Priyanka, your father was a visionary and dedicated his life serving the mountain community. We would love to know from you what it was that drove him?
He was a man who lived every second of his life to the fullest. I am yet to meet anyone who valued time to such an extent. This stemmed perhaps from his thirst for knowledge and general curiosity about life surrounding him, leading him to have interests in a wide range of topics and thus building huge capacities to dive deep into all matters – seeking specialists or practitioners in respective fields or chasing books in all kinds of libraries, shops and publishers. He was great at academics in his youth but was also accomplished in sports and arts. This multidisciplinary approach to life helped him link the dots in drafting concepts to implementing projects and seeking solutions, while also managing to converge people from diverse backgrounds. He was particularly empathetic to issues and people who were marginalised and was drawn to rural development. The above was the same spirit applied to Mountain Development, perhaps a bit more personally, by virtue of the fact that he hailed from one of the remotest corners of Uttarakhand, bordering Tibet and India.
What was the one life lesson that you learnt from him and how has it helped you in your own career?
I am a Designer who is working in the realm of Social Design. For the last 6 years my studio has been working in the area where craft and design meets. It takes us to engage with projects that focuses on natural resources and existing indigenous carftsmanship. The aim is to raise the profile of local resources while also exploring development of livelihood opportunities. During research and brainstorming phase, it helps me to remind myself what he has often repeated about chasing for design solutions in the mountain context – “If it was possible, it would have already been done”. This helps to push onself and reach out to people who have already done their bit in social development and product innovation, specifically in the hill regions, to seek their practical insights in the field across sectors.
How do you plan to take his ideology forward?
As a family we are keen to realise his dream to open a library in our village at Munsiyari. He has a large collection of books.
Please tell us about the sessions planned at Valley of Words 2017 and how you felt when the organisers wanted to pay a tribute to Shri RS Tolia?
The RST forum has been designed as a tribute to late Dr Tolia to help bring focus on Mountain issues like livelihoods, climate change, right to information, organic farming, development interventions, ecology, writing on development and issues of access ( to work, food, information). The forum is spread across 3 days and will have sessions focussing on Himalayan eco-system, Issues On Migration, Livelihood , Nain Singh Rawat and Uttarakhand Forward .The forum will begin with a visual presentation by Mr Anup Shah, the celebrated and renowned photographer from our State. Each session will be spearheaded and curated by Mr Shekhar Pathak; Ms Malavika Chauhan; Mr Surendra Singh Pangtey and Access Development Services Team respectively. Under Nain Singh Rawat’s session we have an ongoing collaboration with Mr Lokesh Ohri (Been There Doon That).
What message will the RST Forum at the festival want to give to the people of Uttarakhand?
We hope it can become a forum where we can bring forth and encourage Mountain Narratives from not just Uttarakhand but also all the Hill States of India, in resonance with my father’s idea of forming the Indian Mountain Initiative (IMI), convergence of diverse minds who are passionate about the Himalayas and its way of life. He strongly wanted the mountain states to have a definite voice and presence in the national agenda of development. We definitely hope that this Festival and Forum can encourage creative professionals who either hail from the hills or have migrated to the hills or are voicing the concerns and issues of hill people.
About the Interviewee: Priyanka Tolia is a Designer who is working in the realm of Social Design. For the last 6 years her studio Chitku Design Studio has been working in the area where craft and design intersects. She is curating and coordinating RST Forum Sessions at Valley of Words 2017 in collaboration with SDFU (Sustainable Development Forum Uttarakhand) & IMI (Integrated Mountain Initiative)