Walt Disney, the pioneer of animation industry, once said- “All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.”
Certainly! The desire to achieve our dreams unleashes a strong zeal, yet it requires a Himalayan determination to leave aside a luxury. This is a story of a girl born in the beautiful hill town of Darjeeling, who left a lucrative job to pursue her dream to serve the society and environment at large.
Here, we are talking about Minket Lepcha, international award winning filmmaker. In an interview with Sikkim Chronicle she shared about her life’s journey.
Who is Minket Lepcha?
I call myself an octopus, as I like to do different things. I have been into advertising, then into filmmaking, storytelling and teaching kids. I love to travel, especially to the Himalayan regions where I get enthralled by the beauty of the peaks and the rivers.
I still attend to customers in my family restaurant in Darjeeling. Thus, this is who I am!
Childhood and Education
I was born in Darjeeling in a very humble background. As I am talking with you, my family is serving the people with Aalu-Thukpa and momo in our family restaurant, which has been operating for the last 4 decades and more. My restaurant served people not only with food but my uncle kept blankets for the drivers to bear the cold. Ironically, he was known popularly as ‘Gabbar Singh’, due to his curly hair.
Despite of my family’s humble background, they made it a point to give me the best education possible. I went to Loreto Convent and Mount Hermon School in Darjeeling and then Shri Ram College of Commerce, Delhi. It was difficult for me to adjust in Delhi, being a small town girl.
In college days, gradually a realisation prevailed that my forte was creativity, which prevented me from going for higher studies in Commerce. I took to advertising and started interacting with my clients, understanding the psychology of the people and understanding the nuances of film making. I worked for several brands including Airtel, Bacardi and brands of high-end drinks like Seagrams and Ballantine’s.
The Turning Point
In 2007, I came to know about the movement by Affected Citizen’s of Teesta (ACT), in Sikkim, against the hydro power projects at the river Teesta. ‘Weeping Sikkim’ blog was regularly followed by me. The movement shook me up as to who I was. In 2008, I went to Dzongu in North Sikkim, the holy place for Lepcha community, and it was intriguing to see how river Teesta happened to be a very important part of the whole landscape- the environment, culture, folklore, religion and so on. The visit was half-baked, as I could not contribute for the cause. Nevertheless, the journey made me dwell deep into my inner self and finally, I took a decision to quit my job.
Beginning of a Real Life
In 2013, I started working with Acoustic Tradition, an NGO which documents oral stories and folklore. I was given the task to document stories from North Sikkim, especially on the subjects like Yeti.
Yeti was perceived as a ferocious snowman in normal understanding in the hills. It was surprising that the Lepchas believed the Yetis as Jampimung- the Hunter God, who guarded the people against the evil and had come down to meet Teesta, his sister and Ginger, his brother. I was impressed by the way the stories had been passing on for generations with an understanding that crossed the realms of human understanding, when it came to the respect towards ecology and various elements. I documented the stories and folklore of not only Lepchas but also communities like Moktan, Tamang, Bhutia, Gurung among others.
In 2015, Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (abbreviated to NWO from its Dutch name, Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek), approached me to make a documentary on river Teesta from a humanist perspective. I made it into 3 versions- the first of which lend me the Young Green Filmmaker award at the Woodpecker International Film Festival.
An Eye Opener
I realised that the folklore and stories were losing it’s significance amidst the prevailing popular culture and missing from the school curriculum. The film may have got me an award, but that was not enough to popularise the voice of Teesta and other ecological issues. I understood that the film just went to inform, but didn’t connect with the people.
Meanwhile, I ventured into teaching and got a job in a school where I started teaching students on the importance of environment. However, there was a big lag in the understanding, as they felt environment conservation was all about cleaning. Then, I trained myself in narrative therapy and child psychology to connect better with students. I finally became a storyteller after deep exploration and started conducting workshops for children. I evolved a playful method to make them learn themselves about the importance of various issues. Our education system focuses on how to compete with each other, but I focus on teaching them about how to support each other.
Oral history is large and complex. It has different forms which includes folklore, myths, legends, folk songs, etc. I keep myself focused on the ecological history rather than human history, that is concerned with fights, wars, etc. The stories gives us a moral lesson every time. For instance, the story of ‘Totala ko Ful’ (a flower named Totala found in hills) and folklore associated with it where the God forgives it. Through that, I make children learn about the importance of forgiveness.
I have been to various schools in Nepal, Bangladesh, Odisha, Himachal Pradesh, Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and have been doing this as an independent venture and many times on the invitation of NGOs as an individual social responsibility. Once I followed Teesta and it’s confluence at Chilmari in Bangladesh. The interaction with children there connected the people of two countries through a common river and folklore. As it is famously remarked- “Geography has no borders”!
A kid in school of Nepal looked disappointed and when asked for the reason, he said that the rivers in Nepal like Bagmati had become dirty and he wanted Teesta not to drain in the sea, but move upstream to clean these rivers.
A visually impaired student from Namchi Blind School, beautifully remarked on the undiscriminating nature of rainfall or water bodies in providing water to every nook and corner, to people of different caste and creed.
The way children are connecting with my stories and coming up with their own to further enrich this oral culture is my greatest gift.
One day would come when children will know about the whole world, but themselves. So, this is the responsibility of us to make children learn about our tradition, our history through storytelling or in whatever other way possible.