We began our visit to the Tibetan Homes Foundation in a large conference room, homely rather than corporate, sitting at long tables with a cup of chai, and listened as the director explained the origin of the school. She had attended the school herself, and handed out copies of the school yearbook from 2015. Inside the yearbook were samples of work from the students. Every third student seemed to be called Tenzin. Someone showed me a piece that was mainly about how that student loved her mum, but ended:
Everyone loves mom and dad but I hate my dad because he doesn’t love my mom. He loves other woman. He doesn’t have time to spend with us. I really hate him.
Other pieces of writing talked about being and not being in Tibet (Tibet is my country. But I have never been to Tibet). About places they’d never been in their own country. About being in India but not Indian (Since from my childhood days, I was being told that we are ‘refugees’) .
We are taken by a man from the THF for our tour around the school.
We visited the temple last. Downstairs was a shrine to the Buddha. Bright red walls and at the far end, behind glass, a Buddha wrapped up tight in coats. On one side a cardboard cut out of the Dalai Lama, and in front of both a kind of tiered pyramid with dozens of light bulbs at each level. Upstairs a study room with hundreds of books wrapped in faded orange cloth on shelves behind glass cabinet doors. Then we were taken into the room where the Dalai Lama sleeps when he visits. A very modest room.
Our guide pointed out the depiction of hell on the wall by the entrance to the temple. A round circle filled with images of the specific punishments for specific crimes. Hieronymus Bosch. Liars with their tongues stretched out. Drinkers being filled with something colder than ice that burns in every cell. For those who commit suicide, 500 years of hell before they can be reborn. Each day in hell a year of our time. Is there such a shortage of suffering here on Earth that we must imagine more in death?
The school steps down in different blocks. There are walkways and staircases, playing courts and playgrounds tucked into tight spaces. The roofs of the buildings are dark green, as is the uniform. The girls and the boys wear grey pants; the jersey, tie and blazer is green. The kids generally have a wider face than the local Indian population, and more narrowly shaped eyes. Some of them wave coyly and smile as we walk past.
We went into a class of five and six year olds. A large room with carpet, we took off our shoes and sat with them. They also wore the full school uniform. Laid out in front of the students were wooden cards with words written in Tibetan on them: a very vertical script, like a bar code, with a single line looping across horizontally.
“It says ‘wheel’” the guide said pointing at one of the cards.
One kid seemed to be causing some trouble in the corner. The guide looked at him proudly.
“He’s my son.”
There were a pile of exercise books on a shelf by the window. The top one was covered in pictures of Anna and Elsa from Frozen.
Above the temple on a high hill we could see hundreds of flags beating against the wind. Some of the students walked up there. The rest waited back at the temple with me. I wanted to talk to them about getting along a bit better with some of the outliers in the group.
Which led on to religion, and what we are doing in our course next term.
“The meaning of life”, I said.
“What is the meaning of life?”
“I’m not sure, but I think love has something to do with it.”
When the girls came back from walking up the hill I asked them what was up there.
“An eternal flame for the 100 monks who have immolated themselves since the Chinese took over Tibet.”
Someone remembered the painting of hell, and the punishment for those who committed suicide. Isn’t self-immolation the same?
In the wheel of birth and rebirth how long in hell for the martyr?
When your homeland is over the mountains and far away; that is suffering.