MONTREAL, Canada, 23 April 2013
With two hands covering my face and head leaning on the steering wheel, I began to sob quietly, engulfed in deep sadness. I was so disheartened and upset when I heard the news. I quickly murmured a few prayers and wished Mr Gompo Dhatsenpa’s quick rebirth and a peaceful journey ahead. He was a teacher, historian, scholar, poet, blogger, and above all, an incredibly unassuming, humble man. He passed away in the early morning on 6 April after battling cancer for almost two years. Throughout his illness, he remained fearless and resolute. With the tireless love and support from his beloved wife and two children he had fought relentlessly until the end.
I remember numerous incidents when I would sit with him on his balcony and chat for hours, covering a wide range of subjects from arts to culture, and Tibetan history to politics. He was incredibly versatile and profoundly knowledgeable on a wide range of subjects. I have had many incisive discussions with him on a variety of Tibetan issues as well as other interesting subjects. However, it would be dishonest for me to say I understood everything he said, because sometimes as we would fall deeper into a discussion, he would unconsciously use terms like “Ohh ley” when pausing between sentences, or “Ok-la” — meaning “downstairs” or “under” — and many other strange phrases that would throw me out of context. One must understand some of these key words or phrases to have a meaningful dialogue with him. He was also open-minded, and unlike many conservative immigrants, he never displayed any subversive or indifferent attitudes towards western culture and its sub-cultures underneath.
A few weeks before the fateful day, I visited his house and we sat down together for about twenty minutes, mostly staring at each other and at times exchanging a few words. I noticed that he had become very weak and had also lost considerable weight since I last saw him a few weeks ago. He was wearing a big brown blanket with white fur inside, and his skinny frame inside that giant blanket looked so vulnerable. He slowly pulled one end of the blanket over his head to stay warm and protected. Then when he began talking, he sounded extremely tired and worn out. He spoke very slowly and with many pauses.
In the midst of our conversation, he asked me, “Tawang, do you think it is of any use if i get the surgery that helps feed food through a tube?” He went on, “I don’t think it would help much, but what do you think?” To be honest, I was momentarily speechless and didn’t know how to respond to this. But I quickly gathered myself and said, “look, I know some people who have performed this procedure and it extended their life for couple of years more, but not longer. In your case if there is an opportunity to do one, then you should do it.” I paused. “It may buy you a few more years to spend with your family and this would mean a lot for your children in the future. They would rather see you alive and around than not.”
And he looked at me straight in the eyes and nodded his head a few times expressing genuine appreciation for my honest opinion. In fact, he said, “that is a good perspective of looking at it,” and he then gently turned to get up to the toilet. Unfortunately my visit got cut short by the arrival of a medical personnel.
Mr Dhatsenpa was a teacher back in Tibet (before escaping to India), and in exile he taught in various Tibetan schools including Bir and Shimla. During his short life, he has edited many Tibetan literatures, written numerous articles and opinion pieces in major Tibetan newspapers and blogs, including KhabDa.org.
Around the beginning of the 1990s, he became one of the chief editors at the renowned newspaper Mangtso, published by Dharamshala-based research institute Amnye Machen Institute. During this period, he met his wife, fell in love and eventually immigrated to Montreal, Canada. Since then he spent most of his time raising his children and working at numerous jobs — although none of the job descriptions met his qualifications and expertise. However, he never complained nor questioned his choices in life. He loved his family and lived a very content life.
Neither greed nor flamboyance were ever his cup of tea, and this was exemplified by his simple lifestyle and unassuming characteristics. His integrity and unbiased patience were some of his precious attributes. During his last week in the hospital, his spirits were still strong and no signs of pronounced fear and anxiety were evident. In fact, a poignant photo of him in the palliative care unit posing with a victory sign cemented the image of his flawless resilience and endurance.
Finally, on the morning of 6 April, Mr Dhatsenpa made his sombre decision to close his eyes for the last time, silently slid down into the comforts of his blankets, and embark upon his next journey to a distant world unknown. I thank you Mr. Dhatsenpa for your gracious company, and i would like to remind you again that it was a memorable ride together, although I wish you had stayed with us a bit longer. So in the meantime, please accept this bag filled with prayers and hope, and I assure you that we will replenish it eternally.
OM MANI PEDME HUNG
About the author
Tashi Wangyal is based in Montreal, Canada. He has a passion for filmmaking and photography. His latest works can be seen at YouTube.com/tibetinfo .