Pah Lak (Father) – Against All Odds

by Sharmila Vasudevan

A rollercoaster of emotions ranging from frustration to anger to deep sadness, the play highlights the plight of the Tibetan people within Tibet.

Based on true events, this poignant Tibetan play, performed in the Tibetan language (with English subtitles), by an all-Tibetan cast, aims straight for the heart. Written by Abhishek Majumdar and directed by Lhakpa Tsering and Harry Fuhrmann, it opens with soul-stirring flute notes whilst names and faces of those who self-immolated are projected on flowing curtains onstage. The central theme of the play is the atrocities carried out by the Chinese within Tibet, highlighting a nunnery in this case, as well as the dichotomy of holding on to the path of non-violence despite being relentlessly violated.

The main protagonist, Deshar, a resolute and tenacious nun who refuses to “toe the Chinese line” ends up beaten, bruised, but never broken. A re-education program, led by Chinese commander Deng, is forcefully introduced in the nunnery with the intent to completely rewire their political and religious beliefs. When the nuns protest against this injustice, the nunnery is shut down. Deshar’s attempted self-immolation as an act of protest, her every anguished cry, her every angry tear, was felt across the room. And her Pah Lak’s (Deshar’s father) frustration and grief while reliving the cruel loss of his wife on one hand while soothing his little daughter on the other, was heart-wrenching. The character Pema, a young student, illustrates how Tibetan youth face an identity crisis, confused as to who they really are with even the Tibetan language having been corrupted with Chinese. The helplessness of the Rinpoche when the monastery is shut down, clutching tight to Dharma in the face of severe onslaught, and the conflict between reacting with violence or non-violence against a perpetual perpetrator, was painfully beautiful. The human side of the Chinese commander and the military police was portrayed effectively without demonizing either.

Pah Lak highlights how fused the Buddhist faith is with the lives of Tibetans who are trying to live the dharma of peace and non-violence despite their external realities. His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama has always advocated peace & restraint and guided his people accordingly. In his words “I consider non-violence to be compassion in action. It does not mean weakness, cowering in fear or simply doing nothing. It is to act without violence, motivated by compassion, recognizing the rights of others"

It shines a torch on the current situation in Tibet, which many might not be aware of. Every actor breathed life into their characters; some of these actors still have family currently jailed in Tibet. Every single character was the hero of the play. Being performed in the Tibetan language by Tibetans took the play several notches higher, and the remarkable stagecraft, together with the background score, made for a greatly enhanced experience.

Pah Lak is deeply emotional, intense, powerful theatre which offers the path of non-violence as a formidable tool on the road to peace. A must-watch.

Personal note

Having been associated with Friends of Tibet for over 20 years, I have had the opportunity to understand in detail the dire situation within Tibet. Hearing stories of Tibetans fleeing persecution and escaping to India, even as we speak, shows how relentless the Chinese continue to be in their oppressive ways. It is all the more important that their story be shared far and wide. Peace, like water, will eventually find a way.

About the writer

Sharmila Vasudevan is a multifaceted personality with an experience of over two decades in the film & media industry. She is very vocal and passionate about Wildlife conservation,, sustainable development and is working on these projects, trying to generate awareness to bring about change in these areas