High Peaks Pure Earth presents an English translation of an interview with Tibetan poet, writer and intellectual Theurang (real name: Tashi Rabten) – one of the most prominent and widely read young contemporary poets in Tibetan literary circles today.
As explained by Palden Gyal in his essay on Theurang’s poetry volume “Avalanche”,
“the pseudonym “Theurang” means a mysterious imp-like creature living in high mountains, known for its mischievous intrusion in human settlements […] Recording his sentiments and reflections on the 2008 uprisings and the subsequent crackdown campaigns, Theurang published Written in Blood (Khrag Yig), a collection of poems and essays which was well received before it was banned. His involvement in student protests, his poetry and publications in the now-banned literary journal Eastern Conch Mountain (Shar Dung Ri), and his literary activities in general, led to his arrest in 2010 and a four-year prison sentence.”
The interview below was conducted several years ago, it would seem after Theurang’s release from prison in 2014 and the Tibetan language interview that was published on WeChat on June 26, 2017 can be found here. In the interview he talks and reflects on his life, livelihood, love and writing.
We’d like to thank Bhuchung D. Sonam for translating this interview into English and recommend as further reading the following:
- Theurang’s poem “Raise the warrior’s sword, my fellow Tibetans” translated by Bhuchung D. Sonam: https://burningtibet.blogspot.com/2012/03/raise-warriors-sword-my-fellow-tibetans.html
- Theurang’s writings on High Peaks Pure Earth: https://highpeakspureearth.com/tag/theurang/
- “Theurang’s Prison Poems” translated by Palden Gyal: https://chinachannel.org/2018/11/27/theurang-poems/
“I Have No Enemies, I Follow My Own Thoughts”
“My real name is Tashi Rabten. My penname is Theurang. I am from Dzoege Thang in Malho, Amdo.”
“I can say that I am someone who has fallen out of the government’s grace. Hence, there is no association between me and what the government does. I have no desire to be associated with it. I also have no wish to join the government or any other organization. I love my independent life.”
“I have opened a teashop in Ngaba, Amdo. The name of this teashop is La’o. It is a teashop where you can get many Tibetan and Chinese foods. I think to be responsible for one’s individual livelihood is akin to a struggle one has with one’s aspiration and belief. Especially, for someone like me who has fallen out of government’s grace, I am sure that there are people who listen and watch me both inside and outside. Within long in the conversations within the government and at individual levels, there will be: ‘Look at Theurang. He cannot even feed himself.’ I don’t want to hear this. On the contrary, even though I don’t have an iron bowl, I want to turn back to those who would give me bad looks and as a response tell them that I would not die from hunger. I have no aspiration to become a businessman. And yet, I also do not want to have a poor life. With an independent livelihood I want to follow my ambition to its end.”
Q: You are a political prisoner. So let’s talk about your views and thoughts on that.
Theurang: It is difficult to carry this title of ‘political prisoner’. In reality, I don’t know what politics is. I was jailed because of my writing. I was punished for my speech. At the time of sentencing, I requested the judge that Tibetan writers should have a relaxed and free environment to engage in their writing. To this day, I hold onto it. Whatever happens, if someone tells me to throw my pen onto ground, I will never accept it. Let’s assume that I may be able to bear other things, but it’s difficult for me to cut of my ties with thirty letters and four vowels.
Q: I’ve heard that you learned good Chinese language in the prison. Can you talk about your life in the jail?
Theurang: I was able to read many books in jail. Most of these books were in Chinese. Perhaps, this was a blessing in disguise. Generally, prisoners do not have space and time to read books. Everyone had to work. The more marks you accumulate from working, the fewer days you spend in jail. But I wrote to the prison wardens again and again and met with them at any opportunity I got. I told them over and again that I was innocent; that I could not join the prison work and that I loved reading books. Fortunately, the warden of the prison where I was put in was someone who had a reasonable outlook towards Tibetans. He was someone who one could talk to about issues and someone who engaged in talks. He gave me the opportunity to read. I thank him many times and even today I want to thank him from deep inside.
While in jail I told one of my friends something like this: ‘I have no enemies. I follow my own thoughts.’ This is really what I want. My going to jail was because of my aspirations and not because of my association with oppressors or spies. Therefore, I have neither hatred towards others nor regret within myself.
Q: Who has influenced you the most?
Theurang: My mother. She is someone who doesn’t know how to read a single word. But she always gave me freedom and space. She is someone who has a strong bond with her people and a great pride. She is someone who can hold onto these even stronger during hard times. She never put any obstacles or complained about any choices that I made in my life. In fact, she always stood with me throughout. In her, I found a mother’s deep love as well as a large heart and profound thinking. I want to take this opportunity to thank my mother.
Q: If you have everything, what is the biggest thing you want to accomplish?
Theurang: I want to walk across the entire Tibetan Plateau and record the joys and sorrows, and love and hate in the hearts of our brothers and sisters.
Q: What is your regret so far?
Theurang: The fact that I could not pursue my studies well … particularly, my failure to do further studies in traditional Tibetan fields of knowledge and my failure to learn English.
Q: What do you think in one thing you gained from going to university? And also what was your life like in the university?
Theurang: From a student in university I became a prisoner. That is the one big thing I gained from Northwestern Minorities’ University. University life was carefree and one with a good amount of freedom. I liked the fact that I found an environment where I could think, enquire and express my opinions on everything that came to my mind.
Q: Can you talk about your love life?
Theurang: Haha. You will get bored talking about my love because I’ve had many women that I liked and loved. Anyways, those were all doings of a novice. In reality, I have either not met someone to whom I could give my heart or I may have met such a person but we had to part ways due to many circumstances. As of now I am alone and solitary. However, what I want is neither someone who can become my work machine nor a yes-woman who can serve me nor someone who is always selfish. She can be someone who has her own way of thinking, ambition, her own personality and at the same time respect my freedom and aspiration.
Q: You have set a high standard for your possible life partner. Do you have high expectation that your hopes will be fulfilled?
Theurang: Haha. Many people tell me that in real life it is difficult to find such a person. That may be the case. But it is not that there are no such women in our community. So if everything goes well, I think I will meet such a person from somewhere.
Q: Can you recall the most unforgettable event with your loved one?
Theurang: That will be like a story … a story in which a place, characters and events were always together. Each of us had a pet name. Even now we call each other by this name. She is someone who has her own way of thinking and ambition; and someone who has an independent nature and her own views on things. I have written quite a lot of poems about her. She is someone who has left a deep impression on me … and these memories are hard to forget.
Q: Your book Written in Blood has become a focus of attention in Tibet. What are your thoughts on this book?
Theurang: Right. That was my first book. It has gained a certain amount of focus and admiration, and that has definite relation to its contents and the time it was written. If you are a writer, I think you have be always someone who speaks based on one’s time and circumstances. I am very far from this title ‘author’ but I have a deep love for writing. As someone who engages in the act of writing, I always aspire to write standing alongside the time I am living in. I wrote Written in Blood with this thought and under such a circumstances. Initially, I did not like that book very much. It has many errors such as typos, wrong terms, inaccurate accounts etc. etc. However, at that time under such a dire circumstance when many Tibetan writers remained silent, I was disappointed. Since all across the Tibetan Plateau, there were bloody events which made me extremely sad, and since I could not remain aloof I wrote those rather limp essays to share our experiences and to narrate these accounts to the readers. I don’t think this book has any literary merit. But at that critical time this was a voice of a Tibetan university student and a writer. In this sense, I don’t think this book is without a substance or the labour was meaningless. I think it has some value.
Q: What does poetry mean in your daily life? Do you plan to write another book?
Theurang: I will continue to write. In the past, I’ve tried to write many different things. Now I want to focus only on poetry. During my prison days, it was poetry that gave me company the whole time. In those suffocating times, poetry gave me unlimited aspiration and pride. Poetry helped me survive through those terrible times. Earlier I used to like poetry. Now I worship it. And I will never let go of the thing that I worship. If I look back, it appears that I am leaning towards business. This is something that is necessary for my livelihood and this is not ambition or something that I love to do. After I opened this tea shop, it appears that some of my poet friends have distanced themselves from me. This is because they have too much hope in me and I think they feel hopeless in me. But I think even someone who has aspirations and worships something does not mean that he can’t pursue other things. He may do other things but it should not weaken his aspirations and dedication on something he likes. If I stopped writing poetry after I opened this tea shop, then my friends and readers certainly can have no hope in me, and I too will have no hope in myself. However, this has not happened. I have faith in myself. I have faith in poetry. I have faith in my worship of poetry. In the future, I will put all my feelings and thoughts in words and turn these words into books.