Sunday, May 17, 2015

“Have tried to write a full account of what happened during the last days of the Kingdom”

Andrew Duff

In conversation with ANDREW DUFF, author of Sikkim: Requiem for a Himalayan Kingdom, about the story he wants to tell, how he discovered it and where he hopes it is headed…

NOW: How did the idea of a book on Sikkim develop from what started as an interest in retracing your grandfather’s visits to this State? What made you stay with the story beyond your grandfather’s experiences here?
When I set out in 2009 to retrace my grandfather’s footsteps from 1922, my intention was to write about my personal family connection to Sikkim.
My grandfather loved Sikkim and Darjeeling, visiting many times during the twenty-eight years that he lived in Calcutta. But it was the notes and photographs from his 1922 journey that captivated me as a child.
He had set out from Darjeeling with three friends and walked to Pemayangtse monastery and back.  Retracing his journey – along the old roads via Badamtam, Singla Bazaar, Chakung, Rinchenpong and Dentam – was a fantastic experience. Everywhere I went people were open, hospitable and generous. I had wonderful impromptu stays with some great families and fell in love with the landscape.
On the fifth day I reached Pemayangtse, where I met Sonam Yongda. He gave me a copy of Sunanda Datta-Ray’s book, Smash & Grab. I found the story fascinating, and when I discovered that Sonam Yongda was the Captain Yongda in the story (imprisoned in 1975), I was hooked.
On my return to the UK, I started to research the story properly. It did not take long to realise that Sikkim’s story was one that I wanted to tell in full.

New book explores untouched facets of the Sikkim Story

Random House India has announced plans to release, “Sikkim: Requiem for a Himalayan Kingdom” by Andrew Duff, on 01 June, 2015. Introducing the book as a “unique account of the Himalayan Kingdom”, an official Random House India press communiqué explains the release this year as timed to mark “the 40th anniversary of the annexation of Sikkim”. The book will be presenting the Sikkim story from fresh, hitherto largely unexplored perspective of the Himalayan Kingdom as a pawn in the Cold War.
Andrew Duff, a freelance journalist based in London and Scotland, has reportedly drawn on a wide range of sources, including newly released secret British Foreign Office reports and US cables (The Kissinger Cables) along with letters of two Scottish missionary teachers which provide a contemporaneous account of Indian intelligence involvement and censorship in Sikkim in the tumultuous 1960s and 1970s.

…because truth is boring

If you drink more than 12 glasses of water a day, you can contract a disease called hydrangea.
Don’t know if it’s true but just in case. Stay safe guys.
Rumours, unverified and preposterous statements like the one above pick up speed and volume especially during and after a disaster. Post the first Nepal earthquake, you had a hoax NASA alert and now after the second quake there is a fake BBC alert circulating. The most bizarre however seems to be one widely-shared message on WhatsApp after the 25 April temblor that said the moon had turned “upside-down” after the earthquake and showed before and after images. To people who spread such messages all I can say is ‘Stay safe guys’. Really.

Worry, but don’t panic. Please

Anxiety in elders can traumatise the young. Don’t add to their fears in a natural disaster situation

Spring crept up on Sikkim with rather tentative steps this year, not quite sure whether to allow itself in or whether to allow the pre-Spring battering of hail and chill to stay on a little longer. And even as the State was wondering how violently the weather Gods can send down hail on its fields, the earth heaved to the Great Earthquake that devastated Nepal on 25 April and then, within a fortnight, found release from another epicentre and rattled Sikkim even as it further pulverised the already down on the mat Nepal. Sikkim has been spared widespread damage to its physical infrastructure, but its mental health has taken a beating. The 18 September 2011 earthquake had not yet receded from the mind that the Nepal temblor shook things up. There have been other earthquakes around the world since the one here in 2011, but those have been distant and not as intimately experienced. The Nepal earthquake, on the other hand, was not only physically experienced by Sikkim, but also emotionally suffered.

Nepal Shook, Sikkim Panicked



For a people who live in zone-4 of the earthquake hazard zoning map of the country - with zone-5 being areas prone to the most seismicity - the Sikkimese continue to show embarrassing gullibility, worrisome skittishness and a disturbing lack of even basic awareness when it comes to earthquakes.

‘Growth’, Still Unchecked and Unplanned

On 25 April, and then again on 12 May, earthquakes wreaked havoc on Nepal. From experts to laymen, all are convinced that old, un-engineered, unplanned and weak structures were the main contributing factors behind the huge number of casualties, injuries and damage to properties. Now, experts ranging from architects to civil engineers, even geologists in their interviews given to TV channels of Nepal are urging the government as well as the public in general to avail their services in rebuilding Nepal. It is difficult to say how long the Nepalese will take to overcome the devastation but expert suggestions are a welcome move in certain respects.
In the case of Sikkim, we are lucky that the tremors felt here were of less than half the intensity of the ones in Nepal. It is difficult to imagine what would have happened if 7.8 and 7.3 magnitude temblors had hit us here. We have already seen the consequences of a 6.8 magnitude quake that struck us in September 2011. Maybe it is time for us to think about the lessons from the past.

MCI troubles continue for SMIMS

Now, the Medical Council has problems with the PG courses


The fate of post-graduate courses at Sikkim Manipal Institute of Medical Sciences hang on a balance with the Medical Council of India having refused to extend the provisional recognition offered to the seven PG courses at SMIMS. The MCI refusal reportedly comes from its stand that the institute and the hospital continue to have several deficiencies which make it ill-equipped to train students at the post-graduate level. The SMIMS authorities meanwhile have accused the MCI of delaying appraisals and questioned why, after a delay of four years, was the recognition denial sprung just as a new batch of post-graduate students was being taken in.

Dzongu’s resolve to reject hydel projects welcomed

The Affected Citizens of Teesta (ACT), Sikkim Bhutia Lepcha Apex Committee and Sangha MLA, Sonam Lama have welcomed the decision of the people of Dzongu led by the Deputy Speaker cum area MLA, Sonam Gyatso Lepcha to oppose all forms of Hydro Electric Power Projects in the area.
It is informed that this decision was made during a brainstorming and coordination session held on 10 May at Hee Gyathang in Lower Dzongu which was attended by the area MLA, Mr Lepcha, panchayats and government employees.

Bouldering finds a toehold in Sikkim

State successfully hosts the 1st All India Open Artificial Bouldering Competition


Sikkim successfully hosted its first national level Artificial Bouldering Competition on 13 and 14 May. The 1st All India Open Artificial Bouldering Competition, Sikkim 2015 was inaugurated by the Governor, Shriniwas Patil on 13 May at Fish Pond opposite to Paljor Stadium. The two-day competition was organised jointly by Sikkim Amateur Mountaineering Association [SAMA] and Sikkim Tourism Development Corporation [STDC].
The competition featured 64 climbers from different parts of the country, including a few international climbers. Significantly, the competition attracted the participation of 31 local climbers, most of whom were taking part in such a competition for the first time.

Have car, cannot park!

Maruti Alto for sale, only six months old, with all the accessories, in good condition [REASON FOR SALE: PARKING PROBLEM] - read one advert this newspaper carried some years ago. The lack of parking space had driven this car owner to give up his rather new acquisition. Although it is not clear whether the problem was lack of parking space at home or the general lack of parking space anywhere in the capital; both being equally irksome.
For me, lack of parking space, has been more life-changing than irksome. I have discovered shades in me that I never knew existed. From the vicious this-is-mine or get-off-my-space looks and emotions, to childlike glee at spotting a space no one has yet occupied, to plunging to utter depths of despondency when not an inch is available or just an inch is not available, to Bollywood style ‘mein bekasoor hoon milord’ wails on finding a clamp on my car. I have learnt to sweet-talk traffic personnel, shopkeepers, parking boys, hell, anybody with anything to do with parking.

Of clogged jhoras and unpreparedness

The months of March, April and May usually witness numerous cleanliness drives along the jhoras and drains across the state. But this year, such drives have been few and far between. The unseasonal daily downpours coupled with the Nepal earthquake could perhaps be the reason behind social organisations and concerned authorities not being able to undertake such activities in the state. Around this time last year, the newspapers were flooded with news of cleanliness drives, but this year there have not been too many such news appearing in the papers.  
The wet weather has exposed the wretched condition of the drainage systems in and around Gangtok which are either clogged with garbage and assorted debris or have suffered damages especially in the lower parts of Gangtok. Besides damaging crops and vegetables, the untimely rains have also hit drinking water supplies in and around the capital much before the monsoon actually arrives in the State.

Gangtok’s Water Woes

The consumption pattern in most parts of Gangtok has changed drastically in the recent years – moving from largely residential consumption at one time to increasing usage on a commercial scale. The supply has remained mostly unchanged and this has created complications and disparities for consumers. This has also made vehicles like these which fetch water from jhoras and dharas a common sight in Gangtok.

Supply-line disruptions are only one part of the problem


Gangtok is lucky to have a dependable perennial source of water in Ratey Chu, the mountain stream, which contributes more than 21 million litres of water for Gangtok every day. What the capital does not have, unfortunately, is an equally reliable supply-line to carry the water from Ratey Chu to the Selep water reservoir around 9 kms away. The terrain is challenging and the repair works dangerous, as a result of which breakdowns are frequent when the weather turns inclement. The recent weeks have tested the resilience of the Water Security & Public Health Engineering Department work gangs maintaining the supply line. The weather has been unforgiving and the pipelines have suffered, been repaired, been damaged again, and the cycle continues. If this is the situation with the pre-monsoon Nor’westers, what the monsoon months will impose can only be imagined.

Watered Down!

Water supply projects are hamstrung by poor planning and even poorer implementation

Sikkim received Rs. 86.64 crore for water supply projects between 2009 and 2014, a five year period during which it took up 23 such projects. A performance audit by the office of Comptroller and Auditor General of India now informs that while only 6 of the 23 projects have been completed, no impact study was ever carried out by any agency. The delays and the litter of incomplete projects are perhaps only to be expected since the quarterly [stock-taking] meetings to be headed of the Chief Secretary, as recommended by the CAG, were not convened even once in the said five years. As a result, even though Rs. 72.78 crore of the Rs. 86.64 cr sanctioned for Sikkim was used up in the five years, 74 per cent of the projects were still under construction and at various stages of delay; as of March 2014, some of the 17 delayed projects were only 13% complete.

Classes at EIILM to begin from 20 May

This will be the final semester for the university after which Govt will place students in other institutions

Regular classes for the final semester will commence from 20 May onwards, informs Jitendra Raje, Acting Vice Chancellor of Eastern Institute for Integrated Learning in Management [EIILM], a private state university based out of Malbasey in West Sikkim. The students are also co-operating with the state government till they are relocated to other universities and colleges, he added.

Leveraging Positive Press

Sikkim could do with some spontaneity and wider collaborations

Recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during one of his now becoming very frequent foreign jaunts, introduced an audience of prospective investors and confirmed India-well wishers about the Organic farming mission that Sikkim was pursuing. This latest promotion of Sikkim continues the rather consistent positive press that the PM has been directing towards Sikkim. While this must be upsetting political camps seeking to ally with the Modi-party, it needs to be viewed for more than that because when such promotion is lavished on a State, it celebrates the people and the government, not individuals and parties. It is the image of Sikkim that is getting bolstered, and while petty politics of name-calling and self-praise might attract applause from a circle of lackeys, it serves no wider purpose. Instead, it causes much harm, because when people get busy with taking potshots in their closed circles, the miss out on leveraging wider collaborations which have been opened up thanks to such handsome introductions. When [political] leaders remain busy circulating press releases catering to ‘local’ audiences on such issues and developments, they miss the chance to continue holding the national/ global attention now that their attention has been piqued.