Back in the 1970s hundreds of backpackers turned up in Dharamsala, North-West India to be near the Dalai Lama and to sit in on Geshe Ngawang Dhargyey’s daily Dharma classes at the Library of Tibetan Works & Archives. A couple of years ago one of the long-term residents, Gavin Kilty, had the bright idea of starting a ning social networking site for those of us who spent time there over the years. We’re now spread across the globe, from New Zealand to Mongolia to Europe to the Americas, and the lines of connection are multiplying like a neural network. On the surface, it’s just chat and photos, mostly of our crazy young selves and the strangely respectable middle-aged lot we’ve turned into. Under the surface, however, something new is emerging. It has to do with all those people whose time there didn’t intersect with mine, but with whom I’m now friends! You see, technology isn’t so bad after all. In fact, today’s rising generations are using technology to connect. Back in the day, one of my big concerns was privacy, which was hard to find in India, and especially in monastic life.
Old Dharamsala Wallahs, as it’s called, is a private network, and yet it’s breaking down old walls of privacy as people share their lives in surprisingly unabashed ways. By the way, ‘Wallah’ is a Hindi word for tradesman, as in chai wallah, who sells hot tea, or rickshaw wallah, who pulls you around on a cycle-carriage. Gavin’s now initiated an actual reunion, and the Dalai Lama’s agreed to set aside two afternoons for us. It’ll be all warm and cosy and just like the old days, except that most of us will probably stay in the comfortable new hotels that have sprung up since we all left, not in the familiar old cowsheds and tumbledown huts. And, of course His Holiness, as most of the old wallahs like to call him, is now an international celebrity. Might be fun. It’ll certainly be interesting.