Contemplations Over a Street Stall

By Lodoe Gyatso  /  November 16, 2017;

Lhatso sits at her stall, a serious look on her face. It is hard to imagine a frivolous thought passing through her mind. But what is she thinking about?

Perhaps she is thinking about her business. She sells malas and other items on Temple Road in McLeod Ganj. Her small business seems to be doing well. She has put a lot of herself into it and its success is the fruit of much hard work and application.

Perhaps she is thinking about the stock of her shop. She is very knowledgeable about every item and knows what her customers are looking for. Still she has some unease about the business. “Tibetan people did not sell Buddhas,” she notes sadly. But she has no choice; it is the source of the family’s income.

Perhaps she is thinking about her day. She gets up early each morning before walking the Kora*. At nine she starts setting up her stall. In winter she goes home at six in the evening, but in summer she can only go home at nine. It is a long day, and then she still has to wash clothes and prepare dinner. When she gets to sleep at night she has certainly earned her rest.

Perhaps she is thinking about her childhood. She was born in Tibet. Her mother died when she was only a few months old, and so Lhatso has no memory of her. Instead, she was brought up by an aunty. Her aunty treated her well and she was perfectly happy. At the age of 10, however, she had to go and live with her brother. She was unhappy; her sister-in-law did not like her and for five years she had a very difficult life.

Perhaps she is thinking about her escape from Tibet when she was fifteen. She and her sister were part of a group of 36. They walked for 28 days through the mountains. They carried tsampa** and other dry food. They slept in the day and walked at night. They made it safely to Nepal, and were very hungry when they got there. She fondly recalls how they ate when they reached the reception centre. Their guide went back to Tibet and was sent to prison for many years for his role in helping escapees.

Perhaps she is thinking about her youth. She went to Tibetan Childrens Village (TCV) school for three years. Tibetan was far harder for her than English. “After the exam I forgot everything,” she says wistfully. She wanted to go to college but this did not work out. She then learned thangka stitching from a master tailor. She learned much about the conventions of thangka art and made several pieces but the work was bad for her eyes, and she stopped.

Perhaps she is thinking of her missed opportunities. She might have started a sewing business, but she had no backup support.

Perhaps she is thinking about her visit last year to Tibet. She does not say much about it, but she lets it slip that she is happy in India. “I like India. You can go anywhere. It is peaceful,” she says simply.

Perhaps she is thinking about her children. She has two sons. They are both in TCV school. The elder son is in class 10 while the younger is in class 3. The smaller son is a joker. They are both good at maths. She is particularly proud of the elder son who’s doing well at school. “Study hard, my son,” she tells him. “Don’t think about money.” A stubborn look appears on her face. She will somehow make sure that he will be able to complete his studies after school, and that finances will not be a constraint. He will study at a good college and get a good job. She has made up her mind.

Perhaps she is thinking of the path she followed that brought her to this stall.

But she won’t let her mind dwell for long on things which are not practical. She needs to take care of her business. She helpfully fields a question by a customer, and the day goes on.


* The Kora is the circumambulation walk around His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s temple and residence. The walk through the forest, with many prayer wheels and flags, and a small temple, is popular with Tibetans, Buddhists and visitors.

** Tsampa is roasted and ground barley – a traditional, staple food of Tibetans.

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