Sunday, 1 May 2011


(a super short story) 

They brought the carcass of a dead donkey into the kitchen and ate it, including the hoofs.

It was the summer of 1968. All the prisoners, including my grandfather, were transported from the dreaded Powo Tramo labour camp to a desert near Samye Monastery, where they were forced to work for six months to turn it into a farm to grow cabbage for the Chinese army. But the wind swept the sands back into its place. Each day they began the labour anew.

Desert near Samye, the oldest monastic institution in Tibet
 Prisoners were given a bowl of thin watery porridge and a mug of water a day. The whistle blew at dawn to begin the labour and blew again at dusk to end the day. The hunger was constantly intense. They found neither insects nor wild plants in the dry sands to eat. The only comfort was to go to toilet, which gave their tired body a chance to rest and to wait for worms to crawl out of their shits.

A father and son, who formerly owned an estate near Lhasa, collected worms in a small tin can, which they ate sparingly. They were among the few who survived, and after their release they started a small but successful canned food business.

My grandfather was a tall man with a wisp of white hair. When he was in good mood, he liked to tell about his years in prison. I couldn’t ask him too many questions, which reminded him, he said, of the interrogation sessions. But sometimes, he didn’t mind.

“How did you survive? Did you wait for worms to crawl out of your shit?”

“No worms came out of my faeces,” he said.

“One day, I got terribly dizzy from hunger and walked past the desert. In the ruins of a temple, I found a piece of leather from a destroyed prayer-wheel. I hid it behind a rock and ate a small piece each day. It was the most delicious thing in the world.”

“What about the carcass of a donkey?” I asked.

“Tsewang Dhonden, a former chant master from Shelkar Monastery, one day went looking for insects and found it. No one knew how the donkey got there and died.”

By then the winter had set in and half the inmates died from starvation. The remaining prisoners gathered and decided not to report the dead donkey to the Chinese overseers. They also did not tell about it to Choeden, who was called hurtson chenpa or the ‘diligent one’ by the Chinese for his willingness to reform his thoughts. Everyone suspected that he was an informer.

In collusion with the prison cook, the seventy inmates cooked the donkey and ate it. However, they could not bite off its penis. It was very rubbery and tough. They cooked it a few times.

“Never in my life did I come across something so hard to cook.” My grandfather stared into the blue autumn sky. The yellowing leaves of the giant polar tree near house rustled.

“But that donkey saved our lives and that is important,” he said and went on kneading his rosaries.

No comments:

Post a Comment