Their grey-haired father and uncles are dressed more plainly in warm adventure gear and down waistcoats. Through the sliding glass doors, the light is fading pink. Engraved silver bowls laden with meat, nuts and dried fruit glow at their elbows. ‘Tashi delek and Happy New Year,’ they call to their cousin’s phone.
Although only a couple of months ago, that afternoon seems like another era, BC (Before Corona). We have always regarded our nephew Sonam Wangchen as something of an unlikely hero, with flashes of saintliness. Ever since he returned in robes as Geshe after years of study for his advanced Buddhism degree at the transplanted Sera monastery on the steaming plains of Mysore, his life has been devoted to helping others in Nepal.
No fuss, he just sees the need, hops on his battered scooter, and gets on with alleviating suffering in this imperfect world. The fourth son of my husband’s elder sister, he lived in the Tibet Children’s Village in Dharmasala before running away to become a monk. Serving as a translator for Sera’s leaders, Sonam Wangchen was known as Gelung for his selfless vows and aura of focussed compassion, attracting the admiration of donors who followed him and his tireless work to Kathmandu.
For expediency on the job, Sonam Wangchen rearranges his robes with a utilitarian claret tee-shirt and red quilted jacket, topped with a bike helmet. Just like he used to hitch up his skirts to play a mean game of football with my boys in the garden during family gatherings.
As a kid Sangjay collected money from college friends to assist the heroin detox centre in a modest Budhanilkantha house, and Rinchen saved pocket money to educate young children who had found shelter with him. After one visit I was haunted by an old man with a suppurating leg in a brace who had found refuge there, abandoned by his family.
The scope of Sonam Wangchen’s work received a boost after the 2015 earthquakes when the quiet heroism of his Hope and Challenge NGO attracted ongoing support from donors inspired to make a difference though his hands-on achievements – mainly philanthropic individuals from around Asia, India and Nepal. His resolve never faltered, his grave, unflinching grin never far behind the sorrow.