POEMS2GO INTERVIEW FEATURE: SONAM TSERING (SONSNOW)
(Interviewed by Sarah Kirstine Lain)
Author Biography: Sonam Tsering was born in Tibet and brought up in India where he studied under the great guidance of His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama. He escaped from Tibet in 2003, walking day and night for thirty days. He was too small to know what it meant that he would not see his parents again for so many years.
Sonam recently completed his MA in Public Policy from O.P. Jindal Global University and now serves as the General Secretary of the Tibetan Youth Congress, the largest Tibetan NGO. He considers himself an activist and tries to live up to his mantra: “I have more time for the cause of my country than for myself, and I will make the best use of my only life to carry out the legacies of my forefathers and to fight for the rightful cause of my country. This is the dream that I dream on every sleepless night.’’
For 30 days, you took a very difficult journey from the Kham province of Tibet to India where you now study. You write, “The saddest thing about being a refugee is that there is nothing around you that you own and even the heart and mind choose to run away every now and then towards the homeland.” Since you left for India, when have you found your heart running toward home?
RESPONSE: The only sickness common to all Tibetans in exile is homesickness, and I have been suffering the same for many years. I know it will continue to hurt and haunt me as long as I remain isolated from my country and my home. I knew that my heart chooses to run away now and then from the moment I arrived in India, as I couldn’t see any familiar faces anymore, and everything seemed new to me. I started missing the people and the place (my home) when I had a lot of challenges to overcome. It didn’t spare me even in my dreams, and I dreamt often about the homecoming. I am living in exile with this very hope of homecoming, and I will continue to struggle to make this happen for me and my countrymen who are longing for the same for so long.
When you arrived in India, you met His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, and were blessed by him. What did that blessing mean to you after such a difficult journey?
RESPONSE: That blessing means so much to me, as I have called his name in my prayers many times while escaping from Tibet by cutting through the forest and crossing the rivers running down with icebergs. Our elders were crying at the moment they saw him. Like any other innocent child, I was wondering and watching carefully if he was the same Lama in the black and white portrait that I had the opportunity to see. When I read and recognized his face, I felt much relief, and for the first time, I felt that I was in India.
In “This is how it ended,” you write, “They came and took away everything” and “They came and kicked me out.” How old were you when this happened, and what is your memory of the event? Where did you go when you were kicked out?
RESPONSE: When I say they came and took away everything, I am trying to generalize the issue of Chinese illegal occupation of Tibet. They have come in the name of liberating Tibetans from the feudal system and foreign imperial influence, though we hardly had any foreigners in Tibet at that period of time. In the name of development, they built road and railways, but the benefiters are always the migrants from the Mainland China. They dominate the market and marginalize the Tibetans. They make money by mining minerals out of our sacred mountains and leave Tibetans out of the sight.
When I write, “they came and kicked me out,” I am trying to portray the plight of how the Chinese illegal occupation has led me to leave my own motherland. They have actually kicked out all the Tibetans scattered all across the world. So, when my countrymen were kicked out of the country at the initial years of Chinese occupation, they had nowhere to go; they must now accept the companion of the soil, sky, and sun.
You are called Sonsnow: the son of snow land, and with this voice, you speak of “beautiful things buried behind the boundaries of those high standing Himalayas.” From your eyes, Sonsnow, what is buried in the Himalayas that the world needs to see?
RESPONSE: When I say “beautiful things,” literally it has a lot to do with the last place on earth forced to close its door to the rest of the world, no longer able to witness its natural beauties. The mysterious mountains, the rivers, and the rivulet, which are as clear as the crystals. There are other things, which the world needs to see, such as the suffering of the Tibetans under oppressive and aggressive policies of forced resettlement, restrictions of the movement, repressions of religious freedom. The world also needs to see the solitude of siblings and parents who are longing to see their lost sons and daughters. There are singers and writers whose words and lyrics are stuck behind the barrel of a gun. There are prisoners peeping for a little light of freedom from prison cells. There are those monks, nuns, and laypeople, risking their lives and calling Dalai Lama in their prayers.
You are currently studying public policy in India. How does your study of policy inform your poetry, and how does your poetry inform your study of policy? Please feel free to share about any policies you hope to change.
RESPONSE: I studied public policy for two years in O.P Jindal Global University. My poetry has nothing to do with the public policy, and I really don’t have any idea how these two are informing each other interchangeably in my poems. But one thing for sure is that both of them have something to do with the problems and the plight of people who are oppressed, ignored and isolated from the rest of the privileged few. So, my poems portray the pains and plight of Tibetans suffering under aggressive and oppressive Chinese policies inside Tibet. Therefore, I will continue to write as long as the Chinese government continues to oppress Tibetans. I will continue to write and resist as long as the repressive policies of the Chinese government remain in Tibet.
You write, “I couldn’t stop standing in solidarity and unity with my countrymen / I couldn’t stop speaking out the truth about tragedies behind the bars.” This is a persistence that many people in America also share. As I type this, children and parents in this country are being separated, held in camps. Many refugees here are called “illegal.” Protest for so many people has become a way of life. What keeps you writing and protesting, day after day, and what made you turn to poetry as a way of protest?
RESPONSE: I write poetries not because I am good at writing. I write because I have a story to tell, and unlike imprisoned Tibetan writers inside Tibet, I have the privilege to pen down the plight of Tibetans freely. I write because I have inspiring and encouraging figures back in Tibet, whose indomitable spirits and undying hope for a free Tibet— energize me. I feel that poetry has the power to pinch one’s heart to such an extent that the reader thinks twice and thrice before he or she interprets it.
Have you experienced any silencing as you have published your writing?
RESPONSE: No, I haven’t experienced any silencing so far, I would feel silencing only if I stopped writing for those who are silenced by the strict surveillance and strong censorship of the Chinese communist party.
Your first post on your website, Silent Songs of Sonsnow, are these words by Izaak Walton: “Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter.” Have you found that your writing has led you to “good company,” and if so, how has this influenced the direction and experience of your journey?
RESPONSE: The name “Silent Songs of Sonsnow” came to me back in my school days and I have a poetry notebook covered with the same handwritten name. The notebook is still with me. Yes, “Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter” are the words of Izaak Walton and I found the significance in having someone by my side, accompanying me all the time. Therefore, my writing has been good company of mine, which kills the silence of loneliness. This is why I keep on saying: “I have enough time to rest but I don’t have a minute to waste, come and catch me with your wise words and we will have some fun with our words of wisdom.”
Sometimes, I feel that poetry is a playmate of mine, as I put words here and there to make it more enchanting and absorbing. When words are playful and beautiful, then people start questioning the meanings and messages. I always believed myself as an activist who calls and campaigns against the aggressiveness of the CCP. Therefore, my writings help me in doing the same for the same purpose: promoting this cause through a different medium, one that helps me to spread my message to readers from different parts of the world without political barriers and boundaries.