The Monk who got slapped: Tonyot Dorjey

Culture Studies Assignment
On 31st August, our lecture had got cancelled. I called up Tonyot and we decided that I would be staying with him for the night and the next day. I was both enthusiastic and apprehensive because Tony seemed like an extremely cool person but I had not interacted with him beyond the formal hellos.
Curly-hair, subdued voice, constricted eyes: Tonyot raises a lot of stereotypes in one’s mind. However, one is mind-blown to find that Tonyot is not even close to any of these generalisations. He has a very distinct personality and I discovered that over the time I spent with him. His friends call him Tony.

At 6:30 PM, I boarded a train from Kandivali to Santacruz. It was surprisingly empty as the rush had been on the other side. This was new to me. After reaching the Santacruz station, I called Tony to ask for directions. Before he answered my question, he asked me whether I had eaten anything. I replied negatively and this seemed to cheer him up. He then guided me to his house. I walked on the Vakola Bridge to reach Ek Prastha building in Chaitanya Nagar. I reached there by 7:30 PM. Tony was waiting at the gate of the building with a plastic bag full of vegetables. He greeted me and told me that I was in for a surprise that night.

Tony lives on the 4th floor in a 1 BHK flat which he shares with 4 of his roommates. Gurbaksh Khanna and Shivam Khatri are also his classmates. It was surprising to see that the house was so neatly kept despite the fact that they do all the household works, from cooking to sweeping, all on their own. It was commendable. As soon I settled down, Tony rushed to the kitchen to make us all some coffee. I never felt that I was in someone else’s house. Tony’s politeness made me feel at home. He returned 5 minutes later with a tray of cups of coffee. Genuinely, It was the best coffee that I’ve tasted in a long time; beats Starbucks’ on any given day. Tony informed me that they had been living in that house since May this year. A conversation ensued thereafter.

Tony enthusiastically explained to me that he belongs to a village called Lamayuru, also called The Moonland, in Leh, Ladakh. Moonland derives its name from the snow-covered glaciers that reflect the moonlight at night. Lamayuru shares international borders with Pakistan and China. Leh, comparatively, is a very small city. However, it is covers a vast area geographically with all the mountains and lakes. Tony showed me a video on YouTube shot in Ladakh. The beauty of the place delighted me. In Lamayuru, Tony’s father is a primary schoolteacher and his mother, a housewife. He has four sibling out of which an elder sister is married. Tony feels that his schooldays were the best days of his life and he visits his school in Leh every year. He assists the teachers in any way he can during his stay there. After his tenth, Tony moved to Mysore to study further. He studied Science for two years before pursuing BMM. He really misses his homeland but he doesn’t let it bother him because he is here to complete his education and won’t let anything distract him from his goal. Tony believes that one important thing he learnt in Mumbai was to struggle. Initially, he couldn’t find a place to stay. He ran from door to door asking for a place to stay. He had never seen anyone struggle to reach their offices or homes and now that he has become a part of that system, he is learning something new every day. Tony had an interesting observation. Ladakh shuts down for 2-3 months during winter and the naives organise festivals, meet relatives, travel the length and breadth of the country and enjoy their lives unlike in Mumbai where round the year everything is in incredibly fast motion. There is huge difference in the pace of both the cities.

As the hands of the clock struck 9, we shifted to the kitchen to start preparing our dinner. Finally, Tony let the cat out of the box. He was going to cook the famous Ladakhi Pasta, especially for me. It’s called Skew in the local language. Tony warned me that it can be hard to digest since it is eaten by the Ladakhis who are used to such heavy meals to supplement their physical activities. Once in the kitchen, Tonyot is a master-chef. His cookery skills are exemplary. There exists elegance in his movements in the kitchen. Tony told me that he had worked in his uncle’s restaurant in Ladakh for a summer. He observed how a variety of things were cooked and that is how he came to be such a gorgeous chef. No component of the dish had been ready made. From the ginger garlic paste to the pasta, everything was made at home by Tony himself. He prepared the dough of the pasta and rolled it into big and round rotis to carve the pasta out of them. It was simply mind-blowing.

While he was preparing for the special dinner, he told me about the other aspects of his life. Tony, along with 80% of Ladakh, follows Buddhism while the rest 20% follow Islam.  There also exists a minute number that believes in Christianity. In September every year, Ladakh festival takes place in which all the sub-cultures of that area participate. This not only highlights the rich culture of Leh-Ladakh but also attracts a vast number of tourists. The festivals are mainly organised by Buddhist monasteries.   Apart from the natural beauty of the region, it is these culturally vibrant festivals that make tourism the backbone of Ladakh.

When I asked Tony about the effect of AFSPA and militancy in the area, Tony explained to me that despite Lamayuru’s nearness to Kargil and LOC, there have been zero cases of militant strikes in the area. There exists an army camp in Leh district but the army does not interfere in the functioning of villages. Lamayuru is 600km away from the Srinagar valley which is the epicentre of militancy uprisings.  In 1999, however, when the Kargil War against Pakistan took place the army picked up many men from his village to assist them in carrying food and medical resources to the army bunkers at the Line of Control. The houses also provide shelters to wounded soldiers. Thus, the war was not only won by the army but also by the people of Leh-Ladakh.

The dinner was ready at around 10:30 PM. The house was filled with the rich aromas of the Skew. We sat on the floor in a circle just like the Ladakhi’s would, around a fire, at night. The pasta melted in my mouth and the gravy perfectly complimented it. It was brilliant. None of us spoke for the next half an hour as we were busy feasting on the delicacy. Tony had found the way to my heart through my stomach, literally. We finished the pasta to the last remaining bit. It is the best healthy vegetarian recipe I have ever tasted in my life.

After the extravagant dinner, Tony and I went down for a walk. This was his routine as he loves to enjoy fresh air after his meals. During the walk, Tony shared with me his passion for football and swimming. In Mysore, he used to swim and play football every day. Even in Mumbai, he plays football with his friends whenever he gets the opportunity to do so. Thereafter, we went upstairs and called it a night for we had an eight o’clock lecture the next day.

The next day I woke Tony up at 6:30 AM. While I was getting ready for the lecture, Tony was busy preparing a wholesome breakfast for both of us: boiled eggs, coffee and bananas. When everything was ready, he quickly freshened up and we both had the breakfast together. We left for college at 7:15 AM. Usually, I would have left from Kandivali at least an hour ago.

During our journey, Tony spoke about Buddhism. He elaborated on the history of Gautam Buddha and his teaching better than any history textbook could. Tonyot believes in meditation and has taken up courses in Vipassana many a times in his life. Vipasssana, he explained, means peaceful meditation. He had learnt that the human mind is vey hyperactive and difficult to control but with the help of Vipassana, he had witnessed an inner peace like nothing else. He had learnt to introspect. He had travelled to monasteries in different parts of the country to meditate, sometimes as long as for ten days. This really influenced me and Tony advised me that even I should try Vipassana. In the meantime, we had reached college and the lecture was about to start.

After the lecture, I interviewed a few of Tonyot’s college friends. One thing I learnt from each one of them was that apart from being the limelight of their friend-circle, Tony had been a really helpful friend. No matter how grave the situation or the time, Tony was always there to support them. Everybody treasured Tony’s friendship in their lives. As Tony had travelled to many places like Bhutan, Nepal, Tibet et cetera, he was always acted as their tour guide to wherever they went.

On the way back to Tony’s abode, we had a quick lunch of two Vada Pavs at a local stall. The junk food habits of most of his friends had been a culture shock for Tony. He had always preferred home cooked meals and it was the same with his friends in Lamayuru and Mysore. However, he noticed that the teenagers in Mumbai preferred McDonalds and KFC at any given time which surprised him greatly.  Tony also told me that most of the students from Ladakh move southwards cities like Delhi, Kota, Chennai and Mumbai to continue their education as there are not many options in and around Ladakh. This results in an outflow of money from the area as the parents have to provide for the education as well as the living expense.

On reaching home, Tony started working on one of his many pending projects while I chatted with his roommates, Shivam, Gurbaksh and Himanshu. They told me that they have been thanking god ever since Tony became their roommate. The biggest burden for outstation students is to manage their meals and Tony’s excellence in the kitchen had solved their biggest issues. When I asked them about Tony’s favourite leisure time hobbies, they enthusiastically told me that they had heard Tony sing beautifully when he is alone but shies away from performing in front of others. That’s when we decided that we will persuade Tony to sing for us.

The sun was at the horizon and a breeze was blowing: a lovely evening, indeed. Tonyot’s melodious voice and Shivam’s expertise at the guitar uplifted the pleasant atmosphere. The innocent songs of Ladakh reverberated throughout the house. It was ecstatic. I couldn’t stop myself from singing along with Tony. We sang from classic English songs to romantic Bollywood songs. Oh! It was an evening worth remembering. He promised me that once he will take me to his homeland so that I can experience everything firsthand and that’s how my stay at Tony’s home came to an end.

I feel really privileged that I went to Tony’s place because through this project I not only found a genuine friend but I also learnt how difficult it is to live thousands of kilometres away from your home all on your own and to face life every day. I cherish the moments I spent at Tony’s house and I can’t wait to go to Lamayuru to experience the beauty and diversity of the culture.

Getting to know Tony was an experience like never before. We all belong to different cultures but in the end fundamentally similar to each other.

Source: Mohit Arora

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