- Garpon La’s Offerings
I didn’t know him personally, but I’ve heard many stories about Garpon La. There are even more that I haven’t heard, and in fact some people emphatically and even angrily say that the Garpon La I’ve heard stories about isn’t the one who went to Dharamsala; and the Garpon La who did go to Dharamsala isn’t the same Garpon La I’ve heard about. This sounds a bit like a brain teaser. It’s enough to make you dizzy.
Added to this is the fact that I’m using the honorific term “La” to refer to the person whose story I want to tell, though I don’t actually know if I should, and the question doesn’t really matter to me anyway. Honestly, I am not even that interested in sorting out one Garpon La from another. This is probably a mistake. By not doing much research, I have to rely on my memory. However, while obstacles I’ve created for myself are troubling, I don’t intend to talk about Garpon La’s life and achievements anyway; they aren’t important. What I mean to say is that they’re not important to this story. After all, I’m not writing his biography; I want to relate just one incident.
I should also say that these events occurred during a confusing time. That doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten things, but it’s possible the story has become muddled. I’ve told and retold it on ten or more occasions. Every time I tell it, the regret that weighs on my heart becomes heavier.
I remember the bright, summer-afternoon sunshine two years ago, and the homey atmosphere of a certain Tibetan restaurant in Unity Village. Flowers in full bloom lined the windows, and through them I could see people outside playing music on the dramnyen [Tibetan lute] and singing “Chadey Karpo.” They played very loudly, which at first doesn’t seem to fit this nostalgic scene, but that’s all right. Garpon La’s disciples were robust, and their big voices clanged like a huge bell, just the way slow, Garlu music is supposed to sound. At that time, Garpon La was no longer young; his hair was graying, and he had retired. Thinking of him now, I feel regret because I promised him I would write down the stories he told me about incidents in Lhasa. But I’ve procrastinated until many of the stories seem like floating clouds at the end of the world, gradually fading into a mist.
Not so long ago, a dusty book fell from my bookshelf and practically [End Page 98] landed in my hands. I took it as a sign, and decided that, no matter what, I must finally write down this story. That book was crudely manufactured, with no serial number or publisher’s markings except for one line, in Chinese, on the back: printed by tibet xinhua publishing house. Everything else was in Tibetan. The cover had been designed using Tibetan colors and patterns, which, like the Tibetan script, appeared to be dancing. Because of the story I’m about to tell, I now recognize that the eight-petal, red-and-blue lotus flowers on the book’s cover are bunched together to represent a damma drum. And below the figure of the eight auspicious signs and what looks like clouds are two Tibetan suna [oboes]. The damma drum and suna were brought to Tibet a long time ago and used in court song and dance performances known as Gar. Titled Songs and Dances for Offerings, the book contained musical scores and lyrics for fifty-eight Gar performances.
Published in January 1985, Songs and Dances for Offerings had been in my father’s collection of Tibetan books. He had been in the army all his life—as would be expected, given the period in which he lived—and he loved Tibetan revolutionary songs in the style of toeshey, gorshey, and nangma, as well as Gar and all popular folk and love songs from Ü-Tsang Province. Among his books were numerous musical...