#ReadandGrow: SKM Student Wing's promising initiative to grow readership and creativity in Sikkim

#ReadandGrow: SKM Student Wing's promising initiative to grow readership and creativity in Sikkim

The world is dominated by the Internet. This is a fact. More and more people are using social media and smartphones, imbibing massive loads of information, yet there is a disconnect from reality in certain areas. 

Public libraries remain unoccupied, bookstores have varying degrees of footfall and writing with pen on paper is a thing for educational institutes which has receded since the pandemic gave way to e-learning. 

Despite all this, there is optimism prevalent amongst those who always carry around a journal, frequent local bookstores or buy a book before they board a flight. Reading has and always will be life’s greatest pleasures if one chooses the habit. From getting lost in the quaint streets of RK Narayan’s Malgudi Days, questioning Holden Caulfield’s character or even obsessing over JRR Tolkein’s intricate, excellently written world, there are a million different stories to delve into and worlds to imagine. 

To promote and encourage people of all ages to pick up a book and lose themselves in it, the Sikkim Krantikari Morcha’s Student Wing arranged a three-day-long Book Fair cum Book Donation drive at MG Marg, Gangtok in collaboration with Sikkim Vidyarthi Morcha (SVM). 

With #ReadandGrow as the ultimate theme of the event, this programme has been launched to encourage people to inculcate a reading habit. The SKM Student Wing has already set up a Reading Corner at Printing School in Upper Dzongu, a remote area where the students have difficulty accessing books. The initiative was a success, leading to the launch of the idea of a book fair. 

In attendance as Chief Guest for the inaugural day was Minister of Urban and Housing Development Arun Upreti, who stressed on how beneficial a reading habit is and urged people to donate books. Also present at the event were MP Indra Hang Subba, Soreng-Chyakhung MLA Aditya Golay and other members of the SKM Student Wing, who attended for all three days. 

MP Indra Hang Subba on a light note during his speech asked the young crowd to gift their Valentine's a book, stating that there was no better gift. 

The event stretched out in the town centre, with stalls dedicated to showcasing books, food and handicrafts from  Sikkim's various communities. Apart from the ethnic pop-up stores, local bookstores like Good Books, Kunal Books also set up stalls next to independent groups like Readers Association NBBDC, DAMC, Modern School etc. 

A skit by Natya Prathiva Manch on the importance of reading was also performed on the main stage. The programme lasted through the evening, with local artistes from the Organization of Musicians and Artistes of Sikkim (OMAS) whose performances kept the onlookers in rapt attention.

The second day of the #ReadandGrow campaign was an eventful day, seeing MLA Sonam Tshering Venchungpa (Martam-Rumtek constituency) as the Chief Guest of the day. 

Since the main idea behind this event is ‘Gift a book, Gift a future’, the books collected via the donation drive will be used to set up Reading Corners in schools across the state. 

Besides this, the event also highlighted cultural preservation of the various ethnic groups of the state. Stalls set up by the various communities of Sikkim exhibited and sold books written in their language.

From food, books, painting faces, DIY-ing to activity areas, the fair had something to offer to each and everyone irrespective of the age and preferences.

The highlight of the day was poem and folklore recitation (dante kathaa) narrated by various individuals from the state's wide range of communities and backgrounds.  Poets like Surekha Dhungal, T.P Adhikari, Purna Yonzon and Leknath Sharma recited Nepali poems. Prominent Nepali poet Tulsi Ghimire enthralled the crowd with an original poem titled 'Namaste'.

A Nepali folklore was narrated by K.N Sharma. G.S. Limboo and Kusang Hang Limboo recited poems in Yakthung Pan, their native language. Kinchok Zangpo Bhutia gave voice to a poem in 'Drenjonke' (one of the many dialects of the Bhutia Community) and a Bhutia folklore was narrated by Kiden Bhutia. 

Bisnu Rana Mangar and Dhan Kumar Mangar recited a poem in 'Dhut Magar', their native language, and a Sanskrit poem was recited by Amrita Sharma. Karma Kalzang Sherpa recited a poem in ‘Sharpa/Sherwa’, the dialect of their community. Following this, Dr. Pradeep Tripathi recited a Hindi poem, and Dukmit Lepcha recited another in Rong (Lepcha language). Ending this experience was Rup Lal Limboo and S.P. Limboo who narrated Limboo folklore.

The book fair also hosted various competitions such as painting, story and poetry writing categorised into different age groups to engage the young populace for all three days. 

One of the most visited events at the book fair was also the storytelling and literature panel sessions at Hotel Tashi Delek at New Market. 

The storytelling session was mainly focused on students and two stories were narrated each day. Karma Doma Bhutia, Ayushi Nembang, Sushma Chettri and Ranju Subba gave life to inspirational stories of personalities like Malathi Krishnamurthy Holla, a para-athlete from India with 428 medals to her name and also of the importance of friendship. The narrators implored the students to reach out to the Central Library located at Manan Kendra and begin a reading habit.

To give the students a glimpse into Sikkim’s rich history, the storytelling session followed a presentation by Yangchen Dolkar Bhutia. This was done in order to spark curiosity about the state’s cultural and political history, lest the young ever forget. 

The last session at the hotel saw a panel discussion on ‘Status of Nepali language in Sikkim' by the members of Sikkim Nepali Sahitya Parishad (NSP) that included the President of NSP Rudra Poudyal and literatures K.N Sharma, D.P Adhikari, Tek Bahadur Chettri and Monika Sharma. The panel began with one-minute condolences for two important personalities in the world of Nepali literature who recently passed away. 

The discussion focused on the history of Nepali language in Sikkim, changes and developments to date, reforming the language and how it is taught in the contemporary world (especially in educational institutions) and the literary groups that contributed to the Nepali language from Sikkim.

Simultaneously, in another part of the town, pedestrians at MG Marg were entertained throughout all three evenings by dances and musical shows by OMAS and other various performers. 

The final day saw the Minister of Education, Govt. of Sikkim Mr Kunga Lepcha as the Chief Guest and Shennpenn Khymsar, Director of ‘Broken Wings’, a much-anticipated feature film from Darjeeling. The event was also graced by MP Indra Hang Subba, MLA (Soren Chakung) Aditya Golay, SKM spokesperson Jacob Khaling and various other dignitaries.  

“Bharat ko Sambhidhan” a book by Kuber Chandra Dahal and fellow companions Rudra Paudel, Ashim Dhakal and Tek Nath Sharma was launched. This was followed by a beautiful dance performance by Ashmita Sharma.  

The Education Minister, Kunga Nima Lepcha addressed the crowd with a short speech. Shenpenn Khymsar (director of the Broken Wings) graced the audience with his thoughts on the essence of storytelling. He said that the art of storytelling through compassion-concern-belief is to deliver important messages through films. 

He also emphasized the importance of using the Internet positively to educate oneself, all the while dreaming big and working towards achieving that dream. His message for the audience was: 

You will fall a hundred times but I promise you this when you fall a hundred times and you choose to get up a hundred and one times. After that, nothing under the sky can stop you. Always believe in yourself.

The last day saw another round of poetry and folklore recitation by individuals from various communities. Sherpa folklore (Yeti and the Sherpa man) was narrated by Passang Sherpa; the meaning behind Gai Jatra was explained by Praduman Shrestha as he represented the Newar or Pradhan community; Mukhia, Rai and Tamang poems were recited in their languages followed by a traditional performance by Damber Singh Gurung with the traditional instrument of Gurung’s called the Tunga.  

Natya Prathiva Manch performed their second short skit on the theme of #ReadandGrow, theatrically showing how one could develop reading habits and it’s necessity. 

The skit was followed by a video presentation by Devashish Mothey on behalf of Varnamala Pariwar. It was a video on the “Swar Barna and Vyanjan Barna”, the basics of the Nepali language with the objective to make learning the language easier for children. The video was also nominated on an international platform in Japan. 

Certificates of appreciation were distributed to the NGOs and groups who had collaborated with the main organization for their unconditional help and support throughout the successful 3-day event. 

The NGOs and groups were - Tibetan Youth Club, Northern Riders Club, Brothers on Wheels, Open Road Wanderers, Hotel Tashi Delek, Inner Wheel Club, Pelling Tourism Development Association, Eastern Enfielders, Southern Enfielders, Ride Sikkim, Riders of Namthang, Apex Motorcycle RE, Alpine Biking Squad, Bullet House, Aakraman Football Club, Sikkim Riders Club, Saathi, Kanchenjunga Motorcycle Club and OMAS.  

Certificates and Gift Voucher of Rs.1500 were given out to the winners of the painting, story writing and poetry writing competition conducted earlier. The gift voucher could be used to purchase books from Good Books store. 

The theme for the story writing was “My Favourite Book” and the theme for the poetry writing was “Flowers from Yumthang” or “Aliens in the Snow”. The winner of the competition was as follows: 

Story Writing 

(Ages 13-18): 

1st Apekshya Uniyal

2nd Gaurav Darjee

3rd Mahesh Pradhan

(Ages 8-12):

1st Ahuniyla Lingdon

2nd Sherap Dolma Bhutia

3rd Aahan Pradhan

Poetry writing

1st Anisumas Sundas

2nd Yeting Heruka Lepcha

3rd Nitin Chettri

Painting 

(Ages 4-7):

1st Salomi Gimire

2nd Anusmitri Chettri

3rd Deepti Kumari

(Ages 8-12):

1st Abashree Pradhan

2nd Muskan Kumari

3rd Yeshila Tamang

(Ages 13-18) 

1st Ital Ghatani

2nd Sujal Pradhan

3rd Aashakti Rai

(Ages 19-22) 

1st Ingsa Limboo

2nd Bijay Rai and Bipasha Basnett

3rd Sarita Rawat.  

Gifts were also given out to artists of Natya Prativa Manch and dancer Ashmita through MP Indra Hang Subba and MLA Aditya Golay.  

Tokens of appreciation were presented to all the judges of three competitions, namely, Shiva Chettri, Krishna Rai, Harka Mangar, Sewan Rai, Kiran Rasaily and Deepa Rai.  

While the gift-giving ceremony took place at the main stage in MG Marg, a riveting panel discussion took place at Hotel Tashi Delek. 

Six of Sikkim's popular English writers, Guru T. Ladakhi, Ashim Basnet, Parshu Dahal, Pankaj Giri, Tashi Chopel and Chetan Raj Shrestha, spoke at length on emerging writing from the Sikkim Himalayas. The general discourse spanned from encouraging children to read books and engage further with the text by recommending teachers to give students book reviews as assignments and the idea of a Sikkimese novel and the themes they present to the world.

Pankaj Giri, author of The Fragile Thread of Hope, believes that everyone has a story, but not everyone can garner enough confidence to write it. 

Latent talent remains still because the younger generation hasn't been provided enough opportunities to bring out the storyteller within. Initiatives like #ReadandGrow can push them to do more, be more. This also brings to mind a quote from Stephen King, best-selling author of the iconic book The Shining adapted into Stanley Kubrick’s cinematic masterpiece,If you don't have time to read, you don't have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

The three-day event finally concluded with a vote of thanks by Kavita Sapkota, General Secretary of the SKM Students’ Wing. #ReadandGrow promises to come again next year, bigger than ever, heralding Sikkim’s cultural and literary growth.