Myths, legends and folktales are not merely stories to be told around the hearth of the Khasi-Pnar homes; the stories are not just myths but ways by which our ancestors pass on the intrinsic values and traditions from one generation to another. The stories are meant to be reflected upon in the light of the modern world and to appreciate the profound morals that were neatly woven into the fabric of the stories.
In a nutshell, the folktales have it that when u Thlen (a huge serpent) was killed a feast was made out of it and the entire community took part in the public feast. Legend has it that in a certain family the mother kept wee bit of the meat for her son. Next day, she was shocked to discover that it had turned to a little serpent. The serpent requested the mother to keep it and in return promised to bless the family with immense wealth. But I have another take for the story. U Thlen is a symbol of greed and people’s never ending desire to accumulate as much wealth as they can, using whatever means available without worry of the consequences that their actions might have or can cause to their fellow humans and the environment. U Thlen is a demon to which we are willing to sacrifice truth, justice, equality, integrity, honour, honesty and all the values we hold dear. U Thlen is a devil who kills the human conscience and the human person’s ability to distinguish right from wrong.
Since our ancestors have partaken of the serpent’s meat it has become our flesh and blood. We have all inherited u Thlen in ourselves, u Thlen is innate in each and every one of us; it has become part of our life. Hence in spite of so much talk against corruption it is still prevalent in the society, because u Thlen is within us. The Khasi-Pnar value to earn righteousness has been done away with since our ancestors gobbled the Thlen’s meat. U Thlen which we believe we have killed is still alive in society and it is alive in each and every one of us.
A simple fisherman who lived in a certain island earns his livelihood by fishing. His typical day starts in the wee hours of the morning when he ventures to the sea to catch fish. Every day he returns in the afternoon after catching just enough to feed his family and the rest of the day he slept on his boat. One day a rich man from the city came holidaying in the island. When he saw the fisherman sleeping, he asked him, "Why are you sleeping why don’t you go out fishing?" The fisherman replied "I have already caught enough for a day’s need for my family." The rich man again asked him, "Why don’t you fish the whole day to get more money?" The fisherman asked, "What for?" The rich man suggested, "You can get more money to buy a bigger boat." The perplexed fisherman then asked "Why do I need a bigger boat?" "You can go fishing further into the deep sea and get more catch" "Why do I need more catch?" again asked the fisherman. "You can get more money." "Why do I need more money?" "So you can enjoy and relax the rest of your life," replied the rich man." The Fisherman then replied "Why? What do you think I am doing right now?"
The honest, simple and generous Khasi Pnar who lives a simple life is no more. Greed has taken over the life of the simple Khasi Pnar and everyone is in the rat-race to become an instant millionaire. Like my friend said, "Our life is now ruled by everything instant, fast food, fast car and fast money. No, there is nothing wrong in getting rich by fair and honest means but accumulating wealth by infringing on the right of others or by flouting the rules for self benefit, by cheating and employing other unfair means to gain undue favour is wrong. Ka ‘Hok’ which has many meanings in English like (kaba hok) ‘righteousness/truth’, (ka hok) rights and (ka jingbishar hok) justice has lost its meaning in the contemporary society. A Khasi Pnar who lives by the cardinal principle to earn righteousness is no more; the last few of them live in the village far from the madding crowd.
There are regular reports in the news papers of those in power from MLA to officers who are involved in corruption. It seems we still believe that it is alright to steal from the government and we therefore have no qualms of stealing from what really belongs to the people. Even if we do not directly take home from office articles like registers, papers, locks, file covers and etc, there are those who do not attend office regularly and spend paid time for their own vested interest. Are they too not indulging in corruption? Their salary is being paid by the government and it is expected of them to attend to their duties and give their time to serve the public. We see government employees accumulate wealth beyond their known sources of income and are still proud of it. How else do you explain things when an engineer whose wife is also a government employee suddenly resigns and declare that he has wealth worth crores of rupees? Nobody questions where all the money comes from. Instead we shower accolades on the person. How can one earn so much money if one considers his known sources of income only? But people have accepted this new way of life. If anyone starts raising questions about it, people will say that he is jealous.
Religious orgnisations too are run by people so it is only fair to expect that they reflect their member’s thoughts, aspiration and action. Look at the educational institutions runs by religious orgnisations. Consider the school fees they charge. Even a prospectus of a reputed school costs three hundred rupees a copy. Only in Meghalaya would one find schools funded by the government on a deficit pattern which means that all the teachers are being paid by the government and they still charge exorbitant tuition fees. Educational institutions have now become the geese that lay golden eggs for the religious organizations. In Jowai religious organizations are even competing among themselves to run markets. Trees in the cemetery are cleared to give way to a market instead of converting the same to a memorial park. The church which has committed to abide by the law instead constructs permanent sheds after receiving the demolition order from the JHADC. An organization with an objective to preserve and protect culture and tradition has seen to it that the archery ground (madan-siat-thong) of the Pnar is done away with to make way for a super market.
The Khasi Pnars are now worshiping wealth and (ka hok) righteousness has no value anymore. U Thlen inside us has won the day; we no longer treasure the invaluable land, waters and forest for we have put a price tag on everything. The forests are not our perennial source of livelihood anymore, animals and trees are no longer our fellow creation. The land is no longer our mother or else how would we sell our own mother (mei-ram-ew). We no longer respect rivers and hills which we consider divine. Ka Umiam, ka Kupli, ka Myntdu ka Umngot, ka Kynshi, u lum Shillong u lum Bah-boo bah-kong are all under the hammer waiting only for the right price.
We worship wealth and we have disregarded that which the community considers to be a taboo (ka sang ka ma) and shame and feeling bad on account of our own wrong deeds and action (ka rain ka rem) is no more. We honour a person not because of the principle by which he lives and by how he carries himself but by how wealthy he is. U Thlen inside us even influences our decision making. Tell me of an MLA who is not a crorepati. We even elect our MLA and MDC based on their wealth.
Therefore a poor man does not stand a chance to win an election no matter what his credentials and accomplishments are.
A kind and caring society has now given way for a society in which a person is only concerned about his individual needs and his own vested interests. Gone are the days when a woman gave birth and relatives, friends and neighbours would come visit the mother and the brand new baby and also bring with them food (ja khon-boo) to feed the two. Among the Jaintias, during the mourning period, friends and relatives would visit and bring food for the bereaved family. During bereavement relatives and friends would visit the family to offer their service to help the family. Now that is gone forever particularly in the towns and cities. We are all busy now, busy to earn more money at the cost of a loving, sharing and caring community.
The Khasis believe they have no written script or no sacred book because our ancestors had accidentally swallowed the scriptures while crossing a flooded river on their journey en-route to the hills. But the Khasi Pnar does have their own un-written Bible in the form of myths and legends passed on from one generation to another and the holy book also extends to everything around us from the nature to the Universe. And by swallowing the book it also implies that the book becomes part of us. The holy text of the Khasi Pnar dwells in the soul of the individual and therefore the human soul is the ultimate authority in one’s life. It therefore calls on each and every one of us to do a soul searching, to introspect and find out where we have gone wrong and how can we rid off u Thlen from us? (The writer is a scholar, an elder of the Unitarian Church and a columnist)
http://www.theshillongtimes.com/23 May, 2011