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.