On our first day here, while we had lunch at Carpe Diem, a cafe recommended by Parvez, we overheard a conversation at the next table. A young Tibetan woman, obviously a local, was chatting with three middle-age men, who I guessed from the conversation were either journalists or politicians or something in between! At first I just happened to hear a line or two but then I was hooked and shamelessly eavesdropping. The woman is clearly actively involved in the ‘Free Tibet’ movement and must have approached these people for some sort of help or perhaps publicity for an event. And they were here to discuss what they could. But rather than be of any support, the three of them were attacking the entire movement. In their words, ‘aapke community mein leader kaun hai? Sab chup chaap beitthe hain, kucch karthe nahin. Gaana bajaana se kuch nahin hotha. Ek strong leader chahiye. Aapke community mein kaun hein jo marne ke liye tayyar hai? Koi nahin! Leader chahiye. Bhagat Singh type. Ya dekhiye ye Anna Hazare ne kya kiya. Aise kuch aap kar sakte hain? Bataiye?’
And then they went on to pretty much accuse the entire Tibetan community of being leeches living off the generosity of the Indian government. The young woman said, ‘Yes of course, we are terribly grateful, but don’t you think the Tibetan community has given something back to India too?’ At this point the three men looked incredulous and laughed and said, ‘really just because you have opened up a few momo shops and sell some knick knacks, don’t think you’re making any great impact on our lives. Get real!’
Listening to the conversation was alternately fascinating and infuriating for me. At one point I wished I knew enough to support the Tibetan woman but then I realised she was more than capable of holding her own and seemed to be quite used to dealing with these guys. Along with all the hard talk there was also some superficially friendly banter and the occasional interjection to let her know that none of this was personal ‘aap bura mat maniyega’.
I don’t know why I’m writing about this, but it was my first impression of Mc Leod Ganj so I suppose it’s something.
The photo above is of the Subbody Butoh School just a short walk outside of Mc Leod Ganj. Rhizome Lee, the teacher at the school, runs a one year course that is open to anyone interested in learning Butoh. Butoh is a form of dance that emerged in Japan after World War II. My knowledge of it is limited to three performances that I’ve seen – two by a dancer called Min Tanaka and another by Atsoushi Takenouchi (whose name I’d forgotten but then, what’s Google for?). I can’t say that I really understood what the form was about or what the dancers were trying to convey but something about all three performances kept me riveted. Iswar has also seen the performance by Takenouchi, so when we saw a notice announcing a weekly open performance by the students of the school, we were happy to get a chance to visit them and spend an afternoon there.
The school is located in a pretty idyllic setting, with a largish amphitheatre where you can watch performances against the backdrop of Himalayan snow peaks. The students who we saw at the performance were all foreigners and had mostly been training for just 6 weeks, though some of them were returning for the second time. It is difficult for me to describe what the performance was like, I was impressed at times, irritated at others, and I’m not entirely sure what I felt about it, so I won’t try to explain, but I can say that it interested us enough to return to interview Lee (that’s him in the photo below).
Later the same evening, as we walked around the market, we saw another contemporary dance by a couple of South Korean dancers who are visiting for a few months. The performance was in honour of ‘Earth Day’, and quite aptly they had to battle with passing vehicles for space, since they were performing in the middle of the road. Ramoo Hong, the dancer on the left wearing pink pants, dealt with the cars quite beautifully, stopping them, caressing them, cajoling them and playing with them before finally letting them pass. He has a sense of humour in the way his body moves which makes it go beyond calisthenics and cool contortions. We also heard him sing and he has that lovely voice with a low resonance that can give you goose bumps!