Update from the Patara Exhibition on Tibet

On 27 June, Patara was invited by Suresh Jairam’s/Visual Art Collective’s studio, 1 Shantiroad, to participate in a multimedia exhibition on Tibet. The three-day event included the ceremonial drawing of a sand mandala, film screenings, discussions, talks, poetry readings, music concerts, all on the theme of Tibet. There was also the launch and release of two books for children on the second day of the exhibition. Patara was invited to hold a reading and activity session for children in connection with these books.

Aravinda Anantharaman’s interactions with Tibetan sweater sellers in Bangalore city, and her subsequent visits to their colonies, have resulted in two charming books about the lives of Tibetan children who live in India in exile from their own country. Patara’s presentation was based on these two books, Dorje’s Holiday at the Gyenso Khang, and Dolma visits the City.

The theme of Tibet was slightly different from what Patara has been used to presenting to children it was factual, political and also emotive. We would have to plan this and carry it out carefully. Luckily for us three young people readily agreed to pitch in, and they helped us from planning to presentation. In preparation, Usha gathered photographs and pictures to show to the children. Flags resembling the Tibetan prayer flags were made from coloured kite paper and decorated, some with familiar images of Tibet, such as the dome of a Gompha, a monk in tall head gear, a yak, a prayer wheel. Another set of flags was decorated with rubbings from a tablet bearing the inscription Om mani padme hum. These flags were made by Tanu and Eric. Eric Lord also made bookmarks to give away after the session. These were decorated with Buddhist religious symbols, and each one carried a quote from the Buddha or the Dalai Lama.

Tanushree, Hemangini and Shruti contributed solidly to the session. Tanu manned the puppet sutradhar, helped in the making of the prayer flags, taught the children a Tibetan song and led them in a group dance. Hemangini ferried us to and fro, and along with Shruti guided the children through the various activities that we had planned for them. The session took off with Usha sticking out her tongue in a very friendly manner at the little crowd of children and adults gathered on the terrace. The puppet, wearing a typical Tibetan striped apron (we’ve learned since that it is worn by married women only!) demanded to know why she was making faces at the guests. It was explained that it was the traditional (primitive?) manner of greeting in Tibet, similar to the folding of hands in a namaste, or touching noses, as the Maoris do, or the shaking of hands in the West. From this interesting start, Patara plunged into the theme of Tibet. Usha told
the children about the country sometimes spoken of as ‘the roof of the world’ or as ‘Shangri La’, and about its people, their lives and their habits; she also spoke about the Dalai Lama, and his escape to India in 1959, following the invasion of Tibet by China. A map of the world was displayed for the children to identify the country, and photographs of the mountains, the people, their lives, and their leader were shown. Some of the guests who were Tibetan contributed with interesting bits of information about their
food, their music and their religion.

After this absorbing introduction, drawing materials were distributed and the children were asked to illustrate their impressions of Tibet and its people from what they had just heard. Nearly all the children drew the mountains, but it was moving to see how many of them did draw people escaping across them one or two even showing cattle accompanying the people. When all the drawings had been completed and hung up for display alongside the fluttering flags, the group got down to the main business of reading from the newly released books and introducing the author. Sandhya read an excerpt from Dolma visits the City. For the finale, Tanu led the children in a Tibetan song and a dance. Before our guests dispersed, the beautiful bookmarks made by Eric were given away – the gasps of pleasure from many of the parents and from some of the Tibetan organizers made it worth the effort of bullying Eric into doing the hard work.

Patara was paid the princely sum of Rs1000 for the evening, from which we returned 500. Far more valuable were the string of prayer flags and the knot of infinity that were presented to us; even better was the sense of satisfaction from participating in a worthwhile and successful Patara session.