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  Opinion   Columnists  25 Apr 2023  Padma Rao Sundarji | A slip of the lama’s tongue leads to worldwide lunacy

Padma Rao Sundarji | A slip of the lama’s tongue leads to worldwide lunacy

The writer is a senior foreign correspondent and the author of Sri Lanka: The New Country
Published : Apr 26, 2023, 12:17 am IST
Updated : Apr 26, 2023, 12:17 am IST

A video emerged of a public function in February, where a little boy asked the Tibetan spiritual leader for a hug

Dalai Lama (PTI file photo)
 Dalai Lama (PTI file photo)

In his 89 years on earth, never have the Dalai Lama’s words or deeds caused as much of an uproar as in this past month. A video emerged of a public function in February, where a little boy asked the Tibetan spiritual leader for a hug. Jolly as always, the Dalai Lama obliged. He also stuck his tongue out, drew the kid closer and asked him to “suck” it.

Possibly the last time the word “suck” caused such heated debate was in 1595, when the English poet John Donne published his erotic poem The Flea. When television channels aired the Dalai Lama video, two giant waves of condemnation roared through the world from diametrically opposite directions, drowned out all dissent and submerged the most urgent need of our times: common sense.

Predictably, one of the two tsunamis was whipped up by people who have nothing to do with Tibet, its language or its culture. Understandably, these angry protesters pointed out that any parent would be appalled at a child being asked to suck an elderly man’s tongue.

“It’s absolutely disgusting. I’ll never look at this man the same way again. I’m done,” declared conservative US television host Megyn Kelly on her daily show. Sky News called it a “disturbing video”, while one American “libertarian” pointed out on CNN that “it’s not like the Dalai Lama is not aware of what is normal in other cultures”.

“Shocking and appalling”, said Shantha Sinha, former chairperson of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR), on Indian YouTube channel MojoStory. “The act itself was abusive.”

The other wave of flatulence was unleashed by the bane of the twenty-first century, the world’s Woke Warriors, those sanctimonious, self-appointed upholders of inter-cultural understanding who infest every country.

Public discourse on the video clip was mostly balanced, and yet these smug paragons of virtue blamed it all on the media (of course).

“Recent news coverage has focused on a video clip taken out of context, and it is a deliberate attempt to sow seeds of mistrust,” sniffed one enlightened Western “teacher of meditation” on the social media.

Some “woke” parents initially straddled a shaky fence. At first, they declared the Dalai Lama a “child abuser” who had “acted obscenely”. The boy on the video was decorated with the badge of “victim”, and admitted as the “MeToo” movement’s latest underage member.

Arguing that the video was certainly disturbing but that the Dalai Lama, based on past history, was no paedophile, only attracted a volley of psychobabble and the fatuous accusation of “cognitive dissonance”.

However, the minute the Tibetan community began to mumble about “culture”, the Woke Warriors changed their tune hurriedly. Suddenly, the man they had denounced as a werewolf just a day ago, was “His Holiness” all over again.

The Tibetan community itself reacted in an insulting and irrational fashion. Many Tibetan luminaries launch global careers from and with the help of their exile status in India, but also lose no opportunity (mostly in intimate Western circles, of course) to wrinkle their noses at India’s “dirt”, “noise”, flawed education system and its thousand other warts.

Indian television news channels debating the controversial video of the Dalai Lama and the boy provided the ideal chance to indulge in some India-bashing again. “I am glad to see that these (TV panelists) are so concerned about children”, posted one Tibetan.

“How about all those homeless children in India?”

“Do these very same people feel equally horrified at the reportedly never-ending sexual exploitation and torture of young girls on a daily basis at G.B. Road and other red-light areas in India?” posted another.

However, the prize for the most bewildering and absurd demand must go to a Tibetan writer on her social media page.

“No apology was ever needed from His Holiness. Because pure unadulterated acts of love, faith, and compassion DO NOT require any apology,” she wrote. This was followed by irrelevant blather on how a “po” is a kiss, how asking a loved one to “blow in one’s face” is perfectly normal, and finally, on how “nge che le lip” (no translation offered, but we are meant to assume this means “eat my tongue”), is “common to our culture”.

The writer admitted that all these practices would be “horribly misconstrued” by outsiders. Yet, she demanded that the world apologise to the Dalai Lama instead.

The truth is this:

*Tibetans cannot expect all six billion earthlings to be born with intimate and thorough knowledge of the Tibetan language and culture.

*The Dalai Lama speaks excellent English. But his translation skills failed him at that fateful moment.

*All Tibetan leaders have formidable PR and communications teams. Some like the Karmapa’s (when that Tibetan leader fled China more than two decades ago) are American translators who do a less-than-perfect job by taking shortcuts and reproducing five-minute-long responses in Chinese or Tibetan as monosyllables in English.

Others, like the Dalai Lama’ aides, seem to be Tibetans. But they are so obviously overawed by his presence, that they fail to do their job: of de-briefing him to anticipate and circumvent any misunderstanding at public events. Instead of remaining silent with heads bowed and gazes cast downward and given their leader’s advanced age, their support and guidance are imperative.

The Dalai Lama is playful, affectionate and humorous. This writer has interviewed him multiple times and had ears tweaked, cheeks pulled and hands held. None of these gestures was even remotely “abusive”.

Finally, here’s the no-brainer which doesn’t require the assurances of Tibetans, the Woke or those fortunate to have encountered him in person.

The Dalai Lama has had a very, very powerful enemy for many decades. The social media has existed for at least the past ten years.

If there were even the slightest rumours that the Dalai Lama is a child abuser, wouldn’t the People’s Republic of China have jumped at the opportunity, sent many “temptations” his way along with hidden cameras, splashed such “abuse” all over the social media, and decimated His Holiness the Dalai Lama, many, many aeons ago?

Tags: dalai lama, tibetan spiritual leader, ncpcr, social media, people’s republic of china