Isabel Losada is a writer in search of a cause. She finds it in Tibet, ‘the greatest lost cause on the planet’, according to some. In finding Tibet, she hints to the readers that she finds something of herself.
The world Losada surveys from her London street is in turmoil. The Middle East is breaking up and is streaming into Europe, stoking old fears of race and religion. The war on terror is roaring ahead, sparking flames of angry revenge in the streets of Europe and America. Terror and the war on terror are badly rocking the boat of the tenuous world order.
In such a world, Losada asks, “What can you and I do about the war on terror? I’ll tell you: We can observe that terror is not the way that we want to go. So we ask ‘Who is the world’s leading proponent of non-violence?’ Most people, when asked this question say, ‘the Dalai Lama. He asks for what he wants for Tibetans but insists on non-violence. He’s the man for me.
“Why is the world fighting terror with terror and yet not supporting a man who has spoken for non-violence for fifty years? Why are we ignoring the sanest voice on the planet? And can one crazy, misguided woman that lives on Battersea Park Road in London do anything about it?”
Having found her cause and framed it in a form of a question, the reader at first suspects that she wants to do a Lawrence of Arabia act. But the author draws on a far older and better known and better loved European wisdom to act on behalf of Tibet. She becomes our modern-day Don Quixote, tilting her writerly lance at the windmills of economic might, narrow national interest and un-budging prejudice. This unlikely white female knight in shining armour sets out to change the world, to undo the great injustice and right the mighty wrong on Tibet. To Losada, accepting the world as it is should be tilted with all the force of her lance. The world should be re-arranged in the name of justice and truth. One big re-arrangement in this is restoring Tibet to Tibetans, according to Losada.
Like the faithful Sancho Panza, we, her readers, follow her in her adventures around the world. Her adventure begins in the streets of London where a small but noisy protest demonstration erupts into slogan shouting and Tibetan flag waving before the Chinese embassy. Losada writes, “I glanced at the Embassy. The might of China was unmoved. The closed eyes of the shuttered windows didn’t blink.”
If individual anger at China in the streets of London wasn’t enough, what about showing it in Lhasa itself? Would that do the trick? Would that un-nerve China? Hardly, as the author discovers. In fact, the experience un-nerves her. Losada recounts, “We turned into the Dalai Lama’s Throne Room. This is the room where official guests have been received for generations. A large photo of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama was up on the wall. A matching photo of the current Dalai Lama was conspicuous by its absence. As indeed he was. This was all stolen property. It didn’t belong to them and I began to seethe under the injustice of it all… I was one more tourist seeing what the government wanted me to see.
“Then I walked out on the roof and was suddenly transported again to another time and place; the roofs were untouched, the hills were still there, the air was cold and the sky was as blue as it always had been. This was the confusion, rage one minute and exhilaration the next. It was stunningly beautiful and I couldn’t get out of there soon enough.”
Back in Dharamsala and with an audience with the Dalai Lama, something triggers in her. Losada writes, “I am not one given to describing people’s ‘energy fields’. I don’t see auras. I’m not psychic. But here is an energy that even I can feel. The man is huge. Physically I see an elderly Tibetan… He isn’t particularly tall and his face is, well, it is just as we’ve all seen it smiling from a million pictures. No surprise there. And he is warm and modest, just as I’d expected. But this energy . . . what is this? I feel myself lost.”
In the end Losada hasn’t changed the world. But she is able to tell what’s wrong with the world with humour and her love for Tibet. And her word has got around the world.
For Tibet with Love: A Beginner’s Guide to Changing the World
Rs 299, PP371
Thubten Samphel is Director, The Tibet Policy Institute