High Peaks Pure Earth presents the English translation of a letter written by the writer Tashi Rabten (pen name: Theurang) to his younger sister Guru Kyi while he was in prison in 2012.
The letter was only published online in June 2016, first by the Tibetan writer Jamyang Kyi on her Facebook page (no longer online) and then re-posted by Tibetan language diaspora websites Khabdha and Wokar.
Tashi Rabten is from Amdo and was a student at the North West University for Nationalities in Lanzhou at the time of the 2008 protests. He was sentenced to four years in prison for his role in editing the journal Shar Dungri (Eastern Snow Mountain) and was released in 2014. It was during this time at Mianyang Prison, Sichuan Province, that he composed this letter to his younger sister Guru Kyi.
The letter is a powerful tribute to the Tibetan language and to freedom of expression. There is a strong sense of his love for Tibetan language and for the act of writing. In an interview following his release from prison he stated, “Despite the hardships of prison, it was poetry that saved me. Writing poems gave me courage and vision. Poems gave me solidarity and solace. In the past I loved poetry. Now poetry is my faith, my religion. I can never renounce this faith.”
See more from Theurang following this link: http://highpeakspureearth.com/tag/theurang/
Thank you to Palden Gyal for this translation from Tibetan to English.
“Pouring My Heart Out: A Reply to My Sister Guru Kyi”
After not having seen each other or heard anything from you for over a year, today when this letter and a photograph arrived in this chasm-like prison, I was overwhelmed with an unspeakable feeling of excitement and ecstasy. In this constricted, deleterious and dispiriting space, receiving books and a letter written in my father language has become a rarity like a flower in the sky.
The arrival and dispatch of these letters in and out of this place are subject to close scrutiny and inspection by the unnameable powers that be, and therefore, it is at all times difficult to communicate content that should reflect the true hues of my mind. This truly is an unspeakable pain. Although I have time and again spoken and spelt out all the reasons with clarity for my rights and freedom of correspondence to the authorities, they simply disregarded and discarded my statements like broken needles in the dirt.
Fortunately, today I received the letter from you, written in my father language, complete and whole of the two pages with no signs of expunction or erasure. So I felt a deep sense of delight and joy that my words fail to describe. It is like the descending of raindrops to the mouth of a thirst-stricken creature on a vast and heat-beaten desert. This unclouded feeling of veneration and affection that is subtler than the consciousness of a near-death reflection must have been brought about by the images of the garlanded Tibetan script before me. For a writer, what is more beautiful an image than the small and black-ink letters on a paper and what is more melodious a sound than the music of souls the letters are pregnant with. There is none. Especially, for a Tibetan writer, there is no keener feeling or purer veneration one could have other than for the Tibetan language and script.
While I was at the detention center, because I did not have anything to write on I had to quietly conceal all my emotions of affection and torment, patiently restrain all my feelings of love and aversion. Again, when I landed up in prison, since the system limits every facet of our lives, there was no place of procuring Tibetan books or letters written in Tibetan. I then realized that there was no better antidote or greater power that can save me from this peril than the pen in my hand and the art conceived through the alphabetical script of the Tibetan language. This represents a pen-bearer’s dreams and convictions, especially; it symbolizes a Tibetan pen-bearer’s aspirations, joys and miseries. In this historical period of prevailing freedom, equality and democracy, are there any people more unfortunate and unlucky than the Tibetans who have their pens snatched away and smashed? Today I am behind the bars because I committed the transgression of “wrong pen-bearing” and “improper speech.” The tormenting experience of not being able to write or find a pen here in the prison made me to appreciate that my pen and the art given birth to by the alphabetical script of Tibetan were my confidence in living and strength in dying. It affirmed my purpose and conviction. I have arrived at an unwavering resolve to never let go of my pen at whatever time or place, in whatever vicissitudes of fortune. Ironically, I should extend my gratitude to this prison for reinforcing and refining the sentiment and trust between my pen and me.
Well, your brother was born as a Tibetan in this life, and after having found a destiny with the pen and obtained the blessing of Tibetan learning and friendship of the script, and especially, since developing an intimacy with the unmatched aesthetics of literature, it has become my protection from solitude, misery, remorse, and fear. It is also literature upon which my freedom, trust, belief, pride, and loyalty rest and rely on. Although the events of happiness and misery or the spectacles of desire and hatred are without end and quiescence, because I have bolted this graceful purpose to my heart, no authority or force can ever break, cut or pluck it. Freedom of thought and belief is a strength that resides in the realm of the mind. It is not like jewelries on our hands and ankles. Then, what fear is there for handcuffs and shackles?
Many Tibetan writers (pen-bearers) like myself were brought to such dreadful sites and “buried alive,” and they think they have “disposed the conscience of those writers dead while alive.” I proclaim that they are fundamentally and entirely mistaken. Even right now, in this very prison, I am exercising my freedom of thought and expression. This unequivocally sets the seal on the failure of the totalitarian regime’s wishes and whims.
Dear younger sister, there is no need to worry or grieve! Although your brother is a simple and ordinary individual, our unique cultural courage and confidence, our excellent language and script, our pleasing and pristine nature of mountains and lakes, our unchanging dispositions and convictions and so forth constitute an indestructible and blazing power. At the moment, it is this very power or force that protects me. In reality, I am abiding in and taking refuge in this power. This power is the unparalleled force of love and compassion.
Furthermore, the labor of your independent and active engagement in literary activities on Tibetan language blogosphere by composing articles is commendable. The work of composing essays is a serious and solemn job, and especially, writing articles on your blog is a task that demands utmost care and consideration.
I have plenty of regard to and close affinity with the Tibetan language blogosphere. It was significantly influential in the development of my writing and thinking. Besides, I, the writer who ended up in prison today, arrived here after having my thoughts sailed through and transformed at the dwelling called “Theurang’s Fort” on the Tibetan language blogosphere, set off from that abode in strong armor and with banners. While engaging and participating in public debates and discussions on the blogosphere, you must take responsibility for your conversations. You have to take this responsibility not only for the good of the internet culture and its ecology, but also to Tibetan language and culture.
If you do not have a real sense of responsibility, a wide and open mindset, a patient and persevering fortitude, an aptitude for loneliness, and a firm and steadfast standpoint, then keeping a blog for writing essays, arguing and assaying ideas, and discerning knowledge is never an easy endeavor. There is a cacophony of hyperbole, carelessness, arrogance, fraudulence, slander and imprecation on the web that torture and torment ears like thorns and spears. Therefore, it is vitally important to critically investigate issues with care, responsibility, and diligence. If the dominant culture of online debate and discussion becomes an environment where individuals sail their boats of freedom in disgracefully outlandish and idiosyncratic manners, where people speak without reason or responsibility to contrive controversies, where people hurl ad hominem attacks or solely strive for and seek personal aggrandizement, and thus render the websites as heaps of letter-trash, instead of maintaining the space as safe and convenient platforms for expressing freedom of thought and expression, then it is radically wrong and wretched. The landscape of our online culture isn’t one of desirable ambience, for that reason, you must on all occasions be studious and scrupulous from falling to the vulgarities of herd mentality. In an environment of startling sensationalism and public commotion, it is crucial not to forfeit your own faculty of discernment and propriety. It is also vital not to relinquish your sense of being a Tibetan, and above all, a rational and thinking human being.
In conclusion, I think it is fitting and fortunate to close the letter with a verse from “The Sutra of An Elder Brother’s Advice to His Younger Brother,” which is acutely stirring to me. I hold this verse of wisdom deep and dear to my heart and it well suits to my present predicament: “Rather than living by merely engaging in acts of deception and depravity, you may continually endure pain and even embrace death by adhering to the virtues of uprightness and authenticity.”
Thus, dispatched from the dark prison of a Chinese village from your pen-bearer brother shouldering the weight of the “two-truths” on April 17, 2012.
This post is also available in: English