KAMAL KARMA Lama, a 63-year-old India-born Tibetan, recalls that when he first began selling momos in Mumbai over 12 years ago, he had to explain to people that they were like the local delicacy, modaks. Within a few years, the food he served at the Tibetan restaurant in Oshiwara, New Sernyaa Tibetan and Chinese Kitchen, became an integral part of the Mumbai food spread.
Like Lama, many Tibetans born in India or those who have come here recently call Mumbai their home, while attempting to keep their roots intact. “My forefathers were Lamas (monks). I was born in Kolkata and was a teenager when I came to Mumbai. There were not many Tibetans in the city then,” he says. Many peg the number of Tibetans in the city at an estimated 250.
Lama says that the city so far does not have a Tibetan monastery, due to which people observe their traditions and festivals at homes. He recalls that when his daughter got married over ten years ago, he had booked a banquet hall for the ceremonies. “Our non-Tibetan friends were very curious. We had brought traditional Tibetan dresses for all our guests and had recreated how marriages are conducted in Tibet,” Lama says.
Passang Bhutia, another Tibetan who has been living in the city for over 23 years, says he feels sad that he is not able to speak his mother tongue often enough. However, he keeps himself updated about Tibet through social media.
“On my off days, I watch traditional dances, lectures, news, and cook Tibetan food,” Bhutia says. He adds that he gets an opportunity to meet and speak with many fellow Tibetans during winter in Mumbai, when they are seen in the city selling woolen clothes.
Apart from gatherings during the New Year or other Buddhist festivals, the community in Mumbai is connected through social media groups and other activities, to discuss the political struggle for a free Tibet.