आजादी अमृत महोत्सव

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हेमलता गोलछा, गुवाहाटी
आजादी की उमंग दिलों में जगाने को
नव स्वर्णिम युग का उत्थान हुआ।
बिगुल बजा विकास का भारत में
चहुँमुखी उन्नति का सूत्रपात हुआ।
तोड़ पराधीनता की बेड़ियों को
जीवंत लोकतंत्र का निर्माण हुआ।
ग्रामीण विकास योजना की नींव रखी
संविधान के आदर्श स्वरूप का निर्माण हुआ।
शिक्षा को मिला आधार स्तंभ
‘बेटी बचाओ, बेटी पढ़ाओ’ की धारा का प्रवाह हुआ।
खंड खंड में बंटे भारत को अखंड बना
370 धारा का सफाया कश्मीर से हुआ।
आतंकी हमलों का मुँहतोड़ जवाब दिया
सर्जिकल स्ट्राइक का कीर्तिमान नाम हुआ।
मिटाने को भ्रष्टाचार उठाए ठोस कदम
नोट, वोट और खोट में नव चमत्कार हुआ।
सैन्य का सीना चौड़ा, महाशक्ति मिसाइल से
अंतरिक्ष में छलांग से प्रगति क्षेत्र को मकाम मिला।
स्वच्छ भारत अभियान है जोरों पर
‘नमामि गंगे’ से नदियों का जीर्णोद्धार हुआ।
देश विनिर्माण में कड़ियाँ जोड़ दी लाखों
आत्मनिर्भर भारत के स्वप्न का संचार हुआ।
पारदर्शिता है चुनौतिशील है राष्ट्रीय नायक
तीन तलाक मिटा ‘सर्वे भवन्तु सुखिनः’ का आग़ाज़ हुआ।

आजादी अमृत महोत्सव

मुझे बोनसाई नहीं होना

केसरिया

कठपुतली

Mahatma Gandhi at Golakganj, Assam

Before 1901 there was no place called Golakganj. The place was known as Tokrerchara and was in fact pretty insignificant. It was not even a proper market but largely for the chhara or the water body. Other than paddy, the place also used to produce jute and that was one of the major attractions of the small-time merchants to sail upward in their boats from the downstream of the river Gangadhar and buy jute from the farmers. Till the late nineteenth century many sailors used to come to this place to do their trade in the nearby haats of Materjhar and Pratapganj which were the major markets in the western part of the zamindar of Gauripur, who used to be called by the laity as the Raja Bahadur. As typical of the markets, Pratapganj and Materjhar attracted many merchants including the Marwaris. The Marwaris used to come to the district of Goalpara since the mid-18th century. Among the early Marwaris to Pratapganj were the Kanhailals of Pratapganj. Kanhailal had first arrived at the Dhubri port which was the district headquarters of Goalpara, but the main place was Gauripur which was the capital of the Raja Bahadur of Gauripur. In fact, it was Raja Pratap Chandra Barua who had donated the land to the British to set up their district headquarters at Dhubri. Raja Pratap Chandra Barua shifted their capital from Rangamati to Gauripur in 1850. Pratap Chandra was the descendent of Kabindra Patra who was the first zamindar of Gauripur and was one of the trusted generals of Chilarai, the legendary Koch warrior. His son Raja Prabhat Chandra Barua was an illustrious ruler. Golok Barua was one of the sons-in-law of the Gauripur Rajbari who was given the western part of the estate to look after which which comprised some of the major haats like Materjhar, Pratapganj, Tamarhat, Harirhat, Paglahat, Agomani and others.
Assam Railway and Trading Company under the British had introduced the railways in Assam in 1881 in upper Assam between Dibrugarh and Margherita. The purpose of the track was primarily to ferry timber and other forest resources and coal. Assam was not yet connected to the rest of country by railways. It happened in 1901 when they had opened a line to Assam through Golakganj. As per the railway plan to take the line from Lalmonirhat, Gitaldaha, Bhurungamari in Rangpur subdivision (now in Bangladesh) to Assam they had chosen the small village Torerchara as the Gateway to Assam. But then to lay the line they needed a considerable amount of land. At that it was Golok Barua who had agreed to offer land with the conditions that the railway track would be laid on the land he would provide and the railway station at the Tokrerchara village must be named after him. The British Railway company had agreed and named the station as Golokganj junction as it became the point for the track to divert to Dhubri and towards Fakiragram. In 1901, with the coming up of the station, the place came to be known as Golokganj and the otherwise insignificant village began to grow as an important place. That was the time when many Marwaris too began to come to Golakganj as it grew as a major trading centre as communication became easy to reach markets at Bhurungamari Lalmonir Hat and other places in Rangpur district, and more importantly Calcutta came closer to Golakganj. Under the Gauripur estate, the Golokganj became an important part of which Jogomohan Prodhani was the jotedar who was locally called the zamindar.
There were many stories about Golokganj railway station. The famous Bengali author, Bimal Mitra, they say, was here at Golokganj as the Station Master for some years. Golokganj gained importance because it turned out to be the first railway station of Assam through which trains entered the Assam territory. But the station has became famous for the arrival of two major figures of India’s freedom struggle- Netaji Sbhash Chandra Bose and Mahatma Gandhi.
Netaji Subhash came to Assam in 1938 after he became the President of Indian National Congress. He had come on the invitation of Bishnuram Medhi and Gopinath Bardoloi to Assam to save Assam from being a part of Pakistan as the Muslim League had carried out a massive campaign for that purpose. Sir Sadulla, a Muslim Leage leader from Assam was to become the chief of Assam at that time. He went to Guwahati and met the Congress leaders and came to Dhubri. On October 31, 1938 Subhash had arrived at Golakganj at around 7am to a big crowd gathered there to welcome him. From he had proceeded towards Dhubri to stay there for the next two days.
One of the most significant events in the context of the Freedom Struggle was the visit of Mahatma Gandhi to Assam. He had come to Assam thrice- 1921, 1926 and 1934. Since he came by train, every time he had to travel through Golakganj Junction. The train to Guwahati would invariably wait about an hour at Golakganj railway station.
Mahatma Gandhi’s visits to Assam were well recorded. During his first visit to Assam his train, Darjeeling Mail, reached Golakganj on 18 January, 1921. He was received by Nabin Chandra Bardoloi, who later became the General Secretary of the first Assam Pradesh Congress Committee. In1920 following the resolutions at the Nagpur session of Congress, Gandhi had launched the non-cooperation movement. Assam too became a part of the movement after the annual session of Assam Association held in 1920 at Tezpur. In March Gandhi had set a target to raise rupees one crore for the ‘Tilak Swaraj Fund’ and enroll at least one crore new members for Congress for four anna each. Accordingly the target set for Assam was Rs. 1, 30, 000 when the population of of Assam at time was around 4 crores 70 lakh (excluding the Surma valley). On 17 January 2021 Mahatma Gandhi came to Assam and reached Golakganj in the morning by train from Calcutta by Darjeeling mail. There was a huge crowd to have a glimpse of the Mahatma as though they had heard so much about Mahatma Gandhi, they never saw him. Besides, there were many tales doing the round among the common masses about his supernatural power turning him into a kind of a mythic figure for the general people. Nabin Chandra Bardoloi was among the major leaders from Assam to have welcomed him at that the station.
In 1926 Gandhi had come to Assam to attend the Congress Session held at Guwahati when the population of Guwahati was just about 16000 only. He began his journey from Calcutta to Assam on 23 December 1926. This time too he had stopped at Golakganj station to receive the warm welcome of a mammoth crowd. His last visit to Assam was in the year 1934 when he had come to Assam to raise funds for his movement against untouchability. On the morning of 10 April, 1934 Mahatama had arrived at Golakganj who was greeted by the Congress leaders like Omeo Kumar Das, Devendranath Sarma, Garhmuria Goswami, Kailash Chandra Prodhani, Bhuban Chandra Prodhani and others. On that day Mahatma went to the Kachari Ghar of zamindar Kailash Chandra Prodhani to take rest and address a gathering. Kailash Chandra Prodhani was the eldest son of Jagomahan Prodhani who was a major jotedar under the Raja of Gauripur. In the meeting Kailash Chandra Prodhnai had donated a pouch of gold coins to the Mahatma. In the evening Mahatma Gandhi along with other Congress workers went to Rupshi and spent his night there at the zamindar of Rupshi where the people had donated an amount of Rs. 1000 to Gandhi. He then went to Gauripur and Dhubri where zamindar Kumar Jagadindra Narayan Choudhury had delivered the welcome address.
These episodes were significant historical events which are reflective on how the general multitudes actively took part in India’s freedom struggle. This is part of the micro-history which has immense value to know and discover many untold stories of India’s freedom struggle which had made tremendous impacts even in the small, nondescript places like Golakganj

References:
Hazarika, Sanjoy. “Subhas Bose and the ‘special’ case of Assam” , The Sunday Guardian, http://www. sunday-guardian. com/analysis/subhas-bose-and-the-special- case-of-assam. Accessed on 19 March 2022
Passah, Wandell. Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose in Shillong (June 12, 1927) in The Shillong Times. 28 January 2022
Saikia, Chandra Prasad. Ed. Asomot Mahatma. Guwahati: Asom Prakashan Parishad. 2007 (First edition, 1969)
Special correspondent. “Netaji’s visit to Dhubri remembered on his 120th birth anniversary” in The Assam Tribune 15 Sep 2010 5:30 AM https://assamtribune. com/netajis-visit- to-dhubri-remembered-on-his-120th-birth-anniversaray. Accessed on 21 April 2020
Dr Jyotirmoy Prodhani, a professor at English Department, NEHU he writes on different areas ranging from short stories to ethnicity of North East India. On the literary front he is a member of North East Writers Society and Asom Sahitya Sabha. He also is the president of North India East Association for Human Sciences (NEIAHS), Life Member of the forum on Contemporary Theory (FCT), Baroda. Hauthored several books that are both immersive and informative

Traditional Medicine: its importance and protection

Indigenous knowledge has no single definition, however, it may be defined as knowledge that is unique to a given culture or society and provides the infrastructure for agriculture, health care, food preparation, training, environmental conservation, and other life processes at the local level. It is part of the identity of indigenous tribes. It has been regarded as an important commodity in global health development. World Health Organisation (WHO) in its recommendations on Health for All Declaration (1978) highlighted the need to include local people, their traditions, and practices in Primary Health Care (PHC).

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines traditional medicine as ‘the health practices, approaches, knowledge, and beliefs incorporating plant, animal and mineral-based medicines, spiritual therapies, manual techniques, and exercises, applied singularly or in combination to treat, diagnose and prevent illnesses or maintain well-being

Herbal medicine in traditional medical practice is an important resource that can be mobilized for the attainment of the common goal of health for all. These herbal medicines have contributed significantly to man’s struggle against diseases and the maintenance of health. In recent years, interest in the use of herbal preparations has increased. Herbal medicines are used in most countries within the state health care system or in communities and private practices outside the state system.

Traditional and indigenous knowledge is unique to a given culture or society and the Jaintias who adhere to the traditional belief system are no exception to this knowledge, particularly in health care.
The Jaintias have a rich variety of traditional healing systems. One common healing practice is known as ‘Prem ya ka Tiar”, where an elder with extraordinary folk knowledge use ginger and chant a spiritual song or mantra. The chanting goes like this, “Ko Syiem Synchar Biskorom Blai, ko jaid ko Thakur ko chanbnein ko chankhyndaw, lurmiet luchai soodong i pyrthai. . . . . ” This practice is used to cure intestinal gas, belching, bloating, and flatulence. There are different types of ‘Prem’ for different ailments. Back in the old days, when one is traveling by train outside the State, our parents would give us ‘Syin Prem’ to be used during our journey for healing different ailments like diarrhea, fever, toothache, etc. This healing process is prevalent in the niamtre community.
Let me narrate the story of when I was a child, regularly I would have ringworm all over my neck. And the infection worsens during the winter months. No matter how frequently I visited a dermatologist and applied antifungal cream, there is no sign of a cure. In 1986, in the winter month, my maternal uncle, took me to my hometown, Jowai to visit a traditional healer by the name Late Waheh Kento Sumer. Early in the morning, he took us to the paddy field at Dulong Poh Hali, Jowai. Here, he pick from the soil a tiny red insect, and with chanting, he rubbed the insect all around my neck. I was advised to sort of plaster my neck with a cloth for a week. After a week, the rashes which had become dry just fell off my neck and since then I never have had the problem of ringworm again to date.
Then in our hills we often heard of a tree we called Deiñ Kaiñ – a type of tree that causes skin allergy. Any person with less charm, if one happens to be in the proximity of the tree; one’s will experience rashes all over the body. We were warned by our elders not even to point the finger at the tree because it will also cause a rash or skin allergy. My friend’s father, Late Rev. P. L. Wann while at Sutnga was supposedly under the influence of the Deiñ Kaiñ, while strolling around. In a few minutes, he experienced an unbearable rash and his right arm was swollen. When he reached Shillong, luckily one student who study at St. Anthony’s College, Waheh Bal Pakma hailing from Kyndong Tuber (Six kilometers from 8th Mile Jaintia Hill) who came to heal him. The healing process was that he presses the palm with his fingernails. Within a week the swelling and the rashes disappeared and were cured.
Snakebite is a significant public health problem in many developing countries. Farmers are particularly exposed to snakes. There are more than 3000 known species of snakes of which around 300 are poisonous. In India out of 216 species, approximately 53 are poisonous. Traditional healers of snake bites are a vanishing breed. In Jowai, Waheh Tingboi Thma of Loomkyrwiang is a famous healer. Waheh Tingboi Thma has saved many lives over the years. Unlike traditional healing methods, such as local incision, herb ingestion, application of snake stones, and tattooing, Thma’s healing process involves some rites and rituals.
Since man first learned to make fire 1. 7 to 2. 0 million years ago, burns and scalds have been one of the most common of his injuries. Remedies for burn wound healing are practiced to date by the Pnar. One of the prominent traditional healers of burn injuries is Late Litis Kyndiah. The process of healing is called ‘Slu iñ diñ’, where the healer would use mustard oil and chant on it, which will be used as an ointment and applied to the burn wound. This practice is still in operation in Khasi and Jaintia Hills
However, the advent of western cultures has had a great impact on the traditional healing system. Today, the survival of many indigenous/traditional knowledge systems is at stake because of rapidly changing natural environments and fast pacing economic, political, and cultural changes on a global scale. Traditional knowledge is transmitted from generation to generation, often in oral form or by way of example, whereas written sources may not exist at all or only in local languages. Thus, it is imperative to preserve the knowledge held by our forefathers. It is in this context, that the Traditional Knowledge should be afforded effective protection.
Throughout the world, indigenous peoples and local communities have developed a wealth of traditional knowledge that they wish to protect and promote. Yet few have to use the intellectual property system to do so. Article 31 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (2007) is an important reference in this regard: “Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain, control, protect, and develop their cultural heritage, traditional knowledge, and traditional cultural expressions, as well as the manifestations of their science, technologies, and culture, including human and genetics resources, seeds, medicines, knowledge of properties of flora and fauna, oral traditions, literature, designs, sports, and traditional games and visual and performing arts. They also have the right to maintain, control, protect, and developed their intellectual property over such cultural heritage, traditional knowledge, and traditional cultural expression. It’s further declared that “In conjunction with the indigenous people, States shall take effective measures to recognise and protect the exercise of their rights”.
This valuable asset is at risk. Since traditional knowledge practices have ancient roots and are often oral – are not protected by conventional intellectual property (IP) systems. In recognition of the value and preservation and promotion of the traditional knowledge system, in recent years, the protection of TK has received increased attention in various international forums, including the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the International Labour Organization (ILO), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Health Organization (WHO), the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the UN Commission on Human Rights
The African proverb says “When an elder dies, a library burns down”. This clearly sums up the importance of traditional knowledge preservation and cultural continuity.


Dr Omarlin Kyndiah teaches Biochemistry at St. Edmund’s College, Shillong. Known for his insightful writing he also is the General Secretary of Sein Raij Niamtre Shillong

U Sib Charan Roy: A True Khasi Nationalist and Indian Freedom Fighter

On 19th December 1929, the Indian National Congress voted for ‘Purna Swaraj’ – total independence from British rule. Several prominent national leaders of the time were at that historic session held in Lahore. From the Khasi hills there was only one gentleman present – U Sib Charan Roy Jaitdkhar Sawian.
U Sib Charan Roy, born on 4th April 1862 in Sohra, was the eldest son of the legendary Babu Jeebon Roy Mairom. Like his father, he too endeavoured to instill pride in his people, for what was their own, and dedicated his entire life to this cause. He wrote extensively on the philosophy of Niam Khasi (the indigenous faith), translated important Indian religious texts to Khasi, published comparative studies, gave influential lectures in the early formative years of Seng Khasi, wrote patriotic songs that are still sung today, and even battled the agents of the East India Company in a trade war. The famous ‘Shad Suk Mynsiem’ (Dance of the Peaceful Hearts) was initially known as ‘Ka Shad U Sib’ (Sib’s Dance). These are just a few glimpses into his life and contributions.
He was a staunch Khasi who believed in and subscribed to the idea of “India”. For him, there was no conflict between Khasi Nationalism and Indian Nationalism, as he was very clear with the following – the Khasi Way of Life and Worship was an integral part of the great cultural and spiritual heritage of the sub-continent, and British rule was a clear threat to its survival. He fought the British, at the height of their powers, using his intellect and his unshakable belief in himself and his faith.
This clarity led him to support the Swadeshi movement from very early on. He joined the Indian National Congress in 1920. Although he never held an official post at Seng Khasi, he was an icon, and his work greatly helped the organization grow in strength. He propagated the traditional Khasi systems of administration and governance and said that the Khasis were not a conquered people, but he saw how they were rapidly losing their identity. He wanted a Khasi state with its values intact within the “New India”. In his newspaper ‘U Nongphira’ (The Watchman) he shared information and articles about the freedom struggle, created awareness and clarity about the treaties that the Khasi states had signed and was never afraid to expose the propaganda and lies of the colonial machine. The paper was banned in 1915 but he returned with ‘U Nongpynim’ (The Reviver) which was also ultimately banned in 1940.
The British authorities attempted to suppress and silence him multiple times, but he never backed down. He won a very important case maliciously filed against him, known as the Weiking case, where he had been accused of trampling on cemetery grounds on the way to the traditional Khasi dance arena (Lympung Weiking) in Jaiaw, Shillong. This was proven to be false and today the public road that runs down the middle of the hill stands as evidence. Books misinterpreting what he said, to discredit him, are still in publication, an ugly inheritance of the colonial legacy. However, due recognition without bias is also coming to light.
He was a supporter of the non-cooperation movement and adhered to Mahatma Gandhi’s
‘Satyagraha’ -quest into truth. He admired Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and spoke highly of him, while sections of Khasi society were plotting to protest and pelt stones at the great revolutionary. The poison injected by the British into the psyche of the local populace had sunk in deep. This anti fellow Indian and anti self mentality, tantamounting to self – denigration sadly continues till today. The greatest and most dangerous lie the British and their hounds planted in our minds was that the Khasis had no links with the rest of the country. This sinister divide and ruin policy still weakens us, but I am certain newer generations will not fall prey as easily.
When U Tirot Sing Syiem was battling David Scott and the East India Company, in the early to mid-19th century, the idea of a single independent nation had not fully crystallized. Revolts had spread across the land, but they were largely unconnected. Princely states and small communities began to take up arms on their own. However, by the time U Sib Charan began to write and publish material against the British in ‘U Nongphira’ the idea of an independent and united nation was becoming clearer, although the boundaries would drastically change as demands for a separate Islamic state in the western and the eastern corners of Bharat gained ground. Natural barriers, like rivers and mountain ranges, overnight became the new international borders. Khasis lost vast tracts of land to the newly created East Pakistan, today known as Bangladesh. Communities were split apart on this side of the subcontinent too.
U Sib Charan was confrontational, and fiery at times, but he was always guided by Truth and the search for it. While most Khasis only talk of ‘U Hynñiewtrep’, the Seven Huts, he is one of the few who has ever invoked ‘U Khyndaitrep’, the Nine who remained in the celestial abode of the Divine Creator, U Blei. Not only did he protect the indigenous faith, he also strengthened it. No one can deny that the Khasi identity has been kept intact largely due to efforts of leaders such as him – for the greatest form of preservation is through practice.
He wanted us to grow with and from the power of being part of a deep and vast ocean of spiritual bonds and traditions. It is up to us to derive strength from our similarities, rather than retreat further into the suffocating walls of gloom, desperation, blame and confusion. U Sib Charan believed strongly in the need for reforms, but he was vehemently opposed to outside interference and foreign ideas determining the path forward. His vision was clear – we must progress from our own Roots and understanding of Divinity and Fellow Man.
U Tirot Sing, Kiang Nangbah, U Mit, U Hon, U Dur, U Sib Charan Roy and many more fought not just to protect the land. . They fought for the dignity and soul of the people. Today that soul is growing stronger and clearer, with prideand peace in the garden of our Mother Goddess – Ka Mei Ri India (Bharat Mata). May we and many more continue to bloom in the years to come. Happy 75th year of Independence!
Ïai Minot! Khublei! Jai Hind!

Hammarsing L Kharhmar, President of ‘Ka Tbian Ki Sur Hara’, a Performing Arts School of Seng Khasi (Kmie).

Singpho Royal Family of Bisagaon

Image: Cottonbro(Pexels)

Margherita, a small town in Upper Asom, where tea-gardens roll up and down spreading lush greenery, takes one’s breath away. Hiten Bora, the then SDO had a lovely bungalow, in the midst of a tea-garden. We were there on his invitation, enjoying his hospitality, when he asked us if we were interested in going to a Singpho village. I jumped at the chance of visiting a tribal village. I have this fascination for villages, meeting different people, perhaps it’s the blood of my anthropologist father in me.
Bisagaon is a Singpho village. I had heard about tribal villages from my father, Bhuban Mohan Das. I was translating my father’s articles to be compiled into a book “The Diary of an Anthropologist” and in its process I got to know about different villages and different communities. I had also gathered some second hand knowledge about the Singphos. So, when I got the chance to visit a Singpho village, I was thrilled.
Just opposite Ledo coal mines a narrow path ran down. Our car followed that track. A big tea-garden loomed ahead. We steered along the passage through the green tea shrubs. Wherever we cast our eyes there were just green tea bushes, the looming sirish trees and the smell of the tea leaves. A never-ending field of tea bushes, as if we were lost amidst the greenery. At one point of time the car halted. A narrow river blocked our path. We got down from the car. We found some men waiting for us on the opposite bank of the river. The Singpho king was informed of our visit and so he had sent men to guide us. One of them was the Gaonburha, the village head of Bisagaon.
We crossed the river on a boat. Two men walked ahead leading us to the royal palace while Gaonburha walked behind us. We were to cover some distance on foot to the royal house. The fields were bare with only the stubbles sticking out of what were at one time green meadows. Harvest been over the crops were now stored safe in the granaries. Walking over the barren ground for some time we reached the king’s house.
A big chang-ghar, a house on bamboo stilts greeted us. A wide green field with ranges of hills all around and in front of us the big chang-ghar. The house seemed to merge in that natural surrounding. We walked up the wooden ladder. The verandah was made of dried leaves. Bare-footed we walked into a big room. The floor was of wood. Horns of a deer adorned the wall. The house seemed to speak of a past history. But modern possessions too were accommodatef. At one corner of the room was a television set.
We walked into another room. A long mattress was laid on the floor. Covering it was a Jaipuri bed sheet. We sat on it. A dwarfed table was laid before us and before each seat was a brass pot, a flat bowl and an empty glass. The pot was filled with water. We could pour water from the pot and wash our hands and faces into the big flat bowl.
The king sat opposite us. There was no mattress under him, only a rectangular piece of cloth. Above him was a rack on the wall where some English books found their place of importance.
When we asked him about his children he said he had five sons and seven daughters of which two were dead.



The king spoke about a lot of things. He was not a king now. There was no kingdom, hence no king too. But his grandfather was the king of that region called Bisagaon. They were Singpho people, their original home being Burma. To this date there were still relatives and friends in Burma. At one point of time there were no boundaries between Burma and India. They crossed hills and valleys and entered India from Burma to settle in Bisagaon. Till the days of his grandfather there were constant visits to and from Burma. But no one needed any pass to visit Burma, he said somewhat regretfully. “We may live in the plains, but we all are people of the hills. No matter how long one cuts ways to make roads, it will lead to the hills. ” The king said philosophically, “There is no other way. Hence, it’s no use showing our backs to the hills. ”
“Have you noticed one thing?” the king asked with a twinkle in his eyes. “There is no crow in this area. ”
True, this place had no crows. It was only when the king pointed out that we realised that there were no crows. He gave the reason too. “Tipam mountains are very powerful. If any crow crosses that hill then it is sure to fall sick and die. The mountain God does not allow any crow to cross the range. ”
They seemed to have a kind of fear and respect for the mountains.
“If you happen to show the rice filled bamboos towards the mountain god he gets very angry. He sends down rain and thunder in his fury. ” He meant the bamboos that were being used to steam rice.
When we discussed the problem of drugs among the present generation, and asked if his youths were falling into such troubles, the king smiled and said, “There is a story here too. There was a king. He had a daughter. She was Kani, i. e. blind. So, no youth came forth to marry her. She was very sad and cursed before dying – ‘No one was attracted towards me when I was alive, but after my death every one will fall for me. No one will be able to resist me. ’ When Kani died, she turned into a beautiful flower. Whosoever gets attracted towards her can never leave her. ”
Poppy flowers are called Kani in Assamese. We couldn’t help laughing at the way he narrated the story in reply to our curiosity regarding the youths of Bisagaon and their attraction towards drugs. It was quite a diplomatic response too.
Meanwhile, his daughters came out and put before each of us a bottle of Xaspani, i. e. home-made liquor, and a plate of pork. The king said, “This white xaspani is not at all strong. Very good for health. ” We were given some chutney to have with the pork. This cuts down the adverse effects of the pork fats.
The Singhphos eat their food before sunrise and after sunset. “There is a reason behind this, ” said one of the king’s men. He went on to explain the reason. Long time ago, when people used to live a different kind of a life, when they were more intent in gaining territories for themselves and their clan, at that time whenever they would cook and the smoke was seen from far, the enemies would get to know that there were settlers in that area and they would invade. In order that the enemies could not see from far the smoke rising out from the chang-ghar, they never cooked anything when there was light. This tradition continued to date.
It was time for our lunch. The girls put two bundles of rice wrapped in leaves on each of our plates. Then came the small bowls for each of us with chicken curry, fish curry, mashed fish, three or four types of vegetables. On opening the leafy bundles an appetizing aroma arose. However, one bundle contained so much of rice that we couldn’t even finish it. How were we to eat two bundles? When I said that one bundle would have been more than enough one of the girls said, “We are not supposed to serve just one pack. Even if you don’t eat from the other pack we have to serve two. This is our custom. ”
The girls who served us wore cloths tightly round their heads so as to cover their hair. One of the girls said, “When we cook and also when we serve we have to tie our head in this manner so that no hair falls into the food. ”
After lunch I went to see their kitchen. It was a big room with a cooking fireplace in the middle. A very big chang, i. e. a hanging platform, was over the fireplace with provisions to store things on it. A wooden staircase ran down from one side of the kitchen to a neat vegetable plot. Till the eyes could go there was a stretch of paddy field, now only with the stubbles sticking out.
When we were about to take our leave I stood below the house staring at the structure. A beautifully built large chang-ghar. At one time the king had ruled his kingdom from this very place. The king came out with his wife and said that she did everything, right from cooking to working in the paddy fields. My mind clouded as I looked at the queen. She did all her work silently. But she was the queen, even though there was no kingdom today. She was in the same position as the queen of yesteryears. Then why did she have to work so hard? When I voiced my thoughts, the king said, “I brought her with my money. I have paid for her. I have not brought her empty-handed. If I had brought her without giving anything I would be damned in hell. I have bought her and so she is mine. She has to work. ”
I thought of the dowry system in the other parts of India. There is no dowry system in Asom and the rest of the northeast, at least it was not heard of till recent times when people got to know about the system through media. Even then there are just stray cases in this region. But in the rest of India the bride’s family has to pay quite a lot to the groom’s family as dowry. When one ponders over what the Singpho king had said, then the boy actually belongs to the girl’s family, being bought with money. So, the boy should work under the girl. But things do not happen that way.
Once again we walked along the stubble field. This time the king, one of his daughters, two sons, Gaonburha and the two men who had come to fetch us from the riverside walked with us.
At a distance was a temple. The daughter pointed at it and said, “It’s a Buddhist temple. During Bihu festival, the idol of Buddha is taken out and put on a high place. The people pour water over the idol and also throw water on each other. Hence, this Bihu is known as Pani (Water) Bihu. There’s a lot of merry-making on this occasion. ”


The Singphos are Buddhist. Though they eat meat they do not kill any animal themselves. But the son informed us that at one time down history an elephant was sacrificed every year from the royal house. During the passage of time the elephant was replaced by a lamb and finally by a hen. While talking about hen, they said that the head of the hen should always be offered to the most respectable person. And for the Singphos their maternal uncle was the most highly regarded person. During feasts the heads of the chicken should be given to the maternal uncle of the family.
The king’s daughter told me that girls and boys worked equally hard in the fields as well as in the house. I asked, “Can your brothers cook?” to which the daughter said, “My brothers have to work in the kitchen in the same way as we the girls of the house do. ”
Today, we are talking about the equality of men and women, demanding that men should do the same work as the women do in the house. But the Singpho men and women have been working hand in hand in every field of life through centuries. The sons of the king were studying in English medium schools, getting their education like their counterparts in the rest of the country. Yet they had not forgotten their customs, their tradition. They talked with us in Assamese without any flaw. But among themselves they talked in their own Singpho language.
Pointing toward the distant mountain range, the king’s son said, “Through the passes of those mountains our forefathers had walked to Burma. At night they used to take shelter in the villages. The villagers offered all kinds of hospitality. They took days to reach Burma. Who can walk for such long distances today? It’s no point even if one can. You must have some kind of permit to enter. ”
It appeared that the youth of today too felt sad that the link between the mountains and the valleys had snapped. One cannot cross the political boundaries. These people still mourned their lost relationship due to the political rules.


Another interesting fact was revealed to me as I walked along with the king’s son and daughter. They did not take any food in some houses though they are on friendly terms with the family members. The reason was that their forefather had some quarrel with those families in the long past and had vowed by touching the dao (sword) that they would never take any food or water in their houses. The following generations kept that vow and the king’s family did not eat in some houses in order to stick to the pledge of their forefathers.


The history of the Singphos is not to be found in a written form. Their history had come down orally from one generation to the next. The king enlightened us with the story that their history was written on a piece of leather. But one day they were very hungry and could not find anything to eat; they made smoked leather out of the piece and ate it up. History went into their tummies. But the Singphos had to know their family tree up to the seventh generation. If they happened to visit another village they must be able to recount the names of their seven forefathers; if they couldn’t they were not allowed to enter the village or was not allowed to meet the person they were looking for. In the past when they had to travel to Burma, it was very essential that they knew the names of their forefathers up to the seventh generation. If they couldn’t, they were not permitted to stay in the village for the night. Even today the Singphos know the names of their forefathers to the seventh generation; the custom is still prevalent. It’s a nice custom; at least the people know their roots.
Once again we crossed the river by boat. I looked back at the Bisagaon we had left behind. I could never forget the people who still clung to their traditional beliefs and customs and took pride in working hand in hand, be it the royal family or the commoner of the Singpho community.
Srutimala Duara a lecturer in Handique college, Guwahati is an established writer who writes in English and Assamese. She has published a number of novels, collections of short stories and articles both in English as well as in Assamese
Her acclaimed works include ‘Autumn poems’ , ‘Ashes in seas’, ‘Steet Dogs Club’ and ‘Along my routes’

How I Came to Sri Ramakrishna

GOING TO HELL?
“And when you die and go to hell, it’s going to be for all eternity. You’ll be tortured there forever. ” To say I was shocked when I heard these words, coming from the mouth of the cousin of a good friend of mine while we were all playing cards together, would be an understatement. I was thirteen years old at the time. My friend’s cousin was an adult, and children of course tend to take what an adult says very seriously. My friend, who was also thirteen, had invited a few of us to join his extended family on a weekend camping trip. We were all having a wonderful time. At one point, a few of us sat down together for a friendly card game. As we played, the conversation had moved to the topic of religion.
All of this occurred in the rural countryside of Missouri, a state in America that has a large population of very conservative Protestant Christians. I was raised Roman Catholic, which made me religiously different from many of my friends and classmates. This difference had never been raised as an issue, until this fateful card game.
A couple of years before the “card game from hell, ” my father had been injured in a truck accident. He was hospitalized for many months, and then he was sent home, where my mother and I cared for him. His injury eventually led to his death, which happened when I was twelve years of age (one year before the camping trip and card game I have just mentioned).


During my father’s ordeal, and following his passing, I had begun to study the religions of the world. While I was still a devout Catholic, I also had an open mind, and wanted to know what many traditions and philosophies had to say about the big questions of life. What happens after we die? Why do we suffer? Does life have a purpose at all?
I was especially focused on the question of the afterlife. I was convinced that my father did not simply cease to exist when his body ceased to function. Indeed, as I saw him suffer through his many profound injuries, I became firmly convinced that we are not this body. If the body can become a prison, as my father’s had, or if it can turn against us, as it does in the case of someone with cancer, then it is something other than us. We are beings of consciousness who experience through the body, but we are not the body. And, not being the body, our existence could well be independent of it.
And indeed, this is what I was taught in the Catholic Church: that the soul and body are distinct, and that the soul continues to another destination after death. Like all Christian traditions, Catholicism teaches that souls in a state of grace reside forever in heaven with God after death, and that souls that are in a state of sin are punished forever in hell. The Catholic Church also has the view that there are souls who enter a third state, called purgatory, which is preparatory to life in heaven, where we are purified of our remaining imperfections.

There were aspects of this view, though, that troubled me. First, I did not feel that I knew of anyone who was so good as to deserve an eternity in heaven, or so evil as to deserve an eternity of punishment in hell. Eternity is a long time: forever. In fact, this was the topic under discussion when my friend’s cousin told me I was going to hell.
Secondly, the concept of hell itself made no sense to me at all. Whenever my parents had to punish me as a child, it was to teach me a lesson, so I would not make the same mistake again, and would do better next time. But an eternal punishment can have no end. It does not improve us. We just suffer forever. What kind of God would inflict an eternal punishment, with no purpose? And if God is all knowing and is our creator, this would mean that God, with full foreknowledge that we would be punished for eternity, went ahead and created us anyway, allowing us to live in a state of sin and then suffering forever. Such a God, in effect, creates beings precisely to punish them for eternity. This is a sadistic, hateful being, and not the God of love taught by Jesus.
The concept of purgatory made a great deal of sense to me, because it acknowledged that most of us are neither wholly good nor wholly evil. Most of the people I have encountered in my life are basically good, but imperfect. They typically do not seek to do harm willfully. I would say this of myself as well.
The problem with purgatory, though, was that it led me to the question, “If we still have imperfections that we need to work out after death, what was the point of this life? What were we doing here, if not working toward greater perfection?” The idea formed in my mind that perhaps we are already in purgatory: that we keep coming back, life after life, and gradually improve until we finally reach perfection and are received into the presence of God.
As I began to learn about the world’s religions, I found this idea echoed in the teachings of traditions like Hinduism and Buddhism: the idea of karma and rebirth, and an ultimate liberation from this process. This rang true to me as being consistent with my experience, with logic, and with the idea of a God who is both loving and just. We need to work out our imperfections. There is no free way out. But we have as many second chances as we need in order to do this.
I was especially drawn to India, and to Hindu traditions in particular, through seeing the movie Gandhi and through listening to the music of the Beatles, especially George Harrison, who was deeply influenced by Hindu traditions and teachings, having been prominently connected to both Transcendental Meditation and ISKCON, as well as the teachings of Paramahansa Yogananda and Swami Vivekananda (whose Raja Yoga he read during a holiday in India in 1966). In both the writings of Gandhi and the music and lyrics of George Harrison, I saw references to the Bhagavad Gita. I thought, “This sounds like a very wise book. I need to find this book! ”
Around this same time, I went with my Grandmother to a local market that was being held in the parking lot of a church (the Methodist Church in our small Missouri town). I accompanied Grandma to many such markets, usually in search of old science fiction novels and comic books. But at this particular market, which I attended around the age of thirteen, I walked to a table with a lot of books and magazines and found, on top of the pile: the Bhagavad Gita! It was a turning point in my life, as I had been thinking of this book but did not know how to go about finding it. I felt almost as if God had left it there for me to find. I picked it up, and the first verses I read were Lord Krishna’s reassurance to Arjuna that when the body dies, the soul continues. Just as a person casts away old and worn-out clothing and puts on a new set of clothing, the soul takes on a new body.
I was astounded to find this ancient book, from another part of the world, which echoed precisely the philosophy to which I was feeling drawn. I have sometimes said that it was like being an extraterrestrial, raised by human beings, who had come across an artifact from his home planet. This book made more sense to me than anything else I had ever read or heard.
So, when I was playing cards on the camping trip and began expressing my views once the topic of religion arose, my friend’s cousin promptly informed me that I was going to hell. I was not only a Catholic. (She believed that all Catholics were going to hell in any case). I was a weird Catholic who believed in rebirth. I was definitely going to hell!

MANY PATHS TO GOD
I had already concluded by that time that the idea of hell did not make any sense. I was also offended by the hypocrisy of someone who claimed to be a follower of Jesus (who said, “Do not judge others”) judging and condemning me to hell. But I was also shaken that an adult would speak in such a way to a child, threatening them with eternal damnation. It felt to me like a form of child abuse.
What made more sense to me, and seemed, again, more consistent with the idea of a just and loving God, was that paths to God must be universally available. It would be up to us, as free beings, to choose whether we took one of these paths. But a loving God would certainly not leave entire civilizations in darkness, as many Christians claimed.

Some time after the card game from hell, as I continued to my exploration of the world’s religions, I was reading Huston Smith’s The Religions of Man and came across the following words of Sri Ramakrishna:
‘I have practiced, ’ said he, ‘all religions–Hinduism, Islām, Christianity–and I have also followed the paths of the different Hindu sects. I have found that it is the same God toward whom all are directing their steps, though along different paths . . . The substance is One under different names, and everyone is seeking the same substance; only climate, temperament, and name create differences. Let each man follow his own path. If he sincerely and ardently wishes to know God, peace be unto him! He will surely realize Him. As with the doctrine of rebirth, and my finding the Bhagavad Gita, reading these words reflecting the Hindu teaching of pluralism–that many paths can and do lead to the ultimate goal–was a transformative experience. This made sense! Much more than the idea of only one true faith, with everyone else in the world going to hell

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COMING TO SRI RAMAKRISHNA
Early in my spiritual journey, I read the works of many great and wise teachers: not only Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda, but many others as well, like Paramahansa Yogananda, Aldous Huxley, Alan Watts, Swami Muktananda, Swami Rama, and still more, as well as classic texts such as the Upanishads, the Dhammapada, the Daodejing, and so on. I also continued to read and study from within the tradition in which I was born, exploring the works of Thomas Aquinas, Augustine, Anselm, and modern masters like Thomas Merton.
Many years later, after I decided to pursue a career in the study of philosophy and religion and was in the midst of my graduate studies, I met the woman who became my wife, best friend, and fellow traveler on the spiritual path. Mahua, a Bengali Hindu, was born to the tradition of Sri Ramakrishna. Her father was a great devotee of both Sri Ramakrishna and Swami Vivekananda, while her mother was a similarly great devotee of Anandamayi Ma. It was through this family connection that I came to appreciate the teachings of Sri Ramakrishna at an even deeper level.
Early in my teaching career, after graduate school, the two of us attended a conference, where I presented on Swami Vivekananda’s role in the rediscovery of Buddhism in India. Several swamis and pravrajikas of the Ramakrishna Order also presented at this same conference. I found these presentations to be the best of all, blending both scholarly acumen with a spiritual sensitivity and an appreciation for the depth of Swamiji’s philosophy. My wife and I were both especially drawn to one of these swamis, who eventually consented to become our Guru, giving us diksha, or initiation, into the tradition of Sri Ramakrishna.
I feel that, in this tradition, I have truly come home. I am grateful for my upbringing in the Catholic Church. It gave me a solid foundation in morality and an appreciation for spiritual life. I found, however, the teachings of Christianity too confining, though I nevertheless retain a deep appreciation for it as a valid path to God-realization, as Sri Ramakrishna has taught. When I had ceased to identify with Christianity–ironically, during my time as an undergraduate at a Catholic university, the University of Notre Dame–I felt a sense of freedom, but also a sense of becoming “unplugged” from a source of spiritual energy and inspiration.
Since taking initiation in the tradition of Sri Ramakrishna, I again feel “plugged in. ” I have become convinced that the guru-shishya-parampara, the tradition from teacher to student, tracing back to a great enlightened being, and the guru-shakti, the spiritual energy, that is transmitted via this lineage, are real things. (In the Catholic Church it is called “apostolic succession, ” and is traced back to Jesus. )
As of this writing, it has been twenty years since I met my Guru, and almost twenty years since my initiation. I am grateful every day to God, to my Guru, to my wife, and to the family of all spiritual seekers around the world for the experiences that have led me to this place:
even that miserable card game all those years ago!

Jeffery D. Long is a religious studies scholar who works on the religions and philosophies of India, particularly Hinduism and Jainism. He is a professor of religion and Asian studies at Elizabethtown College. Dr. Long is associated with the Vedanta Society, New york. A major theme of his work is religious pluralism. Dr. Long has authored several books.

Traditional Medicine: its importance and protection

Indigenous knowledge has no single definition, however, it may be defined as knowledge that is unique to a given culture or society and provides the infrastructure for agriculture, health care, food preparation, training, environmental conservation, and other life processes at the local level. It is part of the identity of indigenous tribes. It has been regarded as an important commodity in global health development. World Health Organisation (WHO) in its recommendations on Health for All Declaration (1978) highlighted the need to include local people, their traditions, and practices in Primary Health Care (PHC).

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines traditional medicine as ‘the health practices, approaches, knowledge, and beliefs incorporating plant, animal and mineral-based medicines, spiritual therapies, manual techniques, and exercises, applied singularly or in combination to treat, diagnose and prevent illnesses or maintain well-being

Herbal medicine in traditional medical practice is an important resource that can be mobilized for the attainment of the common goal of health for all. These herbal medicines have contributed significantly to man’s struggle against diseases and the maintenance of health. In recent years, interest in the use of herbal preparations has increased. Herbal medicines are used in most countries within the state health care system or in communities and private practices outside the state system.

Traditional and indigenous knowledge is unique to a given culture or society and the Jaintias who adhere to the traditional belief system are no exception to this knowledge, particularly in health care.
The Jaintias have a rich variety of traditional healing systems. One common healing practice is known as ‘Prem ya ka Tiar”, where an elder with extraordinary folk knowledge use ginger and chant a spiritual song or mantra. The chanting goes like this, “Ko Syiem Synchar Biskorom Blai, ko jaid ko Thakur ko chanbnein ko chankhyndaw, lurmiet luchai soodong i pyrthai. . . . . ” This practice is used to cure intestinal gas, belching, bloating, and flatulence. There are different types of ‘Prem’ for different ailments. Back in the old days, when one is traveling by train outside the State, our parents would give us ‘Syin Prem’ to be used during our journey for healing different ailments like diarrhea, fever, toothache, etc. This healing process is prevalent in the niamtre community.

Late Tingboi Thma- a famous snake bite traditional healers of Jowai


Let me narrate the story of when I was a child, regularly I would have ringworm all over my neck. And the infection worsens during the winter months. No matter how frequently I visited a dermatologist and applied antifungal cream, there is no sign of a cure. In 1986, in the winter month, my maternal uncle, took me to my hometown, Jowai to visit a traditional healer by the name Late Waheh Kento Sumer. Early in the morning, he took us to the paddy field at Dulong Poh Hali, Jowai. Here, he pick from the soil a tiny red insect, and with chanting, he rubbed the insect all around my neck. I was advised to sort of plaster my neck with a cloth for a week. After a week, the rashes which had become dry just fell off my neck and since then I never have had the problem of ringworm again to date.
Then in our hills we often heard of a tree we called Deiñ Kaiñ – a type of tree that causes skin allergy. Any person with less charm, if one happens to be in the proximity of the tree; one’s will experience rashes all over the body. We were warned by our elders not even to point the finger at the tree because it will also cause a rash or skin allergy. My friend’s father, Late Rev. P. L. Wann while at Sutnga was supposedly under the influence of the Deiñ Kaiñ, while strolling around. In a few minutes, he experienced an unbearable rash and his right arm was swollen. When he reached Shillong, luckily one student who study at St. Anthony’s College, Waheh Bal Pakma hailing from Kyndong Tuber (Six kilometers from 8th Mile Jaintia Hill) who came to heal him. The healing process was that he presses the palm with his fingernails. Within a week the swelling and the rashes disappeared and were cured.
Snakebite is a significant public health problem in many developing countries. Farmers are particularly exposed to snakes. There are more than 3000 known species of snakes of which around 300 are poisonous. In India out of 216 species, approximately 53 are poisonous. Traditional healers of snake bites are a vanishing breed. In Jowai, Waheh Tingboi Thma of Loomkyrwiang is a famous healer. Waheh Tingboi Thma has saved many lives over the years. Unlike traditional healing methods, such as local incision, herb ingestion, application of snake stones, and tattooing, Thma’s healing process involves some rites and rituals.
Since man first learned to make fire 1. 7 to 2. 0 million years ago, burns and scalds have been one of the most common of his injuries. Remedies for burn wound healing are practiced to date by the Pnar. One of the prominent traditional healers of burn injuries is Late Litis Kyndiah. The process of healing is called ‘Slu iñ diñ’, where the healer would use mustard oil and chant on it, which will be used as an ointment and applied to the burn wound. This practice is still in operation in Khasi and Jaintia Hills
However, the advent of western cultures has had a great impact on the traditional healing system. Today, the survival of many indigenous/traditional knowledge systems is at stake because of rapidly changing natural environments and fast pacing economic, political, and cultural changes on a global scale. Traditional knowledge is transmitted from generation to generation, often in oral form or by way of example, whereas written sources may not exist at all or only in local languages. Thus, it is imperative to preserve the knowledge held by our forefathers. It is in this context, that the Traditional Knowledge should be afforded effective protection.
Throughout the world, indigenous peoples and local communities have developed a wealth of traditional knowledge that they wish to protect and promote. Yet few have to use the intellectual property system to do so. Article 31 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (2007) is an important reference in this regard: “Indigenous peoples have the right to maintain, control, protect, and develop their cultural heritage, traditional knowledge, and traditional cultural expressions, as well as the manifestations of their science, technologies, and culture, including human and genetics resources, seeds, medicines, knowledge of properties of flora and fauna, oral traditions, literature, designs, sports, and traditional games and visual and performing arts. They also have the right to maintain, control, protect, and developed their intellectual property over such cultural heritage, traditional knowledge, and traditional cultural expression. It’s further declared that “In conjunction with the indigenous people, States shall take effective measures to recognise and protect the exercise of their rights”.
This valuable asset is at risk. Since traditional knowledge practices have ancient roots and are often oral – are not protected by conventional intellectual property (IP) systems. In recognition of the value and preservation and promotion of the traditional knowledge system, in recent years, the protection of TK has received increased attention in various international forums, including the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the International Labour Organization (ILO), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Health Organization (WHO), the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the UN Commission on Human Rights
The African proverb says “When an elder dies, a library burns down”. This clearly sums up the importance of traditional knowledge preservation and cultural continuity.
Dr Omarlin Kyndiah teaches Biochemistry at St. Edmund’s College, Shillong. Known for his insightful writing he also is the General Secretary of Sein Raij Niamtre Shillong

Singpho Royal Family of Bisagaon

Dr. Srutimala Duara

Margherita, a small town in Upper Asom, where tea-gardens roll up and down spreading lush greenery, takes one’s breath away. Hiten Bora, the then SDO had a lovely bungalow, in the midst of a tea-garden. We were there on his invitation, enjoying his hospitality, when he asked us if we were interested in going to a Singpho village. I jumped at the chance of visiting a tribal village. I have this fascination for villages, meeting different people, perhaps it’s the blood of my anthropologist father in me. 

Bisagaon is a Singpho village. I had heard about tribal villages from my father, Bhuban Mohan Das. I was translating my father’s articles to be compiled into a book “The Diary of an Anthropologist” and in its process I got to know about different villages and different communities. I had also gathered some second hand knowledge about the Singphos. So, when I got the chance to visit a Singpho village, I was thrilled.

Just opposite Ledo coal mines a narrow path ran down. Our car followed that track. A big tea-garden loomed ahead. We steered along the passage through the green tea shrubs. Wherever we cast our eyes there were just green tea bushes, the looming sirish trees and the smell of the tea leaves. A never-ending field of tea bushes, as if we were lost amidst the greenery. At one point of time the car halted. A narrow river blocked our path. We got down from the car. We found some men waiting for us on the opposite bank of the river. The Singpho king was informed of our visit and so he had sent men to guide us. One of them was the Gaonburha, the village head of Bisagaon. We crossed the river on a boat. Two men walked ahead leading us to the royal palace while Gaonburha walked behind us. We were to cover some distance on foot to the royal house. The fields were bare with only the stubbles sticking out of what were at one time green meadows. Harvest been over the crops were now stored safe in the granaries. Walking over the barren ground for some time we reached the king’s house.

A big chang-ghar, a house on bamboo stilts greeted us. A wide green field with ranges of hills all around and in front of us the big chang-ghar. The house seemed to merge in that natural surrounding. We walked up the wooden ladder. The verandah was made of dried leaves. Bare-footed we walked into a big room. The floor was of wood. Horns of a deer adorned the wall. The house seemed to speak of a past history. But modern possessions too were accommodatef. At one corner of the room was a television set.

We walked into another room. A long mattress was laid on the floor. Covering it was a Jaipuri bed sheet.  We sat on it. A dwarfed table was laid before us and before each seat was a brass pot, a flat bowl and an empty glass. The pot was filled with water. We could pour water from the pot and wash our hands and faces into the big flat bowl. 

The king sat opposite us. There was no mattress under him, only a rectangular piece of cloth. Above him was a rack on the wall where some English books found their place of importance. 

When we asked him about his children he said he had five sons and seven daughters of which two were dead. 

The king spoke about a lot of things. He was not a king now. There was no kingdom, hence no king too. But his grandfather was the king of that region called Bisagaon. They were Singpho people, their original home being Burma. To this date there were still relatives and friends in Burma. At one point of time there were no boundaries between Burma and India. They crossed hills and valleys and entered India from Burma to settle in Bisagaon. Till the days of his grandfather there were constant visits to and from Burma. But no one needed any pass to visit Burma, he said somewhat regretfully. “We may live in the plains, but we all are people of the hills. No matter how long one cuts ways to make roads, it will lead to the hills.” The king said philosophically, “There is no other way. Hence, it’s no use showing our backs to the hills.”

“Have you noticed one thing?” the king asked with a twinkle in his eyes. “There is no crow in this area.”

True, this place had no crows. It was only when the king pointed out that we realised that there were no crows. He gave the reason too. “Tipam mountains are very powerful. If any crow crosses that hill then it is sure to fall sick and die. The mountain God does not allow any crow to cross the range.”

They seemed to have a kind of fear and respect for the mountains. 

“If you happen to show the rice filled bamboos towards the mountain god he gets very angry. He sends down rain and thunder in his fury.” He meant the bamboos that were being used to steam rice.

When we discussed the problem of drugs among the present generation, and asked if his youths were falling into such troubles, the king smiled and said, “There is a story here too. There was a king. He had a daughter. She was Kani, i.e. blind. So, no youth came forth to marry her. She was very sad and cursed before dying – ‘No one was attracted towards me when I was alive, but after my death every one will fall for me. No one will be able to resist me.’ When Kani died, she turned into a beautiful flower. Whosoever gets attracted towards her can never leave her.”

Poppy flowers are called Kani in Assamese. We couldn’t help laughing at the way he narrated the story in reply to our curiosity regarding the youths of Bisagaon and their attraction towards drugs. It was quite a diplomatic response too.

Meanwhile, his daughters came out and put before each of us a bottle of Xaspani, i.e. home-made liquor, and a plate of pork. The king said, “This white xaspani is not at all strong. Very good for health.” We were given some chutney to have with the pork. This cuts down the adverse effects of the pork fats. 

The Singhphos eat their food before sunrise and after sunset. “There is a reason behind this,” said one of the king’s men. He went on to explain the reason. Long time ago, when people used to live a different kind of a life, when they were more intent in gaining territories for themselves and their clan, at that time whenever they would cook and the smoke was seen from far, the enemies would get to know that there were settlers in that area and they would invade. In order that the enemies could not see from far the smoke rising out from the chang-ghar, they never cooked anything when there was light. This tradition continued to date.

It was time for our lunch. The girls put two bundles of rice wrapped in leaves on each of our plates. Then came the small bowls for each of us with chicken curry, fish curry, mashed fish, three or four types of vegetables.  On opening the leafy bundles an appetizing aroma arose. However, one bundle contained so much of rice that we couldn’t even finish it. How were we to eat two bundles? When I said that one bundle would have been more than enough one of the girls said, “We are not supposed to serve just one pack. Even if you don’t eat from the other pack we have to serve two. This is our custom.”

The girls who served us wore cloths tightly round their heads so as to cover their hair. One of the girls said, “When we cook and also when we serve we have to tie our head in this manner so that no hair falls into the food.” 

After lunch I went to see their kitchen. It was a big room with a cooking fireplace in the middle. A very big chang, i.e. a hanging platform, was over the fireplace with provisions to store things on it. A wooden staircase ran down from one side of the kitchen to a neat vegetable plot.  Till the eyes could go there was a stretch of paddy field, now only with the stubbles sticking out. 

When we were about to take our leave I stood below the house staring at the structure. A beautifully built large chang-ghar. At one time the king had ruled his kingdom from this very place. The king came out with his wife and said that she did everything, right from cooking to working in the paddy fields. My mind clouded as I looked at the queen. She did all her work silently. But she was the queen, even though there was no kingdom today. She was in the same position as the queen of yesteryears. Then why did she have to work so hard? When I voiced my thoughts, the king said, “I brought her with my money. I have paid for her. I have not brought her empty-handed. If I had brought her without giving anything I would be damned in hell. I have bought her and so she is mine. She has to work.”

I thought of the dowry system in the other parts of India. There is no dowry system in Asom and the rest of the northeast, at least it was not heard of till recent times when people got to know about the system through media. Even then there are just stray cases in this region. But in the rest of India the bride’s family has to pay quite a lot to the groom’s family as dowry. When one ponders over what the Singpho king had said, then the boy actually belongs to the girl’s family, being bought with money. So, the boy should work under the girl. But things do not happen that way.

Once again we walked along the stubble field. This time the king, one of his daughters, two sons, Gaonburha and the two men who had come to fetch us from the riverside walked with us. 

At a distance was a temple. The daughter pointed at it and said, “It’s a Buddhist temple. During Bihu festival, the idol of Buddha is taken out and put on a high place. The people pour water over the idol and also throw water on each other. Hence, this Bihu is known as Pani (Water) Bihu. There’s a lot of merry-making on this occasion.”

The Singphos are Buddhist. Though they eat meat they do not kill any animal themselves. But the son informed us that at one time down history an elephant was sacrificed every year from the royal house. During the passage of time the elephant was replaced by a lamb and finally by a hen. While talking about hen, they said that the head of the hen should always be offered to the most respectable person. And for the Singphos their maternal uncle was the most highly regarded person. During feasts the heads of the chicken should be given to the maternal uncle of the family.

The king’s daughter told me that girls and boys worked equally hard in the fields as well as in the house. I asked, “Can your brothers cook?” to which the daughter said, “My brothers have to work in the kitchen in the same way as we the girls of the house do.”

Today, we are talking about the equality of men and women, demanding that men should do the same work as the women do in the house. But the Singpho men and women have been working hand in hand in every field of life through centuries. The sons of the king were studying in English medium schools, getting their education like their counterparts in the rest of the country. Yet they had not forgotten their customs, their tradition. They talked with us in Assamese without any flaw. But among themselves they talked in their own Singpho language. 

Pointing toward the distant mountain range, the king’s son said, “Through the passes of those mountains our forefathers had walked to Burma. At night they used to take shelter in the villages. The villagers offered all kinds of hospitality. They took days to reach Burma. Who can walk for such long distances today? It’s no point even if one can. You must have some kind of permit to enter.”

It appeared that the youth of today too felt sad that the link between the mountains and the valleys had snapped. One cannot cross the political boundaries. These people still mourned their lost relationship due to the political rules. 

Another interesting fact was revealed to me as I walked along with the king’s son and daughter. They did not take any food in some houses though they are on friendly terms with the family members. The reason was that their forefather had some quarrel with those families in the long past and had vowed by touching the dao (sword) that they would never take any food or water in their houses. The following generations kept that vow and the king’s family did not eat in some houses in order to stick to the pledge of their forefathers. 

The history of the Singphos is not to be found in a written form. Their history had come down orally from one generation to the next.  The king enlightened us with the story that their history was written on a piece of leather. But one day they were very hungry and could not find anything to eat; they made smoked leather out of the piece and ate it up. History went into their tummies. But the Singphos had to know their family tree up to the seventh generation. If they happened to visit another village they must be able to recount the names of their seven forefathers; if they couldn’t they were not allowed to enter the village or was not allowed to meet the person they were looking for. In the past when they had to travel to Burma, it was very essential that they knew the names of their forefathers up to the seventh generation. If they couldn’t, they were not permitted to stay in the village for the night. Even today the Singphos know the names of their forefathers to the seventh generation; the custom is still prevalent. It’s a nice custom; at least the people know their roots.

Once again we crossed the river by boat. I looked back at the Bisagaon we had left behind. I could never forget the people who still clung to their traditional beliefs and customs and took pride in working hand in hand, be it the royal family or the commoner of the Singpho community. 

Aspects of Orality in Literatures from Northeast India

Mamang Dai the writer from Arunachal plumbs the depths of the so called unrecorded and, therefore, unknown. In another book The Black Hill (2014) she has done exhaustive research on the agency of the coloniser in the hills of Arunachal Pradesh. At this level the book is all about tangible, linear history. The warp and weft of the book, however, is in the undergrowth of the forest, the playing field of her characters who weave into the narrative stories of obligations to clan and fealties to the spirit world. Kajinsha’s struggle with his own people, his inner turmoil and the combinations and permutations that emerge from communities on the throes of urgent changes, wraps his and Gimur’s love story within the intangibles of an oral community that, for one, places importance upon dreams and dreaming, as signifiers of other realities and truths more profound and powerful. Thus the intersection of the human and spirit world speaks about the acceptance of parallel worlds in communities that profess to access the spirit of the forest and the universe itself. Magically real perhaps, reminiscent of the novels of the Columbian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez who made famous his grandmother’s story-telling habit of subverting the rules of linearity, but the question is, is magical an appropriately complete enough word to hold the wealth of knowledge that has been sustained by an oral paradigm upon which the speaking imagination was whetted and sustained?
There are no easy answers to this, only attempts to follow or understand the serrated course of the oral, such as the flight of the released arrow or the lime-marked forehead indicating favour from the gods or the defiant howl of the sentinel-dog in the dark. And as writers have to depend upon memory, another question that follows is, can one hold the oral paradigm in place when it has already been so eroded? Orality within modern paradigms is a subject of much discussion and many induced sessions. But orality as forming the “resistant” (Syiem 22-34) bedrock of indigenous world-views is a cryptic issue. The wrestle with orality and for orality, is indeed an important dimension for writers from North-East India, who are groping, within the shadow areas of their own oralites, with imported tools that have no apparent connection with the oral mindscape of their ancestors. What has been thrown up, however, is a rich assortment of, so called uncategorised material that springs directly from those who are attempting to bridge the gap between the writing and the speaking, self-appointed oracles affiliated to the truth of the ancestor.


He is the ancestor who has provided the foundational logic for an oral paradigm that has freed the dynamic of time and space from sequential reality. Within the context of story-telling from North-East India then, there is no dearth of non-linear and non-sequential narratives that resist containment within the material boundaries of existence. Experiential reality within these narratives navigates a journey that has as its starting point the physical universe; the here and now. However, transformations and interventions from other worlds form part of the natural order of a world-view that is porous enough for collisions and juxtapositions to take place with these other worlds. The unbridled imagination at work is able to balance multiple realities and multiple worlds together. The sleeping river in When the River Sleeps is only part of one order, that of the spirit world. There are multiple time-cycles, multiple generations of humans and non-humans, and multiple tellings within the narrative. Vilie’s walk is through the natural cycle of human time. But in the course of experiences that enhance his perception he penetrates physical walls and enters dimensions other than his own. This constitutes the substance of stories in these parts. They may seem unintelligible and unfamiliar to the uninitiated but through generations in time, they have worked themselves seamlessly into the telling. The structured dimensions of reality and linear time are non-existent and non-functional entities. To the “educated” reader these stories subvert life as they would understand it. In actual fact they portray the very reality that has pervaded every nook and corner of life in the region. Perception of this reality lies in the inner eye of the beholder who has been taught to hone his/her sight to the intangibles beyond the self, greater than any individual self.
The overriding vision thus sets it apart as a story of many encounters; for Vilie the native, to be apprenticed further in the ways of the forest; for the reader from the region who identifies familiarly with innumerable encounters; for the perceptive reader from elsewhere, who encounters new levels of thought and reality and for the un-perceptive reader from everywhere whose encounter with the narrative is purely at the superficial and mechanistic level.
The dependence upon memory is very strong, but memory being what it is with its own redactions, also has a large role in shaping narratives and stories. What emerges from this scenario seem to be repetitive versions of the same stories much like an oral storehouse of narratives that tell the same story with a variety of renditions, twice, thrice or even four times over. Dramatists and poets from Meghalaya for instance, have scripted the story of U Sier Lapalang according to their own renditions. The suicide of Ka Likai is another story that has had different takes. The rationale of the oral exerts an influence stronger than time for there are presences and absences, resonances and dissonances within the written narratives that follow instructions from the oral. This does not in any way indicate a lack but rather holds the light up to an imagination that has derived its ethics and aesthetics from oral groundings. The ingrained habit of the telling and re-telling is a throwback to an imagination uninhibited by alien notions of selection and order. And if one were to compare the body of work from North-East India one would find a surprising number of thematic and structural parallels systemic to the imaginative framework of stories. When the River Sleeps has surprising links with the belief system of Kajinsha’s community in The Black Hill, which finds echoes in Nini Lungalang’s poems and short stories or even in the Mizo stories collected and edited by Margaret Zama in Contemporary Short Stories from Mizoram(2017).Further corroboration of these stories may be found in the lore of the Khasi and Jaiñtia communities. The landscape seems familiarly grounded upon the individual’s or community’s ability to negotiate existence through the intangibles of life in a concentration of energy and resource that perceives a universe that communicates only through the axiom of the spoken.
In her essay, “Writing Orality”, Temsula Ao explains the cardinal necessity of taking that one extra step to carry orality further on to the written medium, if it is to survive at all. Her poetry and other writings reconstruct the feats of warriors, the journey to the land of the dead or the story of the lost script amongst others. This has been a good alternative and a successful endeavour too for at all levels, the scripting and archiving and documentation has fast forwarded orality into a twenty-first century avatar. For indigenous writers from Australia and America, however, this is taking on complex dimensions involving the unevenness of the oral; whether its integrity can at all be retained within the physical frontier of the written. Where this will take writers from the region is an important question; but as of now, they are compulsively bent upon the act of “bearing witness” (Nongkynrih ix): scraping evidences from the past, breaking up the encrustations of fossilised time, following closely on the heels of an elder who is still in communion with the universe and generally capturing the un-captured in the written medium. The end result is this vast quantum of narratives and art-work, songs and chants, ballads and sayings that are cumulative representations of the indigenous imagination. These writers form the frontline of those who are seeking to bring in linkages from an interrupted past, interrupting themselves as it were to access ancient imaginings in a very conscious way. The outpouring of writings reflect well upon oral world-views of particular communities; but when all of them have put their tags upon this oral universe by attempting to connect to it, the resultant representation becomes graphic in its involvement with the spirit of the spoken word in all its broken but intimate manifestations.
I have chosen the book When the River Sleeps as being representative of this oral-aesthetic because the protagonist – to use an accepted western category – who is not really the protagonist because the forest is the actual protagonist, authenticates existence on a razor-edge of experiences that challenge his perception of what is appearance and what is reality. There are many climaxes in the book sustained by Vilie’s extraordinary capacity of foreseeing the immediate future which determines further missions. He dies in defence of the “heart-stone”, killed by evil in the form of the murderer who had also killed the Nepali couple at the beginning; who is in turn devoured by a “weretiger”. The narrative underplays the individual episode. Each episode, however, stands out as a veritable example of the many realities that Vilie encounters in the larger scheme. This is the reason why there are so many climaxes within the book as it follows the oral course of a story that comes from a world-view intimate with the intricacies of the land. By this I mean the overarching presence of other presences within it. Courage to face them can only be measured in terms of the confrontations that have been met. Seasonal time and cyclic time sets the chronometric measure for these stories coming from unknown villages from the region. Death is contained within a larger vision of life. Hence Vilie’s death, though tragic is part of the larger pattern that facilitates life for Ate who now has possession of the “heart-stone”. There are a surprising number of heroes and heroines who live together in a universe resonating with narratives comprising small nations with small narratives that connect to each other through their perception of similar connotative realities. This becomes difficult for the foreign born and city bred which is the reason why the old storyteller in Temsula Ao’s short story “Apenyo’s Song” in These Hills Called Home (2006) insists upon an initiation into the mystiques of the waiting and watching, and the listening:
Storyteller and audience strain to listen more attentively and suddenly a strange thing happens: as the wind whirls past the house, it increases in volume and for the briefest of moment seems to hover above the house. Then it resumes its whirling as though hurrying away to other regions beyond human habitation. The young people are stunned because they hear the new element in the volume and a certain uncanny lilt lingers on in the wake of its departure… ‘You heard it, didn’t you? Didn’t I tell you? It was Apenyo’s last song’… (32)
That night the tragic song rides the wind as it makes itself audible to all, more articulate than the teller herself who knows that she is a mere tool in the larger scheme of a speaking universe. The storyteller’s place is a hallowed one because of an unwarranted sense of mission. She is not any pedestrian performer but someone with the linguistic proficiency and perceptive power of the seer; a characterising feature of poetry from the region, lyrical, dramatic and profound as has been the lifeblood of generations of people embedded within the land.
The multiple worlds of Easterine Kire’s novel are not invented ones. They have come down from the earlier generations that have cut their teeth upon the edifices of orality. They bear the sense of an existence “that can’t be written off/ can’t be written over.”(Many Sides p32) for, orality will continue to have its say. The writer from the region who maintains affiliation to the oral, as opposed to the latter day writer who has found greener pastures in cityscapes, will need to grapple with the very identity of the oral as it still inheres within reality. Therefore, maintaining integrity to the oral as Easterine Kire has attempted to do must result in an aesthetics that signifies more than what is found within the printed pages of a book. This would in one way point to a kind of reader-response paradigm. The audience, in this case the reader, must be able to source out hidden signifiers from within the signified dynamic of the oral as represented within a written text. The onward flow of meaning can happen only in the intertwining of symbol and issue, landscape and inscape which are threaded together by a language that is nuanced by a deep sense of larger realities prevailing within the story. The end invariably lies in the beginning; in the acknowledged presence of a reader who maintains connection by sustained navigation through the narrative. Otherwise it will continue to remain only a fairy-tale.

Miles to See MASS MoCA and The Clark


MASS MoCA stands for the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. It is located in an old town called North Adams in the north-western corner of the State of Massachusetts in the United States of America. My visit to MASS MoCA was clubbed with The Clark Institute – a paradise for art lovers – in Williamstown, an area adjacent to North Adams. An additional day, 29th February, of the year 2020 (which happens to be a leap year), gave us an opportunity to access the connotations of life imbued in the art objects placed in the two museums. We could immerse ourselves for the day in an ocean of creative thoughts.
Our team was comprised of five members, most of whom were academics. Starting from the town of Amherst, we meandered through the villages, towns, forests, and the hairpin turns on the hills (much like the roads of the outskirts of Shillong), for more than two hours, to reach MASS MoCA. It was as if the beauty of the snow-clad nature of the late winter was waiting to welcome us cordially to enjoy it throughout our journey. Perhaps, it even decreed the sun not to shine much on the snow and indicated the snow not to melt away quickly until we get to our destination. In the way, we stopped at a small and quiet town called Buckland.
The town of Bucklan
By tracing its history, we easily reached a time when, two hundred years ago, the British colonizers started a hub of manufacturing industries at North Adams, in the region which came to be known as New England in America. The information that can be found on the website says: ‘The 16 acres of grounds in North Adams, Massachusetts, encompass a vast complex of 19th-century mill buildings and occupy nearly one-third of the city’s downtown business district.’ Its journey from the mills to a museum is not only a part of the eventualities of history, but also is indicative of the economic, industrial and architectural changes that remained as factors of paramount influence. The trend towards a globalized world contributed to the shift of capital investments from America and Europe to Asia, more specifically to China, Japan and South Korea, mainly to avail cheap labour and raw materials, for setting up new manufacturing units.
Galleries in MASS MoCA
Major contemporary artists have created their art works using various forms and materials. Colourful designs with glass, murals or frescos and graffities on the walls are remarkably attractive.
Linear graffities on the wall
A large sculpture of a human figure surrounded by a thousand small things
The act of measuring the eternal values hidden in the immortal objects of art often proves to be baffling, as the element of time drives man to discover vistas where he can fulfil his unquenchable desire of gaining as much meaning as possible in life. Spending only two-and-a-half hours at MASS MoCA can seldom justify the merit of the treasures it is endowed with. Still, a special reference, as this less-educated onlooker feels, must be made to the works of Louise Bourgeois who ‘was intrigued by the subconscious, and her work is often understood as an expression of repressed feelings’.
‘PASS’, ‘Nature Study’ ‘The Couple’ and ‘Untitled’ sculptures are her available creations that unfailingly engage the viewer’s imagination.
UNTITLED


The Clark Institute, in short, The Clark, is another museum situated in a nearby place called Williamstown, as I’ve mentioned above. Today, under the aegis of Williams College, the museum is jointly administered by The Clark and the College, and offers one of the world’s most respected graduate programmes in the history of art. It was developed by Sterling Clark and his wife Francine Clark. Sterling Clark had a distinguished career in the U.S. Army and was also an heir to the Singer sewing-machine fortune. Francine Clark was an actress of repute
in Comédie-Française in Paris. ‘The two shared a passion for art and quietly began building a remarkable collection of paintings, sculpture, silver, porcelain, drawings, and prints.’ With their private collections of the pieces of art, that they collected over forty years, The Clark Institute offers an ensemble of the works of some major European and American masters. But, even before entering the gate of The Clark, we were humbled by some of the inscriptions on it and the picturesqueness of the Institute’s surroundings.
‘Am I ready to get in to have a inside’, I asked myself, ‘or shall I remain outside forever to be enamoured by nature?’ I was completely in a fix. However, it is perhaps the rational mind that always wins. I tried my best to appear like other so-called ‘smart guys’ to hide my awe and entered the precincts of a treasured island, slowly.
Impressionism flourished during the later half of the

nineteenth century. Like many other styles of painting, it has germinated from the avant-garde and the norm-breaking spirit of the French artists. Leading among them were Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. In most of their works, the artists have depicted nature not as it is but ‘as is seen’ by them. The emphasis on the ‘accurate depiction of light’, ‘relatively small, thin yet visible brush strokes’, ‘ordinary subject matter’, and ‘the effects of the passage of time’ are
‘Green Landscape’, 1886, oil on canvas by George Inness
some of the characteristic features of Impressionism. In America, George Inness, a follower of the Swedish philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg, believed that the spirit of God was present throughout the natural world. Inness’s nature paintings display an array of impastos of impressionistic style. In The Clark Institute, Inness’s paintings are exhibited in a considerable portion of the galleries, along with the masterpieces of Monet, Renoir, John Constable, Vincent Van Gogh and several other impressionistic painters. A self-portrait of Pierre- Auguste Renoir drew my attention for some reasons unknown. I took a long time to observe the creation of the artist’s own bodied self.
Here I also found Monet’s Cliff at Étretat and Rodin’s famous sculpture The Thinker.
‘How was your trip?’ An aged professor in our team asked me when we all came out in the afternoon.
He is an American but he is acquainted with India and its culture for he has been visiting the country for the last thirty years. It was basically his plan to show us something memorable in his country before we go back to India. In my reply I asked him, ‘Do all visitors to the US come to see this place?’
He gave a silent smile.
I said, ‘It should be made mandatory’. Indeed, I believe, no institution in the world can offer a better form of education or, in other words, an aesthetic education, to humanity than such places of excellence as these art museums that I had the opportunity to have an experience of. Before bidding adieu, I looked up to see the place once more. The sun god had initiated his routine proclamation of the end of the day. We set out on our journey back to the town of Amherst.