(A Short Story)
By Kalsang Dhondup
Lhamo has been wide awake for two hours now, been thinking the whole time as if her bed is the only place where she could think freely without any interference from others. Today is the graduation day; she has completed her class xii. She is confident that her result will be enough to get her admission in a good college in Delhi University. But it’s not the result that worries her but the vague prospect of her going to college. Her family is one of the richest in Bir Tibetan colony; they have no financial problems. Lately, her brother bought the latest Duke bike, which cost around 3 lakhs. Everyone in the colony knows that the family Lhungtsang is well off. She has been thinking about a way to persuade her parents, especially her mother, to let her do further studies. Finally she got tired of thinking and got up to wear the school uniform for the last time.
At the school auditorium, Lhamo’s classmates were talking to each other in an excited manner at times and with doubtful manners at other times. They were happy about finishing school. Yet life has to go on and no one is sure that their path ahead would be like the one they picture in their head as the flow of life is not a computer program it moves in various terrains like that of a river,sometimes it hits a hard rock and breaks into a thousands pieces, and sometimes it has to go down a steep cliff believing that it will land safely.
Lhamo saw her parents entering the venue, and the school principal bowed to them and escorted them to the front seat. Her parents were respected in Bir not because of their character or education but because of their money. Some people say bad things about their source of income, as they own a business exporting statues of Buddha and bodhisattvas. The principal himself thinks low of the Lhungtsang family, yet the main source of funding for school projects and festivals comes from them. So he bows to them not out of respect but because he has to; money makes you do things you feel ashamed of later.
Meanwhile, Lhamo was busy observing different reactions like hatred, jealousy and contempt from other parents for the conspicuousness of her parents being escorted by the school principal. Dorjee tapped lightly on her back and asked, “Are your parents still being adamant about sending you off to Paris with that older guy?” She nodded and bowed her head down like that of a fallen warrior submitting to the final strike from the enemy.
“I will try to come up with something to alter your parents’ mind, don’t worry. We have three months before college admission starts,” he said. That didn’t cheer her up; she knows her parents. They came to India penniless and had worked hard to get rich; money is the only thing they perceive as the true source of one’s happiness. That’s why they think Lhamo should marry the son of their friend who is a French citizen. So that she could migrate there and earn money.
One month passed by and all her classmates were busy looking upfor various prospective colleges around India while she was drooling over what she could do to enlighten her parents about their narrow minded decision to send her away to France. Her parents constantly invite Lhamo without her consent to skype with her future husband. After those tiring video calls with him, her thoughts linger on the ill fate of her existence. Her thoughts are disturbed not because of the age gap or the ugliness of her future husband, for she knows that happiness derived from outer appearances couldn’t last forever, but the thought that her youth and freedom will be a day light star for her; she would be denied these aspirations when she gets married.
One fine day, Dorjee was at a road side café thinking of what to do about Lhamo’s plight. Two elder Tibetans were sitting at the opposite table from where he was sitting. One of them said, “I heard you have come here to pick your bride, is it true?” The other nodded with a little blush. “You are so lucky, I wish I hadn’t married and gone off to America. So that I could come back here to choose a young bride. You know many Tibetan families in India and Nepal are searching for a single Tibetan man living abroad as a prospective husband for their daughters. May be they want their daughters to live a happier life, but without consent from those daughters, I guess it is a forced act.” He stopped talking when some college girls on holiday walked by, and continued after they were gone from the sight of his hawking eyes. “You know, I don’t care whether I will get the opportunity of going abroad or not, I just want a young wife like those girls.” He moved his lips in the direction where those girls went.
The one from America looked uninterested as to the prevailing discussion. He sipped his tea and said, “Tashi, you are married and father of three. So you better stop thinking like that. You have to think about the consequences of your act if you give into your lust.”
Tashi replied, “It is easy to preach, but you also have come to marry a young girl. Anyway, who are you going to choose? I think Dolma from Tenpaltsang is very beautiful and she has graduated from college too, what do you think?”
“I am not sure every family wants to marry off their daughters to anyone living abroad. And I am not sure about this Dolma, even if her parents want to marry her off. Because I heard that she smokes and wears short skirts, hangs out with many boys. A characterless girl as your wife could land you in troubles in the west. It will be a bad investment.”
Dorjee was eavesdropping on their conversation and suddenly something clicked in his mind and he called Lhamo up. “Hey, come and meet me at the monastery, I have something you need.” And he went away whistling.
After a few weeks, winds of rumor started blowing around Bir Colony that Lhamo had become a bad girl- wearing short skirts and smoking, hanging around with a bunch of boys and girls who wear provocative clothes and that’s why her intended marriage was called off by the groom.
Two months passed by and on a fine afternoon, on the green lawn of St. Stephen College, Lhamo was reading “Yak Horns” by Bhuchung D Sonam, her head buried in the book and hairs swaying gently by the touch of winds passing by.
Time is passing and she is also flowing through it without her knowledge. She stopped reading for a while and was thinking about how, as a community in exile, we have failed collectively in critical thinking and instead are breeding more social stereotypes. Suddenly, someone tapped on her back.
“Hey, bad girl. Are you ready or should I wait for you to finish contemplating over our hopeless society?” Dorjee asked.
“Yes, I am ready,” Lhamo replied. She punched him on the elbow and said, “Would you dare to go with me if I wear this short skirt?”
“Of course not, but you better be smoking also when we enter Majnuka Tilla – you know that I like the stare they give you.” She shook her head in response and told him that she never liked the smell of cigarettes from the beginning.
Off they went to M.T. to have dinner, the scent of their freewill and freedom fighting against anything that intends to pollute their youthful way of life.
(Originally published in Dolma Magazine)