Book extract
The sixth Dalai Lama fell in love with a girl from Lithang, but the Tibetan government wouldn't have him marry her.
  • Thursday, March 02, 2017 - 19:10

By Tsewang Yishey Pemba

An extract from newly released novel 'White Crane, Lend me your Wings' by Tsewang Yishey Pemba published by Niyogi Books:

‘Khadro,’ asked Paul, ‘what are you reading?’

‘I borrowed this from Agya’s Tibetan library,’ she replied.

‘What’s it about?’

‘These are poems written by the Sixth Dalai Lama, Tsangyang Gyatso. Romantic poems…’

‘What are his poems like?’

‘Some of the most beautiful Tibetan poetry ever written. You must know, Paul-o, the story about him. He was very fond of drinking, dicing and women. But he did fall in love once…with a beautiful girl in Lhasa. And do you know where this girl was from, Paul-o?’

Paul laughed and scratched his head. ‘You know me, Khadro. I’m a complete fool. Totally ignorant of everything academic. No good at anything which requires the intellect. Only any good with a horse, gun and a camera—and swimming!’

Khadro threw back her head and laughed and put her arms around him and rubbed her cheek against his. Paul stared at her loveliness. She had bloomed again in the air and ease of San Francisco; her cheeks were rosy, her lashes long and black, her lips curled and pink, like the petals of some delicate mountain flower in a Tibetan spring.

‘From our Lithang!’ exclaimed Khadro.

‘Really!’ said Paul. ‘Tell me more.’

‘Well, the young Dalai Lama and the Lithang girl were very much in love. He wanted to marry her. But the Tibetan government wouldn’t even think of it…terrible for a Dalai Lama who’s supposed to be celibate! So she was banished to Lithang for life. Lithang was months away from Lhasa. The Dalai Lama never saw her again. He was heartbroken, pined for her and wrote this poem:

Cha dhe trung trung karmo

Shog tsal ngala yor dang

Tha ring gyang nhe midro

Lithang kor nhe leb yong

(White Crane, lend me your wings

I do not go far

To Lithang

And then back)

‘How terribly sad!’ said Paul.

‘After the Dalai Lama died, his reincarnation, the Seventh, Kelsang Gyatso—do you know where he was born, Paul-o?

‘Where?’

‘In Lithang, Paul-o, in Lithang!’ exulted Khadro.

‘White Crane, Lend me your Wings’, a line from a poem written by the Sixth Dalai Lama as he pined for the object of his love, forever taken away from him, also acts as consolation for his followers banished by the Manchu in 1720.

Tsewang Pemba uses this line as the title of his novel to convey his wistful plea for the return of exiled Tibetans from all over the world to their beloved homeland. The title poignantly captures the resistance to colonial conquest and a clash of ideals in a dramatic, powerful setting.