Pratima Thapa is the President of Lahar Srijana, an organisation that works for the revival of dying ethnic arts and crafts of the country. Thapa is also the Managing Director of Melange, the face of Lahar Srijana in the capital, a store located in the heart of the capital, Durbar Marg. From a young diplomat’s wife to a rural developer, her journey has seen many turns. In this issue of B360, Pratima Thapa shares with Ankita Jain the five things that have impacted her work and life.
Soon after I finished my schooling, I got married. My husband got posted to the United States and my diplomatic life began. For ages, I have been a diplomat’s wife and it has been a journey in itself. Travelling all across the world learning through experiences, getting to know different people, their cultures and way of life have left deep imprints in my heart. I am grateful that I had a husband of great caliber. He was in the service for several years and served as an ambassador to the European Union and Saudi Arabia.
I was in my early 20s and I had a two year old son when we were assigned to our first assignment to New York and Washington DC. As I had never been exposed to any part of the world except India and Nepal, it was an eye-opener for me. It gave me an opportunity to meet people I would never be able to meet and make friends at ease. Though travelling every four years with a young child came with a hint of unsettling dearth but every new place would fill me with excitement. Saudi Arabia adds another chapter in my life. The country brought the role of a woman in a completely different light. Even as diplomats, we had certain decorum to follow. I consider myself fortunate since during that time there were no tourist visas to Saudi Arabia; we were privileged to be there to learn a new way of life. Similarly, while we were in Paris, I learnt about colours, trends and alike. Overall, this way of life had both positive and negative facets.
I was always interested in designing and during my stay in New York, I did a diploma from the New York School of Interior Designing. After mastering the skills, I wanted to go ahead but lacked opportunity since I was always travelling. However, it was always at the back of my mind that I wanted to open a shop and do something with what I have learned.
Loss of my husband
I lost my husband in 2007 due to cancer. His loss affected me majorly as there was a huge void in my life. We used to be extremely busy as diplomats and suddenly everything came to an end. Though I have very supportive sons, daughters-in-law and grandchildren, they can never replace that space.
This was the point where I thought I cannot live my life being a nobody. I was always known as his wife. Though it is very complimentary, looking at the larger picture I was lacking in individuality. Then I decided to carve my interest and open up a shop. Since I was always interested in ethnic stuff, I along with my daughter-in-law, travelled to Lucknow to explore handcrafted products. We were roaming in the City of Nawabs in around 48 degrees unaware of what we were looking for but this marked a new phase in my life. With much excitement, we brought a few curated handicrafts of Lucknow and by the end of 2009, I laid the foundation of Melange. Later, I visited Varanasi and Delhi and started getting stuff from there as well. This way Melange started functioning with curated handicraft items. It was a business enterprise and it was something that I enjoyed totally. Through the platform, I wasn’t looking for great returns but it filled my days and gave me satisfaction.
At a certain point, I realised that I wasn’t much happy with Melange. It was giving me satisfaction since I started creating little stuff in my own workshop comprising a carpenter and a painter but something was missing. Eventually, my family introduced me to the meaning of philanthropy and how I could infuse it with my creative passion.
Soon I visited my Nawalparasi house which my husband built as a retirement place. I started visiting there often and interacting with the Tharu community. I built a close rapport with them and befriended three young Tharu construction workers: Indira, Ganga and Durga. This way I got to know about their crafts. And I and my relative Traude, who used to accompany me often, decided to showcase what rural Nepal has to offer. Hence, Lahar Srijana came into existence in 2012.
Lahar Srijana has finally gained some recognition through its work, something we had never expected. We took a small step to help the community grow and today in Chitwan and Nawalparasi, we are recognised as ethnic-based crafts centre. Through our work in various resorts and hotels, we have been able to promote the raw products of rural Nepal rather than finished products. To represent Lahar Srijana in the capital, Melange has become its face. Meanwhile, we are looking for a long run solution for the organisation so that it can survive on its own. We are getting old and may or may not be an active part of it in the future.