The fire in the belly of a Tibetan sweater seller

Ugyen Gyalpo

Ugyen Gyalpo

By Ugyen Gyalpo

NEW YORK, US, 10 March 2016

For ages prior to the Chinese conquest, Tibetans were pretty much an agricultural and nomadic society. Toiling incessantly in the fields and raising livestock for livelihood was the norm. There were merchants and other classes of professionals, with different medieval expertise, but feudalism and its agrarian society was deeply built in and farming was predominant.

All that changed, when in 1959, at the height of Tibet’s colonization and the escape of His Holiness to India, thousands followed Him across the Himalayas. To keep a long story short, a diaspora of over 100 thousand Tibetans are now settled in India as refugees, second generation and going.

The tragic overnight twist of fate, from a self-sustaining farmer on the roof of the world, a nomad whose cattle grazed the eternal grassland surrounded by pristine lakes and crystal meandering rivers and streams, to dusty over-populated plains, where the iron rails rolled and the tireless fan rotates to quench the heat of India and the madness of the typical chaotic Indian streets. The ordeal must have been overwhelming and appalling at the same time.

But the resilience, the adaptation skills, and the survival instincts of the Tibetans to thrive, withstand and rise, untested before on such insurmountable field for hundreds of years, was extraordinary and it was, due to the hard-working inherent nature of the Tibetan people, that Tibetans, in research conducted by a known refugee organization, declared the Tibetan diaspora community amongst the best settled, with the highest income per capita, and applauded for their resourcefulness and depth of energy.

When Tibetans first arrived in India and Nepal, almost all of them were uneducated and unsuited for any decent jobs. They didn’t have lands to plough or cattle to graze like back home. All that lay in front of their struggle was a foreign land and its warm welcoming people to cope and make a living consistently for a long time. It was but natural to sell things and they did, and that was probably the birth of the Tibetan sweater sellers.

The Tibetan sweater sellers strategically depending on where they live, mostly on the cool hill stations, descend to the plains and camp for two to three months all over India during the winter weather. They attract lots of Indians to their temporary fair-like stalls, because of their different facial look. Many Indians think Tibetans are foreigners, and their undying love for foreigners plays right into the sales pitch.

Given the number of Tibetan refugees in India, their presence is a drop in the ocean and that adds a premium to the authenticity of the sweaters they sell. In India, the face value is the most valuable asset when it comes to trade, and it worked wonders for the Tibetan merchants. It’s true on a humorous side, that same sweater might possibly be available at an Indian store down the block, but that sweater would not be as appealing if the seller was an Indian. This is a hard to explain phenomenon of human nature, or it could be simply, that the Tibetans are shrewd, astute and sophisticated traders. This character plus their professional trait of outspokenness have helped spread awareness about the Tibetan issue domestically within India.

The fire in the belly and the sales prowess, that has made Tibetans all over India succeed, the strategy they implied, the sales pitch and the marketing intelligence and the ability to adapt are remarkable traits, that could have been on a wishful thinking genetically transferred to the Central Tibetan Administration on its working with China and the world, in pitching on an enterprising level for the cause of Tibet.

Enough of begging and yearning for sympathy about the Tibetan future. Enough of the compromise, subservience and kowtowing. It’s time our leaders emulate and resonate into the minds of the Tibetan sweater sellers and inhale some, if not all, of their character traits and try with the same enterprising zeal and success of the sweater seller to market Tibet’s importance in the geo-politics of the world, and pitch how Tibet’s independence could impact a dynamic and pivotal shift in the geo-politics of the world. How it could play a crucial role in the stability of south-east Asia and the security of the world. How it would help India save billions of dollars on one instance, of the military expense to secure the border with China, hitherto not required when Tibet was free. And to market, with the same bargaining and enterprising zeal, Tibet’s fresh waters and its Third Pole stance; that the rivers that flow from Tibet are a lifeline to central and south-east Asian countries.

A great politician is a good salesperson first and a diplomat second. The Tibetan leaders and the administration can learn a great deal from these sweater sellers, and the connection is not a far cry, because every Tibetan administrative employee is to some degree or other, a son or daughter of these very sweater sellers!

About the author

Ugyen Gyalpo lives in Woodside, New York, and works as an insurance agent for United Health Group, New York.

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