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From Craftsman to Padma Shri: Unravelling Jordan Lepcha's Journey

ROSHAN RAI

INTERVIEW

From Craftsman to Padma Shri: Unravelling Jordan Lepcha's Journey

Jordan Lepcha, a Padma Shri Awardee from Mangan, Sikkim, recently visited Kalimpong and I had the opportunity to meet and speak with him. He visited Kalimpong's District Day as a guest and was honoured at the District Town Hall. Later that day, I was able to have an interview with him. Following are the details of our conversation. 

Roshan: So, Mr. Jordan, can you tell me about your childhood and who inspired you?

Jordan Lepcha: To be more specific, my childhood does not appear to be particularly colourful. Our family faced financial difficulties. We don't have much opportunity or space to explore beyond gazing at my father's crafts. My father was a skilled artisan, and I credit him for his effect on me.

Roshan: Well for many of us our parents are the inspiration. So, how did you get into this profession?

Jordan Lepcha: It dates back to 1997 when the government established a Craft Center. At the time, I was just 16 or 17. I entered the center and completed four years of training; I never imagined that I would create such lovely art in my life. To construct "Sumak Thyaktuk" (Lepcha Traditional Hat), you must be a master in bamboo weaving, plus I was trained in wood carving. So I left the wood carving since it felt hefty to carve on wood. So I chose bamboo, which was far lighter than wood. 

Roshan: How was your journey to "Sumak Thyaktuk"? Was it a challenge for you?

Jordan Lepcha: I'm at a loss for words, but it was a roller coaster of hardships and joy. The design of "Sumak Thyaktuk" required a great deal of effort to finish. Some days, I worked tirelessly from the evening till the next morning. Several hours had passed when I heard a rooster crowing outside my door. During my Sumak Thyaktuk lessons, many roosters began to croak. So, if you think it was difficult, it was, but I cherished every moment of it.

Roshan: We learn from others as we grow up, and every behaviour we acquire or develop is influenced by our surroundings. Did somebody encourage you to create "Sumak Thyaktuk"?

Jordan Lepcha: In 1997 when the government opened a bamboo craft center, some people from our indigenous community emphasized building “Sumak Thyaktuk” but over the decades the practice of making “Sumak Thyaktuk” was lost and nobody from our community was engaged in making this craft. But there was one person whom I also consider my mentor his name was Shri Late. Atel Lepcha knew how to make it but over the years he too had forgotten to make Sumak Thyaktuk. Therefore, he told to the officials that he could make it if somebody could find a blueprint of the Sumak Thyaktuk. Soon, the official did find the blueprint and he made it. My mentor is no more among us but I have a huge respect for him. I have learned from him too.

Roshan: How important is "Sumak Thyaktuk" in the Lepcha community, and how much does it cost?

Jordan Lepcha: It has relevance because, in today's world, we are thoroughly infected by the Western notion of art and crafts. At this important moment, one is related to his or her identity, therefore Sumak Thyaktuk portrays the Lepcha identity as a sort of craft. Lepcha people wear it for various social and religious occasions such as weddings, birth anniversaries, and death ceremonies. Sumak Thyaktuk might cost between Rs. 15,000- 25,000.

Roshan: In today's world, we are all slightly obsessed with modern technology, particularly our smartphones. These trends have rapidly developed among younger generations. So, what message would you wish to convey to them?

Jordan Lepcha: (nodding in agreement) Indeed, smartphones and other gadgets have made our lives more accessible and connected than those of past generations. However, excessive use wastes our productive time. Our culture must endure in this day of contemporary technology, so I would encourage younger generations to discover new crafts not only in the Lepcha heritage but also in the traditions of other groups. And I believe that if younger people develop such a skill and pursue it as a career, they will no longer be dependent on the job. You can manage your financial resources by engaging in such craft-making activities.

Roshan: What is your message for the people of Sikkim? 

Jordan Lepcha: The lesson I want to convey to all Sikkimese people is that we must all endeavour to maintain our culture and tradition, even if it means making tiny contributions to our communities. We can effect change that promotes harmony and solidarity among our people.

Roshan: Thank you, Mr. Jordon, for taking the time. I sincerely appreciate your generous gesture. And best wishes in your future pursuits.

Jordan Lepcha: Thank you.

(Roshan Rai  is a Teacher at Mayalyang Academy, Kalimpong. Email: rr162004@gmail.com)

Sikkim at a Glance

  • Area: 7096 Sq Kms
  • Capital: Gangtok
  • Altitude: 5,840 ft
  • Population: 6.10 Lakhs
  • Topography: Hilly terrain elevation from 600 to over 28,509 ft above sea level
  • Climate:
  • Summer: Min- 13°C - Max 21°C
  • Winter: Min- 0.48°C - Max 13°C
  • Rainfall: 325 cms per annum
  • Language Spoken: Nepali, Bhutia, Lepcha, Tibetan, English, Hindi