‘...That One Moment Made It All Worth It’
by Kishore Rathod
(Mid-Day. January 17, 2002)
There was no point in sitting for a hunger strike at Azad Maidan,
because Zhu Rongji would not even be aware of it. So I thought
of doing something different to protest the Chinese occupation
of Tibet and reiterate the Tibetans' demand for freedom,' said a
charged-up Tenzin Tsundue while sitting amidst the Friends of Tibet
at a Churchgate restaurant, minutes after he was released on surety
by the Cuffe Parade police.
Looking back on the most eventful day of his life, the 26-year-old
attributed his successful demonstration, despite heavy security
arrangements, to three factors 'hard work, courage and lots of
luck'. Tsundue said, 'It's a mystery how I went unnoticed in spite
of heavy police bandobast.'
Tsundue began preparing for the demonstration almost a week ago,
after learning about the Chinese premier's Mumbai itinerary through
newspapers. He himself stitched together three Chinese national flags
to make the 30-foot banner that had 'China, Get Out' inscribed on it.
A day before executing his plan, Tsundue surveyed the area
surrounding Hotel Oberoi to choose the spot for his protest. Seeing
the scaffolding raised near the northern gate of Hotel Oberoi,
Tsundue decided he would ascend it the next day and climb up to
the poolside area, from where he would unfurl the Tibetan flag
and the banner. Tsundue said, 'Till the last moment, even I didn't
know that eventually I would climb 14 floors before launching my
The next day, with the banner and the Tibetan flag strapped onto
his back and hidden under a sleeveless black coat, Tsundue had
barely reached Express Towers at around 10.20am when he heard the
motorcade of the Chinese premier passing by.
'I waited for the motorcade to pass, so that the security
officials' attention would shift to the museum the Chinese premier
was going to. In the meantime, I would go up and take up a position
along the wall by the time he came back.'
Even as he was about to jump the three-foot-high fence to reach
the scaffolding, he saw a policeman walk towards him. Tsundue said,
'For a moment I thought it was all over, but to my relief he walked
by. I stood rooted to the ground for a while and then swiftly jumped
over the fence and made my way up the scaffold.'
As soon as the five-foot-three-inch Tsundue ascended to the poolside
area, almost three storeys off the ground, he bumped into a group
of workmen who were repairing a section of the hotel.
uressed into striking a conversation to explain his climb up the
scaffold, Tsundue bluffed that 'Prakash cementwala' had sent him to
meet 'Mr Inamdar'. When the workers said that there was no Inamdar
amidst them, he proceeded towards the main building, pretending to
search for 'Inamdar'.
After another close shave, this time with a hotel security guard,
Tsundue wasted no time in climbing onto the ladder supporting the
materials lift. By the time he climbed the height of almost 150
feet and reached the 14th floor of the hotel, a sizeable crowd had
assembled near the poolside.
Even as people urged him to climb down, Tsundue strapped himself to
the ladder with a hook, unfolded the 30-foot banner and tied it to
the ladder. He proceeded to unfurl the Tibetan national flag and
began shouting pro-Tibet, anti-China slogans and flung leaflets
towards the ground.
By now Tsundue's actions had attracted passers-by. Within minutes,
hundreds of Nariman Point pedestrians had stopped in their tracks,
bringing traffic to a halt.
Amidst all the chaos, Tsundue looked across to the new wing of Hotel
Oberoi and saw one of the Chinese delegates accompanying Rongji
pull aside the curtain of his room to look at him. Tsundue said,
'In no time, every window on the entire floor had a Chinese face
looking at me and I was proud to show them the Tibetan flag. That
one moment was worth it all'.
Meanwhile, the hotel's security personnel threatened to release
the materials lift above his head if he failed to climb down.
An unfazed Tsundue held on. 'I did not worry about the threat being
carried out, knowing that I was in India and not in China,' he said.
After almost 40 minutes of protesting and being strapped to the
ladder, Tsundue was finally pulled into a nearby hotel room by
Mumbai police officials.
He said, 'The moment I was inside the room, I just lifted my hands
and surrendered. I said, 'Maine apna kaam kar liya hai, ab aap
apna kaam kijiye.'
After some minutes of frisking and questioning, Tsundue was whisked
away to Cuffe Parade Police Station through the service exit,
even as eager journalists waited at the main entrance for him to
emerge. With a hint of pride, he said, 'Even CID officials wondered
how I managed to climb the 14 storeys despite heavy security'.
He quickly added that he felt sorry for the security personnel who
would run into trouble for his successful protest.
When Tsundue revisited the spot of his heroics late last night,
he couldn't help but stare at the towering hotel. When asked what
he was thinking, he said, 'I wonder how I did it'.