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The Reluctant Lama - review

The story of a reincarnated boy lama.

The Reluctant Lama
Radio 4

In a departure for the usually painstakingly neutral Radio 4 documentary, the presenter actually admonished the subject. Jolyon Jenkins spoke to Osel Hita Torres (28 September, 11am), now 27, who at two was removed from his family home in Granada and dispatched to a monastery in southern India – assumed via tests with a bell and a toy drum to be a reincarnated Tibetan lama. There the boy endured years of adoration and at least 18 hours’ study a day. The memories of his loneliness were painful. “Nobody wants to be with me. Bring a child with you!” he would beg his mother before she visited – like Oscar Wilde’s Happy Prince, or Selfish Giant. But so enraptured was Osal’s mother with the idea of his reincarnation, she repeatedly screwed his courage to the sticking place (she sounded a bit like a showbiz agent doggedly providing super-orthodontry before a screen test).

Osel was wretched but struggled with an overweening desire to connect and please, an instinct that leaves many children in a state of torment (“We are interested in the distillation of gin,” Edna O’Brien’s little sons would heartbreakingly write on a piece of paper slipped under the door of her study in the hope of ingratiating themselves into her ever-distracted company. It is by far the saddest line in all of her recently published memoirs.) And yet, when Osel was 18, he did escape the monastery and moved to Ibiza where he still “plays drums on the beach listening to trance music”, occasionally returning to Tibet for a detox.

At this point Jenkins – who had followed Osel’s case since the 1980s – criticised him for being a fair-weather Buddhist (“that’s just the easy bits!”). There was a surprising awfulness to Osel’s rhetoric, an emptiness dressed as a kind of helpless wisdom. Someone with such a crazy (and crazily deep) childhood ought to manage something less artfully non-committal as “there was a period in my life when I thought I was very special. And then I realised we are all special.” You could picture Osal’s hands diplomatically turning in the air as he said this, his whole mad history rolling aside, less a lama now than someone majoring in communications at UCLA, doling out corn-on-the-cob and smoked butterfish at a campus BBQ.

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 01 October 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Labour conference special

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SRSLY #13: Take Two

On the pop culture podcast this week, we discuss Michael Fassbender’s Macbeth, the recent BBC adaptations of Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Cider with Rosie, and reminisce about teen movie Shakespeare retelling She’s the Man.

This is SRSLY, the pop culture podcast from the New Statesman. Here, you can find links to all the things we talk about in the show as well as a bit more detail about who we are and where else you can find us online.

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SRSLY is hosted by Caroline Crampton and Anna Leszkiewicz, the NS’s web editor and editorial assistant. We’re on Twitter as @c_crampton and @annaleszkie, where between us we post a heady mixture of Serious Journalism, excellent gifs and regularly ask questions J K Rowling needs to answer.

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The Links

On Macbeth

Ryan Gilbey’s review of Macbeth.

The trailer for the film.

The details about the 2005 Macbeth from the BBC’s Shakespeare Retold series.


On Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Cider with Rosie

Rachel Cooke’s review of Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

Sarah Hughes on Cider with Rosie, and the BBC’s attempt to create “heritage television for the Downton Abbey age”.


On She’s the Man (and other teen movie Shakespeare retellings)

The trailer for She’s the Man.

The 27 best moments from the film.

Bim Adewunmi’s great piece remembering 10 Things I Hate About You.


Next week:

Anna is reading Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner.


Your questions:

We loved talking about your recommendations and feedback this week. If you have thoughts you want to share on anything we've discussed, or questions you want to ask us, please email us on srslypod[at], or @ us on Twitter @srslypod, or get in touch via tumblr here. We also have Facebook now.



The music featured this week, in order of appearance, is:


Our theme music is “Guatemala - Panama March” (by Heftone Banjo Orchestra), licensed under Creative Commons. 



See you next week!

PS If you missed #12, check it out here.

Caroline Crampton is web editor of the New Statesman.

Anna Leszkiewicz is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.