Ngapoi Ngawang JigmeA good friend and accomplished film maker once told me: "Documentary production is mostly a series of missed opportunities". This becomes painfully obvious when most of the prospective interview subjects are quite elderly and spread all over the world.
When the Tibetan diaspora was scattered across the planet in the years following 1959, so were the students, family and acquaintances of Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Lodro. One of them, Ngapoi, became an ally of the Chinese and moved to Beijing. Today he is mostly remembered for signing the Seventeen Point Agreement with the Chinese Communist government in 1951, accepting Chinese sovereignty in exchange for guarantees of autonomy and religious freedom.
Born into a Lhasa aristocratic family in 1910, part of his education took place in Britain. In 1936 he started a career as a politician and took up a post at Chamdo in Eastern Tibet where he eventually became governor.
Several sources confirm that he received teachings from Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Lodro although it is not clear what he received and when. It was due to Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche's good connection with Jigme that another one of his students, Master Bisong, a Chinese traveling to Central Tibet in 1937 on a quest for knowledge and adventure, was able to obtain a rare transit visa from Chamdo to Lhasa.
Not always do a man's political actions reflect his spiritual journey or personal character. When the Hollywood movie Seven Years in Tibet was released in 1997, portraying him as a collaborator, Ngapoi felt deeply hurt and accused the film makers of 'sheer fabrication' and 'a vicious personal attack'.
Unfortunately all memories of the man behind the politician have been drowned out by the political debates surrounding the fate of Tibet. Somehow I had always harbored an unrealistic glimmer of hope that one day I might be able to interview him about his time spent with Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, his impressions of the great Rime master and how his Buddhist training may have shaped his political journey. After all he always remained loyal to the Tibetan people although for many he seemed to be working in the wrong camp.
Ngapoi, father of no less than 12 children and presiding over a clan of more than 60 people, passed away on December 23, 2009, in Beijing at the age of 99