Andhadhun
81) Shaadi Mein Zaroor Aana
82) Ambe Sivam
83) Badhaai Ho
84) Black Friday
85) Amal
86) Pele
87) Bohemian Rhapsody
88) Hope Springs Eternal
89) Mitron
90) Tumbbad
91) Cat on a hot tin roof
92) Downsizing
93) Dedh Ishquiya
95) Brad's Status
96) North 24 Kaatham
97) Satyamev Jayate
98) Baby Driver
99) The Hungry
100) The Eye In The Sky
101) The Dictator

Pather Panchali, Unishe April, Amarcord, Il Bidone, Pedar, Sara were all other language films that I enjoyed. The Dictator was funny

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Pariyerum Perumal - Movie

It denounces caste and religion at the very beginning. Makes a serious point. 'How are we inferior?' the boy asks.
Need more of these stories that were hidden in the woodwork.

Gully Boy - Movie

Nice. Bahut hard hai bhai. Liked Siddhant Chaturvedi. Ranveer and Alia get lost in their roles so we don't even know they are acting.

Sunday HANS Column - Government Jobs are Back!

This is a takeoff from a lesser known news item that appeared last week.

 The name of Sunny Leone topped the exam for Bihar Public Health Civil Engineers exam and and followed by one bcsvnaa or some name like that. Sunny reacted in good humour, the Minister concerned said that the candidates concerned will not get the jobs unless they produce their papers.

What no one seemed to address is how it happened int he frost place that a name like Sunny Leone which is quite obviously fake and bcvssnaa get first and third in an exam for engineers. What does it mean?

Anyway, on a lighter note.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Alita: Battle Angel - Movie

Alita is a warrior cyborg so there is lots of fantastic action. Inspired by Yukito Kushiro's manga series.

Money is Not the Problem, You Are - Gary M. Douglas and Dr. Dain Heer

Gary says money is not the problem, you are. The problem is about your receiving and that also means you are the solution. Ask the question - so what's it going to take for me to show up in my life? Gary says the natural state of the universe is abundance and one must be in tune with it to receive it.

Gary says - stop saying 'I can't afford it'. Be ok with paying taxes, pay bills even when you are with someone richer than you are, carry enough money in your pocket that makes you feel rich (don't spend it), tithe yourself 10% upfront,

Ask yourself the question - what would it take for - to show up? How does it get any better than this? What makes me perceive, know, be and receive that would allow me to -? Say - All of life comes to me with ease and glory and joy.

He says live life in 10-second windows so you make the right decisions. He says destroy and uncreate your life every day. Get up and go and have fun every day, celebrate every day.

He says bring your personal vision to whatever you are doing to make it fun. Ask the universe to help. Use your talents to create money (normally your talents are things that come easy to you, stuff you do for free). He says look at who you have to be if you're going to be successful.

Gary has strong views on negative people - he calls them ELFs and rattlesnakes. Keep away. 

He says people who are doing sales need a barrier. Don't give them a barrier and they have no sales.

He has this concept of pulling energy - when somebody owes you money, pull energy form them and let a trickle go back and they can't stop thinking about you.

Learn to receive he says. Judgment limits your capacity to receive. What are you absolutely unwilling to receive? Instead, do being give and take he says be gifting and receiving.

Visualise money coming at you from all directions.


  • Put away 10% of all you get
  • Carry lots of money in your pocket-dont spend ti
  • Do not judge yourself
  • Live life in 10 second increments - you get a lot of clarity
  • Use energy flows
  • Start paying attention to wht you are creating - if its not nice first acknowledge that you must love it, you don't know why but okay, I love it
  • Live in the question -questions empower, answers dis-empower
  • When money shows up ask - how can it get better than this
  • Say the mantra - all of life comes to me with ease and joy and glory
  • Decide that no matter what, you won't buy into the old point of view again
  • Celebrate every day  

Monday, February 11, 2019

Column in the SUNDAY HANS - Lit Fest Terrorists

Beware the Lit Fest Terrorists!

Anjali - At 11

It's almost half and year gone since Anjali's 11th birthday. We did half of this interview - four months ago with the idea of completing it. But I guess it's complete in its own way. So publishing it.

Q. How do you think you changed at 11?
A. I think I am more conscious of how I am with others if I am being rude. Trying not to be impatient. Try not to hurt others. Sometimes we say it without meaning it but they get hurt. Just feel more conscious.

Q. Why is that?
A. I think people are more worried about others opinion, looks. More sensitive.
One day I watched myself - what I was sayingShout a lot! So decided not to do that. Interrupting.

Q. When did you do this?
A. A month ago.

Q. Anything triggered this?
A. Nothing really.

Q. What are the other changes you are noticing?
A. I think everyone is more irritable. Frustrated. Sensitive. Growing up. Changing.

Q. What are the advantages of growing up?
A. Adults take you more seriously. When you are young they find you cute. But they don't take you seriously.
When I talk to children under 10  they say so many things that are wise but no one listens to them
Now my opinion is counted. People ask us what we think. Teachers ask us about our programs.

Q. What are the disadvantages?
A. It's a little silly. Plabo. I feel I am too big to play at Plabo. I feel like doing them sometimes but we are too big.
People expect us to be mature, responsible, well mannered. I feel we are still kids. Not that big yet.

Q. Any big learning last year?
A. Just before my birthday, I started understanding that we should treat them how I'd like to be treated. Like little kids, need to give them a voice. Had great ideas when I was young, thoughts, questions, ideas. No one takes you seriously. When I am kinder they will be kind back to me.

Q. Any interesting experiences?
A. Time with Niveditha aunty at Wild Waters. Visit to Indore, Bangalore. Learning the waveboard. Going for cricket and shuttle coaching.

Q. Any interesting new people or friends?
A. Gautami aunty and Vanathi aunty. Rigvida.

Q. Any new things you did?
A. Fundraiser with Niveditha aunty. It was an event to raise money for her maid's kid's education. There was lots of food and fun activities.

Q. New authors and books this year?
A. I read R.K. Narayan,  Harry Potter, Great Expectations (started)

Q. Who is your favorite author?
A. You.

Me. Haha, but you never read any of my books except This Way Is Easier Dad. But pick any other author.

A. Anant Pai of Amar Chitra Katha. Roald Dahl.

Q. The best gift you got this year?
A. The big daughter card that you and Mamma made. Amazing. Lots of things said about me.

Q. Describe yourself as an 11-year-old?
A. Curious. Energetic. Always want to do something. restless. Studying. Feel ready for anything. Stable. Artistic (art creations, sketching, painting)

Q. What's the new thing?
A. Wave board. Also never liked my earlier paintings before. I like the new paintings.

Q. Are you more comfortable with adults now or before?
A. Same.

Q. How are your friends now that you are all 11?
A. Everyone opened up much more than ever before. Talk to me. Forming a close bond with all my classmates. We are all becoming one unit. We feel we can tell whatever we feel.

Q. How are the teachers and the school?
A. There is a lot of focus on morals and values. More valuable than knowledge. They pay attention and correct us wherever they can.

Q. Happiest moment?
A. Waveboard.

Q. Any movies that caught your attention?
A. DDLJ for the first time. Thought there would be more.

Q. New foods?
A. Potato spiral in the Telangana Food Festival.

Q. Any idea about politics?
A. Not exactly. Reading through papers. Have a general idea. What I think is that politicians promise a lot to get votes and don't execute. Recently I read about corruption. It's cheating. Buying votes.
The politicians' job is to serve the common man. I feel it is less of that. I feel politicians are there for the money and fame.
I know there are a few main parties. we learned about the majority - mergers. Read a lot of pre-history. It is quite interesting. People were intelligent. Without technology, they did so much. As in a practical way. The Mauryan empire was so careful about cutting trees, They would fine them.
Now with everything we still cannot stop cutting trees, have plastic. How are we smarter than them?

Good point Anjali. How are we better than them?
Anyway that interview ended on a rather abrupt note for some reason. So I will treat it as complete and get down to the 11 and a half year old interview soon.
Thanks Anjali. 

96 - Movie

Loved it. Slow and beautifully told tale of a love that never got to fulfill its potential. Vijay Seupathi plays the perfect part - of a besotted lover who cannot express himself. So well captured in the poster.

Saturday, February 9, 2019

You Can Have Your Cheese and Eat it Too - William Cottringer

William Cottringer's book looks at workplace situations where wrong cultures are developed and work gets affected. In such a scenario, he uses two Siamese cats Khaos and Konfusion and two mice Klarity and Simplicity, who conspire to make life more productive and fun for all.

Right up front, he asks three questions - How do I sabotage my success? For whom am I doing this? What is the best I can do? In fact, he asks many questions in the book.

The conspiracy between the cats and mice involves the cats laying down some draconian laws for the mice one every day of the week starting Monday like
- Either-Orness (everything has to be either this or that, there would be only opposites and no middle ground, including that they could either think or feel),
-  Unlikability (likability is outlawed, everyone finds faults and complains about everybody else),
- Babble (babble is the only language and listening is a crime, use all kinds of words and meanings to miscommunicate and create more chaos),
- Hide and Seek (everybody forgets what they were doing and create chaos),
- Duncery (no more quality thinking, everybody loses their ability to think),
- Narcosis (everyone is deprived of their sensitivity and they will be focusing on all unimportant things) and
- Instantaneousmania (there is no more time, everything is a blur, instant gratitude without thinking and feeling).

Through this seven-step process, they ensure that the cats and mice have no chance of thinking or feeling, have quality thoughts or communicate better and not take responsibility for anything. The author tells the readers to figure out which mousetrap they are stuck in.

The solution to the above problem is to develop a culture where the cats and mice
- dream big, listen carefully, enjoy everything, be positive, get smart, be reverent, laugh often, get involved, use their talents, improve and grow

They also take care not to
- hurry, quit, lie, be dishonest, gossip, be irresponsible, judge, worry or wander

The five questions all cats need to answer are
What is it I am supposed to be doing here?
How am I supposed to be doing it?
How do I know if I am doing it right?
What's in it for me?
Where can I go when I need help?

Nice concepts. Some lovely quotes.
"One of the best ways to persuade others is to listen to them." - Dean Rusk

"You can't escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today" - Abraham Lincoln

"Good judgment comes from experience. Experience comes from bad judgment." - Evan Hardin

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Tenzin Dhundup - My Young Tibetan Friend

I met Tenzin Dhundup thanks to Gowri and Raju, who sponsor his education in Dharamshala. They sponsor five other Tibetan children who have fled their country and are living in exile in India as refugees. It is a hard life and most certainly for Tenzin who had to make the choice of leaving his parents and undertook an arduous two-month journey to make a new life in India. Ever since 1959, when the Tibetan government in Lhasa, under the leadership of the 14th Dalai Lama rebelled against the Chinese government's suspected plans to abduct the Dalai Lama (after which the Dalai Lama fled from Lhasa and came to India), over 1.5 lakh refugees have escaped to India. The Tibetan rebellion after the Dalai Lama fled was bloody and the Chinese have since destroyed monasteries and killed thousands.

Tibetans in refuge in India live in Tibetan settlements across the country - Dharamshala (which is where the Tibetan Government in Exile under the leadership of the Dalai Lama functions), Dehradun, Ladakh, Bylakuppe and Mundgod in Karnataka, among others. All of them risked capture and imminent prison in Chinese prisons. The Tibetan government in exile stakes claim to its land and has been continuing to protest against Chinese occupation. In the 1959 thousands of Tibetans were captured, tortured and killed. In recent years several Tibetan monks have committed suicide by immolating themselves to bring International attention to Tibet. 2019 is the 60th year of Chinese occupation.
Tenzin comes to Hyderabad
In India, the Tibetans do some great work. For example, Tibetan medicine is quite popular in alternative medicine systems that are available in India. They have their clinics all over India (the main cities at least) and it is affordable and accessible (you can send your reports to Dharamshala with the case history and about 1-2 thousand rupees or so (approx) and they send you the medicines by post. Many swear by the Tibetan treatment for cancer and it is through many such recommendations that Ram and I went with Ranjan to Dharamshala seeking an appointment with the Padmashri awardee, 93-year-old Tibetan doctor, Dr. Yeshi Dhondhen, who is renowned for his cancer treatment. In the process of securing his appointment (which has 3 month waiting periods), I contacted Gowri who sponsored Tibetan children and she put me on to young Tenzin who is now studying for his medical degree in the Mentse-Kang College of Tibetan Medicine and Astro Studies in Dharamshala. He is in his second year now. (Our appointment, however, was facilitated by Raju through his friend Karma.) During our trip to Dharamshala last March, where Tenzin was a big help, I invited him over to Hyderabad and he finally did.
Telling me his story
Tenzin Dhundup, now 25, does not remember his birthday because his parents did not record it. (He never celebrated his birthday consequently!) His parents, Dargyi (father) and Dolma (mother), are from a nomadic tribe who kept animals - 20 yaks, 30 sheep and 5 horses from what Tenzin remembers. The female of the yak species, (dhu - as they call them), provided them with milk, cheese, butter, and other dairy requirements. Tenzin remembers his father's sister and her four children also being with them. Tenzin was his parents' only child; they had lost two other boys older to him to illness.

In winters the family lived in a town, Sershul. In summers they went to the mountains to pick herbs to sell. In autumn they stayed in Sharyak, a place in the plains. The herb (caterpillar fungus according to Wikipedia) they would pick up was 'yarsagumba' which fetched rich dividends - in 3 months they could get 1 kg of it, but it was worth 1000 yin. (Wikipedia says that 1 kg could fetch up to 100, 000 USD in China! It is considered a miracle herb.)

Life was pretty simple for Tenzin then. The family woke up at 4 am to milk the dhu, fed the animals, ate breakfast and then took the animals out to graze. Tenzin learned how to ride a horse early and was good at it. Food would be Tsampa (barley powder, yak meat, sheep meat, cheese, curd, butter, milk and vegetables) or thukpa (atta, meat and vegetables). Tenzin's father was good with his hands and he stitched clothes from sheep and yak skin. He also made tents from yak fur in which they lived. In winters when they were in Sershul, he made (continues to this day) a stove called Thap, made of tin, which has good demand. On a good day he makes 3-4 thaps. Tenzin says that since he did not go to school, his father taught him Tibetan basics - the language. 'He is my first teacher,' he says.

Gowri and Raju with their Tibetan children - Tenzin in the green

The Journey From Tibet to Dharamshala
When Tenzin was 14 years, sometime in early 2007, he received a letter from his friend Koma, who had been his neighbour in Tibet. The letter had a picture of Koma in India. Koma asked Tenzin to come to India so he could study. India was happy and peaceful, he said. Tenzin wanted to go to India and told his parents of his desire. They were against sending their only son away. The dangers of the journey were one aspect but the fact remains that once they come to India they cannot go back to Tibet. Nor can the parents come to India. Nor can they communicate.

After he came to India in 2007, Tenzin has not met his parents, though he has established contact with them. The oppression is evident in many ways - shows clearly in the flight of Tibetans against such odds. People asked to change religious practices, forced into labour, ways of life changed. It was worth fleeing for many of them.

After a couple of months of persistent asking, Tenzin's parents agreed. He promised that he would go to India, study well and that will always be a good person. Sometime in June 2007, he set off with a group of 5 unknown people and his friend Lhodo who was also fourteen years old, to Lhasa where the guide to India was. It was obviously clandestine. From their hometown in Sershul, they first went to Yishu by bus which was a three-hour journey. From Yishu he went to Silang, by overnight bus. Then another overnight bus to Kormo, another overnight bus to Nagchu and the last overnight bus to Lhasa. Pretty much 5 days to Lhasa. They paid 4000 yen to the guide. His parents gave him 500 yen for himself. The guide was known to his father's friend.

In Lhasa, the group of 31 waited for a month. They stayed in a room near the North Gate of Lhasa, 5 people to a room. Tenzin and Lhodo sold groceries to earn money to buy food. Occasionally the 14-year-old called his parents from a pay phone.

One evening they were told to assemble at a point outside the city. 27 adults (3 women), 3 children and two adolescent boys (T and L) and two young girls. The group got into a truck which looked like it was carrying a load of furniture and mattresses but had a secret cavity inside where they could huddle. 'It was very tight,' he recalled. They drove all day and then stopped at midnight at a small restaurant where they had tea and Tsampa. The truck started again and they reached a town where they hid in a house all day to escape Chinese.

They travelled 5-6 hours again when the truck stopped near a bridge and they were asked to hide under the bridge. Tenzin remembers sleeping under the bridge because the river was dry. Three were no tents so they slept in the open plains. In the morning another truck came to pick them up.

Once again they started travelling. By now the Chinese army seemed to have got wind of the escape and the truck had to hide in a valley to escape detection. The following night they were not so lucky though. A Chinese army patrol intercepted the truck. The truck driver bluffed that they were Tibetans travelling to see Mount Kailas. The authorities did not believe them and asked them to follow them. Two cars were ahead with the truck following them. At a curve, when the army cars were out of sight, the driver stopped and told the 31 people to get off and run. 'Climb the mountain and run, he said,' recalled Tenzin. 'So we ran up the mountain. We could see from the top, the army trucks going around, sirens wailing.'

In Tibet - Walking towards India (2007)

Walking through the mountains (2007)

They started walking at night - with no torchlights to guide them, just following one another.  They walked till 630 am and then stopped. Tenzin remembers making tea with melted snow. By now they had split into three groups of ten each to avoid detection. For food they used a small thap (stove) to cook Tsampa and make tea. During day they hid and at night they walked - all night. Tenzin remembers seeing Mount Kailash on the way.

And then a problem cropped up.

Tenzin drank water in a river and his stomach cramped badly. He developed a high fever and could not walk. The others waited for a while for him to get better. The guide ran out of patience and told him that they would leave him there because they have to cross the mountain soon else the Chinese army will catch them. Once they cross the mountains they were safe. Tenzin told them to leave him behind and go. A couple of elders in the group said they must not leave the boy behind. All night two young men of 25, Oga and Jimba, carried Tenzin on their shoulders. Next day one lama in the group gave him a precious pill. After a while, Tenzin's pain stopped and he could walk again.
7th class at TCV, Suja (2011)

The next morning they reached the mountain. The guide told them that the Chinese army is coming - throw your bags and run. They threw their luggage and ran up the mountain. The other side of the mountain was Nepal where they would be safe. From the top of the mountain they could see the Chinese army going back. After five hours they climbed down and retrieved their luggage. At night they walked. 'We slept between two lakes. Very cold,' says Tenzin. One can imagine. There were no tents, just whatever clothes they were wearing, in the Himalayan plains.

One woman developed a swelling in her knees. Tenzin remembers how her skin became very red and then the skin started peeling off behind her ear with the cold. She was in a lot of pain. That night at the lake her condition got worse. She could not walk. To keep pace they walked slowly. All of next day they walked. In the evening the guide told them they had taken a wrong route and they had to go back. That meant that for the second night running they had to sleep between the two lakes and again froze in the cold. The look on his face gives an idea of how cold it must have been.
IXth class, TCV, Chauntra (2013)
The next morning they started walking again. Tenzin remembers that they finally came to a forest. Tenzin and his friend Lhodo had by now exhausted whatever money they were carrying with them. When they told the group they had no more money the elders told them to get up early and do work like picking up firewood, making fires, making tea, cooking Tsampa etc. The two boys were asked to go ahead of the group. Tenzin remembers that Lhodo did not do his work properly and the elders scolded him severely. By now the woman's foot had swollen so much that she could not walk. The group spent that night in a cave so she could get some rest. After two days in the cave, they started walking again and reached a town in Nepal called 'Lumyi'. There they stayed for four days. A local doctor treated the woman but she did not get better.

They started walking and reached another 'Lumyi'. Here Tenzin remembers walking in snow that was waist deep for him. First the guide, then the elders, then the women and kids. After two days in the snow, he remembers reaching a forest that had trees with fruits. Bananas, coconut, peas, gooseberries. The elders told the hungry Tenzin and Lhodo not to eat the gooseberries which they considered poisonous. But the two kids had no money so they ate a few, found that they were ok and collected many gooseberries. These gooseberries they sold in the next town where people were buying them from the market. They were so hungry that Lhodo sold his watch for 20 walnuts and Tenzin sold his blanket to buy ONE Marie biscuit. Incredibly he smiled when he said 'Marie biscuits'. Tenzin also sold his cap to buy 'raara' something like Maggi he said.

Xth class, TCV, Suja (2014)

They walked again. It was almost a month since they had set out by then. Tenzin had another problem. His shoes tore. As he had no extra shoes, he used some cloth and twine and wrapped his shoes together. The guide told them that they had to stay in the forest and walk in the night. There was danger from a group called Mao Buddhi, who infested the route in Nepal and if they caught them, they would hand them back to the Chinese authorities.

'We waited all day in the forest. It rained all day. There was no fire. It was very cold. At that time I regretted coming on the journey. I thought if I had stayed at home I would not have faced this problem. I went behind a tree and cried. No one saw. I did not want to show them I was crying.'
XIth class, TCV, Bylakuppe (2017)

They walked all night again, up and down forests in the mountain and reached a town the next morning. They were tired and slept somewhere very soft. The next morning they woke and found they were lying in pig excrement. But there was no way anyone could have a bath. At no time in their 59-day journey did anyone have a bath! Tenzin was sent to get some water from a nearby river. 'For the first time, I saw a Nepali woman. She was shouting at me. The sound of her ornaments made a jangling sound. I got very scared and ran.' They stayed there for half a day and then started walking again. 'My pants, shirts and head were full of bugs by then. My pant was torn.'

They walked again and ran into the feared Mao buddhi leader Suna Lama. He blocked their way and demanded money. The two young boys had no money to pay. The group left them and went ahead. But Jimba, one of the boys who had carried Tenzin when he was sick, shouted at the others and told them that they cannot leave the two boys behind. The guide said he would pay for them, but the boys had to pay him back in Nepal. Tenzin and Lhodo agreed. Suno Lama gave a discount and let them go. They walked on and on and reached a bigger town. It had restaurants.

2nd year, Mentse-Kang Tibetan Medical and Astro College, Dharamshala (2017) 
While all others had the money to go and eat in restaurants, Tenzin and Lhodo, had no money so they went to another restaurant and collected leftovers and boiled water. They stood on the roadside and sang to collect money for food. They stayed in that town for two or three days and walked again. 'On an average, we must have walked 8-10 kms a day,' he says. They reached a town called Choos Pani in Nepal and waited for a bus.

They were back in civilisation.

They took a bus from Choos Pani to Bodh Gaya (in Nepal I guess), Jamadho and someplace called Boudha. They got a bus to Kathmandu - a journey of three days. 'The guide paid our fare with a promise that we will pay him back,' said Tenzin. (They both paid him back when they got some money in Nepal) But after two days of the three-day journey, they found the way was blocked by Mahabodh. So they had to back and take another route. Finally, they reached Kathmandu!

The journey from Lhasa to Kathmandu had lasted 1 month and 29 days.

Tsering, Tenzin, Raju, Pella and Lobsang at Varkala beach (2012)
At Kathmandu, a Tibetan Reception received them and gave them clothes, food, medicines. The woman was hospitalised. The group stayed there for a week and then went to the Indian embassy in Nepal. The embassy gave them documents for the refugee status, gave pocket money of 3-4000 rupees each and then sent them to Delhi by bus. It was a two day and two-night journey. In Delhi, they were received by the Tibetan Reception and stayed a few days. All 31 survived the journey.

They got into an overnight bus to Dharamshala. They reached Dharamshala on the 20th of September 2007.
Best friends - Tenzin, Jampa, Cheokyi (2015, Suja)
In Dharamshala the group was put up for one month. They met the Dalai Lama who asked them questions. 'Don't worry, he said, you will get full opportunity.'  And then they were deployed accordingly. Tenzin and Lhodo were sent to school. Tenzin was the only one who stayed in Dharamshala. He was sent to the Tibetan Children's Village school in a town called Suja, 60 kms away from Dharamshala. Lhodo went to Bylakuppe where his two older brothers lived. Unfortunately, Lhodo contracted some infection in his brain and died not long after. He was the only person in that group to have died.
The batch of 2017
The TCV school takes in children of all ages and puts them through two years of 'OC - Opportunity Class' where they are taught English, Tibetan, Maths. It was the first time Tenzin went to school. After 2 years they have an exam. Those who pass the exam are eligible to join class 6. Tenzin joined class 6 when he was about 16 years. He continued studying and made friends - Lobsang, who is now in Switzerland, Chamba, his best friend, who is studying history in the Dalai Lama Institute in Bangalore and Tsokyi (a girl), who is his best friend who is now in Australia. For their 11h and 12th they parted ways - Tenzin went to Bylakuppe to study science on the advice of his teachers and the other two opted for arts in Delhi. After Class 12 Tenzin appeared for an exam to enter the 'Mentse-Kang' College - The Tibetan Medical and Astro college. About 150 students appeared for the exam and only 22 are selected - 11 boys and 11 girls. After 5 years he will get a degree as an MBBS doctor in Tibetan Medicine. He can register under the Medical Council and practice. Currently, he ranks 10-11 in the class of 22 and is doing his second year. Tenzin has that air of peace which is necessary to make the patient feel good. He will make a good doctor. He also has a learning mindset and has some lovely philosophies which he told me - how to handle life.
2018 - Class of 2017
When he was in OC2 (his second year in the TCV School), Tenzin got a sponsor for his education in Brendan Jones, an Irishman, who adopted Tenzin and Tsering Kyi, another girl. Typically sponsors find kids they want to sponsor by going through a process that gives details of the children. 8 TCVs operate - Dharamshala has five in its vicinity (Suja TCV, Upper TCV, Lower TCV, Gopalpura TCV, Chauntra TCV) which educate 20000 children.

Gowri and Raju now sponsor Tenzin and five other children - Tsering Kyi (in France now), Pehla (married and in Delhi), Ngawang (Manchester), Tsering Sangmo (Nursing in Mangalore) and Tenzin (a new girl in school). The school fees cost Rs. 3000 a month or so Tenzin says. His one year at medical college costs Rs. 55000. Apart from that Gowri and Raju send pocket money. 'As much as I ask,' he says with his shy smile.

Sponsoring a Tibetan Child - Raju and Gowri's story
To sponsor a Tibetan child please visit the website 
Raju, who is a software professional worked in the US for 8 years and headed back to India after 9/11. After his return, he worked in Dharamshala with the Tibetan Department of Security creating their databases and other software related work - for free. His friend in Dharamshala, Karma, asked him if he wanted to sponsor a child. Raju and Gowri who were just married then, decided to sponsor a child. Though they can do it online, they decided to visit Dharamshala and meet the children. Typically one has to choose between sponsoring small children (4-5-year-olds) or older kids (6th class onwards). 

Of their five sponsored children Raju and Gowri have sponsored one for 10 years and the rest are continuing. Some have grown and are working and do not need any more financial assistance but they have become family and they stay in touch and seek advice and occasional help.

'There is no minimum commitment and one can contribute as much as they want,' said Gowri. 'However, we realised that if the child is left without a sponsor it is not good for them. So we decided to commit for the long term. For example, if a child gets sponsored from their 6th class, it is better to continue sponsoring them until they complete their 12th. Tenzin wanted to study medicine so we decided to fund his higher education also. The sponsorship for school is Rs. 3000 per kid per month and that includes their education, hostel, food and books.'

'We are like a family now,' says Gowri. 'We actually took our children on vacations. They came and stayed with us down south in Kerala. There will be typical needs that children have as they grow up and since we have decided to be like a family we take care of their other needs - a phone, an emergency visit that needs flight tickets, travel and such. But one can just sponsor a child's education and leave it at that.' Click that link above and you find bank details and you can transfer online.

Raju urges anyone who wants to sponsor a child to make it a long term commitment. 

I love the way Raju and Gowri go about this so normally. I heard about Gowri's 'Tibetan kids' ten years ago but it never sank into me as it did now. To do what they have done at such a young age and to what they are continuing to do - I am amazed. Great job you two.   

Dhondup Tashi and Tenzin Dhundup @ Dharamshala January 2019
After medicine, Tenzin wants to do research on cancer. 'I want to find a new Tibetan medicine for cancer,' he says.'I will have a hospital, a clinic.' In 2020, he will be moving to Bangalore as they are shifting the medical college to Bangalore. The herbs will still be sourced from Dharamshala to make medicines but all facilities will be in Bangalore. He showed pictures of his life in Dharamshala - a month-long camping trip to Manali to pick herbs for medicines, working in the medicine making plant and earning money, teaching Tibetan, listening to music, reading self-help books, fun at college.

'I want to go back to Tibet,' he says. 'After some years of experience, I will go back to Tibet. I will open a clinic in my town and serve during the winter months. But I will live here in India It is very peaceful.' He is very clear that people are here to serve others and nothing else.

Tenzin's parents miss him. They have not seen their only son since 2007 when he set off as a fourteen year old with 500 yen in his pocket. For four years they could not even speak to one another. In 2011 a friend of his who had made contact with his parents who were neighbours with Tenzin's parents made him speak to them. 'My amma could not speak. She cried. Would not stop. My appa was happy. Good. Study hard. Be a good person he told me.'

Now they chat with each other over phones thanks to smartphones. They can see each other but they are careful not to speak too many details. The authorities landed up at his parents' doorstep last year and asked them the whereabouts of their son. They told them they don't know where he was. That he ran away. 'Earlier my mother would tell me, come home, come home. Now she says say there. you are better off there.'
Tenzin speaks softly, shyly. He speaks halting English, searches for words using a Tibetan to English translator on his phone when he gets stuck. 'Ok ya  ya,' he says when he agrees. He is a fine cook with great patience - he cooked noodles and momos while here - always drinking his hot water (it is the first medicine he says) and careful about the veggies. He teaches Tibetan to a Spanish student who is in Dharamshala and who aspires to be a monk or a nun. He is learning Chinese. He knows a smattering of Hindi. he loves Bollywood movies - Simba was his last movie. He participates in extracurricular activities like drama, poetry recital (very good), singing, dancing, fancy dress (he made a very pretty girl in one competition), was an athlete of repute in his school. When he gets comfortable he is mischievous. He spoke gently to Anjali and told her stories, jokes. He checked our pulse to give his diagnosis and offered a massage when Shobha's elbow and neck were hurting. He is very particular - when he chose a shirt for himself he chose the perfect fit. In his two small bags he has all that he needs - two shoes even. His bed is perfectly made once he is up. Everything is so unobtrusively packed and kept. You hardly know he is around. Gentle with the world too.

To live without an identity, a land to call one's own, and live as a refugee must be a difficult thing especially when everyone around you seems to belong to someplace they call their own. It must bother them, but it has also made them so adaptable, so strong. The TCV's mission had a line - Come to learn. Go to serve. Tenzin keeps talking about serving, it is deeply ingrained in him. It is wonderful how they have turned this injustice, this hardship into something so beautiful. A lot of credit goes to their leader the Dalai Lama, who retained and built on the Tibetan identity, developed an adaptable, gentle and serving culture.
At Charminar with his new friends - they gave me tea and biscuits
I sent him on a city tour one day and he managed well - after that trip from Tibet to India this must have been nothing. And on the day he came home first, he put his bag aside and pulled out gifts for us - a Dalai Lama book for me, green tea for Shobhs and chocolates for Anjali. When Ranjan came to see him he gave him a green tea packet as well. The next day he woke up, made tea (I will make, he insists) and then told me 'I got dream last night. You were there. You gave me a flower. It smelled nice.') I am glad it smelt nice.

Today he left for Bangalore and then to Bylakuppe and then to Palakkad and then to Mundgod and back to Dharamshala by end of February. I asked him if he would meet the people he travelled with to India in Bylakuppe. The guide lives there along with the woman who was unwell (who they found out later was his wife!), Jimba and Oga who carried Tenzin when he was sick live there, Lhodo's brothers live there. I told him to send me pictures of them. He said 'Ok ya ya.'

When he called me from the airport before boarding the plane I asked him if he enjoyed his Hyderabad stay. 'Very happy,' he said.

Same here Tenzin.