Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Of the spiritual and temporal

Much space on the editorial page of this paper was dedicated to the debate on the role of the church vis-a-vis the problem the state is facing. A section of the laity questioned the role of the church in the society especially in this trying time. The question asked was should the church remain adamant and remain a mere spectator to all that is going on in the state? Or is the role of the Church confine to the four walls of the buildings only?
We have seen articles and letter to the editors which only make obvious that people are not happy with the prevailing situation. Some are of the opinion that the church should not involve in earthly issues and it should only engage with spiritual matters, while others think otherwise and wish that the church should involve in issues which are crucial for the society.
In the Hynniewtrep traditional context even though the Kings or the Dalois are the head of the faith, their role in the day to day religious life of the people is very limited. Niamtre or Niam Khasi was not started as organized religion because religion in the Khasi Pnar context is more of family affairs. It was only in the late eighteen hundred that the followers of the Niam Khasi organized themselves under the banner of the Seng Khasi and followers of Niamtre in Jowai organised Sein Raij only after the country gain its independence. In the traditional religion every rites of passages of any member of the family is conducted by the Kni who is the head of the clan. And because it is not an organize religion, the place of worship in the Hynniewtrep traditional religion is the hearth and the home of the clan.
The Hynniewtrep traditional religion may not have organized body like the other faith groups, yet the Khasi Pnar are govern by their own set of value system. The three cardinal principles of the Hynniewtrep people are ka Tipbriew tip Blei, Kamai iaka Hok and Tipkur tipkha and the entire value system of the tribe rest on these tri-principles. The three cardinal principles of Khasi Pnar value system is all about striking a right relationship. The first principle is about having a right relationship with the creator and the other two principles are about having a right relationship with fellow human beings. Therefore in the Hyniewtrep religious context; ka Niam or religion is a way of life and it is about how one is to live in the World- by living a righteous life, by trying to have a right relationship with God and having a good and cordial relationship with fellow human beings.
The traditional Hynniewtrep religion not only stresses on how one live in the world, but the ten commandments of the Jews too are like compass which guide Jews to live a righteous life. Rabbi Hillel of the Jews was once asked by some pagans to recite the whole of Jewish teachings while standing on one leg, the pagans said that they would convert to his religion if he can do so. Hillel obliged and stood on one leg and said, “Do not unto others as you would not have done unto you. (Or the other version is, do unto others as you would want others to do to you) That is the Torah and the rest is commentary” he quipped. This is the simple teaching of the entire Torah or as known to the Christian -the Old Testament. According to Rabbi Hillel the basic teaching of the Torah is to do good to others and nothing else. It was also recorded in the two gospels that Jesus too said something similar when people ask him which is the most important commandment. In his response Jesus said something like the Lord your God is one, you should love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and the second commandment is to love your neighbours as you love yourself there are no commandment greater than these. These two great religious figures also square down their teaching to one simple idea and said something similar to what the Hynniewtrep religion teaches, that the important aspect of all religious teaching is for a person to strike a right relationship with God and with fellow human beings and maybe even with our fellow creation.
 Karen Amstrong one of the scholars in the study of the three Abrahamic religion wrote in her book The Spiral Stairways that “The one and only test of valid religious idea, doctrinal statement, spiritual experience or devotional practice was that it must lead directly to practical compassion. If your understanding of the divine made you kinder, more emphatic, and impelled you to express this sympathy in concrete act of loving kindness, this was good theology. But if your notion of God made you unkind belligerent, cruel, or self-righteous, or if it led you to kill in God’s name, it was a bad theology” In the same book Karen also added that “Compassion was the litmus test for the prophets of Israel, for Rabbis of the Talmud, for Jesus, for Paul and for Muhammad, not to mention Confucius, Lao-tzu, the Buddha or the sages of Upanishads”
The teachings of major religions of the world too stress on the need of the individual to strike a right relationship in life. We must try to have a right relationship with God or the creative spirit and with our fellow creations. We must also set our relationship with our fellow human and the entire creations on the foundation of compassion. Many a times I find it difficult to have a perfect relationship with God or with others and very often I failed in my efforts to even have a good relationship with near and dear ones. I may fail once twice or may be hundred times but for me; trying to make this relationship work is a spiritual act.
The other moot question is what is really required of each and every one of us? Prophet Micah has sums it beautifully when he said “What shall I bring when I come before the Lord, when I bow before God of high? Am I to come before him with whole-offerings, with yearling calves? Will the Lord be pleased with thousand rivers of oils? Shall I offer my eldest son for my wrong doing, my child for the sin I have committed? The Lord has told you mortals what is good, and what is that the Lord requires of you: only to act justly, to love loyalty, to walk humbly with your God.” (REB Micah 6:6-8).  Karen Amstrong again in the same book said that “What is vital to all the traditions, however is that we have a duty to make the best of the only things that remains to us-ourselves- our task now is to mend our broken world; if religion cannot do that, it is worthless. What our world need now is not belief, not certainty, but compassionate action and practically expressed respect for sacred value of all human being even our enemy.” 

For some people religion is something which has to do with the spirit only and it must not involve in anything materialistic, but religion is not something that happened only once a week or in the four corner of the church only, - it is a way of life. Religion is not something that only stare heaven ward but that which look on the ground too, religion is how I act and live in this world; in short it is the continuous act of trying to strike a good relationship with God and with everything around me no matter how many times I failed. 

Folktales are Stories to give Meaning to Natural Phenomenon

In almost every Khasi Pnar folktales there are elements in the stories which have some connection with nature in it and in almost every tale; nature is a part of the story. In most cases folktales are stories which our ancestors tries to explain the uniqueness of certain part of the nature. One of the very prominent examples was the story of the Shillong peak. Our ancestors were amazed by the majestic Shillong peak, so they weaved a story around the peak. We have scores of stories like this and in fact in the Khasi Pnar context, all folktales were created because people tried to understand and then define the phenomenon which prevailed around them and that which fascinated them. The story of the Krem Lamet krem latang was partly to try to give meaning why the rooster crow every morning before the sunrises, again in the same myth, the story have it that the grand council sent the hornbill (ryngkoh-kit-knor) to woo the sun back. Instead the sun hit hornbill on his beak with a tiny wooden Stool (lyngknot) because he too was trying to seduce this beautiful damsel. Hence the hornbill beak was dented and disfigured as it is now because of this incident of it being hit by the sun so the story goes. 
In the Khasi Pnar culture all the hills, the rivers, the caves and the unique stone formation some way or the other have a story to tell. These are just two examples that we have in the Khasi Pnar own Genesis story, but my paper deals with similar stories from Jaintia Hills District some of which are common and some of these folktales are still in oral traditions and perhaps this is the first time that the tales has been documented.
Lets us start by embarking on an imaginary journey from Shillong to Jowai, and the first village on the Jaintia hills District side of the border is “Mookyndur” obviously the village derived its name from a rock (moo) which was rests in an peculiar position (kyndur). But there is another stone situated on the right side of the road and on the left side of the office of the Jaintia Hills Autonomous District Council, the stone is known as “Moo Kule” and it being left unattended and neglected by the present generation. The name of the stone when translated to English literarily means “Horse stone” and this is precisely the reason why this story has a connection to the subject matter of this paper. The legends have it that there was once a tiny kingdom in between the Jaintia kingdom and the Khyriem syiemship and the name of the small country was “ka hima Malngiang” but unfortunately not much is being heard about this kingdom in the folktales of the area except for the event when this kingdom was ruled by a king whose name is u Mailong Raja. Small though his kingdom may be, Mailong Raja was the only King who dared to challenge the might of the then great Jaintia Monarch. The legend has it that Mailong Raja has a unique supernatural power that he cannot be killed, so the great Jaintia king was at his wits end when he cannot defeat Mailong Raja. It was said that the Jaintia King has once captured Mailong Raja and severed his head from his body and asked his men to throw the heads towards the west and the body on the opposite direction far from one another, hoping that by doing so he will be able to do away with Mailong Raja once and for all. It was at Mookyndur that the Jaintia king’s men were able to capture Mailong Raja and mysteriously the horse on which he rides when he was captured turned to a stone. Hence the stone at Mookyndur was called Mookule but that was not the end of the story because Mailong Raja mysteriously was able to come back to life and resurface again in his beloved Malngiang kingdom.  
Then we continue on our journey to Ummulong and on reaching Ummulong we take left and travel to Nartiang and this village is one of the very the few village which still has cultures and traditions. Before entering the famous Nartiang Monolith Park, there is a huge stone slap to the left of the road and the story tells us that the flat stone is the one that Mar Phalangki used as his knup to protect himself from the torrential rain. The story has it that it was raining cats and dogs and Mar Phalangki who married a woman in Raliang was prepared to leave Raliang for Nartiang his birth palce. He was looking for something to protect himself from the rain when he saw a small hut close by and went to ask the owner of the house if he can borrow her knup. The old woman who lives in the hut all by herself look at him and said “how can a giant like you ask for a knup from me? You see that stone slap over there, go take that stone and use it to protect yourself from rain.” Mar Phalangki too took the stone and put it over his head and walked towards Nartiang, it is believed that the stone slap remain where it is since Mar Phalangki put it.
In the famous Monolith Park, the many monoliths have their one common story to tell, but it is the largest and the tallest monolith of them all which has a story unique of its own.  The largest and the tallest monolith in the park and perhaps in the entire Khasi Pnar is again believed to be put up by u Mar Phalangki. The giant tried to erect the monolith several times but failed to do so, finally they decided to seek gods’ intervention by performing egg divination. The sign from the egg divination implies that the gods require human head; human has to be sacrificed for the stone to stand tall was the clear message from the gods. It was a market day and people were gathered to watch the show of strength and finally Mar Phalangki came up with the idea to appease the gods. He dropped a lime and tobacco container made of gold (khnown locally as dabi) making it appear like it was not purposely done. Without any suspicion; one of the spectator immediately went down the pit dug to put the monolith to collect the golden container. Mar Phalangki instantly lifted the huge monolith and put it on the pit over the man’s body and a human was sacrificed and the stone stand tall as it is till now.
From Nartiang one can move further and take right to travel to Barato, here too there are stones which have stories to tell. Stone images of the two oxen tilling at Pynthor Latuba are those made popular by the tragic love story of u Miat Rynsut and the beautiful princess ka Latympang.  On the way from Barato to Saba and Mukroh there is another location where there are stones which looks like goats and cattle believed to belong to the Princess which freezes and turned to stones like the two oxen when the tragic story draw to a close.
In Jowai there are many stones and monolith with stories to tell, the foremost of all are the “soo duar soo luti,” or the four guardian angels of the town which are situated in all the four directions of the town. These are Moo-ralong, Moo-khai, Moo-tong and Moo-sniang. Legends have it that whenever enemies marched to attack on the village,  like faithful sentinels the guardian angels shouted to alert villager and enable them prepare for the imminent danger.
From Jowai if one travel south and on reaching Amlarem one can either take left to travel further to Syndai or one can take right and travel to Nongtalang. If we chose the latter option in Nongtalang in a locality knows as Khlachympa, there is another huge stone slap. The huge flat stone have a similar story to that of u Mar Phalangki of Nartiang that a certain giant was without any protection when rain started pouring down heavily in plain where he was, so he took the flat stone and used it to protect himself from rain. On reaching Nongtalang the rainfall too subsides and he has no use of the stone and put it down where it is till now. The parallel story of Mar Phalangki belongs to another giant in the War Jaintia folklore whose name is Bir Nongpoh. Adjacent to the stone slap, there is another huge stone called in local parlance “shmia dhurai” which is believed to be one of the three stone Bir Nongpoh plan to use as trivet for his hearth. In Nongtalang there is a huge stone near the Amtyrngui River, the shape of the stone is very distinct and it looks like it has been chopped right in the middle with a huge sword. The legend has it that certain ghost which dwelled in the stone caused undue harassment to the people by causing them sickness.  The people complained to the Thunder god and the god strike the stone right in the middle and cut it into halves, but the two pieces of the stone mysteriously joined together again. The Thunder god strike again once more to rid the ghost from the stone and before the stone could joined together again, another stone was placed right in the middle to prevent the two pieces from uniting with each other. Since then the stone is called in a local War Jaintia dialect as “Shmia Psha” ‘shmia’ means stone and ‘psha’ is Thunder.
If one would take left and travel towards Syndai, in Pdengchakap village there is a place quite far from the village where the people of the village believed that it was the place where the legendary “Iew luri lura” was held in the days of the yore. On the huge rock there are marks which looks like animals footprints believe to belong to the animals who rudely stomped their feet on the Dogs fermented beans as legend have it. Then in Syndai near the cave at the Pubon River there is a sculpture of an elephant which the local believe to be the image of earthquake and this sculpture too has its own story.  
So much about stones and rocks but there are also stories about hills, mountain range, river and lakes and one of the famous lake that has a story to tell is the Thadlaskein lake dug by Sajar Nangi and his followers by using just the edge of their bows. In Jowai the river Myntdu is also believed to be another guardian angel of the people of Jowai and Myntdu itself has lot of story to tell as every portion of the river has a name and every name has a meaning or a story to tell. Kupli too has its own story and Lum Iakor Sing from where the river and two other rivers, ka Lukha and ka Lynju shared their source of origin has its own story. Kupli is not just a river but ka Iawbei of the Passah clan, as it is believed that the Passah clan and the Shadap Passah share their divined origin from the Kupli. It is our common Khasi Pnar belief that the rivers are not mere rivers but they too have a persona. It is also said that the Lukha River which was formed by the two tributaries ka Lunar and the ka Lynju were sisters and only when the two meet at a confluence and river is called ka Lukha.
The Lukha flow by the foothills of Lum Bah-Boo Bah-kong of the Narpuh Reserved Forest and Lum Bah-boo Bah-kong too has its own story. Bah-boo bah-kong in Pnar parlance literarily means one who carries both his elder and younger sister in law.

In a way the folktales were created by people out of sheer curiosity to give meaning to what is happening around them. Amazed by both natural and manmade phenomenon, people ask question why is it so? And the answer to the question came in a form of story. The folktales are our ancestors’ ways of answering the myriad questions that puzzled their curious minds; it is their efforts to answer and give meaning to whys, the whats, hows that bewildered them during their time.  The entire natural or manmade phenomenons have names and stories, it is therefore the call of the day for all of us to protect and preserve the natural phenomenon because they not only link us with the past but more importantly they connect us with the ways of the nature which are both unique and profound.  

The outcome of the ILP imbroglio

A friend who is a professor in the University and a co-speaker at the brainstorming session on ILP organized by the Political department of the North Eastern Hills University, while criticizing the Chief Minister for spending much of his time in Delhi to convince the central government for more fund to the state than Shillong when the state was burning; said that it has only reminded him of the nursery rhymes that his daughter was reading. The professor came up with his own rendition of the old rhymes which goes like this “Chief Minister saap, Chief Minister Saap, where have you been? I’ve been to Delhi to meet the Queen. Chief Minister Saap, Chief Minister Saap what did you there? I went to beg for 3000 crore but nothing come by. Why did the Chief Minister choose to rush to Delhi than trying to solve the burning issue in the state? Why is it so important to meet the personnel of the finance ministry than to address the issue at hand when every day the state is losing crores of money due to bandh and road blocks called by the NGO? Is this a good economic sense? Isn’t this a classic case of penny wise pound foolish?   
Of late there is a tendency among the chief minister to outdo each other in trying to bring more funds from the Central government to the state exchequer. This subtle competition among the Chief Minister to try and prove that they are better Chief Minister than their predecessor by bringing more money for the state is but a competition for a wrong goal because it is a case of missing the boat for a ship. There should be a healthy competition among the Chief Minister to bring peace, progress and development in the state, not just bringing money from the centre. But now it look like the Chief Minister who can bring more money to the state from the central government’s kitty is considered to be a good leader.         
The question is; is the role of the Chief Minister of the state merely to bring more funds to the state from the Finance Commission? May we ask when will this begging bowl syndrome end? As a citizen of the state we are sorry that even after 40 years of its existence the state still depends on the financial support from the central government. Are we not ashamed of being perpetual beggars from the central government?
A large part of our revenue went down the drain because we failed to check the leakage in revenue collection in the transport check gate or even in the Land Custom and many loopholes. Is there any effort to stop these leakages of resources? This column has exposed the leakage of revenue especially in the Dawki-Tamabil land custom where till now overloaded trucks exported coal and limestone from this port to Bangladesh. The state can save crores of rupees if this is check, but the government chooses to turn its nelson’s eye to what is going on.
We need a chief minister who can make the best use of his time and energy in making Meghalaya a state which can sustain itself without any outside support. The state needs a leader who can take this state to a new height, a state which can stand on its own feet. Meghalaya need to strive to be a state which can at least be in the middle rank of the development list in the country and most importantly a state that we can all be proud of.
The way how the Chief Minister tackle the ILP issue left much to be desired, in fact the chief minister’s problem solving style has only helped make the list of people who dislike him longer. Not that he is in the competition to be the most liked person in the state, but Chief Minister’s handling or mishandling of the entire ILP issue will certainly back fire on the Congress especially in the ensuing MP elections. One thing that is obvious is the fact that the Congress has already lost a large chunk of young voters; this will be a huge problem for the party. The chief minister’s mishandling of ILP has alienated it from the young people and the party will find it difficult or maybe even impossible to woe the young crowd to its fold again.  
The only hope for the Congress is if the regional parties failed to come with a consensus candidate for the Shillong parliamentary seat in the next MP election. If the regional parties can unite and come up with a consensus candidate who can unite all the regional parties’ voters; then the Congress will find it difficult or may be even impossible to fight a united regional force.
Taking leave from my professor friend’s book, I realize that if the regional partied unite then it will a repetition of another nursery rhyme which we loved to sing when we were kids and the same nursery rhyme are still being taught to our  children now. Talking about nursery rhymes; I sometimes wonder why can’t they teach our kids new rhymes. But I now realized that these rhymes that kids still love sing, like all the holy books remain relevant to every generations we only need to bring it to the present context to understand its message. So I came up with my own version of another nursery rhyme which is relevant to context and the same goes like this: “CM (say CEM) and Cong went up the hill to fetch a pail of water, CM fell down and broke his crown and Cong came tumbling after.” The Chief Minister mishandling of the issue will certainly cost the Congress party dearly and the first casualty will be the Shillong parliamentary seat. The seat or rather any seat will be very important for the Congress in the next general election because it looks like it is going to be a tough fight for the party in the entire nation.
If Congress falls then Dr. Mukul Sangma will also fall, there is no power in the world that can save him from the axe to remove him from the chief minister hot seat. And it is true; if the Congress loses the Shillong parliamentary seat it is nothing but the failure of the government to handle the ILP issue. Precious lives were lost to the ILP issue and the government cannot simply wash its hands on any of the unfortunate incidents because as the saying goes it takes two to tango. The state is equally responsible for all that has happened during the last 3 months, it has failed in its duty to protect life and properties both private and government. And we are in a situation that people does not feel safe or secure to live in their own state anymore, is this not the failure of the state?

Perhaps by now we can at least agree that the timeless nursery rhymes are not mere rhymes that we love to sing by rote but they do have some profound meaning to pass on and that is why we keep on singing these little rhymes through every generation. We started with a nursery rhyme so it is very apt that we also end this write up with another nursery rhyme. And here in my own rendition of another nursery rhyme which I think is relevant to the situation that we are in and it goes like this… “Chief Minister Saap; Chief Minister Saap; sat on the wall. Chief Minister saap; Chief Minister saap; had a great fall. All the queen’s horses and all the queen’s men could not put Chief Minister Saap together again.”  That will be a sad day not only for Dr. Mukul Sangma but for all the people who admire him. We don’t want this to happen to our Chief Minister, we still hope that Dr. Mukul Sangma; the young dynamic Chief minister that we have; will be able to complete his term and see that all his mission and programs were successfully implemented. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Traditions and Modernity: Beyond Superstition

The recent infamous attacked on a family alleged to be “the keeper of u thlen” (nongri-thlen) at Mawlymbnang in the East Khasi Hills District, again brought to light the dichotomy between traditions and modernity that exist in the Khasi Pnar way of life. I don’t think it is a clash at all but the truth is that the mystery exists and the society is caught between traditions and modernity. The truth is what has happened in Mawlymbnang is the reflection of what is happening in the society, it is the manifestation of a society entangled in a tribal culture and tradition and the modern way of life.
U Thlen, the Taro, ka Bih etc has been part of Khasi Pnar beliefs system which has been inculcated in the mind of the people from one generation to another. We grew up believing Nongshohnoh exist when our parents in an effort to make us stay put at home; would tell us of the Menshohnoh who is lurking around the locality to catch us. We were given strict instruction not to partake food share by certain family in the society because they keep Taro, ka Kymbad, ka Bih etc.  My grandfather died when I was one year old, I was told that Dr. Norman Tunnel of the Welsh Presbyterian Hospital, Jowai diagnosed that the cause of his dead is due to cancer, but friends and relatives believed that he died from ‘Kymbad’ (ka Bih) the symptom of which is similar to cancer. In this case it is obvious that the Khasi Pnar did know about cancer and maybe cancer in the mouth, throat and the many part of stomach is known as Kymbad/ka Bih in the local parlance. The only problem is that the sickness is believed to be the curse of certain family and the family was blamed for causing the same.
In the Khasi Pnar Society, family of patient who suffers from a chronic ailment is often advised to take both allopathic and traditional shamanist treatment. It is often concluded as (ioh dei ba leh ki briew) it could be the spell of someone’s evil eye, or the curse of some evil person, so it is important to take necessary precaution by consulting a local shaman as well as taking allopathic medicines. People are in a dilemma and because it is a matter of life and dead; they neither have full faith in the allopathic medicine nor in the traditional treatment. There are many cases of patient with orthopedic problem who would simultaneously consult a qualified orthopedics as well as a local herbal medicine practitioner to save them from the predicament.      
In matter of bad health people always take the help of both world of medicine, in fact frail as any human, the Khasi Pnar too; consult any available healing system be it ayurvedic, homeopathic etc to get themselves cure. I know belief is personal matter; it is within an individual right to choose what to believe and not to believe hence it comes as no surprise to know that even practicing Christians sometimes perform sacrifice if that is what it takes to cure the person. My take on the issue is not to denounce this incident or any such incidents as superstitious act, because it is too complex an issue to understand. But would rather like the educate Khasi Pnar to look at the wisdom behind these legends and beliefs and interpret them in the new light.
Rather than looking at the traditions and beliefs as superstitious we can examine these issues in a much broader sense with deeper insight and try to understand and see the relevance this Khasi Pnar wisdom in the modern day context. I am not condoning the violence and madness that has happened in Mawlymbnang and other villages, such act of vandalism need to be condemned in the strongest term, but my call is to try and understand these legends and folktales in the light the modern world and to see its relevance in our world today. We also know that there are folk beliefs which have positive impact in our life if we only have time to study them carefully. On a closer look; we sometimes realized the profound wisdom of our ancestor even in those act that we initially denounced as superstitious.  
We have barely crossed this year’s halfway mark yet; I consider 2013 a spiritually fulfilled year because I was able to fulfill my long cherished dream. I was able to visit the two sacred groves and probably the biggest sacred forest in the Khasi Jaintia, the Raij Tuber Sacred forest in Chohchrieh village and the two sacred forests in Raij Chyrmang, the Khloo Langdoh in Chyrmang and Ka Khap-yaba in Iongnoh village.  In my visit to the Khap-yaba sacred forest very recently; I was not only amazed at the sheer size of the forest but was equally surprise at the fact that the forest was really free from any human interference. The forest was thick and green and there were no sign of human activity anywhere. The reason is because the people who live in the vicinity of the forest believe that the goddess Khap-yaba is very powerful and it punishes those who trespasses its territory and transgress its domain. We were told that the local seldom wander to the forest and if they have to do so, they would always pay obeisance to the goddess Khap-yaba. I then realized why it was very difficult to convince the two young men to take us to Khap-yaba, and when we reach near the forest, they told us that they would not go any further and even refused to point their fingers towards the forest. Before that we also passed through the hut of an old lady and when we told her of our intention to visit the forest, she read us the do’s and don’ts and advised us to ask forgiveness for trespassing into the goddess territory. Sacred forests are considered sacred because it is believe to be the dwelling place of the gods and goddesses, on a cursory look; some would consider this superstitious but it is this belief system that has help keep our sacred forest. In the tradition of keeping sacred forest, we can see the wisdom of our ancestors, their profound understanding of how the nature work and the need to protect and preserve it.      
In the same way let us examine other Khasi Pnar traditions and legends and try to interpret its relevance in our day to day life. The ‘keepers of thlen’ are those, whose greed has overtaken their sane self, they are those people who would do anything to garner more wealth. They would exploit people even force them to do odd job and pay them a very small return for doing so. They would go to any extend to exploit both human and nature for their own selfish gain- these are the modern day Nong-ri-thlen, because their only concern is to get money and more money. The ‘Nongshohnoh’ are those who work for the Nongri Thlen and would go to any extend to serve their master even if it means taking somebody’s life for money.
The keepers of ‘ka Taro’ are those who are envious of others. Their hearts is full with envy and are incessantly jealous of their friends, neighbor and relatives’ success, beauty and wealth. They would secretly wish to possess their friends and neighbours unique character albeit with evil design. And when they were not able to achieve those qualities, they would curse their friends and neighbours.  
The ‘Badon bih’ are mean, close-fisted people they are so stingy that they would reluctantly part anything with others. Even if they would have to provide food to others, they would do so with grudge and would even curse those with whom they share their food.   
Culture and traditions are not something that we can just wish away, the legends, the belief systems was imbibed in our psyche for generations, it will take time if not impossible to rid off the same from the person. The way to the future for the Khasi Pnar Society is that we take the best of both world and move forward. The Khasi-Pnar tradition and modern way of life can go hand in hand; the two can co-exist albeit with new interpretation of the legends and traditions. Then only we’ll realize that u Nongri thlen, u Nongshohnoh, ka Taro, ka bih et al are alive in every age, caste and creed and the Khasi-Pnar wisdom is ever-relevant; it lives beyond race and time.   

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C is for calm, clamp and change


So much has happened in the state during the last fortnight or so. Incidentally all important incidents revolved around words which started with the alphabet ‘C’. To punish drivers parking their cars in the no parking zones, police in Shillong came up with the idea of using clamps to fix on the errant drivers’ vehicles; then there was the three day literary festival named CALM and perhaps in the last fortnight the state has witnessed unprecedented movement for change that has not been witnessed before. Change has happened in the state. The three agencies involved in bringing the changes are the youths, the honourable court and the CBI.
After attending the meeting convened by the Deputy Chief Minister to appraise the stake holders about the new Meghalaya Mine and Mineral policy which the cabinet approved recently, I can only say that all the environmentalists who attended the meeting were a disenchanted lot. The policy seems tailored to benefit the miners. Protection of the environment appears to be of no importance to the government. In a shared taxi on our return journey to Jowai, disappointed, I said to Arwat (a fellow environmentalist) that it seems like we are fighting a losing battle and we will not be able to protect the environment. I told him the story that while in Manchester in the year 1989-90 an Indian friend from Haryana who chose to stay back in England called me ‘bewakuf’ because I told him that I will go back home to India. I told the lad from Haryana that if I stayed back in England there is very little that I will be able to contribute to the society but if I go back home I can help bring change in my hometown and perhaps in the state. I returned home with hope that perhaps I can contribute something to help build a better and a happier community. I told Arwat that perhaps I might have been wrong. Now part of me tells me that it is useless; all my efforts are futile. There is nothing I can do to change the way things are in the society here. But Arwat was much more optimistic than me; he believed that this is the most exciting time to be alive in the Meghalaya because change is beginning to happen now. Have things really started falling in place and is change indeed happening?
I was only able to attend the last day of the three day literary fest called ‘the Shillong CALM 2012’ which stands for Creative Arts, Literary and Music festival. Not happy with the kind of publicity CALM received, the first thing Sambha the organizer of the CALM festival said to me (in Pnar) when I met her at the venue of the fest was, something like, ‘Did you see the kind of publicity festival received?” I think she meant the Chetan Bhagat show which closed with almost no interaction with the audience. What I should have told Sambha is ‘all publicities are good publicity’ and I am glad they have decided to continue holding the Fest and that next year the Shillong CALM 2013 will held in the month of May.
Words will be inadequate to describe the experience I had on November 3 the last day of the fest. I can only say that if the previous two days are as enlightening, exciting and entertaining as the last day then I know I have missed a lot by not attending the previous two days of the festival. The last day started with a programme in conversation with Prajwal Parajuly author of upcoming book of short stories ‘The Gurkha’s Daughter’ who was introduced by Babatdor Dkhar of North East Monologue as the widely acclaimed upcoming English writer from the country. It was a very interesting conversation and Prajwal was honest and entertaining with his answers. The one thing that struck me about this young man was his humility. He was eager to talk to anybody who approached him. While watching him taking a back seat and listen through the M.J. Akbar talk, I couldn’t help but think that Prajwal could one day become much more famous than M.J. himself.
The next programme was for me the best part of the day, it was a talk chaired by Ananya Guha and the talk was by individuals from the two ends of the age spectrum. The first person to take the podium was Jerry Pyrtuh a 17 year old poet who is still studying in class XI at Umshyrpi College Shillong. Every one present was mesmerized by Jerry’s talk about his book of poems ‘The Mystifying face of time’. Audiences were left spellbound by his command over English language and all appreciated his book. Then there was the forever young retired teacher, author and singer Kong Cassadra Syiemlieh who shared with the audience her upcoming book ‘The west wind of popular music’ which looks at the connection between the lyrics of some of the all time best English songs with poetry. Kong Cassandra is 73 years old but the enthusiasm and joy in her face looks like she is ready for another book very soon. CALM fest also saw another Khasi Pnar artist Pauline Warjri of the Aroha choir launching her music book. Music is in the air and with Toshan making it to the finals of the India’s Got Talent show, Shillong is indeed set to be the music capital of every genre.
Another C is for culture and round about the same time, Shillong also witnessed the annual autumn festival organized by the MTDF which culminated with the Pomblang syiem or the Nongkrem dance. But the two Cs that have become the talk of the state are the CBI reports which are the outcome of a court order in connection with the illegal appointment of the Lower Primary School teachers in the Khasi and Jaintia hills. The lesson for politicians here is that young people are not going to take it easy anymore. Young men and women of the state are fed up with what is happening; they seem to say enough is enough; we can’t take it any more. Unlike their predecessors they are not going to eat the humble pie anymore. They are ready to fight and they will leave no stone unturned to fight for their rights. Politicians or bureaucrats will not be able to fool the young people anymore; they have now taken the mantle upon themselves to clean the system and will even seek redress from the court and the CBI or any agency if need be, to clean up the system.
The youth of the state are leading the change that is happening in Meghalaya. Gone are the days when politicians and bureaucrats on the pretext of recommending play favourites and get their own people appointed for the jobs available. The way ahead is merit and no nepotism and politicians who the still have the audacity to say that they simply recommend names for appointment and have done nothing wrong, should be punished for abusing their power and position. The uneducated politician should remember that the candidate cannot canvass for appointment to the post either directly or indirectly and by doing so the candidate is liable to forfeit his/her right to apply for the post.
Something is really happening in the state. The ground beneath is shaking and all these changes happened not because Mukul Sangma created 4 districts in one go, but because the young people are restive and are not going to lie low anymore. They want change and they are the catalysts of change and if change is to happen, it should start from each and every one of them. Meghalaya is happening now, these changes are happening not because the government is introducing some mechanism to change the system, but because the youth has decided to take upon themselves the responsibility to bring change. The RTI and the Court case were taken up by young people from Jaintia Hills and supported by Agnes Kharshiing. CALM was organized by Sambha Lamarr a young lady; I know this because she is my cousin. MTDF too is being led by the ever young RG Lyngdoh, DD Laloo, Larsing Ming and others. I think Arwat is right. This is the most exciting time to be alive in Meghalaya because change is beginning to happen in the state. Young people are standing up to expose corruption by various VEC’s implementing MNREGA in their respective villages. Young people are making their voices heard by opposing the setting up of more cement plants in Jaintia hills. Rina Bareh a young woman from Umlong village cried at the hearing conducted by the Meghalaya Pollution Control Board against the dorbar shnong’s decision to allow setting up a cement plant in the village and selling the community land to the cement companies. This was another sign of young people making their feelings heard. They are not going to be cowed down so easily. So politicians should stop their empty rhetoric because youths cannot be easily fooled anymore. Mr. Chief Minister, are you listening?

Friday, October 12, 2012

PA Sangma and new political party


Three months is a long time in the history of politics in Meghalaya. In a matter of ninety days a person can go from being an MLA to a presidential candidate and finally an ordinary citizen of the country like any of us. In three lunar cycles a founder member of a party can become a person independent and without any party affiliation to the founder of another party. In Meghalaya politics a lot can happen in a short span of time as history is made and unmade but the test of time is whether the event created in that history is going to last and create more histories or otherwise. If the change in the history is going to have a positive impact on the society then perhaps the history in the making will last; if not then the incident will become history the moment it happened.
August 24 is an important date in the history of Meghalaya, because it was the day when a major political party in the state folded its flag and merged en bloc with the new National People’s Party. The incident also saw the former NCP president W Kharlukhi taking over as the President of the Meghalaya unit of the NPP with the 12 former NCP legislators joining the new party with him. It was indeed a historical moment for the state and its people because a new party is born.
Purno A Sangma NPP national president said on the occasion that his new party will build a new India. According to Sangma’, there are altogether 46 seats reserved for tribals in the Parliament and eleven more seats from which tribal candidates always win despite those being general seats. According to Purno’s calculation, if fifty seven tribals come together then the community can have a say in national politics. He also reiterated that the party is going to be a ‘tribal centric’ party but open to all communities. Nobody can dispute the seasoned politician and an optimistic Sangma’s calculation, but the question is – Is Sangma the messiah that the tribal communities in the country have waited for so long? Will his new NPP be able to unite all the 57 tribal MPs in the country? What Sangma does not realize is that if his calculation works the margin of his defeat in the recent presidential elections would not have been so huge. At the moment, 57 is but a number that he hopes his new party will garner but the fact of the matter is that the 57 seats have already been taken by other parties. It is not going to be easy for a new party like NPP to capture those 57 seats. Tribals in the country already belong to different political parties. Take for instance the two seats in Meghalaya, NPP can definitely win one seat; the other seat has always gone with the Congress. To begin with, NPP already started with a small target and as the saying goes, one can only reach as much as one aims to achieve and not beyond. Yes, 57 is a big number in the coalition politics and the 2014 general election is obviously going to give the country a fragmented mandate and the number 57, (small as it may be) can certainly make and unmake kings and queens. But the question that begs an answer is whether the NPP even get half of the 57 it is targeting for the 2014 general elections? 57 is s jinxed number in the Khasi Pnar society. We have a song titled ‘la shet u 57’ (cheated by 57 sung by a bard to mourn his loss of money by buying the archery ticket with No 57). Hope it is not going to be the same with NPP.
Sangma has also boasted that his political career is being guided by strong principles that he holds dear to himself. These principles, he says, has seen him through many ups and downs and through the thick and thin of his political career. But what people fail to understand is what principles Purno is talking about when he allows both the MPs even his own daughter to remain with the NCP? Isn’t true that there is something wrong here? Isn’t it true that Agatha even allowed PA Sangma to use her official residence to run his show in his presidential campaign? I mean are they not complicit in this? One would expect that a principled politician like Sangma would also do well to inculcate and instill good principles in his children. But what the elder Sangma did not say is that he is also a shrewd politician and why he did not advice the two MPs to join the new party. Well, because they will then cease to be MPs under the anti defection law and there are two more years to go until the current parliament term ends. Sangma is wise enough not to risk young Agatha’s fate by asking her to join his new party. It is all about power isn’t it Mr. Sangma?
The merger of NCP state unit with NPP was made at the wrong time. It seems like it all happened too fast even for a seasoned politician like Sangma to have time to think of the consequences that the merger can have. The ill-timed and ill-planed incident has cast a pall of gloom for candidates planning to contest from NCP tickets in the forthcoming elections.. Till then they were canvassing on an NCP ticket and the clock was still their symbol; then all of a sudden they are not NCP candidates anymore. The incident has particularly upset the candidature of prospective candidates in the different constituencies, I know quite a few candidates in Jaintia hills who had earlier planned to contest on an NCP ticket but after the merger they are now in a dilemma. They cannot decide whether to stick with the NCP which is now a leaderless party or join the band wagon and contest on an NPP ticket.
The sour grapes resentment in the NCP camp has made the current leadership go all out to get their old comrades the 12 MLAs disqualified from being members of the legislative assembly under anti defection law, but everybody knows that this is not going to happen. The question is how can a thief catch a thief? The Congress led MUA will not even think of disqualifying the 12 MLAs because if they do so, they will also have to disqualify one of their own. AL Hek was elected from Pynthor Umkhrah on a BJP ticket but had defected to join the Congress without resigning his membership in the house. As for now the 12 new NPP MLAs are safe but what is going to happen to the NCP? Without the Sangmas the NCP will gradually disappear from the political scene of the state and not supporting Purno’s presidential aspiration is one move that the Maharashtra strongman Sharad Pawar will regret. The Sangmas still have the charisma to take their followers wherever they move; their people also faithfully follow them.
This is the second time in the recent past that PA Sangma has started a new party and it remains to be seen if Sangma’s new venture is going to be another clever political move. This time it is very crucial because unlike the political risks he took earlier, this time he is also taking his politically groomed children with him. Everybody hopes that the move Sangma has made is not for his sake but for the political prospects of his children not that I believe in dynastic politics but the junior Sangmas have a lot to contribute to the state.

Unitarian Church’s 125th Anniversary


After I presented my paper in a seminar on intellectual history at NEHU, during the question-answer session a wise professor of the history department asked me, “Where do Unitarian’s trace their origin? Or what is the origin of the Unitarian Church? As a matter of fact it was not a question I had expected but no doubt an interesting one.
One of my favourite books is also a New York Times best seller titled ‘The history of God,’ by Karen Armstrong. Armstrong a renowned scholar of the history of religions said in her book that her study of religions has revealed that human beings are spiritual animals. There is a uniqueness about humans in that they experience the sense of wonder and awe and they demonstrate this in their work of art and religions. In fact Karen observed that humans started using religion and art round about the same time that they developed their faculty to appreciate the beauty and wonder around them. Since then, humans started to use both art and religion as tools to attempt to find meaning and value in life. When humans started to experience this awe they started to worship one God much before they worshipped numerous gods and goddesses.
Armstrong also mentioned that Father Wilhelm Schmidt had suggested in his book ‘The origin of the idea of God,’ that there had been a primitive monotheism before men and women started to worship a number of gods. This God is a supreme deity, creator of heaven and earth and he governs all human affairs. He is also known as high God or Sky God who watches over humans and punishes wrong doers. As time passed this Sky God gave way to the worshipping of many gods and this is seen even among the Pnars of Jaintia Hills. The celebration of Behdienkhlam is one such example. The festival is celebrated for 4 days and three nights when the Creator is believed to descend to the earth to be with human beings.
Gradually people started to personify the unseen force like the wind, the sun, the sea, the stars, thunder etc and gave them human characteristics and worshipped them. In Jaintia hills u Pyrthat (the thunder god) is worshipped along with the gods and goddesses believed to dwell in nature. People started to pay obeisance to the spirit they believe dwells in nature and natural phenomenon like rivers, falls, hills and mountains etc. In the Paleolithic period when agriculture developed people started to realize the importance of fertility of the land they depended on for their livelihood so they began to worship the god of fertility or the mother goddess. Interestingly this goddess is represented by the image of a naked, pregnant woman in Europe, Middle East and India.
Later on, in the Judeo-Christian context the call to worship one God began with the Patriarch Abraham worshipping one God he calls El Shaddai. He was followed by Moses who liberated his people from Egypt with the help of the one God he called Yahweh and Moses insisted that God can only be called by one name and that is Yahweh.
Later, Jesus Christ came with his teaching to love God and to love one’s neighbours. These are the two most important commandments he said. He also preached of a loving God who he called Father in heaven, hence the Unitarian considers Jesus as the greatest of the teachers who taught people to worship one God.
History has it that three hundred and twenty years after Jesus died, the early Christians were divided in their beliefs as they were separated in the places where they were located from Egypt to Syria and Asia Minor. They had no common doctrine. Evidences are available that different churches even used different gospels, till the book was canonized. A section of the church under the leadership of a young presbyter of Alexandria by the name of Arius led a movement of a group of the early Christians who believed that Jesus is not of the same substance with God. Arius’ question which bishop Alexander realized he cannot ignore is ‘how can Jesus be God in the same way as God the Father?’ Arius did not deny the divinity of Christ but insisted that the Father was greater than He. Armstrong mentioned in her book that the idea was put to music and the issue was discussed like the people would discuss football today. It was also informed that the controversy reached such a height that emperor Constantine himself had to intervene and summoned a synod in Nicaea only to realize that the churches do not have an official position on the issue raised by Arius and more importantly even Origen held a similar doctrine. The prominent member of the group who were of the view contrary to that of Arius was Athanasius. History also has it that on the May 22, 325 AD, when the bishops gathered at Nicaea majority of the bishops held a view midway between that of Athanasius and Arius. But the debate was finally closed with Athanasius able to get the support of the emperor and only Arius and two of his companions refused to sign the creed. The creed which says: ‘We believe in one God… and in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God… and we believe in the Holy Spirit.’ Though the creed signed and adopted in Nicaea but it is not the Nicene Creed per-se. The Nicene Creed was only adopted in the year 381 at the Council in Constantinople.
In Europe Unitarians also trace their origin to Michael Servetus (1510-53) who wrote the book Errors of the Trinity in the year 1531. Servetus was burned at the stakes in Geneva ironically by the reformers in Geneva in the year 1553. It was a preacher in Transylvania which is now part of Romania who first used the word ‘Unitaria’ to describe the people who rejected Trinity and believed in one God. In the year 1566 Francis David preached against the doctrine of Trinity and was able to convince the king of Transylvania, John Sigismund to adopt Unitarianism. John Sigismund was also the first king to adopt a kind of religious toleration when he proclaimed the law allowing freedom of religious beliefs in his country in the year 1568 which is known as ‘Diet of Torda’. To cut the long history short, Unitarian churches then began to emerge in many countries like England, USA etc.
In India the first Unitarian Church was started by a low caste Tamil Hindu Moodelliar Vellagha who on becoming Unitarian changed his name to William Robert. He came in contact with the British Unitarian in the year 1816 but it was in December 19, 1813 that he started the Unitarian Christian Church in Madras. In Khasi Jaintia Hills and Mikir hills (now Karbi Anglong District of Assam) a Khasi person by the name of Hajom Kissor Singh Lyngdoh Nongbri and three of his followers, ka Hirbon Lakadong, u Kat Shylla and u Mar Sutnga founded the Unitarian faith in Jowai on September 18, 1887. The story of H.K.Singh Lyngdoh Nongbri’s tryst with Unitarianism is also similar to the experiences that his predecessors like Arius and William Roberts experienced. H.K.Singh was not comfortable with his beliefs and this made him question the Trinity. His personal understanding is that there is only one God, whom Jesus called father in heaven and who the Khasi Pnar called U Blei Nongbuh Nongthaw. He later came into contact with Unitarianism and decided that he had found his spiritual home and committed himself to the propagation of Unitarianism in the region.
H.K.Singh Lyngdoh Nongbri believed that monotheism was a marriage of the Father in Heaven whom Jesus worshipped and later taught his disciples to pray to (in the Lord’s prayer) and the Creator God of the Khasi Pnar. He even went a step further and called God our father and mother. The history of Unitarian church is therefore the story of humans experiencing the one God which differs from one culture to another and the one God which humans have worshipped since the dawn of human existence.