Memories Evoked by a Tibetan’s Novel

For the past some days I had the occasion to relive my college-day experiences in Delhi University through the novel Falling Through the Roof by Thupten Samphel.

Although I entered college just as Samphel la was about to graduate we were in the same generation of students that had a similar social experience. The Novel follows the activities of a group of Tibetan students in Delhi University; their joys and sorrows, their political innocence and sincere determination. I could picture myself being a participant in many of the scenes that are described in the pages, be it the “dance” in the basement of Delhi Dhonchoekhang (to the beat of the Bee Gees, I should add) or the cyclostyling of the March magazine at a typing centre in Kamla Nagar that was adjacent to Delhi University. There is also a very realistic description of the trips to the Tibetan camp that we would do, not just for the chang but also for the delicious Thanthuks. Oh! those were the good old days. If there are Delhi University students reading this, I suggest that they read the novel, if only to see how their predecessors spent their student life then. One of the characters is talked about as working as a journalist for the Indian Express. I worked in that newspaper soon after finishing my college and so whether I was an inspiration for that character (there is no other resemblance between us) or not, this only makes the novel more personal to me.

Through these characters the writer puts the spotlight on the “harmonious blend of politics and religion” that is the hallmark of the Tibetan society. However, one should not assume that by this we are talking about the conventional view of this relationship. You have to read the novel to see an enigmatic twist to the theme. Suffice it to say that a neewly-minted Communist turns out to be an interesting player in this equation.

In literature we talk about the need for “willing suspension of disbelief.” This aptly applies to this novel and in a positive way.

Now a bit about finding this novel. Unless you are in Dharamsala (where I am told the book is readily available for purchase) it is a bit difficult in other places in India. Rupa sells it online. If you are in Bangalore, you can also get this at Gangarams Book Bureau on M.G. Road (I got my copies there). I am told there is a limited print run and so I would suggest that you buy it before you miss the opportunity of being the proud owner of the first edition of the novel.

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