With prayers that their next Losar will be in Tibet

It’s February 13, the third day of Losar, the Tibetan New Year, and the dining hall of the Tibetan youth hostel in Koramangala is abuzz with activity. It’s momo time, and everyone’s involved: one group of youngsters cuts thin sheets of dough into small circles, while the other groups place minced meat, cheese and vegetables on the rounds of dough before shaping them into little purses, arranging them neatly on large trays, and hauling them off to be steamed.

English and Tibetan pop music blares on loudspeakers as the momos are being made before the large decorated table set up in the hall laden with offerings – a bowl of chang (an alcoholic beverage made from grain), stacks of fruit, khapsay (fried dough), grains of wheat and tsampa (ground roasted barley, which is the staple food in Tibet).

Celebrations low-key

“This year, we are not celebrating in a grand manner,” says Samdup Choephen, a postgraduate student at St. Joseph’s College, “It wouldn’t be appropriate”. The number of self-immolations by Tibetans has been a matter of concern. Wednesday morning saw another self-immolation by a monk in Nepal, the 100th since 2009.

Losar celebrations have been low-key for the last two years, but there’s no denying that it’s an exciting time, with many Tibetans in the city calling home to wish their families and catch up on the latest news.

While those with families in Tibetan settlements such as Bylakuppe and Mundgod in Karnataka, and Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh go home to spend the New Year with their loved ones, some Tibetan students in Bangalore made their way to India directly from Tibet as children, many unaccompanied by parents or relatives. Sent by their families on dangerous journeys on foot across mountains and past Chinese border patrols in order to have better access to education and in the hope that they would have a better life, for some Tibetan youth in Bangalore, cellphones and the internet are the only links to home.

Shot from past

One MA student at Christ College, who made that journey in 1999 as a 15-year-old, shows around a photograph on his phone that his family in Machu, his hometown in Eastern Tibet, sent barely an hour ago. In it, they sit around a table wrapped in warm clothes and furs, with food, decorations and presents laid out. “That’s my younger brother,” he says proudly, pointing at a beaming youth who couldn’t have been more than a toddler when he left home.

Meanwhile, on the hostel premises, matron Tashi Sangmo is busy in her little home, her face flushed with the heat and steam from the items on the kitchen stove: she has guests for dinner. In the small living room, with colourful tapestries and a table of offerings that will remain until the 15th day of Losar, men and elderly women in traditional clothes watch television as Tashi gets the food ready, helped by Tenzin Pema, who lives in Domlur but is visiting for Losar with her husband and mother.

As in the hostel dining hall, Tashi’s table of offerings includes packets of biscuits as well as a small pack of Nandini butter and Tata salt. While the guests watch a video of Tenzin’s wedding in Kalimpong (“So embarrassing”, she protests), she points out at the dishes on the table: noodles, soup, minced meat with vegetables, and something that looks rather familiar. “Dal,” she laughs, explaining that it’s an “Indianised” New Year meal.

The living room conversation includes references to “Tibetan burfi” and “Tibetan namkeen”, and some Tibetans even describe their rituals as pujas; there’s no doubt that their ties with their adopted country are strong. But the prayers during every Losar remain the same: that the next one will be celebrated back home in Tibet.

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