The idyllic mountain town of Dharamshala is a second home to thousands of Tibetans, a culture deeply rooted in Buddhism, where compassion and universal responsibility are synonymous with ideas of faith. Follow us, as we explore the world of exiled Tibetan children, to whom playing ball is a means of both meditation and brotherhood.
In a world plagued by prejudice, division and disillusionment, sports have a unique power to unify those who are disconnected. When a player is in the zone, they enter an almost meditative state, where the problems of our fractured society melt away into the background, with only the game remaining in focus. This was the sentiment by which the exiled Tibetan children of the Tibetan Youth Congress and the Sarah College of Higher Studies began their journey from lost borders to new horizons, aided by the meditative sport of basketball.
“This path, it’s more like a spiritual path,” says Geshe Tenzin Damoche, Lecturer and Coordinator of Sarah College of Higher Tibetan Studies.
A culture deeply rooted in Buddhism, Geshe Tenzin Damoche places great importance on his Tibetan charges being monks of the 21st century, emphasizing that blind faith is an archaic concept with no concrete standing in the modern world. As a part of this ethos of ‘belief through the accumulation of wisdom,’ Damoche encourages his young charges to find their own paths to enlightenment, explaining that any activity can be considered meditation, if one were only to participate with mindfulness and awareness.
It was so that the B-Ball playing team of smiling Tibetan monks was born in the quiet mountain settlement of Dharamshala, spending their days in a state of pious meditation- whether that be in silent halls of monasteries, or out on the basketball court. One such player and monk is 20-year-old Sangey Gyatso, a philosophy student from the Institute of Buddhist dialects. An avid Stephen Curry fan, Gyatso spends his free time on the basketball court, following the teachings of his belief, which instruct the young man to play the sport with passion, mindfulness, and all his heart.
“A healthy body comes from a healthy mind,” says a smiling Geshe Tenzin Damoche.
“These are very special children, they left Tibet at a very young age,” says Tsuiltrim Dorjee, Director of the Tibetan Children’s Village. “Some do not have parents, some do not have homes, and some have already forgotten their own parents.”
The city of Dharamshala is also known as Little Lhasa, owing to the concentration of exiled Tibetans in the area. Amongst these refugees are children as young as 5-years-old. On May 17th in the year 1960, the Tibetan Children’s village was founded with the intention to care for and rehabilitate these refugee children. In its almost 60 years of existence, TCV has grown into a thriving, integrated educational community for destitute Tibetan children in exile, as well as for the hundreds of those who are escaping from Tibet every year.
As Tsewang Dolma, secretary of International Relations for TCV says, these children are born with a scarlet ‘R’ for ‘Refugee’ on their foreheads. As an organization, TCV is cognizant of this perception and aims to help the children take responsibility of their lives, and contribute to the society within which they reside. A common factor amongst those who have lost their sense of belonging is a sense of disillusionment and bitterness directed towards society. With the help of the monks of Dharamshala, TCV and Sarah College of Higher Tibetan studies aims to combat this unfortunate perception of reality through the medium of love, by instilling a sense of humanity, social responsibility, and compassion within their charges.
“The most important education is making them better human beings, instilling a sense of love and compassion, a sense of brotherhood, and a sense of universal responsibility. Just a classroom education is not enough,” explains Tsuiltrim Dorjee.
As Quavo from Migos once said in conversation with Sports Illustrated, “Basketball is hip-hop. Hip-hop is basketball. It’s no way hip-hop would be around without basketball.” A sentiment that has been echoed by lovers of both spheres for over a decade, the realms of Hip-Hop music and Basketball are married in a culture of mutual love and respect. The bond that exists between the two is one that has been the subject of heavy historical documentation, reflected in the lyrical content of tracks belonging to the genre, and even in the attire of the most celebrated NBA All-Star players.
“Every artist is responsible for creating a new idea. We give birth to and create art in order to help people, and for the love of the genre,” Says Nitin Mishra, A.K.A. Spitfire, the Madhya Pradeshi rapper who lends his poetic stylings to this episode of Hoop Nation. “In that way, I think Basketball is the same as Hip-Hop. When I traveled to Daharmshala and met with the kids, it never felt like they were competing. They were playing for the love of the game.”
Describing himself as more of a poet than a rapper, Spitfire had never left the boundaries of his home-state before setting out for Dharamshala. “It was an incredible experience to escape the chaos of the city, everything was so beautiful and serene.” He explains, “It was almost magical the way the atmosphere changed, and I was amazed by the way these young people were living their lives.”
Inspired by his surroundings, and his interactions with the smiling-faced monks of the city, Spitfire tells of his experience with penning the words to the track. “I don’t usually write like this, but looking around at the waterfalls and channels, as they wove their way through the valleys, the words poured from me while we were driving to Mcleodganj- they could not be stopped.” He explains, “The team was like a family, and this was a job of companionship. We ate, made music, and motivated each other to keep pushing on. I learned a lot from the monks which helped cleanse my negative thoughts and aided my musical creativity.”
It was so that the title track for Zen in the Dunk, the soulful and poetic ‘Kyu Nahi’ was born, written are recorded in just 4 days since the beginning of filming, with most of the work done while seated in the backseat of a car. Watch the music video featuring Spitfire and the B-Ball monks of Dharamshala here!
The inner strength and compassion of these refugee children is enough to warm the heart and soul, and serves as an important reminder of the inherent goodness of humanity, and of the importance of fostering emotions of positivity, belief and responsibility towards your society, regardless of its flaws. With a powerful message of unity through diversity, Indian society surely has a lot to learn from the lives of these young Tibetan children. As Spitfire so aptly puts it, “Gyaan ki manzil ee door ab tu nahi,”
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