By Lidis Garbovan, PhD student in Sociology.
On 29 August 2017 the small town of McLeod Ganj, Dharamshala, in the Himalayas was packed with thousands of people from several countries: Tibetans and Indians, Italians, Russians, Americans, British, Spanish, Colombians, as well as guests from Japan, Thailand, Vietnam, and Singapore.
At 07.30am I joined the long queue to register for the event that all these people were here for: to attend the lectures of the 14th Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1989 for his efforts towards peace and non-violence. He wrote in one of his books (1):
I have lost my country. I have spent the greater part of my life in exile, my people have been tortured, our temples have been flattened, our civilization destroyed, our country ransacked and its resources pillaged. None of this gives any cause for jubilation. Yes, at the same time, I have been greatly enriched through contact with other nations, other religions, other cultures, and other bodies of knowledge. I have discovered different forms of freedom and world-views that I did not know before.
The time I spent in McLeod Ganj and, before that, in New Delhi and Shimla, on the second stage of my PhD fieldwork, taught me how to look at my research from a slightly new angle: to appreciate the human web, the relationships built with people who offered me their support, who agreed to meet me during their busy days for a formal or informal interview, who offered me a cup of tea on a rainy day or a smile on a tense day.
I am grateful for the kindness of the Speakers of the Tibetan Parliament, the Settlement Officers, Personal Secretaries, Directors and Presidents of many Associations whom I met; the Staff at the Shimla Institute for Advanced Studies, who allowed me to consult the Library, reserved only for Post-Doctoral fellows; and the Indian police, who smiled and chatted while helping to maintain order in a small Buddhist temple that hosted 20,000 people from 20 countries over four days.
I am indebted for the constructive feedback as well as friendship showed to me by the PhD students at JNU University who attended my PhD presentation last month. The academic direction and support of the Professors at the Centre for the Study of Law and Governance is highly appreciated.
Having a chat over green tea or chai with people from Tibet, Japan, Laos, Nepal, Bangladesh, Ladakh, Wales, Russia and South Korea, enabled me to learn so much about the other person and about the places and spaces we inhabit and the common ideas that inspire us. Without all these people, this research would not have been possible and this fieldwork would not have happened. My partner has been supportive of my research in so many ways, travelling with me to difficult places, when trains were cancelled or delayed for 5 hours, while at the same time I had to travel alone to other places and I learnt how to be on my own and defy any sense of insecurity.
In these weeks spent on my fieldwork I learnt to discover different forms of freedom and world-views that I did not know before, adding together moments of joy over fruitful meetings and also moments of frustrations when the rains and Court cases blocked all means of transportation in three states for five days.
A wise person asked me this morning: “What do you think about the people you research?” I tried to find an answer that makes sense. I think that the people I research are those who inspire me and teach me about how to live together and to forge inclusive forms of doing fieldwork, acknowledging the respect for different ways of life, when walking together on crowded streets, sharing the space with cars and trucks, four-legged creatures and lots of rain water, and also when readings books in the Illiteratti café or when sitting silently in meditation and reflecting on living and freedom.
(1) 365 Dalai Lama: Daily Advice from the Heart (2001), edited by Matthieu Ricard. Published by Harper Collins Australia.