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Essay: Six Stars Crooked Neck: A Losar Diary

February 24, 2010

by Khar Chen
Where Tibetans Write
February 20, 2010

It has been two decades since I left my homeland
Tibet. It’s been two decades I haven’t seen my
parents. It’s been two decades I haven’t seen my
fellow Tibetans from my hometown, loss and
sadness written all over their faces. Now, Losar
is round the corner. I too gave a thought to the
Tibetan New Year. I haven’t made any
preparations. I don’t need to make any
preparations. This is because so far I have
celebrated all my Losars at TCV, my alma mater.
My school is my home. And that is where I celebrate my Losar.

Reflecting on Losar last night, my mind was able
to recover some memories of past incidents. These
incidents are related not just to me. They are
relevant to all of my friends. It occurred in the
winter of 1999: I was not able to go for winter
break, so I had to remain in school. We had
twenty-two students in our room. Twelve of them
left for their holidays. The rest ten of us
remained behind. Losar was round the corner. We
too thought about celebrating it. After finishing
our evening study, the monitor of our room raised
some questions about how to celebrate. The main
question was how much money each of us should
collect. After deliberating on this and a host of
other issues, it was decided that each of us
should contribute Indian rupees 250.

I didn’t have a single penny in my pocket. Still
I gave assent to this decision. That night I
thought it over deeply. My main concern was how
should I arrange the money? I couldn’t borrow it
from my friends, for I thought they too were
broke. Most of the students who remained in
school during the winter break were the ones who
didn’t have their family in India. I was also one
of them. This anxiety over celebrating Losar even
gave me a few sleepless nights. Almost a week
passed weighed down by that anxiety. Most of my
hostel-mates had already arranged their monies. I
was the only one who still couldn’t get it. Then
one day, as I was reading a book, trying to bury
the anxiety hovering over my head, someone called
me from outside. Fortunately, he was a friend
from Tibet. He came to see me at school with his
wife. Before he left he gave me Indian rupees
200! It made me so happy that for the time being
the anxiety over celebrating Losar took a backstage.

Then I thought about arranging the rest of the
money. I still needed fifty rupees. Suddenly an
idea popped up in my mind: during winter break,
some of my fellow students used to sell second
hand clothes to local Indians living around the
school. All of these students spoke good Hindi.
By selling second hand clothes to these Indians,
their Hindi language improved by leaps and
bounds. I went out to see them, taking along
myself a shirt that I brought from Tibet. I told
them I needed fifty rupees for that shirt. They
said, “This is not possible, the Indians will not
give such a huge amount of money for this shirt.
You got to bring one more." I gave them a brand
new shirt. Then, one of the students said I
should come to get my money after dinner, to which I gave a big nod.

Losar was round the corner. We had only a week.
The room monitor once again called us for a
meeting. The monitor said, "All of you have
contributed your own share of money. Thank you
very much. Now, we must share the amount of work
that we have to do among ourselves to prepare for
Losar.” It was decided that Khedup should
accompany the prefect to buy meat and vegetables
from the market; Khedup and the prefect were the
senior-most students among us. Tenzin was given
the responsibility to arrange utensils such as
frying pan. Tenzin had good connection with the
cooks of our school. Machen had to find out
someone who could lend us a stove. He had many
friends among the monks living in a monastery
behind our school. (Machen left school for Tibet
after his seventh standard. Years later, I heard
he died in Tibet!). Norbu and Phunstok had the
most important job to do: to create a makeshift
kitchen. Our school had a regulation that
disallowed cooking food in the room during Losar.
So, they had to create such a Kitchen that would
make sure no one get a whiff of it from outside.
Gyatso and Jampel were responsible to decorate
our room, including the fixing up of Derkhas.
Tsepak and I took the responsibility for cleaning
up the dishes. Phuntsok volunteered to cook for
us. Losar arrived, within the confines of our
hostel, silently and in whispers, we ate all
kinds of food, drank lots of rice wine (dres
chang), and immersed ourselves in all kinds of
gossips. In this way, we celebrated Losar in much fun and merriment.

A year passed and again another Losar knocked our
doors. We celebrated it in a way as we did the
year before. Another Losar arrived. This time we
collected more money and celebrated it pompously.
Now, the situation of the society has changed.
Even the financial conditions of the students had
improved. The school facilities had also
improved. The school gave out new shoes and new
shirts to students before the New Year. I have
many friends who put on the coal-black boots
during winter and sleepers during summer, given
by our school. Changes also occurred in me. I
reached seventh standard, then passed it and
reached eighth standard. But one thing remained
same. The school remained the place where I had
to celebrate my Losar. I became the monitor of
our room. The responsibility to prepare the New
Year celebrations fell on my shoulders. I too
followed in the footsteps of our earlier
monitors. The only difference was that we
celebrated it a bit more pompously. We went out
into the local Indian villages to borrow cheap
DVDs. We watched the DVDs in our room.

I reached tenth standard, and then eleventh
standard. I too had friends outside. They invited
me into their homes during Losar. But I declined
their invitation: I was enjoying myself in
school, celebrating Losar in my school.

The path of my career widened. I had better
prospects. My priorities and goals underwent a
change. I arrived in Europe. Again I had to stay
in a school. But the big difference this time was
there were only two Tibetan students in our
school. Tibet’s New Year had nothing to do with
my new school. The school remained closed only
for Christmas celebrations. Therefore, we had to
attend classes during Losar. But my friend and I
couldn’t stay away from our Losar. Another
Tibetan Losar arrived; Chinese New Year arrived,
this time Tibetan and Chinese New Year fell on
the same day. My friend and I sat down to have a
discussion on how to celebrate Losar. It threw up
a new task, a new challenge before us: a
political task. Our Chinese friends told other
students that the New Year belonged to the
Chinese, that it was Chinese New Year; we said
its Tibetan New Year, and belonged to the
Tibetans. The neutral students got confused. Some
of the students questioned us as to why Tibetan
and Chinese New Year fell on the same day. They
wanted to know if Tibet was part of China or
China was part of Tibet. I told them that Tibetan
and Chinese New Year are different, but sometimes
they would fall on the same day. I said the fact
that Tibetan and Chinese New Year fell on the
same day didn’t necessarily prove that Tibet is
part of China. That Tibetan and Chinese New Year
fell on the same day gave me an additional
suffering. A new idea sprang up in my head: my
friend and I invited some Indian and Nepali
students to our house during Losar. We ate lots
of Khabseys, distributed Khabseys among our
friends. We went to our classes and gave away
lots of Khabseys to our professors and fellow
classmates. We told them that today we are
celebrating Tibet’s New Year that we make and eat
lots of Khabseys during New Year. Through this,
we found out a new way to express how Tibet’s New
Year was different from China’s. This made me
proud, the fact that I took the occasion to
demonstrate that Tibet and China are separate
nations. My friend too felt the same sense of pride in him.

A year elapsed. I have now arrived in the United
States. Again I have to stay in school. It’s been
almost five months since I set foot in the United
States. Coinciding with the school break, I had a
chance to travel to many American states. I came
across many fellow Tibetans. I became friends
with many of them. Again Losar is round the
corner. Some of my friends invited me into their
homes during Losar. They said I should celebrate
Losar with them. I once again gave a deep thought
to it. This time Losar falls on Sunday. I asked
myself if I had work on Sunday. I realized I had
to prepare for my test on Sunday. I had two tests
on the following Monday. The Tibetan Government
said we shouldn’t celebrate Losar this year. Some
of the Tibetan NGOs said we should celebrate.
There are Tibetans who want to celebrate and who
do not want to celebrate. I thought it over once
again. I decided to be on the side of those who
don’t want to celebrate. Instead of celebrating
Losar, I decided to write this diary. This is my
Losar, this is my diary for Losar and this diary is my Losar.

P.S. The article was originally published in
Tibetan on www.khabdha.org and was translated by Tenzin Nyinjey
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