The odds are a billion to one for someone to become the bodyguard of a living god. Wangdi, a 90-year-old monk-turned-spy in Arunachal Pradesh, is one.
He got his opportunity in April 1959 when the 14th Dalai Lama, dodging the Chinese army, crossed over to India and reached Tawang.
The two met last week, soon after the Dalai Lama was driven into the Lower Bomdila Monastery, about 180km from Tawang on the road to Assam.
As they went back 58 years, the Dalai Lama told the retired spy in Tibetan: “We will meet again, if not in this life.”
It was, Wangdi said, typical of the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader who wore his sense of humour even after trekking for more than 20 days to reach Tawang from Lhasa.
For Wangdi, a devout Buddhist, the Dalai Lama is “hamara bhagwan (our god)”. His feet thus wobbled when his senior in the Subsidiary Intelligence Bureau (SIB) told him to be his god’s shadow in 1959.
More than his intelligence-gathering skill, the ability to speak Tibetan was Wangdi’s USP that made him the first choice to escort the Dalai Lama from Tawang to Bomdila that year.
Wangdi learnt Tibetan in Lhasa, which he had visited, trekking from his village, Sera in West Kameng district of Arunachal Pradesh. He had gone to Lhasa to become a monk.
“I reached Lhasa in 1942, almost two years after a five-year-old boy was ceremoniously taken to the Potala Palace to be officially installed as the 14th Dalai Lama,” Wangdi said.
Wangdi had a few occasions to see the Dalai Lama as a minor from close. But he realised he was not cut out to be a monk and returned home.
A job in the SIB took him to Tibet a few times before the 1954 Panchsheel Agreement between India and China made New Delhi give up extra-territorial rights in Tibet and remove Indian post, telegraph and telephone offices, some rest houses and military escorts.
“I had goosebumps as I saw the Dalai Lama, a youth of 24 years, approaching Tawang in 1959. But I kept my emotion in check to be his bodyguard and escort him to Bomdila,” Wangdi said.
After a seven-day stay in Bomdila, the Dalai Lama bid adieu to Wangdi as he proceeded to New Delhi via Tezpur in Assam.
“We will meet again was what he told me as he held my hands 58 years ago. God gave us the opportunity in 2009, and that year too he hoped we would meet,” said Wangdi, the chieftain of Sera.
It happened last week. Wangdi is certain he will meet his god again.
“I am older, and my time on earth is almost over. But as His Holiness hoped, we will meet again … in the next life, if not this one.”