Orangutan Swing is collaborating with Gangtok-based design consultancy Echostream to host the first-ever conversation roundtable of its sort in Sikkim on the topic of modernity.
As the former kingdom was annexed by India less than forty years ago, rapid development since has pushed the decision-makers here to think critically about how to evolve sustainably, while preserving a unique cultural heritage, too. Sikkim is a mixture of cultural identities. People are changing as more money comes into communities, and young people are clamoring for brand name shopping experiences. But how will the town posit itself, as it works to finding an intentional vision? A roundtable set for Saturday, Sept. 28 called “Modern Sikkim” aims to call out this question and similar ones in a free-flowing conversation that is open to the public.
For more information, contact Dipika Kohli at email@example.com or +1.206.778.5136.
On Sunday, Sept. 22, Kaushal Lamichaney gathered a few people to start a miniconversation at his Bar88 venue.
Some of the things people would like to see in a future Sikkim: museums of culture, native cuisine more readily available in Gangtok, better schools and hospitals, outdoor areas for parks and playgrounds, freer enterprise that’s unhindered by bureaucratic regulations, and real platforms for young musicians and artists whose families might not encourage these as career options. In short, people want to see a place that isn’t built on status n the form of ostentatious displays, but a place that offers real cultural value through a cultivated, refined aesthetics.
Hi-res pics are here.
Above and immediately below: ‘Sikkim is a cross between Kanchenjunga, Jack Sparrow and… Kung Fu Panda!’ Snippet of dialogue from an informal meeting about modernity in Sikkim at BREW Gangtok on Sept. 15. Pictured: Karchoong Diyali, Kailash Pradhan, Sonam Tashi Gyaltsen, Pankaj Thapa. (Dechen Pelgi Tenzing and Akira Morita are facing the group).
Students aged 12 and 13 participated in a brainstorming on the idea of modernity in Sikkim at BREW Gangtok on Sept. 15.
Photos by Orangutan Swing
For immediate release
GANGTOK, Sikkim, India (September 17, 2013) — Traffic, waste management, and growing a city that’s already facing rapid development in a way that’s sustainable are among some of the pressing concerns of the day for local government officials in Gangtok. But rather than turning a tourism-driven town into Anywhere, Asia, understanding consciously what makes this place unique, and making a concerted effort to preserve it, is part of what a conversation set to take place at the end of this month is exactly about.
It’s called “Modern Sikkim,” and will be the culmination of a series of informal gatherings with architects, writers, journalists, and officials from tourism and local government, too. People are ready to talk, but in a new way, which is why they welcomed a husband-and-wife team that came to them with an unusual proposition. What if we got a lot of voices in one room to share perspectives, and not try to rush to solutions? What if the theme of that was, “What does it mean to be a modern Sikkimese?”
Dipika asked Gangtok native Sonam Tashi Gyaltsen, a designer who trained in Ahmedabad, about what he thought of the idea to host a roundtable on the topic of modernity and change here in Sikkim, which is an ecology of heritages and traditions that some may fear are getting lost. “What does it really mean to be from a place? What does it mean, for example, to those who live here, to be Sikkimese?” That started the dialogue. Now Orangutan Swing is collaborating with Gyaltsen and his friends’ collaborative Gangtok-based design consultancy Echostream. He’s quickly looped more than forty people, via a facebook group, into a wider conversation on this theme.
It is a relevant question, not only for the Sikkimese population—because of the struggles they are in the midst to figure out exactly how to articulate their regional identity in the face of rapid development and the pressures from New Delhi—but also for the wider, international public. Because, as the voice of each attendant in a conversation matter to a fruitful dialogue, what we will hear at this conversation will be relevant to other communities with similar concerns, all over the world.
Rapid change in development, and the arrival of new technology to link people who live here very quickly and easily to the rest of the world begs the question, “Who are the Sikkimese people, in a global context? What does it mean, to be a modern Sikkim?” Young people have been asked their opinions, too, in a workshop for 12 and 13 year olds at the event space BREW, which is adjacent to echostream in a developing area of Gangtok called Sichey.
Arriving at the end of August to Gangtok, Orangutan Swing’s Akira and Dipika Morita were delighted to find a place that felt as easy for their mixed-identity status as a couple to be in as Vancouver, British Columbia. That’s where they would go when they were living in Seattle, looking for a place to go and see faces that resembled their own. Identity is a big topic for Tokyo-born Akira and his Indian-American wife. It’s also a question they’ve been dancing with for five years while raising a son, too. They’ve traveled together to Ghana, many parts of Europe, Japan, Thailand, Laos, and all over America. But when it comes to hyphenated identities, there’s probably no better place they’ve found such a comfortably co-existing multitude of genetic lines than they have in Gangtok. Whether people have roots from Bhutan, Nepal, or another state of India, the thing they will tell you if you ask what makes this place unique is that they care about each other as part of a community that functions as one. But calling out what it is that describes the traits of the people from this part of India, that’s the question that they hope to explore.
Growing up with parents from Delhi in rural parts of Michigan and North Carolina, Dipika Kohli often wrestled with the personal question of identity. “Where are you from?” other American people would ask, and insist that despite her accent and birth certificate she must be of a foreign nationality. Reading about the Nepali-speaking population’s plight in being accepted as “Indian” resonates with her, she says, when it comes to figuring out what it means to be “of” a place.
Akira, who grew up in modern Japan, remembers growing up with little sense of who he was, until he was abroad and asked to express his own identity. “I don’t want your kids to grow up with the same vague sense of themselves. You are in a enviable point to set the intention, and keep the sense of identity evident in the community. It doesn’t mean you have to cling to old traditions, but by having the conversations now, you are setting the intention that having a sense of place is a matter of importance.”
The pair met with Gantok’s mayor, K.N. Tobgay, on an invitation from a newspaper editor who was intrigued by the idea. Many open-minded people are interested in co-creating an open forum that would invite a variety of perspectives around the theme, “Modern Sikkim.” A few conversations around Gangtok with creatives, writers, thinkers, and architects led to the meeting that inspired the seed. They had been seeking out just such an opportunity to orchestrate their first-ever event in Asia for their dialogue design practice, Orangutan Swing. In 2012, Orangutan Swing’s “Year of Dialogue” gathered more than 1,000 people in roundtable conversations the couple hosted in places such as: Bryant Park in New York City, a bar in Boston, a co-working space in Seattle, a cafe in Portland, and a restaurant in Washington, D.C. Recognizing the potential to incite new ways of approaching the art of solving problems with what’s called “design thinking” inspired them to set up Orangutan Swing. Prior to this, they ran a brand identity design studio together for eight years called Design Kompany LLC, which they set up in Seattle in 2006.
People who are interested in building sustainable communities are welcome to join in on the discussion virtually through a group on Facebook called “Modern Sikkim.” See: facebook.com/groups/modernsikkim
In January, 2013, the New York Times interviewed Sikkim Chief Minister Pawan Kumar Chamling. Reporter Sambuddha Mitra Mustafi put the question to him about sustainability in the region: “Sikkim is India’s fastest-growing state since 2004, but somehow its growth story has not been in the limelight as much as Gujarat or Bihar, for example. But fast economic growth often comes with environmental hazards, especially in a state that is part of the Himalayan biodiversity hotspot. Has Sikkim’s environment taken a beating in the state’s pursuit of fast growth?”
“Only 14 percent of our land is inhabitable – the rest is taken up by Himalayan glaciers and jungles,” Chamling answered, talking about protection of bioodiversity, tourism, hydropower, and more. You can read the full interview at India Ink on the New York Times.
Yet people who live here that we’ve met in recent weeks are questioning Sikkim’s political verbiage about “clean and green” practices. Is the state really living up to an international standard?
Perhaps we can talk about this and more, as we continue the conversations.
About Orangutan Swing
Orangutan Swing is an independent initative of one couple who believe strongly in the power of great dialogue to effect change. “It’s a practice,” says co-founder Akira Morita. “We’re practice of the unknown, uncertain, and different.” His wife, Dipika, and he have been talking about what it means to delve into questions of identity for the last eight years as branding studio Design Kompany. They decided to focus solely on dialogue-making as of 2012.
Earlier this spring Orangutan Swing initiated and led a community-wide exercise in Durham, North Carolina, USA, which was designed to help people talk together about the future vision for their evolving town. “Stitch Durham” collected one word per person and created a word tag cloud, in which the most popular words are the largest. In this way, people could quickly grasp what others right around them were thinking, in real time, and start to talk to one another, together, in honest, agendaless conversation. Some were impromptu, some were part of forums like “Modern Sikkim” intends to be on Sept. 28. Orangutan Swing’s wider goal is to travel to other parts of the world and initiate still further conversations across international lines. In other words, on a larger scale Orangutan Swing’s team hopes that international collaboration and dialogue can happen, through networks and conversations initiated in diverse places with people who can offer new perspectives to one another around the world. Dipika traveled to Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Vientiane, and Bangkok this summer to investigate potential next locations after Gangtok. “Modern Sikkim” will be Orangutan Swing’s first-ever in Asia.
For more information, or for interview requests, please contact Dipika Kohli at:
at Silk Route Residency
Upper Arithang, Gangtok
For more information, see: