A few kilometres up the mountain above McLeod Ganj nestles the Tibetan Children’s Village (commonly known as TCV). Established by the Dalai Lama, the TCV provides care and education for Tibetan children orphaned or separated from their parents during their escape from Tibet, as well as the hundreds who are still fleeing the atrocities. Since the day in 1960 when 51 children arrived ill and malnourished from the road construction camps in Jammu, the TCV now supports 1743 children. It is sad that the TCV is needed, but what an amazing organisation. (You can find out more information here.)
From the 3rd to the 6th Nov 2016, the TCV also became home to DIFF: Dharamshala International Film Festival. In its fifth year, DIFF provides a range of fictional films, documentaries, video installations, talks and masterclasses, and all can be perused with a momo in one hand, a chai in the other.
The film that had really caught my eye was a Ladakhi film called The Shepherdess Of The Glaciers (La Bergere Des Glaces). It is a documentary that follows Tsering, a shepherdess, in her solitary journey over the course of a year as she tends her flock of sheep and goats, moving between the Great Himalayan winter and summer valleys of Ladakh, 5,000 metres above sea level. To have a glimpse into this kind of life – as she plays midwife to her flock, traverses snow drifts and mountain precipices, scares away leopards with her transistor radio (her only link to the outside world, and one that has to have its batteries warmed on the cooking pot), and speaks of her distress at the leopard’s attack of the lambs to her family in the village when she visits them) – a life so far removed from anything I’ve experienced or could endure, and a way of life that is now under threat from climate change and lack of interest from the younger generation, was a sight that put many things into perspective.
Kush, a short film by Shubhashish Bhutiani, is inspired by true events. Set in 1984, it tells the story of a group of school children returning by bus from an outing to a park. As they are returning home, they find out that Prime Minister Indira Ghandi has been assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards, causing anti-Sikh riots and lynchings throughout the country,… and one of their party is a Sikh boy called Kush whom they must protect from the growing violence that they encounter.
In the Q&A after the film, Shubhashish told us the inspiration behind the film.
“When I was sixteen, I was sitting in my economics class quietly contemplating what I was going to do after school. The class was loud, but when the bell rang the teacher walked in and eventually quieted the commotion. “Sit down! What are you doing there, badmash!” Having no real interest in talking about graphs or the economic meltdown, a bunch of us tried to distract the teacher by having her go into tangents about political views, sports, gossip around school, monkey attacks, embarrassing moments — literally anything to deter a quiz or test. Little did I know that the story she would tell would change my life forever.
She recounted a time when she took a group of students on an annual field trip to a different part of the country. The same day our Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, was assassinated and communal riots against Sikhs were instigated. Violence raged everywhere, and amidst the chaos she had to safely come back to school with the students. The real problem, however, was that one of her students was a Sikh boy and in this environment his life was in grave danger. As she proceeded to tell us this story, my eyes widened, and images jumped through my head. It was probably the most attention I had ever given in an economics classroom.”
He then asked the audience, “How may of you remember learning about this in your history lessons? Can you tell me how many Sikhs were perscuted?” Hardly anyone knew the answer, because it doesn’t appear in history books, it’s not now taught in school. I forget the figure that he gave, but it is speculated that between 3,000 and 8,000 people were killed in the space of 3 days. This story of mob-mentality and ultimate compassion stayed in my heart long after I’d left the auditorium.
The documentary however that had the most surprising impact on me was Didi Contractor: Marrying The Earth To The Building. Didi is an architect (self-taught at the age of 60!) who lives and creates in the Kangra valley (just below Dharamshala). Now 86, she works with the rural traditions of the area and its natural materials to create remarkable, environmentally and economically-friendly buildings. They range from commissioned houses to medical centres, built from mountain slate, stones harvested from the river, bamboo, and clay. She also works with apprenticies from all over the world.
Her story rekindled in me my desire to live and work with the land, to create (and co-create) a home that does not impact upon the earth, but is in harmony with the earth. My building skills are ziltch, but hey, if she can do it at 60, then anything’s possible!
And that night, as I was eating my dinner and writing about these dreams in my notebook, a spider came to visit me, weaving its web between plate and notebook. A potent blessing, I’d like to believe.