Background

The initial inspiration for The Sweet Requiem came from an incident in September 2006 on the 5,800-metre Nangpala Pass on the Tibet-Nepal border. Chinese border guards opened fire on a group of Tibetans attempting to escape to India and shot dead a 17-year-old nun and injured several others.

This brutal killing, which was captured on video by a Romanian mountain climber, raised many questions: Who were these escapees and what was their journey like? Why, after nearly 50 years of Chinese occupation, were Tibetans still risking their lives to escape to India? And why were so many of them children? And what happened to them after they made it to India?

The first wave of Tibetan refugees fled their homeland in 1959, following the takeover of their country by Communist China and the escape of their leader, the Dalai Lama, to India. Nearly six decades later, after overcoming the trauma of dislocation and the challenges of starting afresh in a strange new land, that first generation of exiles and their descendants have successfully established themselves as a model refugee community in India and Nepal, with a fully functioning exile government, a school system and a network of monasteries and cultural institutions. But Tibet itself continued to suffer the fate of a colonized country.

A second wave of Tibetan refugees started pouring into India from the early eighties onwards after China relaxed some of its policies in Tibet. Among them was an unusually high proportion of young children who were brought or sent by their families to India to receive a Tibetan education in one of the exile schools. Often making a hazardous trek across the Himalayas, the exact number of those that perished on that journey is not known but it is certain that many did not make it. These children, more often than not, never returned home to their families. In many cases, they lost contact with them completely. In a cruel twist of fate, they were both exiled and orphaned.

The Sweet Requiem is an attempt to explore this aspect of escape and exile through an intimate and personal story that is part psycho-political thriller and part escape drama. It is a tale of suffering and forgiving, of deep inner anguish and the desperate need of the exile to find redemption and closure. In this, the story transcends its specific context and touches upon universal concerns.

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