In her Introduction to Old Demons, New Deities: Contemporary Short Stories from Tibet , Tenzin Dickie talks of young Tibetans being “cut off from our historical past, our historical literature and culture” after the Chinese took over Tibet.
Her generation, she says, “were missing the point of departure, the runway from which to lift off.”
Which makes this collection all the more special. Dickie’s hope is that these stories will speak of how ordinary Tibetans are “navigating the space between tradition and modernity, occupation and exile, the national and the personal”.
The stories are a mixed bag. Pema Bhum’s ‘Wink’ and Takbum Gyal’s ‘The New Road Controversy’ offer a satirical, if humorous, look at the absurdities of officialdom that resonate with current realities in our country. Resettlement and the arrogance of assuming that the administration knows best are dealt with in ‘The Valley of the Black Foxes’ by Tsering Dondrup. Forcibly moved to a township, a family of nomadic pastoralists struggles to adjust to a new life.
Woeser’s ‘Nyima Tsering’s Tears’ is a poignant tale about a monk in the Chinese government who comes face to face with the Tibetan exiles in Norway while on a government-sponsored trip. Now that his eyes have been opened to the realities, will he continue to stay with the delegation or move away? It’s a simple tale but one that tugs at the heartstrings.
Jamyang Norbu’s ‘Hunter’s Moon’ is another that stays with the reader. There is no story really; just an account of an old rebel on the run from the soldiers. But the lyrical descriptions of the landscape, of the old man’s attempts to stay hidden, and his final moments is a stark reminder of the peculiar pull of violence and how brutal man can be to his own species. ‘Silence’ by the same author is an equally compelling story of love and loss.
Since Tibet is still a land of mystery, these stories offer a peek into a forbidden land — whether talking about changing lifestyles or exploring what it means to be a permanent outsider.