The Dalai Lama is one of the more contradictory figures to adorn the geo-political stage: his popular reputation as a naïve prophet of peace is substantially the result of a razor-sharp understanding of the value of image. While the robes in which Tibet’s spiritual leader shrouds himself are certainly the garb of the Bhuddhist monk that he is, they are also part of the Dalai Lama’s shrewd efforts to project himself as affable, somewhat quaint, even vaguely hip. It is hard to imagine that his company would be so assiduously cultivated by Hollywood stars, or that Apple would have featured him on one of its posters, if he went to work in a suit or combat fatigues – as rebel leaders sometimes do.
For, despite his mild demeanour and commitment to non-violence, a rebel leader is what the Dalai Lama is. As head of Tibet’s government-in-exile, based in Dharamsala, India, his job consists essentially of marshalling global opinion against the government of the world’s biggest nation.
Since China’s invasion of Tibet in 1950 the Dalai Lama has been a tireless campaigner, pricking the conscience of western governments, mindful as they are these days of affronting China. This leads to some agonising diplomatic choreography. In 2008, Britain’s then prime minister Gordon Brown agreed to meet him, but not at Downing Street. No US president consented to be filmed in public with him until George W Bush (his 2010 meeting with Barack Obama was commemorated by a single still photograph). But nobody wants to turn him down flat: politically as well as sartorially, he cuts too much of a dash.
1 Robes: The Dalai Lama’s robes are both the uniform of a Bhuddist monk and a canny trademark: he would not be unaware of their power to subliminally evoke memories of Gandhi.
2 Beads: Mala beads are the Bhuddist equivalent of the rosary – a way of keeping count of prayers. Tibetans traditionally favour 108-bead bracelets.
3 Watch: His Holiness has ruefully conceded that he is not wholly averse to material lust: he collects wristwatches. Among them is a gold Rolex sent to him by Franklin Roosevelt in 1942, when the Dalai Lama was just seven.
4 Bag: A commitment to humility and disdain for worldly goods prompts some interesting conundra. On the one hand, everybody needs to carry some stuff around. On the other, is it properly monkish to have someone else do that for you? A simple cloth carry-all seems a reasonable solution.
5 Shoes: Rupert Murdoch once dismissed the Dalai Lama as a “very political old monk shuffling around in Gucci shoes”. While the Dalai Lama has been spotted in Land Rover brogues and Dr Martens boots, he sports sandals as a deliberate statement of humility and simplicity – especially when worn, as these were, to meet Barack Obama in Washington in the cold of February.
India’s desire to protect its sacred cows has trumped the protein needs of athletes heading to New Delhi for the Commonwealth Games next month. With a ban on the sale and possession of beef in place in the national capital, the Games’ organisers have confirmed this will be extended to those taking part in the sporting event.
“There will be a lot of food on offer that can substitute for beef,” says organising committee secretary general Lalit Bhanot. Irate fundamentalist Hindus had threatened to agitate to prevent any beef consumption.
On 2 September, 65 years after the end of the Second World War, Russia will for the first time officially celebrate the anniversary of its wartime victory over Japan.
Tensions between the two countries linger over unresolved postwar territorial disputes surrounding a clutch of northern islands (including Kuril, right). It’s safe to say it’s a date that Japan won’t be celebrating.
The pataca is Macau’s currency and, thanks to its colonial past, its banknotes feature both Portuguese and Chinese script including the name of the Bank of China.