“I was only nine years old when my family left Tibet because of the Chinese occupation. Our lives changed overnight. We came from a small town in Tibet to Delhi, the big city. The government here established a colony for Tibetan migrants like us at Majnu ka Tilla. While the name does not sound Tibetan, if you go into its alleys, you’ll see scores of Tibetans and Tibetan houses. Here I made my living by selling tea, momos, chowmein and snacks for several years.
There was a time when I used to remember all sorts of Tibetan stories and songs, and amused my children with them. Now, the traditional Tibetan music is played only on special festivals. The kids constantly listen to Bollywood music - I can hear it blaring all the time. Indian music and shows are now a mainstay in our life. I myself really enjoy the Kapil Sharma Show; everyone in it is always happy and keeps laughing!
The clothes Tibetans here wear have changed too - it’s no longer the chopa (traditional Tibetan dress) that we used to wear. Even old ladies like me don’t wear the traditional dress anymore. But you should see how the tailors here transform our traditional clothes into modern styles. We could have never imagined such beautiful designs and patterns in our day. Besides, Delhi is way too hot to wear all the layers that are in those dresses. See, I’m wearing this casual skirt and blouse.
The changes aren’t restricted to what we listen to and what we wear. We have also adapted our fundamental food habits. Just like the rest of the Dilliwalas, we have started eating alu-roti and daal-chawal. I still eat our staple food - champa (sattu) - at least once a day. After all, I’m old and I need the nutrition it gives me.
The children are taught our customs and traditions in the schools that have been set up especially for Tibetans. The schools play a large role in keeping our culture alive. Of course, our culture today seems to be a mix of Delhi and Tibet. Perhaps, we are creating something new - an amalgamation of sorts.
In hindsight, coming here was a blessing in disguise. Most people in Tibet were caught up with farming and only the monks learnt to read and write. Here, on the other hand, we have been able to send our children to school. The people and government here have been very welcoming. The children can eat, dance, sing the way they want; we don’t stop them. Even if the world changes, they won’t forget their culture.
I get nostalgic sometimes and do wish that the old ways remained - the music, the stories, the songs, the food. I love being here. However, like any other old soul, I have my quirks.
I just want a fistful of water from mainland Tibet, and then I can die peacefully.”