Tibet, Ladakh And The Book

The story of how Ataullah, a Ladakhi Muslim, actually became a Pakistani diplomat is told in a new book, Islam in Tibet and the Illustrated Narrative Tibetan Caravans, by Abdul Wahid Radhu (1997, Fons Vitae, $27.95), Wahid is Ataullah's cousin. This book has a foreword by the Dalai Lama and is edited by Gray Henry.

Wahid's direct interaction with Tibet began when he was studying at Aligarh Muslim University in 1940. His uncle, Khwaja Abdul Aziz, who had his business in Lhasa, invited Wahid to spend his summer holidays that year in Tibet. The two months that Wahid spent in Lhasa were a turning point in his life making him "rediscover my true homeland". The real change in Wahid's life took place when his uncle invited him to join the Ladakh Lochak (tributary) mission that was heading for Lhasa from Leh in the autumn of 1942. The Lochak mission was established in the 17th century following a treaty between the Ladakhi and Tibetan rulers.

After the Lochak fulfilled its mission Wahid stayed back in Lhasa to help his uncle in the family business which included the possibly only cinema "theatre" in Tibet. The cinema projector had been imported from India and permission for the theatre had been received from the Tibetan government through the good offices of Chensel Kunphel la, an official who was a favourite of the 13th Dalai Lama. I remember Tibetans from Lhasa talking about seeing classic Hindi feature films like "Awara" in the past and it must have been this theatre which screened them.

A change in the family's business strategy had Wahid relocating to the border town of Kalimpong in India. Around that time, his cousin, Ataullah, joined the family business in Lhasa. Some time later, Wahid accompanied a Tibetan friend to China with the hope of business prospects. Instead of any commerce, he found himself thrust in Sino-Tibetan politics, including becoming a virtual prisoner of the Mongolian & Tibetan Affairs Commission. After over a year in China Wahid finally escaped; he flew to Eastern Turkestan and from there crossed over-land to the newly-created Pakistan.

In Pakistan, Wahid was approached by the Pakistani government to serve in its Foreign Service. He rejected the offer and opted to go back to Kalimpong in India to reunite with his family. Wahid's 1ove for Tibet appears to have played a big role in his decision. "I was afraid that -this would prevent me from seeing Tibet again," he says in his book.

Soon after Wahid returned to Ka1impong, his cousin Ataullah came out of Tibet. Ataullah informed Wahid about his desire to seek a new vocation and the negative response he had received from his feelers sent to the Indian government. Wahid informed Ataullah about the Pakistani Government's offer to him and Ataullah decided to try Pakistan. The Pakistanis welcomed Ataullah. That is how a Ladakhi Muslim became a Pakistani diplomat. Ataullah first served in the Pakistani mission in Calcutta and rose up in the service, eventually retiring after having served as ambassador to a few countries, including Nepal.

This book on Muslims in Tibet is a fascinating reading for everyone interested in understanding how a "minority" religion could co-exist peacefully in a pre- dominantly Buddhist society.

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