Ladakh News

The exoticised Ladakhi

by Dr Spalchen Gonbo, Stawa 02-20

Sketch by Isaac Tsetan Gergan

Sketch by Isaac Tsetan Gergan

I have always felt special! Or I have always been made to feel special. When I was in medical school, I was always made to answer questions even if I was a regular back bencher. Words such as: "Hey you Ladakhi! Can you tell me the anatomy of the facial nerve?" still echo in my mind and bring back memories of our anatomy dissection hall! The word 'ladakhi' would invariably force the front benchers to turn their head 180 degree to look at me!

I remember being one of the first Ladakhis to participate as an NCC cadet in the Republic Day parade on Rajpath in New Delhi. As our contingent of 144 cadets entered the Army House, our host, the chief of the army staff asked, "Anyone from Ladakh?" When I said that I am from Ladakh, he replied, "Great! Feel at home."

Then came the film 3 Idiots, which exoticised everything related to Ladakh. It took the word Ladakh to the grass roots! I remember eating a Kulcha at a roadside stall in Chandni Chowk in Delhi. As I struck up a conversation with the man, he asked me about my origins. When he heard the word 'Ladakh', he asked me how far my home is from 'Penguin' lake where Phunsok Wangdu has his picnics followed by questions about the real Phunsok Wangdu. His subsequent questions were on the need to wear oxygen masks at all times in Ladakh. The funniest question he threw at me was if Ladakh was in China or India.

I remember going to a marriage ceremony in the early 1990s in Poonch. In those days, one had to travel for 12 hours in a bus on mud road. We were invited to different homes for lunch and dinner. At one place, an elderly lady did not stop staring at me when she heard that I was from Ladakh. She asked me if I will return to Ladakh after completing my studies. After I answered in the affirmative, she started consoling me. "Poor you" I heard her saying. Later I got to know that each time someone from the village was posted to Ladakh, the whole village would visit their home to console the whole family. A posting in Ladakh was usually a punishment posting. It's not very different even today though it has improved. She also asked me if oxygen was now available in Ladakh!

More recently, after Ladakh was declared a Union Territory, I attended a national level conference on childhood pneumonia. The conference included 140 participants from all over the country. Ladakh still found a mention as the organising team announced "We have participants from all over the country, even from the new UT of Ladakh."

I have always enjoyed being a Ladakhi. I feel that if you are Ladakhi, your talents and skill get noticed more easily. I remember a college festival where a Ladakhi student was singing very well. One of the students in the audience commented, "Yaar, Ladakhi gatey bhi hain!" [Hey, Ladakhis can sing too!].

Then came the showstopper in the form of the famous speech delivered in the Indian Parliament by our Member of Parliament, Jamyang Tsering Namgyal. It seems like no one expected such a great speech from a Ladakhi! However, this time it was not surprise that Ladakhis can speak but what was being said. This speech made Ladakh a household name in India. These days when I travel, I noticed that even rickshaw drivers know about our MP I must confess that it is a great feeling.

I feel that every Ladakhi outside Ladakh represents our region. For this reason, I feel we should remain true to who we are as we are constantly functioning as representatives of a region and a community.