Six Years Ago

“The smile is a very important feature of the human face… I feel that a genuine, affectionate smile is very important in our day-to-day lives. How one creates that smile largely depends on one’s own attitude. It is illogical to expect smiles from others if one does not smile oneself. Therefore, one can see that many things depend on one’s own behaviour.”
– Dalai Lama, from “The Dalai Lama’s Book of Wisdom”

Exactly six years ago to date my family and I had a private audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama in New Delhi, India. He had just landed from Norway the night before and we were on our last hours in Delhi, about to move to Bangkok.

Most expat husbands will grudgingly be dragged to a jewellery store to purchase a farewell gift before the big move but I waived the diamond and received instead a 15-minute private audience with the Dalai Lama! Anyone can buy jewellery, but not everyone can say they visited the Dalai Lama in his hotel suite in Delhi!

We were up early that day and had left the house without any breakfast. There was no clear instruction how the audience would proceed, and we assumed that we would be part of a receiving line of people as His Holiness passed by. Honestly, that would have been more than enough for me. When we reached the hotel there were two Tibetan ladies from His Holiness’ security detail waiting in the lobby and one escorted us up. When we alighted from the elevator we were then endorsed to the Tibetan Ambassador and asked to take a seat. The only other people there were members of His Holiness’ personal security detail. I peeked down the hallway and saw more security and a couple of Tibetan monks but nobody else. Since we had arrived significantly ahead of schedule, we waited for a while, still not having a clue what was about to unfold. By 8:00am the Ambassador re-emerged and informed us that His Holiness had summoned us to his suite. Needless to say, we were completely stunned by this turn of events. Down the corridor we walked through more security (this time of the weaponed type), realising with every step that this was a private audience!

His Holiness stood up to welcome us enthusiastically, greeting us individually and shaking our hands. We sat down again while he pottered around a bit. Before he took his seat again he looked directly at me and chuckled “what country are you from?” Because of my Asian looks, it is no surprise His Holiness asked me this and I told him the story that many years ago I was in Dharamsala on a photo assignment to take pictures of the opening of the Tibetan Parliament. I was dressed in the Tibetan attire and blended in perfectly with the rest of the community, to the extent that everybody present assumed I was a newly elected parliamentarian! The Dalai Lama laughed out loud at this and said he could see why.

The entire time His Holiness talked to my husband about their work together they held hands, a tender gesture of affirmation and appreciation of all the hard work and effort invested into the projects. We knew we didn’t have much time and his aides were making discrete motions that it was time for His Holiness to move along. He has always been camera friendly and is not known to turn down a photo opportunity so I jumped into action. This was a photographers dream moment, which I managed to royally fumble due to nerves and excitement, time pressure and having to observe all the protocol around. For example, one must not sit or stand higher than Him, hence all the shots had to be taken from a lower angle. Since it was a short audience and not a formal portrait photo shoot, I did not have the luxury of time nor the advantage of full concentration, as I wanted to listen to every word he uttered.

We were each bestowed with the ceremonial Tibetan silk shawl and blessed. I was the last one, and once I received my shawl I asked His Holiness whether he would now accept me as an honorary parliamentarian, to which he laughed out loud again. After two more group photos we were ushered back out and escorted straight to the elevator. Once we reached the lobby the security staff had lined up and we joined the ranks along the side – it’s not often I get to play paparazzi to a world celebrity so I wanted to be there when His Holiness walked out.

The most unforgettable 15 minutes of my life!

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