The story of the musician Phuwang

Phuwang is now 88 years old and he lives in a retirement home in Shimla, along with 34 other elderly people from Tibet.

Phuwang comes from Ü-Tsang, a province of Tibet. He lived there with his family in a small farmhouse near the river Tsangpo.

This lake was known for its healing properties. Many Tibetans went there, to be cleansed and healed of their illnesses, worries and problems, and also to wash with this water to strengthen themselves. The scenery there was beautiful, the people were satisfied with their lives.

After the occupation of Tibet by China, Phuwang fled along with many others, who followed the Dalai Lama in 1959 to India. At that time, most refugees were used for road construction in the Himalayas. Phuwang was young, strong and full of hope.

The work was hard, exhausting and unnerving, the Indian food unfamiliar, the heat often unbearable and the water often brought on digestive problem. They slept in tent camps - and Phuwang saw many of his country men die.

It was not easy to endure this kind of life. After a few years, Phuwang decided to return to Tibet, which was not that easy, as it meant "to flee back" again. The danger of being caught and taken prisoner was huge. But Phuwang took the risk, as he yearned to return to his home-land and to his family.

Unfortunately red-Chinese border guards caught him and Phuwang went to jail. His situation was quite hopeless. But Phuwang was strong-willed and determined, until he managed to flee not only the imprisonment but also to make his way back to India, where he once again works in road construction.

As Phuwang grew older and this was no longer able to perform this kind of heavy work, he began to collect waste; - paper, cardboard, bottles. These people, the so-called garbage people so collected garbage and sold them for a few rupees. Phuwang settled down in a small Tibetan community, consisting of a few corrugated iron huts, near Shimla and is still collecting garbage.

Phuwang was recognised and known as a musician. He played and still does now, the instruments Damyel, Pewang and the flute. He built all his instruments by himself; - from garbage cans, twine, wood etc. and he sold some of them too, for 100-200 rupees a piece. He also taught others to play these instruments. Wherever there was a chance, Phuwang played music. And last but not least it earned him the necessary money to survive.

He was there from the start, when the nursing home was built and since its completion in 1996, he lives there.

He still plays for visitors who, unfortunately, very rarely come there.

When I first saw Phuwang, he and his sweet smile, his kind and jolly, mischievous eyes immediately impressed me, he literally radiated happiness, peace and contentment!

His Damyel hung on the wall in his small room. I noticed the instrument immediately and asked him to play. The vitality and joy in his face was indescribable, his laugh so heart-warming, and it truly was incredible how vivacious and youthful he looked! He tuned his Damyel and began to sing and play. It was so touching and refreshing to listen to him and watch him play.

He was in his element and young again.

Before leaving, we asked him once more to play for us. He was very excited because we were filming him. During one song he couldn't remember the words any longer. When a few trial attempts had failed he said, "Oh well, it's been a long time ago..." ... and laughed out loud...

For me this was a wonderful, unforgettable encounter with a very special person, a meeting I am indeed very grateful for!!!

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