As a 20-something working in a small computer parts shop in Delhi, Makar Singh would often feel homesick. Leaving behind his ailing father in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand, Singh tried to adjust to life in the big city for four years, but failed. Soon after his father’s death, the sole breadwinner was forced to return home to take care of his family. “After my father died there was a lot of responsibility on me, so I moved back,” he says in a short documentary titled Lifelines, which looks at Singh’s life in Ramani village. The 15-minute documentary by Oxford University researcher and professor Jane Dyson throws light on the several educated and unemployed youth in Uttarakhand and how they battle for survival while aspiring for a better life.
Now, Singh, 32, is married with a family of three (two daughters and a son) and lives in his village, tucked away in the Himalayan foothills, doing odd jobs such as farming, teaching and counselling other villagers. “The film evolved from two angles: I was keen on working with the villagers in telling their story. I wanted to do something that would give them centre stage. And secondly, Singh is very active and passionate about people from his village,” says Dyson, whose film was in the official selection at Kathmandu International Mountain Film Festival and Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival in December, 2014 and this February, respectively.
While the film has had limited screenings in film festivals, Dyson has been using it for educational purposes. Over the past few months, she has been working closely with academicians, teachers from senior secondary schools and universities in the UK to incorporate it as an “additional resource” in their geography curriculum. “One of the topics in geography is ‘extreme mountain environments’. The topic also deals with human and cultural environment, looks at weather, farming and agricultural practices, so there is a lot of scope for this film to be used,” says the 41-year-old. The film is part of a three-nation (Sri Lanka, Nepal and India) anthropological and socio-cultural project called “Alchemists of the Revolution?” being funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, UK, which looks at the problem of youth unemployment and underemployment in the State.
“This is a common problem even in the UK. The film is aimed at getting the message out there and is meant for everyone, not just academicians,” she says. Shot in April, last year, the film provides a glimpse into Singh’s lifestyle, as he ploughs the fields during the day, teaches English and social studies in a school in the afternoon, relocates homes twice-a-year due to weather conditions, and pursues his MA through correspondence.
Dyson’s interest in Uttarakhand is more than a decade old, when she first came to Chamoli in 2003 for researching material for a doctorate in Human Geography. “I wanted to look at the role of children in conservation and agriculture. I had heard about the Chipko movement in Chamoli and how the locals were managing forest resources. But people were talking more about adults and the role of women and not the role of children in this movement,” says Dyson, who has previously worked in West Guinea, Zimbabwe and Senegal on the role of children in conservation.
Dyson first met Singh when he was 20, while pursuing her doctoral project. From 2011, she has made regular visits to the village to meet young educated and unemployed villagers like Singh. As she continues with her research project, the filmmaker will be screening the documentary at the New Zealand Mountain Film festival this week. “This is my first film and I am not looking at myself as a filmmaker. I am still an academician and this was really a fantastic way to do something different,” she says.