Remember the last time you carefully carved out that first chunk of juicy steak, your taste buds quivering in anticipation? Perhaps it was some brilliantly marinated fish, gooey hot chocolate fudge or even that perfectly made roti, hot from the tava, dripping with ghee, dipped in some thick dal makhni.
Think of that first morsel, shoved almost too quickly into your mouth, never mind the heat, about that moment of bliss, foretelling the knowledge of many more mouthfuls to come.It's something we all take for granted. Except for the few very rare occasions when we've been forced to hunger, it's a given. Feel hungry.Eat.
Not if you're Dawa, Ongchuk or Tenzing Lepcha, of the Northern Sikkimese tribes. Then you sit, in your makeshift shelter - a wooden platform on the footpath, with two plastic sheets to keep the biting breeze at bay and some bedding and blankets as cavalry. The footpath is on the upwardly mobile Tibet Street. Tibet Street is in Gangtok.
Did I mention, they haven't eaten for almost 3 months, a year if you don't count the short breaks in between when their lives were being saved. Most people walk past them, ignoring the huge signs announcing their cause, politely informing the world that they hadn't eaten for quite a while. Some are more curious and are met with warm smiles and impeccable articulation as they explain why they've skipped the base of Maslow's pyramid.
As a portrait of the Mahatma, looks down like a beaming father at Dawa Lepcha, the oldest of the three and the General Secretary of Affected Citizens of Teesta, you notice that he doesn't have that hollow eyed look that you would expect seeing his gaunt frame and the feeding tube emerging from his left nostril, fastened to his cheek with scotch tape.
Instead his eyes are a core of fire and resolve, the compassion bourne of sacrifice, a calm gaze on the goal. Not yearning, just existing. Once he was an aspiring film maker, putting together a documentary on the Lepcha tribe, from which he hails. The Institute of Tibetology in Gangtok had commissioned it and the days were bright with options. Until this.
Until the government decided to dump a HUGE hydroelectric project, hardly worth the damage it is causing to everything from indigenous people to the environment into the Teesta river as it flows through North Sikkim. The tiny population of the Northern reaches hardly justifies a project of this size and many smaller power generating options were put before the government. But we all know what this all equals? Money money money money money. Money. Big man stamp out little man. QED.
And that's just my two bit understanding from the conversation I had with them.
Please go and read weepingsikkim.blogspot.com and get the details from the people who have resorted to this hunger strike after being hopelessly mired in a foggy bog of red tape, petty politics and even the occasional intelligence agent.
Remember the last time you felt really really hungry and get that upto 80 days and counting. If that doesn't make you check this out and sign the petition, nothing will.
(in order of appearance the people are Onchung, Tenzing and Dawa Lepcha. The other photos were taken at one of the hydroelectric mega projects in Chumthang, North Sikkim)