Numbers; we can hate them, but never ignore. No matter how much we try to keep them at bay, they would creep in; for counting, is one of the fundamental faculties of human psyche.
I am sure you too would have encountered them, not only in academic pursuits but also in personal life; your birth date, school number, the first date or may be your weight (pun intended). They install in us a sense of continuity, an assurance of progress (more often than not), and an idea of movement. Their abrupt disappearance, if there is any such possibility, would render us incapable of many such expressions that make our lives contextual, coherent and meaningful.
One such number to me is ‘1994’; the year I set my first step out of Ladakh. It marked many things for me; separation from family, struggle in a distant land, juggling with values in stark contrast to that of my society, however, it also meant a world of learning, handfuls of opportunity and bare-skin exposure at an early age.
Since then I have been almost an apparition for Ladakh, frolicking with her in short summer vacations. No opportunity arose to assimilate her aspirations, apprehensions and achievements. Years just whizzed by, as if, they were a matter of few moments. Nonetheless, today I am set to look at Ladakh, in an effort to understand what transpired with her since nineteen ninety-four.
Notwithstanding many changes at structural level, I will dwell into seven novelties of Ladakh that have most bearing on a Ladakhi, as a person. I believe, amidst all the hoopla of institutional machinery --- public or private, capitalistic or non-profit, scientific or religious --- elevation of an individual’s life is where the rubber meets the road. To my delight, as a community, we have fared well to bring many affirmative changes that, I deem, will prove the underpinnings of future Ladakh.
Back then, we had two or three schools around Leh, the capital of Ladakh; forget about the mention of other remote areas. However, today there is many with a couple more mushrooming every other year. The variety of school uniforms kids don, speaks for great many options that children of Ladakh have at their disposal.
Not only quantity, but also quality of Education has improved leaps and bounds compared to a few decades ago. Many of the schools have introduced Ladakhi (Bhoti) language, enabling children to be aware of themselves and their society; after all, only strong roots could afford a tree its full bloom. Many textbooks, tailored to local culture and surroundings, have come up in Bhoti and other languages. I remember the only item in our English textbook that related to Ladakh was ‘Y for Yak.’ As a kid, I had no idea where to find an Elephant, Giraffe or a Monkey, for instance. Not only that, the books in Bhoti language too were scares in first place, but those available concerned more about Tibet than Ladakh per se. However, these seem talks of a bygone era. Today, it takes only a cursory look into a bookshop in getting hold of much literature for children inspired from Ladakh.
2) Bitter Gourd
As a kid, I often wondered about Bitter Gourd. I was curious. My Science teacher had informed me of its taste; I was amused for a vegetable to be bitter. Therefore, at the very first sight of it in Jammu, I cooked some and tried; I was stunned. Since then, I have been a connoisseur of their preparations, and it would have been difficult to live without savoring them often. To my joy, these days, no one in Ladakh needs an introduction to Bitter Gourds; they are readily available at any vegetable outlet. In fact, I have learnt, over the years many such vegetables have been experimented by farmers, agriculturists and scientists. Consequently, many varieties of vegetables are produced locally; only enriching the rich Ladakhi culinary, often accompanied by irresistible hospitality.
3) Biking; Of two kinds
In recent years, Ladakh has increasingly shed its image of an inaccessible land. The network of roads have connected majority of provinces and villages. Moreover, the quality of these roads, far exceeding my expectations, could make any metropolitan denizen envious. Not to mention the picturesque terrain, delight of biking on these roads touches its pinnacle when you cognize of every gear at variant curves, gradients and bends. Obviously, you will have to be cognizant of your speed too; otherwise, it might prove irreparably fatal. I must allude to the other kind of biking too that is more fun and adventurous. Hop on the saddle, set your feet on the paddles; you are in for a Mountain Biking dare beyond the Himalayas.
Ladakh was already a close knit society, the web of roads has brought her closer even in terms of economic operations. I believe, this double network of human relationships and infrastructure could evolve an ‘economic organism’ that is consciously self-sustaining as well as ecologically prudent. The first step, I consider, in this regard would be to restore public transportation that has ebbed away due to influx of private vehicles and taxis. In fact, an efficient Public transport system sets the benchmark of developmental efforts as caters not only to the last of masses, but also reduces the ills of air and noise pollution. Of course, it calls for the ‘Ladakhi character’ that encompasses individual initiative, collective action complemented by public investments and policies.
4) Sunday Cartoons
I vividly remember, as a child, my gang of friends and I would enact demonstrations against the power generating body because we wanted to watch TV cartoons on Sunday mornings. I guess that only reflected the social discontentment then, as rallies and protests were a common sight that could not evade even the eyes of Kids. If you are a Ladakhi, I am sure, you would not miss the hours --- 7 pm to 11 pm --- as that is when your home lit under the florescent bulbs until recent years. However, the fact that I had to remind it to you is a sign of the novelty of 24 hours of electricity availability.
In addition, I have noticed a revolution of renewable energy across the expense of Ladakh. May it be a Rebo (Yak-wool Tents) of Changthang, a lha-khang (temple) of Zanskar or a Drog (pastureland) of Hanu; the presence of solar lamps, heaters and panels, in these remotest of areas, is self-evident of my claim.
5) The Triple Conundrum
Next three novelties are those that I am most excited about. A nascent milieu of Media has established itself that helps in increasing ‘awareness quotient’ of people with every publication. Although, there was a tradition of Newsletters, the oldest called ‘Ladakh Pho-Nya’ dating back to 1904 , however it incessantly encountered challenges of readership, circulation and finances. Somehow, Ladakh seems to have resolved this triple conundrum to give rise to an independent watchdog that, I believe, is necessary to reflect a society of growing aspirations and complexities.
Moreover, Media plays an important role in disseminating information about Ladakh, its people and culture. In the olden days, there was not much concern about a Ladakh identity. Being aloof from the world, Ladakhis seldom faced the question of defining themselves. However, in today’s shirking world of information, where many clashing thoughts and views are accessible at arm’s length, the new generation of Ladakh is looking for avenues to understand and express themselves. Furthermore, a strong online bulletin in Ladakhi (Bhoti) language could play a crucial role by enabling access to more than five thousand students studying Bhoti literature and Philosophy across Indian plains and abroad. Here, I invite Ladakhi youth to be part of this novelty; today, Ladakh needs ideas, thoughts and considerations from every sphere of expertise and wonderings.
6) Silk-route Traders
Ladakh was an important transit-emporium during the legendary Silk-route days. She saw intermingling of traders from as far as Central Asia, Tibet and India, in effect, making her a cosmopolitan in her own right. Quite naturally, Ladakhis have a knack for Entrepreneurship. Even though the trades of yesteryears have frozen, owing to political chill with the neighboring countries, the youths of Ladakh have redefined themselves with the changing scenarios. If, the decade of 1990 to 2000 saw a rapid explosion of non-profit organizations addressing many relevant issues from Education to Social equity, the following decade is seeing an increasing number of social-businesses tailored around the local resources and needs. I have come across many interesting youth who have curved themselves niche markets ranging from food, garments, architecture, energy, media and Arts. Their strength rests in innovative interplay of modernity and tradition, resources and limitations, problems and solutions. This, I reckon, has enabled them to capture the imagination of Locals as well as visitors.
7) Digital Broadways
Finally, in an era of knowledge economy, Internet highway connects Ladakh with the world all four seasons. Although this is a very recent novelty in Ladakh, as only Leh and its vicinity put on the digital Broadway, in coming years it has the potential of unlocking many opportunities without necessarily being a part of the unbridled madness of city existence.
This brings me to the conclusion. If these are the transformations undergone in last twenty years, I wonder what would be the scene in next fifty years. Given that above mentioned novelties come to full fruition, great potential awaits the youth of Ladakh. I wonder if you have spared some thoughts about them. There could be many other novelties, which I may not be aware.
I would be indebted if you could bring them to my notice.
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