Reviewed by  Haimanti Dutta Ray

 

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Title: Beyond the Himalayas Journeying through the Silk Route

Text: Goutam Ghose, Michael Haggaig

Photographs: Goutam Ghose

Publisher: Niyogi Books

Date of publication: 2019

Beyond the Himalayas Journeying through the Silk Route is  joint collaboration by award-winning Indian filmmaker Gautam Ghose and British writer and producer, Michael Haggiag. Ghose in his introduction has named this  venture ‘a film-book’ because it is based on his five-part documentary, a cinematic marvel, also named Beyond The Himalayas.

Made in 1996, his documentary had been screened extensively on Doordarshan (India), Discovery and BBC in the late 1990s. The book, Beyond the Himalayas, commemorates the silver jubilee of the journey he undertook to make the documentary in 1994. Ghose writes in his introduction:“The so-called ‘present’ is a fraction of fractions between  the past and the future and hence the present moments are stored in our memory as recent or remote past. …. This book narrates one such vivid memory , a once-in-a-lifetime kind of adventure.”

In his introduction to the book, Ghose reveals how he came across old negatives and slides which featured  their journey through the meandering valleys and endless deserts of the fabled Silk Road more than two decades ago in a ‘caravan’ of jeeps. Breath-taking reproductions of these negatives and slides intersperse the narrative which is based on the script of the documentary.

By Haimanti Dutta Ray

 

People gathered at Oxford Bookstore, Kolkata, on the evening of the 3rd of May, disregarding the Meteorological Office’s predictions of the impending cyclone, Fani. The occasion was the book launch of the acclaimed film director, music director and cinematographer, Gautam Ghose, and the subsequent panel discussion lined with luminaries from the literary as well as cinematic circles. The book, Beyond The Himalayas: Journeying Through The Silk Route, has been co-authored by producer and writer Michael Haggiag.

The panellists for the evening included renowned actress and film-maker Aparna Sen; novelist Kunal Basu whose The Japanese Wife was made into a film; former diplomat and essayist Jawhar Sircar; critic and editor Samik Bandopadhay, who is also known for his translations of works by noted playwright Badal Sircar and celebrated author Mahasweta Devi; and film scholar Jagannath Guha. Guha had accompanied Ghose on his expedition along the famous Silk Route. Gautam Ghose had made his documentary in 1996 based on the journey he had undertaken. The film was also named Beyond The Himalayas.

Gautam Ghose, the recipient of many national and international awards, including a knighthood from Star of Italian Solidarity, thanked all the persons who had worked tirelessly with him to bring out the book. He especially mentioned his co-author, Michael Haggiag. Haggiag was not present for the occasion. Ghose said that the idea for the book came to him when he re-discovered the negatives of the Silk Route lying at the bottom of his cupboard. The 14,000 km journey they made in1994 took them through Central Asia, China and Tibet. They journeyed through a number of places like Bukhara, Tashkent and Samarkand.

white-crane-3dPaul Stevens and Rilo, the old hunter, hid behind a rock and watched. Tenga Dragotsang, Mingma and some of the other Tibetan guerrillas had taken another route to go ‘hunting’ for the day. It was almost like the old days when they had hunted mountain sheep close to the Golok country, and Tenga had pretended to have hurt his leg. Paul could still see Tenga and Rilo dancing triumphantly in the flickering light of the campfire on that icy mountainside. The wily sham! Now, they hunted soldiers of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army who had come to ‘liberate’ them. Rilo had become just as skilful and uncanny in tracking down, scenting out and hunting this species of  animal as mountain sheep and  bears.

Paul brought out his binoculars but Rilo pushed them away. ‘The reflection…the Chinese may detect us…’ he explained.

‘What can you see, Rilo?’ asked Stevens.

‘Chinese Communists,’ said the hunter, shielding his eyes. ‘Ten…twelve of  them. What a feast!’

Paul peered down the mountainside but wasn’t quite convinced. ‘Paul-o, let’s go into that clump of  trees. I’m sure that’s the way they’re heading. Just the spot for an ambush.’ ‘Agreed…’ said the young American.

Stevens, Rilo and seven Khampas scampered down the slope and ran into the trees and hid behind logs and a large rock.

‘Paul-o…you fire first,’ instructed Rilo. ‘Aim for the last man in the column.’

They waited. In spite of the intense cold and the snow, Paul found beads of  sweat on his forehead. His mouth went dry.

He saw a Khampa squat down behind a rock and urinate into the snow.

Paul’s heart thumped and his hands trembled as he waited. He heard voices approaching. He checked and rechecked that his rifle’s safety catch was released. He saw Rilo waiting behind the stump of a tree, gesturing to him excitedly that the Chinese were close. Every Khampa was ready for the kill, waiting tensely.

The Chinese platoon came along in a single file, their rifles slung behind their backs, talking casually to each other; unaware that they were walking into a Khampa guerrilla trap.  The air  was bracing and cold. Occasionally a clod of snow fell off an overladen branch and sprayed the air with a shimmer. The sun was shining brightly and the glare from the snow had induced one or two of the PLA men to don snow-goggles. Some of  them were vigorously thumping their gloved hands together to keep warm. They were rosy-cheeked, their breaths vaporous in the clear Tibetan morning air as they laughed and turned to each other, joking and poking fun.

Paul raised his rifle and took careful aim at the last man in the column, following him in his sights as he walked up the forest track—a young boyish-looking soldier. Paul fired and saw the soldier twist and stumble and the serene stillness of the mountains was shattered by the sounds of rifle fire as more Chinese soldiers went down. But they were not all dead or severely wounded for, in an instant, the Chinese fired back. Some Khampas darted out and ran from tree to tree, inviting more enemy fire mostly from automatics. And then the firing ceased.

‘Paul-o! Paul-o!’ There was loud whispering close to him.  He turned and saw Rilo just a few yards away, flat on his belly. He was smiling and appeared triumphant. A good kill… ‘Some Communists behind that log there…’ he whispered, prodding into the distance with his forefinger.

‘Where?’ whispered Paul.

‘That log…behind that log…’ said Rilo hoarsely. ‘Paul-o… I’ll go from behind. You stay here. Don’t move…don’t show yourself…’ Paul nodded. Rilo wriggled away in the snow, the jagged scar across his face showing white against his ruddy skin. Paul waited. There was a soft thud close to him as if a stone had been thrown at him to draw his attention. He turned, thinking it might be a Khampa warning him of danger or perhaps a lump  of snow fallen from a tree. In an instant he saw it was a grenade. Paul lay flat on his face and instinctively covered his head with his hands as at the same instant the grenade exploded with a tremendous roar, scattering snow and fragments of earth in a wide arc. The next moment bursts of automatic fire came from all sides and Paul looked up and saw a Chinese soldier dashing towards him, so close that he could have stretched out his hand and touched him. Paul fired, saw him lurch, stumble and disappear behind a slope. And then from every direction he saw his friends running, shooting, and shouting in excitement, and Paul realized the Communists had been overcome.

By Aminah Sheikh

She read one of her poems with a lot of poise, to an audience sitting in the jungle that played host to the Kumaon Literary Festival, in Uttrakhand. A practising poet, Shelly Bhoil’s first poetry book  An Ember From Her Pyre has recently been published.  But her interest goes beyond poetry. It extends to Tibetan literature, an area in which she is doing meaningful work. Shelly speaks to Kitaab on her role as a growing Tibetologist and poet.

dsc_0370When did you begin writing poetry? 

I remember writing an angry poem on patriarchy when I was in class 8. I dismissed it because it couldn’t be rhymed, which was essential in my then understanding of poetry. It was at St. Bede’s College in Shimla where I studied from 1997-2001 that I began to write poetry vigorously. Back then I mostly wrote in Hindi. My mentor (Sangeeta Saraswat) suggested I drop ‘tukbandi’ (rhyming) and experiment with different styles. Most of my early poems perhaps sound sophomoric or patriotic. By the time I graduated, I was told by my mentor that my verses had reached a certain level of maturity. College was the preparatory ground. A few years ago, I moved to Brazil, I became serious about writing and publishing poetry, this time in English. Poetry has been liberating both during my college life and now in Brazil where sometimes one could feel very isolated!

What led to your interest in Tibetan literature?

This might surprise you, I am a native of Kangra, an exile capital for Tibetans but it was only in 2003 that my interest in Tibet and its issues grew. It was after I attend a talk in Shimla by an exiled Tibetan poet Tenzin Tsundue. Suddenly, McLeodganj transformed from a place of momos and weekend drives to the place of political resistance by the Tibetans. Tsundue’s words still ring in my ears- ‘I belong to a problem called Tibet!’ Having read courses on post-colonialism in Masters, it had immediately occurred to me that our curriculum must concern not just with the post-colonial and but also what is happening to people from the ongoing or living colonies in our apparently ‘postcolonial world’.

Jamyang Norbu’s award-winning novel, The Mandala of Sherlock Holmes, which I had earlier passed on as another detective fiction sequel, now interested me as a political testament. A humble activist-poet that Tsundue is, he sent me a passionate letter, which I still treasure, introducing me to works of other Tibetan writers, after which I began to combine my family visits to Dharamsala with research. When I approached a prominent Tibetologist in Dharamsala for readings, he tested my intention by saying, “aren’t we ‘chinkis’ for you Indians because of our slant eyes and flat noses, and like many western scholars are you too attracted by the romance of our religion!” I think he was satisfied to know that some of the most beautiful and bold faces I know have features like the Tibetans and some of these are in my immediate family, and that there is a surfeit of religion too in my bhajan (devotional songs) and temple loving family. So what I want to point out is that my interest in Tibetan literature is primarily led by the political crisis and nationalism of Tibetans-in-exile.

pankaj_mishraTo understand contemporary Asia as a whole, one has to understand China—now more so than ever, argues PANKAJ MISHRA in his new book, A Great Clamour

One afternoon in the summer of 1992, I was talking to my landlord and found myself asking him what lay beyond the snow-capped mountains I could see from my veranda. “Tibbat,” Mr Sharma said, pronouncing Tibet the north Indian way. I was startled. Was it really that close? I had only recently moved to this small village in Himachal Pradesh to see if I could be a writer; the physical isolation seemed to constantly fuel my sense of inadequacy. Now, in my imagination, that vast territory stretching from Lhasa to Hokkaido and Surabaya, an Asia even then being imprinted by the politics and economy of China, suddenly reared up as an oppressive blank—another reminder of my ignorance about the world.