Strawberry Fields In Himalayan Snow

Remembering John Lennon at Dharamshala


I remember the exact night, thirty years ago, when I heard John Lennon had been murdered. I was in the hall of the kashag (the Tibetan cabinet) building in Dharamshala, at a benefit dance for the literary magazine Lotus Fields (Pemathang). Raju, the lead guitarist of  The Subterranean Vajra Hammer, was dishing out Keith Richard licks, note for note, to the boogieing young Tibetans, inji hippies and travelers , when, somewhere during a set, the lead singer Dave Tomory cleared his throat and made that unhappy announcement .

Dave who later became a travel writer and did a piece on the rock and roll life in Dharamshala, mentioned that the band didn’t play Beatles songs, so, that fateful night the drummer Gavin Kilty came forward “…all by himself, and did ‘Across The Universe’; and though very shaken, was very good.” The rest of us toasted the memory of John Lennon with glasses of chang and Golden Eagle beer, and over subsequent drinks reminded each other of all the wonderful Beatles songs we could remember, and argued fiercely about which one was the best.

The first song I ever sang on stage (at age thirteen) for my school talent night was a Lennon/Macartney composition “I Saw Her Standing There”, with my friend and rhythm guitarist, Ratna Das. Though the two of us played together often after that, neither of us could afford a real electric guitar and had to routinely borrow one from a Thai student for every gig. We seldom managed to get a drummer to back us, and worst of all didn’t have a snappy name. Only some years later, after I put together another band and Marvel Comics hit Indian magazine stands, I managed to come up with “Dock Ock and His Tentacles”.

When George Harrison died in 2001 I remember getting some friends together at my home, Nalanda Cottage at McLeod Ganj, and singing his songs: “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, “Here Comes the Sun” and “My Sweet Lord” among others. A friend, Jordhen, contributed some appropriate Buddhist tweaks to the refrain of the last song:

Hm, my lord, hare krishna, My, my, my lord, hare hare,
My Sweet Lord, Dalai Lama, Hm my lord, bodhicitta.

George Harrison had a special significance for those of us in the sub-continent because of his monumental Concert For Bangladesh. It was the first international benefit concert of its kind to use music for a higher humanitarian purpose, and (after having watched the DVD) is still one of the best. Much of the Western world, especially the America of Nixon and Kissinger (plus Communist China) attempted to play down that terrible genocide to shore up their “loyal” ally, Pakistan. The Liberation of Bangladesh was a hugely important event for all Tibetans. A secret contingent of Tibetan paratroopers had fought (and many had died) to capture the port city of Chittagong which was crucial to the defeat of the Pakistani army. All Tibetans believed that something similarly momentous would happen for Tibet also. And George was there with us.

But John was too, I suspected then, in his own way. At the time the political fashion in the West was radical left and Maoist, but John Lennon was one of the rare young celebrities with the maturity and wisdom to condemn political violence especially of the Cultural Revolution variety:

You say you want a revolution
Well you know
We all want to change the world….
But when you talk about destruction
Don’t you know you can count me out…

You say you want a revolution
Well you know
We all want to change the world….
But if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao
You ain’t going to make it with anyone anyhow….

I became convinced when I saw the The Killing Fields, the epic film of the Cambodian genocide. Lennon’s (supposedly atheistic) song “Imagine” came on at the end, when Dith Pran who had survived the horrendous ordeal of the Maoist inspired carnage of the killing fields, meets his American friend at the refugee camp. When the familiar lyrics “Imagine there’s no heaven…”, swelled over the speakers, I think I finally understood what John Lennon had been trying to say all along.


30 Replies to “Strawberry Fields In Himalayan Snow”

  1. I went to the Strawberry Fields in Central Park, NYC, yesterday to join thousands of fans from all over the globe in remembering and celebrating John Lennon’s life.

    John’s most memorable song “Imagine” and its lyrics are just as poignant now as they were in 1971. For the people who don’t know the lyrics, here is part of “Imagine”:-

    Imagine all the people
    Living life in peace
    You may say I’m a dreamer
    But I’m not the only one.
    I hope someday you’ll join us
    And the world will be as ONE.

    So inspirational ! Amen to that.

  2. I like John Lennon very much. His songs are beautiful and profound. He was more Buddhist than lot of people I know who call themselves Buddhist. And I think his son, Sean, is actively involved with humanitarian works. In fact doesn’t he help some Tibetan organization?

  3. Jamyang, I am in Dharamsala now, and yesterday I hummed Across the Universe in memory of the great man. I remember doing a few Bob Dylan songs with you too.

  4. Poet, Philosopher and Musician.
    Just recently watched a documentary on the life of John Lennon.
    He truly was a pioneer in political activism.

  5. Imagine (Tibetan Version)

    Imagine there is no Chinese in Tibet
    It is easy if you try
    No Tibetans in prison
    All of us free
    Imagine all the Tibetans
    happy under his smile

    Imagine there is a free country
    It is easy if you try
    Nothing to fight and lie for
    And no religion too
    Imagine all the Tibetans
    drinking chang in peace

    You may say that I’m a dreamer
    but I am not the only one
    I hope someday you will join us
    when Tibet will be free

    Imagine no bullets
    I wonder if you can
    No need to run or hide
    A paradise for innocence
    Imagine all the Tibetans
    Under his beautiful smile

    You may say that I’m a dreamer
    but I am not the only one
    I hope someday you will join us
    when Tibet will be free

  6. Jamyang La,
    You’re the epitome of all things cool for me. Even though my dad’s never been too interested in politics, like the rest of the Tibetans I grew up hearing tales about you and Rangzen and of course, a lot of Beatles and Dylan. And if I remember the words correctly, I saw a version of John Denver’s song in my dad’s songbook that went- Country roads, take me home. To the place, I belong. My land Tibet.. always thought it was tacky but you can feel how generations have yearned for the fatherland and we will not give up the fight anytime soon. Please keep doing what you do. 🙂

    And even if Lennon passed away 30 years earlier on that day, Jim Morrison was born somewhere on the same.. so let’s just imagine we’re all riders on the storm. And we’ll brave it!

  7. Yes, You guys are talking about the so called American singer while the whole world talking about the Nobel Prize winer Liu Xiaobo who also a strong supporter of the tibetan issue.

  8. Well, we humans are physical beings after all. It seems to me we are still affected very much by icons, or individual heroes. There are
    other western peace singers besides Lennon, other imprisoned Chinese activists beside(s) Liu, many, many Runggye Adaks. But these three
    names focus our strong emotions, and in the end become more powerful than simply three individual stories. Each name represents a powerful cause; then if these names themselves are somehow united under one greater human cause, it seems to me that can become incredibly powerful under the right circumstances.

    This is one of the things the CCP fears most, the “viral icon,” especially in the right circumstances.

  9. Jamyangla, please be careful about the weighty words you use in your blog. Genocide is not a word you use for all and sundry. Pakistani military atrocities in then East Pakistan has never been termed as genocide, in spite of the cruelty perpetrated there by Pathan and Punjabi regiments of the Pakistani Army.

    As someone who is looked upon by one’s countrymen as a role model of courage, probity and independence, you have to live up to it. I would be glad if Jamyangla is more judicious in his use of words. The English language as we know is replete with words of synonymous and similar meanings, but they are not same. To know the nuances in the context at hand is the secret of good composition.

    In the twentieth century, there was the Armenian Genocide by the Ottoman Turks, the Jewish Genocide (Holocaust) by the Nazis and the Tibetan Genocide by the Chinese Communists.

  10. Chinese engineer,

    The genocide of Jews is the most well-known of genocide, yet there are a lot of Jews “running around”. What’s your logic?

    In any case, check what the International Commission of Jurist had to say about Tibet in 1959:

  11. Genocide in Tibet continues, in all of the forms defined by the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

    This forms include killing Tibetans, physically and mentally harming Tibetans, inflicting conditions designed to destroy Tibetan culture, preventing Tibetan births, and forcibly transferring Tibetan children into the custody of non-Tibetan adults.

    A caption on a photo taken at a Chinese-run primary school in Lithang, January 15, 2005, reads:

    “school litang

    Chinese schools in far flung corners of the country often have a deserted feel to them… except of course when the kids emerge from all over. I had lunch with a teacher. She made no bones about her mission. “We are trying to erase the culture of local people” she said.”

    For this and other evidence showing ongoing genocide in Tibet, please see

  12. Hey, Jamyang:

    I loved this piece. Received many such Lennon remembrances on Facebook that day. Yours stood out. I doubt that you remember me, but back in 1987-88 we were susceptible to a few drinks on the front porch of your cottage in McLeod Gang. I remember those moments fondly and your piece brought them back in small ways. Glad to see you’re doing well and still fighting the fight. Of course I wouldn’t expect anything else from you. Maybe someday our paths will cross again. Perhaps I can host you on my front porch for a drink or two. In the meantime I will read your always unique perspective on this, the defining issue of our time.

  13. On the topic of “Genocide”

    Do you people honestly think that the CCP can’t kill a couple million Tibetans when over 20 million Chinese died due to government mismanagement?

    If the PLA can be mobilized to build the Qinghai Rail 3 decades ago, they certainly can depopulate Tibet to a significant degree.

  14. Chinese Engineer,

    The only thing stopping the CCP from exterminating the Tibetan race (their real intention) is international pressure. It’s not that the CCP has anything resembling a heart or a soul. So, instead of continuing with the outright mass murders that commenced in the 50’s, they have turned their attention to the Sinicization of all Tibetans and things Tibetan. It’s still an effective execution. And one that escapes the bolder portion of international scrutiny and action. Of course…with plenty of more physical executions of dissidents, protesters, and even fleeing children (here I refer to Nangpala Pass) documented.

    You must be Chinese (judging by your name). Buddy, let me cut to it. Your people are NOT WELCOME in Tibet. Now, get out! Go home! You are NOT WANTED IN TIBET.

    -Patel and Company

  15. “You must be Chinese (judging by your name). Buddy, let me cut to it. Your people are NOT WELCOME in Tibet. Now, get out! Go home! You are NOT WANTED IN TIBET.”

    I think the more prudent question is “what are you going to do about it”?

    Buddy, let me cut to it: might makes right. You can cry and scream and beg all you want, but no one wants to mess with one of the Big 5.

    International pressure has not altered Chinese policy in Tibet. International pressure will not grant Tibet secession from the PRC. International pressure cannot alter the facts surrounding Tibet’s actual political status in the 30’s, which was murky at best.

    Words when unsupported with the promise of action and/or violence are just that: words. Words never killed anybody. So until the Indians some how feel it is in their supreme national interest to loan a few MKI’s and a dozen mech. infantry divisions with organic helo lift, and in the process repeat 1962 all over again, your opinion is in all actuality worthless.

  16. LS gave the most practical, convincing answers during the 2011 election debates at new york. TNT as usual talked about the “past”, so did TW to some extent, but LS emphasized on “future”, which is what really matters.

    The mediater was biased also, being amongst old-minded lot. not only shooting all questions first at LS, so that TNT gets time to organize a better answer, but also called the two oldies with honorific titles while calling LS with his plain name. but to no success of course, the audience isn’t that foolish. the audience applauded when ls said to mediater,’ do i always have to answer first?’ that fucking old cheat. ls won.

  17. Chinese Engineer

    Did might make right when Western powers carved up large swathes of China? Or when Japan so brutally occupied it? Many of the things done to the Chinese people were crimes against all of humanity and should be understood as such. Even if they pale in comparison with what Mao meted out to his own people.

    Might makes right is an ethic that doesn’t even serve the interests of the mighty in the long run.

  18. Did pretty words and fresh flowers restore China’s territorial integrity? Did a sense of morality and justice force the Japanese to scrap their Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere? Of course not. It took a couple million dead fanatic Chinese with guns for the former, and two atomic bombs for the latter.

    “Power flows from the barrel of a gun”. You should know who said this. You should also know what this man accomplished.

    People with high ideologies but scant ability to make true their vision with arm and blood are merely refuse headed for the dustbin of history.

  19. Imagine there’s no heaven
    It’s easy if you try
    No hell below us
    Above us only sky
    Imagine all the people
    Living for today…

    Imagine there’s no countries
    It isn’t hard to do
    Nothing to kill or die for
    And no religion too
    Imagine all the people
    Living life in peace…

    So, “Imagine” wasn’t an atheist song after all? I can’t see how much more clearly Lennon could’ve wrote that. “Imagine” is a song about a better world, which in Lennon’s opinion meant no war and no religion (one of if not the biggest cause for war and hatred).

    I’m sorry, but when you twist facts and write untruths about a dead man, I have to wonder about the rest of the “facts” in your uncited articles.

  20. ༄། །ཨ་རིའི་ནིའུ་ཡོག་བྲག་གཡབ་བློ་བཟང་ནས་རེ་བསྐུལ་ཡིན་། says:

    ༄། །མཁས་དབང་མཇལ་དབྱང་ནོར་བུ་ལག་བཀྲ་ཤིས་འདེ་ལེགས་
    ༡༽ སྐུ་ངོ་བཀྲ་ཤིས་དབང་འདུས་ལག་།
    ༢༽ མཁས་དབང་བློ་བཟང་སེང་གེ་ལག་།
    ༣༽ སྐུ་ངོ་བཀྲས་ཐོང་།

  21. Good morning! I just remembered this Lennon post, and meant to comment in December. Count me in or out? Well, it wasn’t so simple. There are two versions of “Revolution” – the acoustic version on the White Album and the distorted guitar version. The former said, “You can count me out…in”. He was undecided at that time. but the other version (the single version) said, “You can count me out”. See “Revolution in the Head” by Ian MacDonald. There’s an interesting quote from John in “The Beatles in their own words”, which I read circa 1980 (maybe some second-hand copies floating around), in which he said something like, “I was undecided on the violence. I was wondering if actually Mao was doing a good thing” (not exact quote, so you might want to check this). But, of course, he said that in 1968 and the lack of reliable information meant that there were all kinds of romantic myths floating around at the time, which have since been dispelled.
    One Lennon-Tibet connection you forgot to mention. “Tomorrow Never Knows”, on “Revolver”. The lyrics come from Timothy Leary’s “Psychedelic Experience”, which was influenced by the Bardo Thodol (Tibetan Book of the Dead) plus bucketloads of LSD. It had been John’s intention to begin the track with the sound of Tibetan monks chanting and he regretted that they’d not done that.

  22. i am wondering :
    every morning when i wake up i can only see that
    our nations struggle is great forward not backward and we are not concerning the “Tibet Unity and Diversity”.

    Rushes to nations struggle and forgetting the basic unity and it’s culture .

    without unity and people’s greatness, a nation will be not free at all.

    A nations unity and people’s greatness will be a great resources for once nation.

  23. real people greatness is hardly appreciated and encouraged. so standard of great people is going down all the time. and we all are wondering how come no great people coming up from the fact now people seek greatness in individuals who can skillfully navigate through the system and thrust their greatness upon us. kudos to thier creativity.

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