Tenzin Tsundue writes poetry for freedom

August 2009 -

Many Tibetan refugees, who have been residing in India for decades, still nurse the hope of returning to a free homeland one day. One of them is the poet-activist Tenzin Tsundue – with his permanently sported red headband he is a familiar face in the Indian media. His poems, essays and short stories voice the outrage of the refugees about the events in Tibet. Tsundue is the co-founder of the organisation Friends of Tibet, that promotes the issue of Tibet's independence around the world since 1999.

ashwini Bhatia

Tenzin Tsundue put under arrest by the Indian police near Dharamshala, March 2008.
Photo (C) Ashwini Bhatia

Whenever a Chinese prime minister visits India, Tsundue finds unconventional ways to convey his views to him – such as, unfurling the Tibetan national flag from the hotel in Mumbai in 2002 where the Chinese premier was staying. Or swirling pamphlets down from the roof of the Indian Institute of Science in Bengaluru in 2005, where Wen Jiabao was to make a speech.

The 34-year-old published his first book of poems titled Crossing the Border in 1999. The title referred to the heavily-armed India-Tibet border which the university student had stealthily crossed recently to visit the country of his origin. The poems delved not just into his journey but also into that of his parents' perilous flight from Tibet to India in the 1960s following the Chinese invasion. However, he first attracted literary accolade in 2001 when he won the Outlook Picador Award for non-fiction. Since then, he has published two other books of poems and essays in English, Kora and Shemshook, both of which have printed several editions. He also regularly writes for many English language newspapers and journals in India, and attends literary meets in India and abroad.

Tsundue's moving poems draw on his real life experiences of being a Tibetan refugee – of having to renew his registration to live and work in India annually, of his father eternal nostalgia, of being told he is a refugee at school – to express abstract ideas such as home, roots and identity. "Human stories always bear universal resonance", he says. "I believe that where my heart aches for a home with a dream of a life together with my family, naturally everybody would relate to it, even if the readers are a Chinese."

The latest editions of Tsundue's books Kora and Shemshook can be downloaded for free from the Friends of Tibet website: Friends of Tibet.