I read this morning that Millvina Dean, the last survivor of the sinking of the Titanic had died aged 97. She was nine weeks old when the ship sank after hitting an iceberg in the early hours of 15th April 1912. I have some “Titanic” related memories of my own but they only go back a decade and have nothing to do with that great ocean liner. One summer evening in 1999 I was cornered at the Hotel Tibet Bar by some young Tibetans who wanted me to write them a play for the annual TYC (regional) play competition. They were not only very insistent but also had a fairly long list of requirements about the story line. First of all they wanted something contemporary and with a rangzen message. Then they felt it should feature, in one way or the other, the Tibetan Youth Congress, and that the lead characters should be, well, youthful. They also wanted the play to be a comedy, but that it should tackle the then contentious issue of Tibetan immigration to the USA. Finally they said that it would be nice if I could throw in a bit of romance as well.
The play was first performed at the TIPA auditorum with Topden Tsering, Lobsang Tsering (Harish), Chuki, Tashi , Lobsang (?) and some others (sorry for not remembering your names) in the cast. The public seemed to enjoy it, and it didn’t generate the controversy and mob-violence of some of my other theatrical works. I don’t think the play was ever performed again, so I am using this occasion to re-release it to my readers. 1999 was a decade ago and some of the issues and the humour have probably dated a bit. So don’t expect art or profundity. I wrote the first draft in 36 hours and it shows. Still, putting on a play is a shared, a communal project, with actors, stagehands and, of course, the audience. That experience is always great fun.
A Play in Tibetan…
…of travel, romance, immigration, movie-making, religion,
politics & the freedom struggle – all in one act.
by Jamyang Norbu
CHARACTERS IN ORDER OF APPEARANCE
Lhamo, tough activist and winsome beauty.
Rangzen, frustrated but aspiring film-maker
Tashi Titanic, travel agent
Chotu, Tashi’s Bihari office-boy
Rabsay, America-returned alcoholic
Chodon, ex-MP (chithue) and VOA radio interviewer
Wangdu, present minister (kalon) – future janitor.
Pala, a typical poor Tibetan from a resettlement camp
And a monk who’s married to …
a nun, both of whom are not what they seem.
As the house lights go down the theme music from the movie Titanic can be heard faintly. The music becomes louder as the auditorium darkens. The curtain opens and a single spotlight gradually goes up on the front centre of the stage where we see the dark outline of a girl. As the spotlight gets brighter we see she is young, pretty, Tibetan and wearing a stylish purple chuba and violet blouse. Her eyes are rapturous and her hands are flung open, somewhat in the manner of Rose in the film TITANIC – in the scene where Rose stands at the prow of the ship and is held from behind by Jack. Our Tibetan girl, Lhamo, is being held around the waist by a young Tibetan man. He is in Lhamo’s shadow and we cannot see him distinctly.
Lhamo wriggles a bit in discomfort and the music suddenly stops. The lights go up on the scene of a small travel agent’s office in Delhi. A large signboard proclaims: TITANIC TRAVEL AGENCY, Majnu-ka-tilla, Delhi. A metal desk is the main article of furniture. On it are a few brightly coloured telephones, a gift pen-holder/memo-pad set, letters and files. On a smaller table by the side is a fax machine, a grimy looking computer and a table fan. A few chairs and a small sofa completes the furnishings. A map of the world and some airline posters hang on the wall directly behind. A somewhat less glossy poster on the side announces a Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC) organised Hunger Strike in Delhi.
The travel agent himself, Tashi Titanic, is sitting at the desk reading a long piece of paper, probably a fax. He is a chubby, cocky looking character wearing a fluorescent green shirt open till his midriff. He has a gold chain dangling from his neck at the end of which is a locket in the shape of a ghau, a Tibetan charm box. His ray-ban dark glasses are perched on his head, and a super-king size filter cigarette (unlit) is dangling raffishly from his lips. He has at least half a dozen large rings on his fingers, a Rangzen bracelet on his right wrist and a silver ID bracelet on his left. A pager hangs from his belt and he is holding a cellular phone in his hand, which he often flourishes to make a point when he’s talking.
We now see the young man behind Lhamo. His name is Rangzen and he is a typical young Tibetan man of medium height and build. He is good-looking in a pleasant but somewhat characterless sort of way. He is wearing a white, collar-less shirt. His brown trousers are held up by a pair of braces. In fact he looks a bit like Jack in Titanic.
Lhamo: (annoyed) Why are you holding me by the waist. You said you would just massage my back.
Rangzen: (apologetic) Sorry. My hands dropped a bit.
Tashi: (hopefully, looking up from his fax) Who needs a massage?
Lhamo: My back’s killing me. Last night’s bus trip from Dharamsala was awful. I got the seat right at the back, and I bounced up and down all the way to Delhi. (groans) I think I’m going to die.
Rangzen: Of course you’re going to die. This is your fourth bus trip to and from Dharamsala in one week. How long can you carry on like this.
Tashi: (dialling a phone) What’s all this back and forth business?
Rangzen: She’s involved in the TYC Hunger Strike. Our Miss Activist (simshug ama) here is so busy rushing around for the Freedom Struggle that she forgets she has an old back injury that might become serious if she strains herself.
Lhamo: My back isn’t your problem; at least not any more. You can go to America and find yourself another girlfriend. I’m fed up (nyop-song) trying to get you to stay and fight for….
Tashi: …which reminds me. Rangzen, you have to leave for the States tonight. I managed to get three extensions for the departure date on your visa. I even got that fake doctor’s certificate saying you had a heart attack. But this is it. If you don’t leave tonight your American immigration visa becomes 100% invalid. You‘ll never be able to go to the States again.
Rangzen: I know, I know. But can’t you swing me another extension. Give them a baksheesh or something.
Tashi: Don’t talk rubbish. You know you can’t bribe anyone in the American Embassy.
Rangzen: Please, please, pleeeeaase. I have to stay till I get her to marry me and join me in the States. I’m going crazy with this whole thing
Lhamo: (arms crossed and looking determined) Look here. Don’t be silly. I told you a hundred times; I won’t go to the States. I might marry you one of these days, if you stayed in India. But not ever, if you leave. It’s your choice.
Tashi: (rummages in his desk drawer and pulls out a yellow government of India I.C. and a long envelope) Look, I did everything I could, but I can’t help you any more. Here’s your IC and your air-ticket. You have to leave tonight. (He puts the IC into the envelope and tosses it on the desk towards Rangzen. He then leans forward and looks at Rangzen with exasperation and concern).
Listen to me, you dimwit (kukpa), don’t you know how many thousands of Tibetans are trying to get to the States. Everyone. Your heard me …every …freaking …one! High lamas, low lamas, palas, amalas, monks, nuns, government officials, new-arrivals (sarjor), old-arrivals (ningjor), everyone. These people will do anything, yeah, any…thing to get a tourist visa. And when they hit the States they stay behind and become illegal immigrants working for two dollars an hour washing dishes at some shit-hole restaurant in China town. Even the youth, for crying out aloud. What’s that American government sponsored program where young Tibetan students are sent to the best universities in the States, but where they cut classes to work at some shit job to make money? What was that program called Fullbright?…Halfbright? What?
Rangzen: (absentmindedly) Fullbright.
Tashi: For all of them, you, Rangzen, are a super-privileged person. The luckiest man in the universe. You have a valid immigration visa. The moment you arrive you will get your green card.
(Suddenly the door bangs open and in comes this young man with long hair, wearing a torn singlet and pair of filthy jeans. He is drunk and aggressive and staggers all over the room. His name is Rabsay.)
Rabsay: (In English with a hokey American accent) Hey you, Tashi. You shit. (loudly in Tibetan) Tashi… kay! Can you hear me. I want you send me right back to Seattle, right now. I want a first class ticket on Lufthansa. No Bangla Biman or Royal Jordan shit. I want to leave today.
Tashi: (long suffering tone of voice) Look, you were kicked out of the States. (aside to Rangzen and Lhamo) He was in the resettlement program, first batch. (turns to Rabsay) You were always drunk and fighting people in the streets, so the US government kicked you right back to India. Now you can’t return.
Rabsay: Eat shit (kyakpa so, kay). It was your fault. You told the people at the Embassy not to give me a visa to go back. (Tashi raises his hand to his head and looks up at the ceiling in exasperation) Now I want you to go to the embassy and tell them that you were just telling them a lie and that I am not a drunkard.
(He leans over on Rangzen whose face expresses a strong disgust at the smell of Rabsay’s breath. Lhamo steps away in revulsion)
Rangzen: Kunchok Sum! What an awful smell. You’ve been drinking that local blue stuff they sell in plastic pouches.
Tashi: Yeah. And right from the morning too. Look at his face, Kunchok sum, and it’s only nine thirty right now. When did you start drinking? At dawn?
Rabsay: Liar! Who says I’m drunk. I’m not drunk. I haven’t had anything to drink for a week. I’m as pure as the Dalai Lama (gyalwa rimpoche nangshing tsangma yin). Just smell my breath.
(He goes towards Rangzen and Lhamo opening his mouth and breathing out strongly. They back away desperately trying to avoid him. He staggers over to Tashi’s desk, mouth open. Tashi gets up and yells for help)
Tashi: Chotu! Chotu! Where is that useless fellow. Chotu!
(Chotu, the office-boy, comes in combing his hair and singing a Hindi movie tune. Tashi is desperately trying to push away Rabsay who is breathing down on him.)
Rabsay: (breathing on Tashi). Haaah….haaah. See, no alcohol, nothing. Just my breath; maybe a little smell of onion from the momo I ate last night at Lama Gyupa’s restaurant.
Tashi: (to Chotu in Hindi) Throw this guy out, (nikal do esko, etc.) Didn’t I tell you not to let him in here again?
Chotu: (grabs Rabsay and pulls him to the door) Arre! How many times did I tell you, not to come back here? Get out! I’m getting scolded (gali) just because of you, you drunkard (keshto).
(Finally Rabsay is pushed out, protesting and yelling insults and threats which gradually decreases in volume till he can’t be heard.)
Rangzen: Kunchok sum. That was the most awful smelling breath in the universe.
Tashi: It was like sticking your head in an open sewer. I thought I would die when he breathed on me. (Chotu comes in) Get some tea for all of us here. Double cups.
Lhamo: Don’t bother about me, I’m going to the Hunger Strike site. I have to deliver all these emails and faxes to the president.
Tashi: Just have a cup of tea and relax for a while. Look I’ve got this Tibetan woman from Washington from the Voice of America, who wants to visit the Hunger Strikers. She’s coming here any minute. She’s rented my Tata Sumo jeep so you’ll get a lift. This is a really special Sumo with bucket seats and special tyres. It cost me seven lakhs. So just sit down and have a cup of tea. Cigarette ? (Lhamo refuses. Tashi tosses the pack on his desk.)
Rangzen: Yeah. Just relax a little, Lhamo-la. Nobody’s going to die while you’re away? (He realises he’s said something stupid and puts his hand over his mouth)
Lhamo: (indignant and angry. Nearly in tears) Kunchok sum. How can you say something like that. Do you know those seven hunger-strikers have been without food for 55 days. They could die any moment now, and all you can do is make facetious remarks. I thought you were a good man, even if you weren’t very patriotic. But you’re just one of those people who don’t care about anyone except themselves.
Rangzen: Lhamo-la, I’m really sorry. It’s this stupid mouth of mine. (He slaps his mouth) I just can’t control it. You know I wouldn’t say or do anything to hurt you.
Lhamo: It’s not about me, Rangzen. There are people out there dying for us. Don’t you remember Pau Thupten Ngudup four months ago? Doesn’t his sacrifice mean anything to you? I mean you’ve got this real impressive (zikpu) name, Rangzen (Independence); do you call yourself that just to irritate decent people?
Rangzen: (A bit apologetically) Well, my parent’s were the one with the patriotism. They gave me my name. (gazing away in remembrance) All they ever dreamed off was returning to a free Tibet. And after forty years in that hot dusty settlement camp, growing maize on one acre of land in summer, selling sweaters in winter, all the while listening faithfully to endless official lectures on how Rangzen was going to happen soon and how everyone should make sacrifices and stay united, they are gone, poor things (ningjay) … and so is their dream of Rangzen.
Tashi: (hoping to score with Lhamo) You know, Lhamo-la, I’m a person with a lot of patriotism (simshuk). I give twenty thousand a year to the Tibetan government on my Green book. Twenty thousand! Can you believe it. It’s really there. It’s all stamped on my Green Book.
Lhamo: (still angry with Rangzen’s comment) I don’t understand how you could be so selfish and thoughtless. I mean, even if you didn’t know any of those hunger-strikers personally you didn’t need to…
Tashi: Oh! But he does. Did you notice that small, skinny volunteer from Sikkim … Dawa. He was Rangzen’s best friend in school. They were closer than brothers.
Rangzen: (stunned) You mean Dawa is one of the Hunger-strikers?
Tashi: Yeah, I met him when I visited the site at Jantar Mantar last week. I donated twenty boxes of mineral water to the strikers. Especial Bisleri Deluxe. And twenty cases of Pepsi for the staff. I took this whole van full. (to Rangzen) Didn’t you go to see them?
Lhamo: (sarcastically to Rangzen) Yes, didn’t you go to visit them? Perhaps your memory has been affected by the excitement of your impending trip to the United States. Didn’t you tell me last week that you visited the Hunger-strikers and that you offered them all khatags. Oh! You awful liar!
Rangzen: Look. I’m really sorry I lied to you. But I had this dreadful problem trying to get an extension on the departure date of my visa. I had to run all around Delhi finding doctors and getting fake medical papers.
Lhamo: (nearly in tears) Not only do you not have any simshug, you are the greatest liar and cheat. Go to the States. I don’t ever want to see you again.
(She gets up and leaves. Rangzen tries to stop her and follows her to the door. Tashi tries to persuade her to stay)
Rangzen: Look. I’m really sorry, please don’t go. I’m sorry I lied to you. I won’t do it again.
Tashi: (ingratiatingly) Lhamo la, just wait for a few minutes and you’ll get a lift in my Sumo.
Lhamo: …and you, you can stuff your stupid Sumo up your…..
(She leaves, banging the door behind her.)
Tashi: Hey, what’s wrong with her? I just offered her a lift on my Sumo.
Rangzen: Why don’t you shut up about your Sumo?
Tashi: What’s the matter with you? Your girl-friend pisses you off, so you start to yell at me. (He sees customers outside his door) Come in. Come in. Chotu, darwaza kholo, chai lao.
(Two Tibetans enter the office. The first, Chodon, is a woman of about forty, over made-up, wearing khaki slacks and a white hat. She is also wearing a sleeveless photographer’s jackets with many pockets. She has on dark-glasses with a chain behind it. There are a couple of cameras around her neck and she is also carrying a large camera bag. Behind her is an older man, Wangdu, wearing brown trousers and a cream jacket. He has on a small felt hat and his mouth is covered with a muffler.)
Tashi: (ingratiatingly) Chodon la, I’ve got your vehicle ready. I even arranged for a TYC official, a nice girl, to escort you to the Hunger-Strike place. She was here right now but she just left to tell the organisers there that you were coming.
Chodon: (phoney American accent) I have to do my interview with them today. I am planning to return to Washington tonight. I have an important interview with President Clinton about his calling for a dialogue between the Chinese leaders and the Dalai Lama …
Rangzen: (groaning) Oh no, not that dialogue bullshit again
Chodon: … so it is very important that I finish talking to the hunger-strikers this morning and return to Washington tonight. This interview will be broadcast on VOA where I am the special co-ordinator. I also need a translator since I have forgotten my Tibetan a little.
Tashi: (in English) No problem. (in Tibetan) my friend here will go with you to the Hunger-strike place and translate for you.
(Rangzen has moved closer to the woman)
Rangzen: Aren’t you the former MP (chithue), Chodon la? You went to the States last year didn’t you? You’ve forgotten your Tibetan rather quickly.
Chodon: (somewhat embarrassed and answering in perfect Tibetan) It’s just that I have to speak so much English there… you know how it is? (quickly turns to Tashi) I also want you to help me with another thing. My uncle will be traveling to New York tomorrow and needs a cheap ticket.
Tashi: All right. Then Bangla Biman it is. Now your name please? (man mutters something) Louder please I can’t hear you.
Wangdu: Dorji Wangdu. My name is Dorje Wangdu.
Rangzen: “Minister” (Kalon) Dorge Wangdu?
Tashi: (Gets up in a hurry and puts on a really obsequious act) Ho tsi. I’m sorry I didn’t recognise you. (He does cham-phul) Please sit down here (He offers a better sofa and then shouts for chotu who comes in). Chotu cha lao special, teen cup, fata fat. So, Sir, (kungo la) are you going to America to work or study. I think you’re a bit old for studies, if you don’t mind my saying so..
Wangdu: No, I’m going to be working.
Tashi: What kind of work
Wangdu: Well, I’ll probably be sweeping floors at a hospital in New York.
Tashi: And here you were the minister of health. Amazing (Ha-lay).
Chodon: (to Rangzen) You must also help me to carry my equipment and hold my tape recorder when I’m holding the mike and also taking pictures. (she pulls our a whole tangle of wires and microphones and cameras and lenses and video-cameras from her bag.)
Rangzen: But can you do all that by yourself. Won’t it be very complicated.
Chodon: Look here. You just do the translations and hold the tape-recorder. I’ll do the rest. I have been especially trained for this work in Washington DC. (she has so many wires and things dangling from her that even her glasses have been knocked sideways, but she is not fazed and boldly prepares to go into action) Let’s go.
(Rangzen holds a small cassette-recorder in one hand. It’s wire is somehow entangled to one of the many other wires around the ex-MP’s body. He follows her out as if he were holding her on a leash. Tashi gets up and bids the two VIP’s goodbye.)
Tashi: Good bye, chipkyu nango, chipkyu nango (He holds the door open and bows each time. He then yells for Chotu.) Chotu, get the Sumo ready. Have you cleaned the seats, and checked the batteries. Is the coolant level okay. Have we got enough fuel?
Chotu: Yes Sir, everything is checked and ready.
(Tashi also goes out with everybody. We hear a lot of confusing conversation off-stage. Everyone is trying to get the ex-MP on the jeep without strangling her in the wires and cables of her equipment. Finally we hear the jeep start with a lot of noise. Clearly this is not a brand new deluxe jeep as Tashi claims. There is another round of “chipkyu nangos” and the jeep departs, with a lot of honking and curses from Chotu.)
(A tired Tashi returns to his office and sitting back at his desk, lights a cigarette. The door opens and Rabsay staggers in again. Tashi gets up in indignation.)
Tashi: I told you not to come back here again. Get out.
Rabsay: Look, I just want you to call the American embassy and tell them that you lied when you said I was still drinking at Majnu-ka-tilla.
Tashi: Look. I told you I had nothing to do with your problems. You’re just crazy.
Rabsay: You Liar, you thief. You ruined my chance of returning to the States.
Tashi: Kunchok, this is too much. (gets up and looks threatening) If you don’t leave now I’ll give you a good thrashing. (he takes a few steps toward Rabsay.)
Rabsay: (backing off to the door) I’ll be back, you liar. You’ll regret this. I’ll be back. (He continues his threats and curses and finally departs)
Tashi: Kunchok sum. What sort of bullshit do I have to put up with right from the morning? Whew, and its getting hot. (He puts on the fan and sits down putting his feet on his desk and leaning back comfortably. He sigh’s and dozes off for a while)
(After a minute or two there is a timid knock on the door and a meek quavering voice calls out: “Bhula, Bhula”. The door is pushed open slightly and a head peeks in timidly.)
Pala: Bhula, Bhula khen? Is anybody there?
(Tashi is woken up. He looks around and finally sees the old man.)
Tashi: Hey Pala, just push the door and come in.
(An old man, scrawny, humble, wearing frayed trousers, a faded grey shirt and an old nylon hat, comes in. He is probably from one of the poorer resettlement camps in Orissa or Kollegal.)
Pala: Bhula khen, please have you done my work?
Tashi: Now, what work was that?
Pala: About my arrangements for going to the United States.
Tashi: What arrangements?
Pala: I just got this letter a week ago and I came up from my settlement camp to get ready to go. (Hands over a large official looking envelope)
Tashi: (takes out the letter from the envelope and reads it slowly and with growing disbelief) Kunchok sum, what’s going on here. My God, I don’t believe this. (He puts down the letter and tries to read the postmark on the letter) 20th August 1998. That’s just ten days ago. Pala, did you know that you were supposed to receive this letter four years ago? Everybody on this program has not only left for America but also their relatives. Even their cats and dogs have long since gone. Didn’t you know about this? Don’t you read the newspapers or listen to the radio?
Pala: Bhula khen. I sold the little radio I had, and everything we owned, sewing machine, house, everything, to raise the money for the air ticket. And I can’t read.
(Rangzen comes in quietly and sits down despondently in the corner.)
Tashi: Ho-tse-la. You know what must have happened. The officer-in-charge probably forgot to send you the letter telling you to come to Delhi to get your visa. Now four years later he has realized his mistake and is covering up. See, he has back-dated this letter to 17th June 1994. But the postmark on the envelope gives his game away. Kunchok Sum! You know, he might even have not sent you the letter deliberately. And when, of course, there was no reply, substituted a relative or friend in your place. You know there was so much trickery and double-dealing going on at the time. It was really disgusting.
Pala: Bhula khen, what can we poor ignorant people do. If I cannot go to America then it is my karma. All I want is my money back.
Tashi: What are you talking about money. I didn’t take any money from you.
Pala: (tone of alarm) But I bought the fifty thousand rupees here to this office after I was first selected. See I have the receipt here.
Tashi: (looks at the receipt) This is a receipt from the Norbulingka Travel Agency. They were handling all the flight arrangement for the resettlement program. (He slaps his forehead) Of course this was formerly the office of the Norbulingka Travel Agency. I bought this place from them when they shifted to a bigger office. Pala, this is the Titanic Travel Agency. You have to go to the Norbulingka to get your money.
Pala: Will they return it?
Tashi: Well they should. I don’t see why not. You’ve got a receipt and everything. But if they already bought a ticket four years ago and had to cancel it when you didn’t show up, they might deduct a thirty percent penalty. There’s also their twenty-five percent commission. Look, you just go down this road and you’ll see this big red building. The office is at the end.
Pala: (stunned) This is a disaster (dha pe saaso) What am I to do. How can I go back home? We’ve sold everything.
Tashi: (takes the old man to the door) Don’t lose heart. Just go down to the office. Just go that way. You’ll get some of your money back. (The old man leaves still moaning. Tashi closes the door and turns to Rangzen who has been sitting on a chair, leg extended and hands in his pockets.) Did you hear that story? It’s really sad isn’t it? It’s these poor idiots from these poor settlements who get screwed … while some fat crook in Dharamsala makes a fat profit.
Rangzen: Yeah. I heard most of it. Make’s you mad, doesn’t it?
Tashi: Yeah, real mad. Are you hungry? I think it’s about lunch time now. (Shouts) Chotu! Chotu! I didn’t have any breakfast this morning. No time. I had to send all those faxes to my tour groups in Europe. (Chotu comes in) Hey, go over to TD restaurant and get two plates of tsel and tingmo. Also get a large plate of sausages and some cold drinks. Get yourself what you like. He hands over a hundred-rupee bill to Chotu who leaves.
Rangzen: All these official types just make me so angry. Even that ex-MP. She was so full of arrogance (borsho). At the hunger strike she was asking all these stupid questions. And taking pictures. And she didn’t even have the lens cap off the camera. And that phoney American accent. She was too much.
Tashi: What sort of questions did she ask?
Rangzen: Stupid ones (copying her American accent) “Is it true that some of you are not saying prayers in the morning”. But her best one – or the worst one, was this. She asked one of them, Dawa, in fact, whether their hunger-strike, which the Dalai Lama considered to be a violent act, would lose us our supporters and sponsors in the West.
Tashi: What? Did she really say that, Oh that bitch. That inji arse-kisser. (Pango, chegae kup dangae). What did Dawa tell her?
Rangzen: He was great. He told her not to worry, and that he would personally write to her inji sponsors and tell them how much more loyal she was to them than to her own cause and country.
Tashi: Good for him!
Rangzen: She was stunned by Dawa’s reply. So I added to her shock by handing her back her stupid tape recorder and returning with Chotu and the Sumo.
Tashi: You did the right thing. How’s Dawa managing? Has he lost weight?
(Chotu comes back with their lunch, which he spreads on the desk)
Rangzen: He doesn’t look too good. He has so little strength left now. Do you remember what a tough little guy he was at school. Now he looks like he could die any minute. But his spirit is still strong.
Tashi: That’s good. Here have this plate of tsel and a tingmo.
Rangzen: No. I don’t think I could eat anything.
Tashi: Come on. Have a sausage. These TD’s sausages are really special. You don’t get anything like these in Dharamsala. Up there the restaurants just fry those monsoon slugs (mukpay bu) and serve them up as sausages.
(While Tashi is chatting away and enjoying his meal, Rangzen becomes very contemplative. He gets up and walks up and down the office.)
Rangzen: Seeing Dawa like that really made me unhappy. I just don’t know what to do.
Tashi: What do you mean?
Rangzen: I mean, am I really a bad guy for wanting to go to the States; and not being a big hero for the freedom struggle? Why doesn’t Lhamo try and understand? (pauses) Look I have a question to ask you. Swear that you’ll give me an honest answer.
Tashi: (Enjoying the sausages) Sure, sure.
Rangzen: I want you to think about this. Seriously. Okay? If you were in my place would you go to America or marry Lhamo and stay in Dharamsala and work for the cause.
Tashi: (Pauses in mid-bite. He puts down the remaining piece of sausage, and slowly wipes his hand on a handkerchief, all the while wrinkling up his forehead in a demonstration of serious thought.) Do you really want to know what I would do? All right: for a girl like that …. like Lhamo, I would not only give up a chance to go to the USA, but I would give up my final chance to go to the Tushita heaven (Dewachen Shingkham).
Rangzen: (shouting in frustration) I feel like that too, but …
Tashi: But what? Come on tell me. Why don’t you want to stay in Dharamsala? It’s not really that bad is it?
(The door opens and a young monk walks in. He is half-boogieing as he moves forward. The reason for this is obvious in the Walkman headphones he has on. He has red woollen cap on his head and wears wrap-around dark glasses. He looks about as if searching for somebody.)
Tashi: Can I help you? Do you need anything?
Monk: Actually I need an air-ticket for the USA, but I’m waiting for somebody else to show up. We’re going together.
Tashi: That’s all right. You can wait here. Just sit down. (Disapprovingly) And stop all that twisting and turning, you’ll break my chair. By the way, do you have your American visa. I need to show that at the airlines to get your ticket. This is a new regulation.
Monk: (Smiling with pleasure) I just got it today. I came straight from the Embassy here. (Suddenly the door swings open and a nun comes in. She looks around and sees the monk) Did you get your visa?
Nun: (She jumps up and down in excitement) I got it! I got it!
(Both of them rush to each other and hug passionately)
Tashi: (Scandalised) Hey. Kushola! Choela! What are you doing. You’re not supposed to do things like that — at least not in public.
Monk: (Laughs and takes off the wool cap on his head to reveal a shock of black hair.) Look I’m not a monk, neither is she a nun (the nun takes of the cap on her head and even her robes. Underneath she is wearing Chinese style jeans) Actually she’s my wife – we’re married. But since the Americans seem to give visas easier to monks and nuns, we got this idea to dress up the way they want us to look. Well, we’re now going to T.D. restaurant to celebrate with some beer and sausages. We’ll come back later for the tickets. (They leave)
Tashi: (Too stunned to talk. Gradually he shakes his head and lights a cigarette.) Kunchok sum. What has become of our society and culture? Even religion has no meaning anymore. Everyone is a fake. No wonder people want to leave. Rangzen, how bad are things in Dharamsala?
Rangzen: It’s frustrating. You can’t do anything or say anything in that society. Did I tell you, I wanted to be a filmmaker? I asked my boss at the Information office for help to make a Tibetan video. I even assured him I would do video work for the department. Of course I got no help at all. So I saved up my own money and also managed to borrow a camera. I had to leave my motor-bike as security. It took me 14 months but I managed to make a documentary video, about these fake oracles in Dharamsala. There’s so many of them up there and they’re so obviously phoney and pathetic; always getting their prophecies wrong.
You know in one sequence I managed to get an oracle in a trance actually prophesying that Tibet would get it’s independence the next year. Exactly a year later I interviewed the same guy on film and asked him what had happened to his prediction of Rangzen? He really looked stupid. His mouth moved but you couldn’t hear anything. He had nothing to say. And I got it all on video. You would have liked it. It was really a wacky film, but I also managed to get something essentially true about our society in it. Lots of people liked the film when I first showed it in public.
But then the trouble-makers, you know those mahjong-playing Dharamsala politicians accused me of slandering Buddhism. I wouldn’t have minded so much if I was wrong in any way, but everyone in town knew that those oracles were fakes. It’s just that when a young man makes a criticism, no matter how true, about lamas or the government or anything traditional the oldies get so defensive and narrow-minded. Those bastards even sent a mob to beat me up. They smashed the video-camera, so I had to let the owner have my motorbike. And you know what, the Parliament (chithue) instead of supporting me, accused me of blasphemy and even banned my film. Oh those bastards. But they won’t stop me. When I get to the States I’m going to make films. Okay, it’ll take some time before everything works out, but hey, you never know. I could one day even be directing something big, like the Titanic. (He holds up his hands and spread them as if displaying a poster or a theatre marquee) TITANIC II….directed by Rangzen!
(Earlier Lhamo had stepped into the office unnoticed by Rangzen)
Lhamo: I think I liked your fake-oracle film more than Titanic. At least it was a Tibetan movie, and that last medium going in a trance was a better actor than Leonardo Di Caprio,
Rangzen: But they banned it anyway.
Lhamo: So, you’re giving up. Just like that.
Rangzen: (Smiling) It wasn’t too bad a film was it?
Lhamo: No it wasn’t at all. You know you could do so much in the Tibetan community. Create a whole new film industry.
Rangzen: (becoming despondent again) But the chithue and the public….
Lhamo: (interrupting him) Forget about them. Do your own thing. They aren’t bad people, just stupid and without any vision of the future or a bigger world. (She stops and observes that Rangzen is not too convinced) Anyway, what am I talking about. You’re leaving tonight for the USA… aren’t you?
Tashi: (Rather hopefully) Well, I got him his IC, his visa, air ticket and everything. Now it’s up to him whether he goes or not. (Phone rings. Tashi picks it up) Yeah, this is Titanic Travels. Who? Lhamo-la? Yeah, she’s right here. Just hold on. (aside) Lhamo-la, call for you?
Lhamo: (Taking the phone) Yes, it’s me, Lhamo. Yeah, I’m not going anywhere yet. What? WHAT? (Despairing voice) Oh no! No. What happened? Yes I remember that woman. Kunchok sum. Oh how sad. Yeah I remember. He wanted to record something. Oh he did? Yeah I can take it up to Dharamsala tonight. Don’t worry I’ll catch the 6 ‘o clock bus, just send the cassette right now. Bye. (She puts down the phone and turns to Rangzen) I’ve got some bad new for you, Rangzen. Your friend, Dawa-la died about an hour after you left.
Rangzen: What! Kunchok Sum! Oh no. (He lowers his head in his hands.)
Tashi: Ho Tse! kunchok sum. How did it happen?
Lhamo: Well you know he was very weak. He had been without food for fifty-five days, and he was quite close to death. Probably he used up his last bit of strength arguing with that stupid ex-chithue woman from the Voice of America.
Rangzen: Oh no. Poor thing (ningjay). He was only about twenty-two, I think.
Lhamo: (angry with Rangzen) He was younger than you, but he did what he had to do. He made up his mind to do something, and he did it. What do you want? To live to be a hundred in California and not be able to decide even then whether to blow your own nose or not? (she turns away from Rangzen in a huff) Tashi-la. I want you to get me a bus ticket for Dharamsala, tonight. Just before Dawa la died he recorded a message for Gyalwa Rimpoche. It was an important and urgent request. I’ve been asked to take it up tonight.
Tashi: Don’t worry. I’ll get something right away. (he picks up the phone and dials) Is that Potala Travel. Lobsang la, can you hear me? This is Tashi — Tashi Titanic. Any seats on tonight’s bus? No? What do you mean no? This is super urgent. It’s Bhod Rangzen emergency business. I’ve got to have a seat. Just bump some one off. Good man. Yeah, of course. I owe you one. Ciao.
Lhamo-la, you have to leave right now, They’ll hold that ticket for you. The bus is leaving in fifteen minutes. By the way it’s a back seat. I’m sorry. You know, last minute…
Lhamo: (To Tashi) That’s all right. Thanks a lot. (rubbing her back she turn to Rangzen) This is going to kill my back. Well, you’ll certainly be more comfortable on your plane tonight. So just think of me bouncing up and down in the back of the bus. Make that your last mental picture of me. We probably won’t see each other again. (There are tears in her eyes. Rangzen looks absolutely shattered. Lhamo does not want him to see her tears so she breaks away and turns her head). Goodbye.
(Suddenly the door is kicked open with a loud bang. Rabsay staggers in dead drunk. He is clearly looking for a fight.)
Rabsay: Tashi kay, pango! Where are you? Come on out, you cheat, you liar….
Tashi: Kunchok sum. Who let this nyonpa (lunatic) in here again? Chotu! Chotu! Throw him out.
Rabsay: Throw me out? Throw me out? Listen here you rotten crook. Unless you get me back to the States tonight I’m going to shoot you right in the middle of the forehead. (He pulls out a pistol from his pocket and waves it around) I’m going to put all six bullets into your thieving body. (In Hindi) Che to che goli mar dunga.
Tashi: (Alarmed) Look here. Please put that thing down. It’s very dangerous. Let’s just talk. Of course, I’ll do my best to help you to get to the United States, but the Government kicked you out because of your own drinking and fighting.
Rabsay: Don’t move even a muscle… if you don’t want to die.
(Rabsay goes over to Tashi and then puts the barrel of the pistol against Tashi’s head)
Rabsay: Now you thief, you liar. I want you to phone the American Embassy and tell them that I am not a drunkard, and that I should get a visa right away.
Tashi: (Terrified, with eyes closed) Kunchok khen, Gyalwa Rimpoche khen, Gyalwa Karmapa khen. Now I’m dead. Be careful Rabsay-la. Please don’t hold the pistol so tight. Don’t do anything rash. By the way how did you get this zikpu (impressive) pistol?
Rabsay: I bought it with me when I returned from the States. But that’s not any of your business. (Shouts and screams) You thief, you liar. Are you trying to deceive me again?
(Lhamo walks carefully over to Rabsay and tries to calm him down.)
Lhamo: (Sweetly) Rabsay-la. Please just talk to me. We will all help you.
Rabsay: I don’t need your help. I am not drunk.
Lhamo: Of course you are not drunk. You are just a dear friend of mine who will listen to me when I ask you a favour. Please put that pistol away.
(Lhamo puts her hand on Rabsay’s arm. Rabsay suddenly pushes her aside. She falls over backward with a scream.)
Rabsay: Go away. Nobody is my friend.
(Rangzen jumps forward and lands a punch on Rabsay’s jaw. Rabsay collapses on the floor. Rangzen rushes over to where Lhamo is lying prostrate on the floor.)
Rangzen: Oh, Kunchok khen. Lhamo! Lhamo! What will I do? If anything’s happened to her I’ll never forgive myself.
Lhamo: (Opening her eyes and smiling) I’m all right, silly. I just tripped over the carpet when that idiot pushed me. (She tries to get up) Oww. Ooh. My back. Oh no I’ve strained my back again.
Rangzen: Don’t move. Let me help you up on that sofa. Hey! Tashi. Push that sofa over here and help me lift Lhamo-la up. Lhamo-la, don’t move at all.
(Tashi pushes the sofa to the centre of the stage. Both the men then lift Lhamo on it. She lies down on her side facing the audience. Rangzen crouches down by her side, one knee on the floor and holds her hand in his. Tashi goes over and picks up the pistol from the floor. He looks it over carefully.)
Tashi: Oh. How stupid of me. (dha cho ghari yo ray). This is just a toy pistol. It fires caps. (He pulls the trigger and it makes a tak-tak sound). Cho ghari yo ray.
(Rabsay gets up, rubbing his jaw and his cheek. He is quite sober now.)
Rabsay: (Groaning) Ooh. Ooh. Of course it’s a toy pistol. I bought it at Sadar Bazaar. Where do you think I could get a real one? Ooh. (feeling his cheek) It’s swelling up. You punched me right on the jaw. (pordang khoray gang la tee song) Why did you have to hit so hard?
Tashi: Serves you right. You really scared me for a minute there. Of course I then immediately knew that you were bullshitting.
Lhamo: Oh. Kunchok. What am I to do?
Rangzen: What’s the matter? Lhamo are you okay?
Lhamo: I’m okay, but what am I going to do about delivering Dawa-la’s message to His Holiness. I just can’t move right now. Let me try again (she tries to get up but falls back with a groan) Ooh. Its no use I can’t move at all. It’ll take me a few days to recover and I need to take the message up tonight.
Rangzen: I’ll take it to Dharamsala. (dramatic pause, everyone looks at him)
Lhamo: But then….
Tashi: You’ll miss your flight tonight. Then your immigration visa will be cancelled … permanently. You won’t be able to go to the States, ever again.
Lhamo: Look Rangzen, someone else can go to Dharamsala. We’ll find someone. You just go to the USA.
Rangzen: (Decisively) No. I’m going to Dharamsala. (to Tashi) Get the Potala people to hold the bus for a bit.
Tashi: (shouting) No problem! (He picks up the phone) Lobsang-la, Lobsang-la. Stop that bus of yours. I have a super-duper-bumper urgent Bhod-kyi-Rangzen business that’s coming there in ten minutes …. let me see (he looks at Rangzen holding Lhamo’s hand) … no, make that half an hour … make that one hour… and if the driver gives you any problem tell him he’s not going to get any business from me, ever again.
Lhamo: (to Rangzen) So, you’re going to Dharamsala are you?
Rangzen: Yes, looks like it, doesn’t it?
Lhamo: Well, then we’ll probably be seeing quite a bit of each other.
Rangzen: Does that bother you?
Lhamo: (Smiling) No, it doesn’t bother me … not as much as this bad back, anyway. I’ve learned to live with that, I can learn to live with anything.
(The stage lights have been dimming slowly all the while. Now we only see Lhamo and Rangzen illuminated by a single spotlight. With Lhamo lying on the couch and Rangzen kneeling beside her they look, oddly enough, like Rose and Jack drifting in the ocean, in the last scene of the film. The Titanic music swells to a crescendo.)