Gene Smith: Scholar, Mahapandita Jamyang Namjal, Manjushri Emanation, Bodhisattva, Gentleman, Friend
I miss you and I feel an indescribable and profound loss
My eyes are dry and I cannot weep
I thought you would always be here on this journey
I didn’t think that you would go so suddenly and so soon.
I met Gene in New Delhi in October 1978. He invited me and my husband, Ted, to dinner at his large white house in Defense Colony. We had recently arrived from a posting in London where my husband was a medical attache with the Canadian High Commission. I had written Gene a rather jejune letter about wanting to meet Tibetan Gurus or teachers during my two year stay in India.
At that first dinner at Gene’s I was enchanted and smitten. He seemed so American! He was so intelligent, so polite, so hospitable, so generous. He was larger than life physically and intellectually. He was also hilarious.
The young Munga Ram Kashyap was there that evening in October. He was attending school and in his “free” time he worked in the Smith household. Munga Ram used to sleep/ rest behind the built-in bar when ever he could. Gene would shout Manga Ram’s name in jest and with affection and call up a stream of refreshments for the guests- tea, campa cola, whiskey-soda. Munga Ram would appear very dead- pan but was always keenly aware of everyone and everything that was going on. There were all manner of conversations- depending on who was there…tulkus, traveling scholars of various sorts and expatriates.
I recall stories about the magical abilities of certain teachers. So and so who made the rains fall so hard the army could not get through the mountain pass. Then there was all of the minutia and esoterica of the academics and linguists who jostled with meanings. Gene would begin to explain or rush off somewhere and come back with clarification . All of it was fascinating and often incompressible to me and I was at the time somewhat intimidated. There were historians, anthropologists and artists. Gene’s knowledge and respect for the diversities of world cultures and experiences seemed phenomenal…politics, art, nature and of course Tibetan religious texts.
Gene once remarked to me that his temperament was phlegmatic. I saw it as one of his strangely self-deprecating throw- away lines. He was so brilliant and so humble.
It is Gene’s generosity that stands out. His generosity is evident to anyone who has met him. Gene gave freely many gifts of time and letters of introduction written on his Tibetan typewriter. He would always enclosed substantial offerings for the teachers. For me, there were introductions to teachers in Katmandu and Darjeeling and I thank Gene for that because I somehow took it for granted then. He said he found it interesting to see how individuals connected with particular teachers.
Gene’s generosity also allowed me entry to the lively world of Prem Kirpal and his sister Sita and a larger Sujan Singh Park community near Lodhi Gardens. Prem and Sita gave us a standing invitation to dinner where we met Russians diplomats, Indian intellectuals and a large extended family. Prem studied at Oxford in the 1930’s, had been with Indira Gandhi at the UN in the 1950’s and was Gene’s first “landlord” in India in the 1960’s.
Gene also gave us one of Dorge and Lhamo’s dalmatian puppies. We called that puppy Iygor and transported him to Rome and finally Toronto in 1983. What a wonderful gift. Igor had one blue eye and one brown eye. When I told Gene what the puppy was named he laughingly called him “I-khor”- a Tibetan reference to mandala. This is a mundane retelling but we got so much pleasure from that that beautiful sensitive creature in our lives.
Over the years Gene, via visitors or Mungaram, passed on all manner of gifts. They were “ornaments” he thought I might enjoy. I realized early on that Gene appreciated the many qualities of women from the ways in which he often spoke about them.
We spun into different orbits after that magical and rich time in India. Gene went to Cairo, Jakarta, Boston, New York. We were posted to Rome, Trinidad, Singapore, Ottawa and Hong Kong until 2000.
I was in contact with Munga Ram and I last saw Gene for dinner in Greenwich Village in 1997. His health was evidently not very good and he was in a state of transition. He had lost a few of his front teeth. He was the same charming Gene but he was much less ebullient. I was struck dumb when he confided that he had wasted his life and had made too many mistakes.
The next time I was in New York in 2005 Gene was out of town so I did not see him but I was delighted to visit the collection of Himalayan Art at the Rubin Foundation. Manga Ram had kept me up with the TBRC and Digital Library . Things appeared to be going very well and I was happy for Gene because his work was always so important.
A few years ago when I was once again in New York, I thought Gene would be too busy to see me and his life’s work seemed so important, I neglected to call. Once again I was intimidated by the magnitude of his dimension. I feel so sorry now but none of any of this matters.
Goodbye Gene and many Tashi Deleks. I miss you because you had such a view of life and the world and you shared some of your precious time with me. Thank you for everything.
My deepest condolences to your family and those who knew you well.
Your Canadian friend