Wednesday, January 12, 2011

What is it about winter?

Come December and it is the onset of the holiday mood among the Khasi Pnar. We may now attribute this to the festive season beginning with Christmas and end with a bang on New Year, but winter has always been a fun time for the Khasi Pnar even before the advent of Christianity and invasion of western culture. Winter may be cold and dry and it would also be a dull time of the year for the community; but the Khasi Pnar seems to know how to substitute the cold, dull, dark and dry season with merriment.
It starts with the Khasi Pnar’s own calendar, I am not sure if the Khasi Pnar has any idea of a year ending in their tradition but winter is certainly a special time. If there is any such thing as year ending tradition among the Khasi Pnar, can that be in the month of July for the Pnar when they celebrate their Behdien Khlam and the month of November for the Khasi when they celebrate Ka Pom Blang syiem? Whatever the case may be, the Khasi Pnar certainly know how o count their days, week and month and have their own calendar. The Khasi’s name for the last month of the year is ‘Nohprah’, which I think derive from the two words ‘noh’ and ‘prah.’ The two words can loosely be translated to ‘Noh’ to throw or rid off and ‘Prah’ is a kind of a basket use as container. The name of the month implies that is the time to ‘noh prah; noh shang’ or ‘noh shang noh knup’. If this interpretation is taken into consideration; then Nohrah means to rid off the baskets and all the farming tools. It is the time to lay back and rest and it also a time for fun and frolic as nothing much can be done during the dull, dry and dark season. All agriculture activities came to a standstill as the topography and the climate of the area during this particular time of the year is also not conducive for any kind of farming. The Pnar’s name for the twelfth month of the year is ‘Kmai-chonglad’, which again comprises of two Pnar words ‘kmai’ and ‘chonglad’. The Pnar word ‘kmai’ means big or massive and ‘chonglad’ mean staying or sitting idle in the centre of the village. In the other words it means: the part of the year which people have enormous time for sitting idle in the hub of the village and do nothing except to meet in the village centre, sitting around the fire, share a smoking pipe and bettlenuts and indulge in never ending chat.  We can now imagine what this part of the year means for our ancestors? What kind of life they lived? What did they do during the time of the year when they do not have the kind of entertainment we enjoy now? How did they spend the cold, dry wintry days and nights, with only fire to keep them warm? How did they make use the only time they were free from any kind of farming which is again the only occupation they had then?
Fast forward to the present generation, what does winter means? Rather how does the Khasi Pnar spend this time of the year? Forget Christmas and New Year celebration which is a global phenomenon, other than that; what are the most common activities that people engage themselves during the season? There is an invitation to all kinds of dinner almost on every alternative day, today it would be the wedding, then tomorrow it will be somebody’s birthday and then the next day will be another reason to celebrate. Every picnic spot available is occupied during this time of the year, it can be a family picnic, a picnic amongst coworkers or a picnic among friends and very often than not; the picnic is just another excuse for party and booze and lots of jadoh and doh.
It is also that time of the year that picnic spots were abused and their natural pristine beauty spoiled. Picnickers took the liberty to have fun and litter the beautiful picnic spots and forget their responsibility to clean the mess they have created. If one would take a walk down the Syntu Ksiar the famous picnic spot in Jowai town; one would be greeted with chicken feathers, all kinds of leftovers from plastics cups to paper plates, bottles and what have you.
To add to the joyous season, there are communities excursions to any place worth’s its name; but the most popular excursion destination is non-other than the famous amusement park the Accoland.
Why is it that this time of the year is always associated with feast and fun? Why is it that couple always chose to inter into wedlock during this season? One possible answer is an area with monsoon climate, weather-wise it is much more convenient to organized big feast during winter. May be it is by tradition that it is that time of the year that a large section of the people are free and with no rain to play spoilsport, hence a perfect time for celebration. Whatever the reason to celebrate may be, it is that time of the year when the life of thousands of animals is at stake. It is that time of the year where hundreds and thousands of chickens, goats, cows and pigs were slaughtered if not for picnic then it must be for wedding.
It would be interesting if a survey was conducted to find the numbers of animals slaughtered during this season. I had a walk on the Iawmusiang Street in Jowai on both Christmas Eve and Christmas day and found that the street was literarily taken over by the chicken sellers. The same thing happened on the New Year eve and New Year day, when everything is closed on the first day of the year, the meat sellers and the butchers were only one doing a brisk business.
When it comes to mass animals slaughtering, feast and merriment there cannot be another occasion and another place anywhere else that can beat the New Year day celebration in Jowai. Jowai is famous for its New Year eve and New Year day celebration. The town was literarily lit and warmed by the 20 odd bonfires in the entire town and at the stroke of midnight on New Year eve fireworks and fire crackers lit the skyline of the dark sky of Jowai. The New Year day is a day of community feast, all the 20 or so localities (now they prefer to call themselves dorbar shnong) organized feast in their respective localities. Hundreds of chickens and pigs were again slaughtered for the occasion, but the highlight of the New Year celebration is Jowai is the dance procession where all the 20 odd localities marched to the town centre from every direction of Jowai with music and songs from the sound systems tied on the pickup trucks. A friend from abroad said that the dance procession is similar to the Rio Carnival where people literarily dance to the street. The grand way the people welcome the New Year is also a sign of Jowai being a happy town.
Ironically, winter is also that time of the year with maxim number of bereavement, so the Khasi Pnar people spend much of their time during winter between attending weddings and visiting the bereaved family. Winter is not only just fun and frolic but is also one the busiest season for the Khasi Pnar people, with only less than 10 hours of daylight available; people were always on their toe to finish their chores. So while we journey on the New Year; may we be mindful that life is a never ending walk between joy and sorrow. Happy New Year!

No comments: