Mr. Bal Bahadur Rai: An Artist of Passion

Nepali Ladies- A Work of B.B Rai
 It is said that each acts of an individual is an art and such acts of human always have some artistic values. The human history has witnessed such behaviours of human society from time immemorial. The arts and objet d'art of Indus valley Civilization, Egyptian Civilization, Chinese Civilization and even before it, the anonymous and indecipherable arts of the Stone Age has rendered us some important information for the study of human history. Therefore, art in human society exists since the evolutionary period and has played an important role in expressing hidden feelings of an individual or in many cases the feelings of a whole society. This is also a story related to an artist, or in a truer sense a watercolourist of Sikkim, who has been able to stand himself on a distinct platform of the whole artist fraternity.
Best Painter Award 2007
Mr. Bal Bahadur Rai, popularly known as B.B. Rai was born on 4th May 1950 at Tinzir Busty, Namchi in South Sikkim. He was the youngest son of late Jaharman and late Ashalacchi Rai. Mr. Rai got his elementary education at Namchi under the guidance of the important pillar of Sikkimese Nepali literature Late Agam Singh Tamang “Apatan”. In 1959, Mr. Rai got stipend from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of India and went to Birla Vidhya Mandir Nainital for his further education. For his outstanding performance in Matriculation in 1966, the Uttar Pradesh Government had provided him scholarship for his further studies but, he could not continue his studies due to some personal circumstances. After accomplishing his matriculation from Birla Vidhya Mandir, Mr. Rai came back to Sikkim and completed his B.Sc. from Darjeeling Govt. College and started his service to the state as a teacher.
Chogyal Palden Thondup Namgyal with Hope Cooke
Smoking Devkota
During his stay at Nainital, the eminent figure of Indian Cine world, Mr. Danny Denzongpa used to be his senior. It is from Mr. Rai, I have been able to secure much information about our own Danny. While asking about his inclination towards painting, Mr. Rai has told me that he used to make various arts on the Biskun (food grain kept in a courtyard for drying purpose) and was fond of his eldest brother late Kabirman Rai, who also used to be an artist of repute. The only question when should I be a good artist? used to reign the infant mind of Mr. Rai. His childhood task was to look after the Biskun, where he got plenty of time to spend in making sketches of various characters. Thus, a Sikkimese artist grew up at the courtyard making various sketches on Biskun. His talent is noticeable in Vatayan, a monthly magazine of Tilak House of Birla Vidhya Mandir Nainital. This magazine was published by the Tilak House of the school on the occasion of 107th Birth Anneversary of Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak in July 1963. As a student of Class VII, Mr. Bal Bahadur Rai has made a beautiful sketch of Lokmanya Tilak in the front page of the said magazine. His proficiency of art as a young artist is clearly manifested in the sketch of Lokmanya.
Mr. Rai, continued his passion of painting even after his service and has received many awards and certificates both from the state and central art academies. One of his paintings was among the fifth best paintings in an exhibition BRUSH STROKE hosted by Sikkim Academy in 2005. Further, he has exhibited his paintings in various places and has been able to receive approbation from the visitors throughout the country. He is also the founding President of Indradhanush Chitrakala Sanstha and is also associated with various art forums of the state and of the nation. He was also awarded as the Best Painter on the eve of State Day by the Government of Sikkim in 2007.
Portrait of Lepcha Bhutia & Nepali 
Apart from a watercolourist, Mr. Rai is also a versatile singer. Though, he has not recorded any songs so far, but has some remarkable experiences about his singing. During the visit of Shree Panch Maharajadhiraj Mahendra Bir Vikram Shah Dev, the former king of Nepal to Birla Vidhya Mandir, Nainital in 1965, Mr. Rai sang a Nepali song  Swadeshko Mayale aaja Mero Man Rulayo. The lyric of this song was penned by his ideal teacher Late Agam Singh Tamang “Apatan”. His Majesty the king of Nepal got poignant after listening to this song performed by Mr. Rai. There were many other fellows from the mainland of India who were also in the group to sing the Nepali song in the respect of His Majesty the King of Nepal. From his talks it appears that the students of Sikkim at Birla Vidhya Mandir used to be excessively talented.
Jesus Christ being taken out of the Cross
Portrait of Bal Gangadhar Tilak by B.B. Rai on Vatayan 1963 
After getting voluntary retirement as a Joint Director Planning and Development, Government of Sikkim, Mr. B.B Rai has dedicated himself in painting. His favourite is oil painting but his brush has touched all the other rivulet of paintings as well. His portrait of Smoking Devkota is indeed the best of its kind and also a new imagination of him. Similarly, the painting of Jesus, in which Mr. Rai has featured the corpse of Jesus, is taking out from the Cross by his followers. I have seen many paintings of Lord Jesus that also includes the Last Supper, but, this painting by Mr. Rai is a new and novel for me. Likewise, the painting featuring last Chogyal Palden Thondup Namgyal and his Queen Hope Cooke of Sikkim is a beautiful creation of Mr. Bal Bahadur Rai. Here I am reminding the famous saying of Bal Krishna Sama, the eminent writer of Nepali literature “Hey Ishwar, yedi pratibha garibko Jhopadi mai janmincha bhane malai aajha dukha dey”... Oh God!! If a calibre only borns in the hut of a poor; make me broke. 

Schooldays drawing of Danny Denzongpa

A Peacock- Danny's Love towards Nature 
Tshering Pintso Bhutia popularly known as Danny Denzongpa is a famous name in the Bollywood. We have seen him in many Indian movies as a deleterious villain and also have listened to many songs sung by him in Indian and Nepali films. I still can remember a Nepali song of my childhood days “Agi Agi Topaiko Gola...Pachi pachi machine gun Bha ra ra...Cigarette nadeu ma bedi khanelai Maya nadeu ma hedi janelai” sung by him with Asha Bhosle, a gigantic name in the Hindi music world.  His journey from the remote village of Yoksam to Mumbai is possibly the best example for all those who aspire to be a noted figure in Bollywood. Danny started his schooling from Gyalshing, the District Headquarters of West Sikkim. After getting stipend from the Ministry of  Foreign Affairs Government of India, he went to Birla Vidhya Mandir Nainital.
The original name of Danny is visible in this sketch 
I have met one of his juniors of Birla Vidhya Mandir Mr. B. B. Rai of Namchi Kazitar, from whom I have been able to secure an old school magazine Vatayan. It was a monthly magazine of Tilak House of the said school, published in July 1963.  The said magazine was published on the 107th birth anniversary of Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak by the Tilak House of Birla Vidhya Mandir Nainital. It is to be mentioned here that most of the Sikkimese students used to be in this House of the School. The Sikkimese students studying at Birla Vidhya Mandir were of great talents. Apart from their studies, our boys had astonishing calibre of writing, painting and singing. After accomplishing their education they all have served Sikkim through their distinct services. Mr. B.B Rai, alumni of Birla Vidhya Mandir has served in many Departments under Government of Sikkim before getting Voluntary Retirement as a Joint Director Planning and Development Department. He is an artist of a great reputation.

Sketch of a porter by Danny Denzongpa
In this monthly magazine, I have been able to stumble on few sketches made by our own Danny during his school days. The sketches of Danny speak more than thousand words. In one of his sketches he has portrayed about a student’s life in a hostel during a rainy night. In another drawing, he has featured the toil of a porter carrying a sack of potato towards his hostel. The practice of carrying loads on the back of a manual labour is still prevalent in Nainital. Mr. B.B Rai informed me that, frequently they had to have potato in their hostel as sabji and the potato sacks were brought to the school hostel by the porters. In his sketch Danny has featured the efforts of such meagre.  His third painting shows his love towards nature. This is a sketch of a peacock. His extraordinary talent is visible in every sketches made by Danny in his schooldays. In his arts his image of deleterious villain of Bollywood is silent rather; a great and a pious Buddhist soul is visible which could understand the pricks and pains of the meagre and nature. Apart from a gigantic figure of Bollywood and a sketcher, Danny is also a good flute player. 

Jaharman Rai: The unsung Hero of Sikkimese History

Late Jaharman Rai
The ordinary people have always played an indispensable part for the development of human society by producing agricultural items, rendering free services for the constructive works of a state and by providing forced labour. Further, by paying tax and rent of the land and agricultural products they make a greater contribution for the economic prosperity of a country. Being the nucleus of human development, the peasants in particular and ordinary people in general, who are always in a larger number, have never been treated at par. It is not only a case of a particular province or a state or a country, injustice against the peasant is a phenomenon which is rampant in every nook and corner of the world. The pricks, pains and the wounds the peasants have been subjected to in the past are simply irreparable which are very much similar throughout the globe. Their service to mankind in general and their Landlords or the Kings in particular, the burden of taxation upon them, the yoke of forced labour on their shoulders share a similar nature and feature throughout the earth. Amidst their large contribution, they have been frequently ignored not only by the authorities in the past but by history as well. Further, history of ordinary people which also covers resistance made by the peasants is always regarded as a sundry event by the contemporary historians. This is the major reason why the hardships of the peasants in the past have not got their mention in the pages of history. To quote Howard Zinn “...not only to the orthodox history of those years, but to the very idea of history told from the point of view of the authorities- a history confined to the “important” people that ignores the struggle of ordinary people”. In reality, it is an irony to monitor that human society is driven by a marginal force. It may be in the case of chieftaincies or later in the case of large empires; the majority have always been administered by the minority. In a truer sense, the suppression of the voices of the powerless or the marginalized, which always form the major group, continues even in today’s so called democratic set-up. The government, which is in minority, hardly bothers to listen what the majority are asking for and arrangements for settling the dilemma that occurs frequently between the minority governed state and majority of interests is seldom seen.
Late Rai on Second Row L-R during the construction of Sikkim House in New Delhi
Hence, being a student of history, this is my unpretentious attempt to bring into light about those unseen heroes of Sikkim who have contributed a lot for the erstwhile kingdom but are forgotten by the pages of History. I prefer to articulate them as the Unsung Heroes of our society, which was a composition of the ordinary people and peasants, and that never made any headlines in the leading newspapers and journals to drag the attention of the elites. For me, they are the real contributors, the altruistic and the most selfless human folks who played an important part in the development of Sikkimese society by dint of their labour and hard works.
Late Jaharman Rai was also a son of an ordinary Sikkimese peasant of Tinzir Busty at Namchi in South Sikkim. Born on 2 July 1915, Late Rai was the youngest child of Late Ashdhan Rai. After the death of his father, Late Jaharman Rai took up the task of tax collector under Lahso Kazi and later under Tenzing Wangdel Lahso. After witnessing the deplorable condition of the peasants during his service, he made his mind to resign from the job. The condition of Sikkimese peasantry thence was at a wretched stage, where they not only had to pay the tax but also had to carry Kalobhari and Jharlangi, the most crooked system devised by the Colonial Government. When the peasants failed to pay their taxes, their household items were auctioned of which they could not object as they were under the strict surveillance of the Kazis and the Zamindars, the self-styled super class of the erstwhile Sikkim.  
When the level of repression reached beyond the tolerance of the ordinary Sikkimese, they founded the first ever political party of Sikkim which was known as Rajya Praja Sammelan. This party, though it lacks agenda and ideology, is regarded as the first political party of the erstwhile Himalayan Kingdom of Sikkim. Late Jaharman Rai joined this party and became an active cadre. Later, the Praja Sammelan along with other two political parties namely, Praja Mandal and Praja Parishad was united to form Sikkim State Congress in December 1947. After the foundation of Sikkim State Congress, Late Rai continued to play an important part to ignite the slumbered minds of Sikkimese peasantry. He became the Secretary of Namchi branch of Sikkim State Congress for achieving the determined goal of democracy in the Kingdom. His correspondence with Late Pratiman Rai, Late Kashiraj Pradhan and Late Jainarayan Sapkota reveals his active participation in the people’s movement that was launched by Sikkim Sate Congress. Further, Late Jaharman Rai had also played a key role in raising party fund for the Sikkim State Congress.
Lhaksam Shabdek Badhar- The Silver Medal presented by the Chogyal of Sikkim
Apart from the politics, Jaharman Rai is also remembered for his philanthropic works at Namchi. Due to utter poverty he could not get his formal education and learnt to write in Nepali in bamboo tablets as a shepherd. Therefore, to annihilate such hurdles in education, he managed a night school at Tinjir which is now raised up to a Junior High School. Further, in the unparalleled landslides occurred from 3rd to 5th October 1968, which is popular in Sikkim as adshat shaal ko pairo, Late Rai had given refuge to many of his co-villagers in his house. He arranged Government help in the form of edibles, household items and beddings for the affected people of the catastrophe. It was under his guidance and initiative the citizens of Tinzir and Kamrang, reconstructed the brush off roads between Jorethang, Melli and Gangtok after the catastrophe. Recognising his social services, the Chogyal of Sikkim Late Palden Thondup Namgyal rewarded him with the Service Medal (Lhaksam Shabdek Badhar) in 1969.
Further, Late Jaharman Rai was a skilled craftsman, whose dexterity is visible at the Old Sikkim House, New Delhi which was known as Sikkim Residency before its merger with India. Still one can notice the huge sign board of “Sikkim Residency” in front of the Old Sikkim House. Most of the wooden works there is the creation of Late Jaharman Rai. In 1971, he led a group of Sikkimese craftsmen to give a typical Sikkimese look to the Residency.
Though he passed away in 2009, at the age of 94, his works are still alive at the Old Sikkim House helping the mainstream people to understand Sikkim in a better way. Sikkim is always proud of having such ordinary, but significant characters in its past. The history of ordinary people is also thus important like the history of “essential” people and their contribution should never be underestimated.

Charles Alfred Bell: The Second British Political Officer of Sikkim

C A Bell -The second Political Officer of Sikkim

Charles Alfred Bell was born in Calcutta (now Kolkata) India, on 31 October 1870 - the son of Henry Bell of the Indian Civil Service (ICS). He was Educated at Winchester school and New College, Oxford. After accomplishing his studies, Charles also joined the ICS in 1891 and spent the next nine years in various posts in Bengal, Bihar and Orissa, before being transferred to Darjeeling in 1900. It was in Darjeeling; Bell came to be familiar with the Tibetans settled there and began to learn their language. His devotion towards the Tibetan language leads to the publication of his first book, A Manual of Colloquial Tibetan, a two-part grammar-phrase book and dictionary in 1905.
Gangtok British Residency picture taken by C A Bell

 Apart from a Tibetan scholar, Bell also had a passion of photography. During his stay in Tibet, he has taken many photographs related to the daily lives of the Tibetans, which are greatly helpful for the study of Tibetan culture and civilization. In 1904-5 he was put in charge of administration of the Chumbi Valley, which had been temporarily ceded by Tibet to Britain under the terms of the Younghusband Mission. It has to be mentioned here, the Chumbi valley was once a part of Sikkim which was later transferred to Tibet after the Anglo-Chinese convention.

After the retirement of Sir James Claude White, Charles Bell was appointed as the Political Officer of Sikkim in 1908. The most momentous event during Bell's tenure as Political Officer was meeting the Thirteenth Dalai Lama in 1910. Due to the political hostility between the Chinese and the Tibetans his Holiness the 13th Dalai Lama was forced to flee Tibet and he sought refuge in Sikkim. As Political Officer of Sikkim, Bell provided necessary assistance to his Holiness during his exile. The two formed an intimate and lasting friendship, which later proved objectionable to the British in their future negotiations and dealings with Tibet after the Dalai Lama's return to Lhasa in June 1912.
Bell continued as Political Officer for Sikkim, Bhutan and Tibet until 1918. During this time he continued his communications with the 13th Dalai Lama and advised him on the modernization policies he was developing for Tibet. Bell was widely acknowledged in British circles as the primary authority on Tibetan matters at this time.
Sky burial in Tibet Pic. C A Bell
After 1918 Bell took leave from the Civil Service and devoted himself to the study of Tibet, spending the next two years in Darjeeling. Although for many years he had an open invitation from the 13th Dalai Lama to visit Lhasa, the British Government did not allow him to do so. In 1920 Bell was finally given Government permission to visit the Tibetan capital as part of a diplomatic mission, arriving in Lhasa on 17 November. Bell's role was to advise the Tibetans on foreign policy. "The Dalai Lama showed his more than friendly intentions by receiving Sir Bell, at the very first interview, informally, sitting with him at a small table in his private apartment, with no witness present.
Nepalese in Lhasa Pic. Charles Bell 
Bell remained in Lhasa for the best part of a year. After his return, in 1921, he left the ICS and applied himself to writing about Tibet. In his retirement, Bell published several books on Tibetan culture and history - Tibet: Past and Present (1920), followed by The People of Tibet (1928), and The Religion of Tibet (1931). Bell also continued his personal correspondence with the Dalai Lama.
In 1934 Bell returned to Tibet once again and this time with his wife, Cashie. Unfortunately he was too late to meet his old friend again, for the 13 th Dalai Lama had passed away in December 1933. Bell continued his travels in Central Asia during the next few years visiting Mongolia, Manchuria and Siberia. Fittingly, Bell's final work was a result of the strong bond that he had formed with the 13 th Dalai Lama since their first meeting in 1910. The book, Portrait of the Dalai Lama, was completed only a few days before his death in Canada (where he had recently migrated) on 8 March 1945.
Picture of Rabden Lepcha who accompanied Bell during his visit to Lhasa 
Sir Charles Bell was probably the most influential British officer to serve in Tibet. He set the groundwork for Anglo-Tibetan relations, and his visit to Lhasa in1920 paved the way for subsequent British officials to travel to Tibet. Bell's strength lay in the way he was able to immerse himself in Tibetan culture and language, becoming, in his own words, "in a large measure Tibetanised". This earned him the respect and acceptance of the many Tibetans. As one Tibetan official "When a European is with us Tibetans I feel that he is a European and we are Tibetans; but when Lonchen Bell is with us, I feel that we are all Tibetans together".
The above article is compiled by Claire Freeman, Curatorial Assistant, Pitt Rivers Museum (Emphasis added) The photographs with this post bears copyright of Pitt Rivers Museum University of Oxford.