‘Freedom in Exile’ tells the story of the Dalai Lama’s life through turbulent times and gives a fascinating account of what Tibet was like before and after invasion by the People’s Republic of China.
The book also makes a connection with Winifred Tovey’s book ‘Cor Blimey! Where on earth ‘ave you come from?’ Following the Dalai Lama’s flight into exile in 1959, many Tibetans escaped into India, and in response to their need the Indian government offered several sites for the settlement of refugees. One of these sites was at Bylakuppe, near Mysore City, south India. When the first refugees arrived, Winnie Tovey was among a group of Mysoreans who worked to help the Tibetan families adapt to their new surroundings.
In ‘Freedom in Exile’ the Dalai Lama’s describes the Bylakuppe refugee camp as he found it in 1961: – ‘On 1 February 1960, the first settlers arrived at Bylakuppe in Mysore State. I heard later that when they saw the land, many of the refugees broke down and cried. The task before them seemed so immense. They had been supplied with tents and basic equipment, but apart from this, their only resource was such determination as they could bring to bear.
During the early part of 1961, I paid my first visit to the new settlement at Bylakuppe. On arrival, I found the settlers all to be very dark and thin. I saw immediately why they had been so pessimistic. The camp consisted of nothing but a few tents on the edge of a forest and, although the countryside was just as beautiful as I remembered it from my pilgrimage, the land itself did not look promising. Moreover, the heat from the burning debris, combined with the heat from the sun, was almost unbearable.
The settlers had made a special tent for me with bamboo walls and a canvas roof. But even though it was well made, it was no proof against the terrible dust thrown up by the clearing process. Every day, a thick cloud of smoke and soot hung over the whole area. At night it would settle slowly, penetrating every tiny opening, so that in the morning you woke up covered in a fine layer of powder. Because of these conditions morale was very low.’
The group from Mysore helped the Tibetans adjust to the hot climate, farm on the arid plain and to set up healthcare and education for their community.
‘Freedom in Exile’ covers the life history of the Dalai Lama from the time when he was ‘discovered’ after the death of the previous Dalai Lama .
Before his third birthday, the boy Dalai Lama was taken to live in the community of Buddhist monks. His eager sense of adventure was harnessed by his mentors as they educated him on Buddhist philosophy in the monastery. When in 1950 the eastern region of Tibet was invaded by the People’s Liberation Army of China, the 15-year-old Dalai Lama had only the Buddhist teachings to guide him on the defence of his country.
After four years he made the dangerous journey out of Tibet, to live in the heart of Maoist regime in Peking, hoping to persuade them to give Tibet back to the Tibetans. On return to Tibet he tried to peacefully restrain the excesses of the invader, but to no avail.
‘Freedom in Exile’ is an honest and thought-provoking account from a person, ordinary in many ways, but set up through a quirk of fate to lead a nation. It gives insights of the Buddhist way of life and shows faith kept alive against all odds.
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