How an Indian thinks of the Beijing-Lhasa Railroad

I was reading the Apr 16 issue of New Yorker the other day and found an article on the recently completed Beijing-Lhasa railroad. After reading a few paragraphs of the text, which was immersed with forceful ridicules and groundless conclusions (yes this guy did put a whole bunch of conclusions in the beginning paragraphs) I got a strong feeling that: the author must be an Indian. And I looked at the author’s name, Pankaj Mishra, hmm, sounds indian enough to me. No offense to Indian people, but to my understanding India has taken China as their most bitter opponent or potential enemy in a whole lot of geo-political issues, since the India-
China war in 1962, which was widely regarded as an defeat for India that (somewhat) profoundly hurt the rising potential of India to become an influential power of the world. And the sovereignty of Tibet is one of the issues that constantly perturb Indian people. In the ruling days in India, the British made some attempts trying to infiltrate into the neighboring Tibet and later, after the British withdrew, India took its place in the Tibet issue for its national interest. A railroad from Beijing to Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, might not be such a great news to our dear author, a person who through his article hints a remote hostility toward the, as he specifically identified from time to time, the Han Chinese.

Just to point out a few ironic charges the author made: he said after the train went through the Tangula Pass, 16,640 ft above sea level, he felt sick due to the altitude reaction. He looked outside the window and found there were hardly any Tibetan people. Immediately he complained that it “seemed the strangest aspect of a rail service designed to benefit local people”. Of course in his imaginary world Tibet was a land fulfilled with people crowding as dense as Bangalore, and Tibetan people were so extremely adapted to the land that they would live at any “needle-sharp peaks” and “glittering chalky white”. And although he saw the train stopped at stations like Nagqu, Golmud, and of course Lhasa, he neglectingly overlooked the effect the transportation would brought to the areas.

In the article Mishra wrote about his childhood fantasies brought to him by the Indian Railways, for which his father worked. However he seems not willing to share these fantasies with other people, at least people living in Tibet, which was the last land in China to be connected by railroads, in the fear that railroads would ruin the religious and cultural specialty in Tibet. A beautifully natural and intact Tibet, where people live in the way they lived hundreds of years ago, where people are not disturbed by modern transportations and communications, where people live to present themselves to tourists, might be an ideal Shangri-la for him, and a lot of others suffering from urban pressure or mid-life crisis or simply boredom to life, I presume. In fact I am willing to see what Mr. Mishra would say to happen with the cultural and religious diversity to Sikkim, once an independent kingdom just south of Tibet and occupied by India in 1975, if let’s just say India was capable of building a decent railroad to connect it. To tell the truth, I would not be such a sour sissy if it really could happen.



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