There has been political tension in Darjeeling for some 30 years. While everyone agrees on remaining within the Indian Union, a large proportion of the population would like some independence, with their own Indian state, instead of being part of West Bengal as the region is today. Being a separate state, like neighbouring Sikkim, might result in better infrastructures, with direct funding from the capital Delhi instead of having to wait for aid that never comes from Kolkata. Most people in Darjeeling are Indians of Nepalese origin who would prefer to be able to make their own decisions on matters that concern them. Some have already given the future state a name which you see scrawled along the roadsides, and which is being chanted by these protesters marching in Darjeeling: “We want Gorkhaland!” You can see they are waving two different flags: the flag of the future Gorkhaland, and the flag of India, to show that they want the new state to be firmly embedded within the Indian Union.
There are not many documentaries on tea, so when one comes up on television we shouldn’t miss it. As part of its Global Drinks series, France 5 is showing a documentary called “Thé pour tous” (Tea for all), this Sunday at 2.45pm. The report lasts 52 minutes, which is quite exceptional. The director Stefano Tealdi travelled through various countries including Japan, Taiwan, the UK and India, and also stopped in Paris. We met a year ago and I agreed to him accompanying me into the tea mountains. So in February, we met in Kolkata. We then took the Darjeeling route in the company of Sandro DeFrino, his camera man, and Angelo Galeano, his sound recordist.
It is not easy to travel with a TV crew in places you love, on the other side of the world. It’s a bit like being with a bull in a china shop. But with Stefano, Angelo and Sandro it was real pleasure; all of them treated everyone we met with great respect, and they showed a deep understanding of the nuances of local identities. It’s a rare thing. I was very pleased to have met them. I think we started to develop a friendship and I’m looking forward to seeing their film.
In this photo, taken in Kolkata, Stefano Tealdi, with his back to the camera, is talking to Krishan Katyal, director of the tea auctioneers J Thomas & Co. Krisham is one of the leading experts in India, and I’m sure I’ll be telling you more about him another time.
Ps: for the people who, like me, do not have the television, you can clic here http://documentaires.france5.fr/documentaires/global-drinks/pour-tous to view the programme until October 24th
When the village of Hadong (South Korea) holds its Tea Festival each year, the organizers don’t do things by halves. People come from far away to stroll along the aisles where each producer offers you to taste their tea. The whole village is embellished for the occasion and there isn’t a single roundabout or lamp post that isn’t decorated with sophisticated structures made from camellia leaves. Even the public toilets provided for the many visitors on that day are beautifully decorated with terraced tea gardens and flooded with evening light tumbling down towards the sea. I was so stunned by the use made of this dream-like landscape that I didn’t even see anything. It’s only when looking back at the picture a few days later that I noticed the hand of a joker coming out from the landscape, making the victory sign V.
I feel sad today. A guy, a political leader to be a little bit more precise, has been assassinated in Darjeeling. In facts, violence has been raging in Darjeeling for 30 years. Tension is often tangible. And blood sometimes flows.
To explain the problem to you in a few words and in a way that is much too brief, Darjeeling, where mainly Indians of Nepalese origin live, is located at the extreme north of the Indian State of West Bengal. In this particularly backed-off spot, roads are in a disastrous state, water is scarce, infrastructures are generally in an apalling state. Thus, many inhabitants of these mountains wish to create a new state called “Gorkhaland” within the Indian Union. And this, in order to stop keeping waiting for money that never comes from Kolkata and to enjoy an easier life like the Sikkim neighbour who depends directly from the Central State, namely Delhi.
I hope that they will be able to solve these problems using reason rather than violence. Couldn’t the inhabitants of Darjeeling be given normal life conditions, suitable roads, running water and some autonomy so that they can decide what is best for themselves?
Between political leaders who don’t do anything, those who are corrupted, those who make promises the day before elections and forget them the following day, those who divide instead of assembling and those who arouse masses, people would be in a grief to decide who to confine their destiny to.
I choose this adorable toddler, coiled up in his mother’s arms with his life in front of him, to wish Darjeeling, its mountains I love so much and these Nepalese people who are dearest to me, a better future.