Mantras & Misdemeanors: An Accidental Love Story by Vanessa Walker, forward by His Holiness the Dalai Lama
So, I picked up this book when I first got interested in Tibetan refugee communities. I opened it the other day, just expecting a good read - you know those days when academia is just repulsive and you can't take it anymore? Yeah, it was one of those days (truthfully, it's been one of those months). I was surprised to find that it is not only a good read, but is also a treasure trove of firsthand accounts of the crazy lives these exiles live. Vanessa Walker, an Australian convert to Buddhism daylighting as a journalist, had traveled to India several times for spiritual reasons. This trip was purposefully designed to gather material for a book. She lived in Dharamsala, and, of all things, fell in love with a former monk and they got pregnant (I haven't gotten to read about the birth yet - just wait!). Mantras & Misdemeanors is one of those wonderful books that combines serious journalism with compelling, often hilarious storytelling. Hearing her Tibetan boyfriend/husband (it's ambiguous which) tell her in all seriousness how lucky and auspicious it was that she had a double chin just like the Dalai Lama about killed me. It easily and transparently transitions into transcriptions of interviews with some of the most important figures in the diaspora, some of those with whom an interview must have been a miracle to arrange. She sits down with the prime minister, the leader of the resistance movement (not all Tibetans are for the Middle Way approach of non-violence), the spirit-medium of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile, and has frequent dialogue with her boyfriend/husband and other former monks. Their varying stories, opinions, and insights go a long way to show the complexity of the situation. The Dalai Lama's stamp of approval in the forward adds a powerful degree of legitimacy, and also shows how honest and open His Holiness is - several of the people Walker interviews are openly critical of the Dalai Lama and his politics.
One interesting and telling event, from an ethnomusicological perspective, is a wedding party Walker attends. The MC invites any who wish to come to the stage and sing songs, and several young men from Amdo (a region in Tibet) storm the stage and vigorously sing traditional shepherd songs. After the traditional repertoire is exhausted, a karaoke version of "Hotel California" is performed, and the rest of the night is spent bumpin' to techno. All of this is led by Tibetans, quite without regard for any Westerners who might be in attendance. It's simply what that group liked. It seems that, for that particular crowd anyway, tradition is beloved at the same time that modernity is embraced. Cool.