Category: Culture

January 18, 2020 /

On October 25, 1947, Vappala Pangunni Menon, India’s envoy par excellence, gifted a car to Maharaja Hari Singh, the last Dogra king of Jammu and Kashmir (hereon J&K). Or did he? The exact details of the events of that fateful era are lost behind a perennial fog of war. Some people say that the Maharaja had actually bought the car from the British. That it was one of the numerous vehicles used to transport Muslims of Jammu to the new, temporary border in Akhnoor and Ranbir Singh Pora, where they were disembarked, dismembered and massacred. The charons driving the vehicles would quickly turn them around to pick up and transport more people. The car was so efficient during the exercise, these people conclude, that the Maharaja thought it might impress even somebody like Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister. So the Maharaja tried to gift the car to Menon; but he refused to take it, reasoning that it might serve more useful purposes in J&K. Alas! A written copy of the purported gift deed has not survived, so we can only speculate about the nature of the agreement. One thing is certain though, the car became a ubiquitous fixture in Indian-controlled J&K.

January 15, 2020 /

Arif Ayaz Parrey tells a short tale from Kashmir about Avtar Singh, a counter-insurgency officer of the Indian Army, wanted for the murder of the Kashmiri human rights lawyer Jalil Andrabi. On June 9, 2012, in Selma, California, he shot his family and himself.

January 13, 2020 /

So, from the killjoys of Raioteers, another belated new year gift. This time Shillong is on the move in the times of NRC & CAA. Samrat Ray and his nostalgic graphic world of ML05‘s local memories are here once again. You can click on the images to view the gallery and scroll down to download high resolution pdf of the calendar to print. Also, remember that we make this gift for personal purposes – any profiteering idiot wanting to sell the hardcopy will be appropriately amended. 

January 12, 2020 /

I never learnt Jana Gana Mana.
Every Independence Day was our annual celebration
As a day of burning flames and protests,
A day of complete shutdown.
Each day, a day of murder, a day of rape
A day when crimson tears fell on each memory’s hearth
My heart never could feel the love for Jana Gana Mana
This anthem did not bear the name of my land
Nor the names of my rivers, my hills.

January 12, 2020 /

As regards the Bengali population of Shillong, we formed two rather conflicting impressions. One was that the women were very much more free at Shillong than at any other place we knew of, and the other was that the men were very much less so. It appeared to us that the men at Shillong spent their days shut up in a room and working at their desks. The impression was right because most of the Bengalis at Shillong were clerks in government offices. It also seemed to us that Shillong was a place where monotheism prevailed over polytheism and that in the face of the One-God or Brahma, as we called him following Brahmo theology, our familiar many-gods kept themselves very much in the background.

January 8, 2020 /

Since the past couple of months I have been thinking a lot about home and ways in which it archives the passage of time. In one such afternoon of sluggish enquiry, I learnt about my great-aunt for the first time some forty years after her death when I discovered an old trunk in my house. The trunk was brought by her when she migrated from Sylhet to India (Assam) because of the partition of 1947. Coincidentally, the day I discovered this relic of the inglorious history turned out to be the anniversary of the country’s independence. It was on the 15th August 2018.

January 4, 2020 /

This Graphic Novel contains the linkage between Tribal (khasi) folktales and Living root bridges construction. It also speaks about the cultural aspect of the matrilineal social structure, the myths and beliefs of the tribe, the geographical aspects and the materials used and the process of construction. When I was a school boy, the school library had a great collection of Comics, Graphic novels and illustrated books about Tin Tin, The Ramayana, The Bible, Japanese folktales, Celtic tales etc. Being inspired by these tales at such a young age, I had the passion to create a Graphic Novel that can communicate and narrate the stories of my land : The Khasi Hills. I hope with this graphic novel I can contribute at least a fraction if not a whole to my culture in sustaining and preserving it.

January 3, 2020 /

I have been listening to T. M. Krishna’s ‘unsung anthem’ from the morning. I never thought I would actually sit down and listen to the national anthem (he clarifies though that this is not the national anthem, but rarely-sung verses selected from the longer poem); listen, and listen again and think, and then I want to write something about it.

December 25, 2019 /

Think of Mariam today. At this moment, she is a young woman who has travelled for many days and nights to Bethlehem (her husband’s native town), so that the birth can be registered in a Census ordered by Caesar Augustus. There is no room in the inn for a pregnant woman, so she brings her baby into the world alone in a manger. As she holds this infant in her arms, she whispers to him the insensitivity of a state that does not recognise birth to be the ultimate testament of inclusion, of how terrifying and vulnerable it is to be undocumented, to be denied a home…

December 22, 2019 /

Ka Khristmas kam dei tang ka por ba ngin lehkmen, hynrei ka dei ruh ka por ba ngi peit shakhmat da ka jingkyrmen. Ka Khristmas ka iai pynkynmaw ia ngi ba ka don ka lad jong ka jingkyrmen bad ka pynkynmaw ruh ba U Jisu Khrist da la ka jong ka doh u la mad ia kaei kaba ki briew ki mad ne shem ha ka jingim hangne ha pyrthei. Ka kam kaba khia bad kyrkieh kaba don ha khmat jong ngi ka long kumno ban pynneh pynsah bad iada ia ka khyndew ka shyiap, ka ktien, ka kolshor ne ka dei riti jong ka Ri bad Jaidbynriew ba ritpaid bad ha kajuh ka por pat ban thew hok ia ka pyrla ka jingiarap ba shongnia kaba ngin ai sha ki phetwir ne nongwei katkum ki Ain bad ka hok longbriew manbriew, khlem da leh klet ruh ban buh pynap ia ki Ain bad kyndon ban iada ialade. Ngin ym lah ban leh ia kane lymne weng ia ki jingeh lada ngi don ia ka nongrim bad ka jingmut kaba khim.

December 10, 2019 /

There was a parking lot in Shillong
that took a year and crores to build.
Why, I asked, was it not used to ease congestion?
It awaited the Minister for Roads to inaugurate,
who awaited the fall of his government.
And the waiting goes on,
for here they change parties and governments
like Hindi film stars changing dresses in a song.

December 8, 2019 /

My familiarity with the Shillong hills is not new. Probably Shillong will remind you of Amit and Labanya of ‘Sesher Kobita’ (the last poem). But however great a poet Rabindranath may be, there is no fitting image of Shillong in ‘Sesher Kobita’. The reason for this is that he never developed a kinship with Shillong. However, Rabindranath being an intelligent person, by naming it ‘Sesher Kobita’ he meant it to be a poem rather than a novel. If someone wants to write a novel, one cannot do it by excluding the inhabitants of Shillong, especially hill tribes like the Khasis. In his description and in the treatment, there is absolutely no flavour of Shillong.

December 6, 2019 /

Fear of Lions sets the bar for South Asian historical fiction. Aurangazeb is neither vilified nor celebrated, he and his reign are showcased with all its problematic and a rare honesty. The book sets up describing every aspect of socio political life during this period – caste, bureaucracy, political intrigues, army, revenue system, administration, aristocracy, commerce, migration, mobility etc. through an intertwined fictionalized narratives about individuals. If I were teaching a course on this period of history, I would prescribe this as an essential reading.

November 29, 2019 /

Life and Death. War and Peace. A book that would forever alter the way I look at History. I don’t remember the precise date on which I started reading the book, but I do remember the month, the year, the conditions of life, in which I made one of the most courageous attempts of life – to read War and Peace – and the exact number of days it took me to read the book, 18 days

October 27, 2019 /

The final list of NRC published on 31st August, 2019 is a culmination of a long drawn process that can be traced back to the state politics of Assam in the pre independence period. The state’s history is marked by incidents which continue to shape the politics of the state. Sangeeta Barooah Pisharoty’s book Assam: The Accord, the Discord tries to do exactly this – revisit the roots of the problems and understand when the seeds of discord were sown. 

October 3, 2019 /

Despite Kashmir valley experiencing a crippling communication blackout for the last sixty days, with massive restrictions and curfew imposed, where it has impacted life beyond one’s imagination, one comes across the launch of a fashion campaign (Zooni) directed by Avani Rai for a label called Raw Mango. It is not just that the campaign is ill-timed and insensitive, but it does damage by further fetishing Kashmiri women.

September 19, 2019 /

“Curiously apart from Khasi Jaintia Hills and Karbi Anglong in North East India, Unitarianism world wide has not been a mass movement. This intellectual, liberal mode of understanding faith has made up for its numerical insignificance by having many famous individuals subscribing to its ideas, Charles Darwin, Mary Wollstonecraft, Kurt Vonnegut, Tim Berners Lee, Sylvia Plath, Thomas Jefferson. How did this most liberal of Anglo American elite faith tradition find a deep root in these faraway hills with more than 45 churches? Khasi-Pnar people encountered various different faiths which arrived in these hills, not as thankful passive recipients of good word but as argumentative, sceptical, questioning people. Hajom Kissor Singh was one such Presbyterian convert, who not only rejected puritanical notions of Christianity but also on his own developed a liberal ecumenical version of faith which was sensitive both to traditional Khasi conceptions of divine as well as new theological innovations in the west. The puritanical Khasi Presbyterians abused him as “an Atheist”, and called him an “enemy of the Lord,” or the Bengali Brahmos wanted to patronise him and take over the task of interpreting Khasi Pnar ideas, Hajom Kissor Singh remained committed to his own culturally rooted journey of faith.

This account of the early days of Khasi-Pnar Unitarianism and the life and struggles of Hajom Kissor Singh was done by Rev M C Ratter of British and Foreign Unitarian Association in 1930, as part of his book To Nagroi. As a postscript  H. H. Mohrmen, pastor of the historic Jowai Unitarian church, and one of the intellectual stalwarts of contemporary Khasi-Pnar community, writes about the creative ways in which Hajom Kissor Singh and others interpreted the notion of God.”

In 1973 a Hindi film Yeh Gulistan Hamara came. Before the screening of the film we had read about the film in Filmfare. That magazine was very popular. After I read about the film, I realized it is politically motivated and I started campaigning against it. Dev Anand and Sharmila Tagore were the actors. Sharmila played a Naga girl and she was named Sekrenyi which is the name of a holy festival of the Angamis. The actor came with elephants to a Naga village. He brought sweets and biscuits to court the Naga girl and teach her writing and reading. And in the end the Indians conquered Naga country with the help of the forces. We said our country was never conquered by Hindustan. The Naga students protested and tried to get the Khasi students to join us because the film also depicted Khasis as backward. But Khasis did not understand. On top of that, the Meghalaya government relaxed the entertainment tax also.

August 17, 2019 /

We wish to reiterate and assert the fact that Cachari/Sylheti is a distinct ethnic and linguistic group and not just a sub-group/ dialect within the larger Bengali language as widely perceived. It has its own alphabet written in its own script known as Syloti Nagari…we request you to consider the protection of Sylheti (Cachari) language as an indigenous and independent language to be protected under Section 6 of Assam Accord.
SOCIETY FOR PROTECTION OF SYLHETI (CACHARI) LANGUAGE

August 1, 2019 /

SOULMATE was formed in Shillong, in October 2003 when Rudy Wallang and Tipriti Kharbangar decided to start a band dedicated to playing the Blues and committed to spread awareness about the music to the rest of India, whether the country was ready or not. Rudy was already a legend in North East India, making his name with the region’s most respected and seminal bands like Great Society and Mojo, while Tipriti was the little girl with the big pipes whom everyone knew was going places.

July 9, 2019 /

Miya poetry is not a tool for division – it should be a bridge of unity between the mainstream Assamese society and the Miya people. But in order for that to happen, both the progressive sections of the mainstream Assamese society and the practitioners of Miya poetry should play their responsible roles.

Colonial politics of labelling communities have had disastrous consequences which continue to impact the lives of the colonized. Identities were created and circulated through this act which in turn had categorised, included and excluded the communities living in the colonial fringe. Karbis were labelled ‘heathen’, ‘worshippers of malignant demons’, ‘unwarlike’, ‘timid’, ‘coward’ ‘bloodthirsty’ and such other colonial vocabularies which continue to haunt them. Colonial authorities persisted with the misnomer, ‘Mikir’, over the ancient indigenous nomenclature Karbi and the label remained in force for centuries. Colonial categorisation of Karbis into Hills and Plains simply because of geographical locations continues to divide and distance the tribe psychologically, socially, culturally and politically. The colonizers however saw in the Karbis their ‘industriousness’ as it served the colonial enterprise.

June 17, 2019 /

Bah Skendrowell Syiemlieh’s inability to sing in English made him a not-so-sought-after singer by the urban elite. However, he has remained “the singing story teller” for many in the villages and small Khasi towns that till date are considered ‘Nongkyndong’ (a derogatory term used by the urban elite to paint the village folks as village idiots).
Even the posthumous Padma Shri in 2008 did not help to raise his image among the Khasi urban elite. His songs have remained the subaltern art of a subaltern rural narrative. But despite this his courage to sing about himself as a son of the village bore him great success when without any inhibition he sang ‘Ah Moina’ in the Mawiang dialect.
The Mawiang dialect comes along with the rural, rustic life that he held dearly till his last days. Nobody ever imagined that a song sung in one of the West Khasi Hills dialects would ever be appreciated.

June 10, 2019 /

In universities such as Ashoks, what would the culture of dissent and politics look like? How much can a capitalist funded university that wants to impart high quality liberal arts education succeed in ensuring critical education? Would such universities ever open up its gates for students from all sections of the society in a country wherein less than 10% have access to higher education? Would it allow for complete academic and intellectual freedom?

June 8, 2019 /

The demand for Hindi
is now a demand
for better treatment–
not rights-
put by the agents
to their slave-masters.
They use Hindi in place of English,
while the fact is
that their masters
use English in place of Hindi-
the two of them have struck a deal.

June 8, 2019 /

“Namaste, brother” says Chaitanya, a pudgy, rosy-cheeked man from Charlotte, North Carolina, smiling broadly at me and my friend Alison. He wears a sleeveless orange tank top and white cotton balloon pants. He tells us the moniker was bestowed on him after an elaborate naming ceremony conducted on the banks of the holy river Ganges, in the north Indian city of Rishikesh. He paid 10,000 rupees to a Hindu priest for the conversion from Keith to Chaitanya. “Only a $150 for a whole new life man! It’s a steal if you think about it.”

May 13, 2019 /

#ArundhatiRoy
“I have never felt that my fiction and nonfiction were warring factions battling for suzerainty. They aren’t the same certainly, but trying to pin down the difference between them is actually harder than I imagined. Fact and fiction are not converse. One is not necessarily truer than the other, more factual than the other, or more real than the other. Or even, in my case, more widely read than the other. All I can say is that I feel the difference in my body when I’m writing.”

April 14, 2019 /

At the National Seminar on “Dalit Literature: Texts and Contexts”, organised by Delhi University’s English Department over three days, like at any other seminar, a buffet lunch was served. As happens at most such events, the sole meat dish, or nonveg as it is called, was kept a part apart. At what was deemed a safe and agreeable distance from the other pure-veg stuff. Safe for and agreeable to whom? It was not clear if the Manu Smriti or Narada Smriti or DU’s rulebook designed by some long-dead registrar had been consulted as regards the decorous distance to be maintained. I asked an aproned cateter on whose orders this had been done. We do as some saheb tells us, he offered. Besides this is how it’s always done, another said. But how can this happen at a Dalit Literature conference?

March 30, 2019 /

I have learnt from the Facebook that Ranjan has shot Lord of the Orphans in his I-phone. He admits at Dhaka this time that about 20% of the film is shot in 7+ and 8 models of I-phones. Rest was done in Sony Alpha 7S2 camera. Both are light-weight. So called professional camerapersons would not perhaps even dream to use them. Ranjan is professional nonetheless. He kept his profession aside for a while. This actually was the illness he was suffering from. He planned Lord of the Orphans while recuperating.

March 27, 2019 /

“No one wants to be a hawker; no one is born a hawker”, says Basudev and yet all are caught in the machinic routine of railway life, time-tables at the tip of their tongue and every train remembered by its own sound. Unlike jobs in the corporate and government sectors, this routine assures no dignity and does little to take away from the legal and existential precarity of running hawkers.

March 15, 2019 /

When I say that Jesus was a socialist, I am not referring to the communal ownership of the means of production. This aspect of socialism is certainly consistent with Jesus’ message, and one could argue that it is a logical outworking from it for an industrial society, but it is not something Jesus ever specifically addressed. However, the socialist principle that positively saturates Jesus’ gospel is the idea of fair distribution of wealth, “from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs.” And that is what I will be defending in this article.I advocate this variety of socialism in no small part because I see it as being so well aligned with what Jesus taught. However, democratic socialism is an ideology particular to our time and culture, and I do not presume it to be exactly one and the same as Jesus’ teachings. Jesus was a socialist in principle, but he left all manner of room for us to figure out the specifics of applying that principle today.

March 12, 2019 /

When the Tang family returned to Shillong, they found that their shoe shop had been confiscated by the Custodian of Enemy Property. The only compensation that the family received was about 500 rupees, which was only a fraction of the thousands that the building and merchandise were actually worth. Nothing else was given back to the family, not even the sewing machines.It goes without saying that life was hard after returning to Shillong. Mr. and Mrs. Tang had to work hard in order to regain what had been lost. But their story is unlike other internees’ stories in that Mr. and Mrs. Tang were offered help—and they accepted it. Though the couple had struggled to make ends meet, the local Khasi people in Shillong and the missionaries there were extremely kind and generous.

February 14, 2019 /

Manoranjan Byapari, the Dalit Bengali novelist who has written searingly about the continuing travails of the Dalits in India, recently spoke along with Kancha Illaiah in Kolkata Book Fair. The conversation turned into a bit of a debate about Dalits learning English. Manoranjan Byapari shared his thoughts about the book fair encounter on his facebook page. His FB status was translated from Bangla by Arunava Sinha and then edited by Rahul Bannerjee. 

February 11, 2019 /

Every winter Sumi Pegu, a fifty year old Mising woman runs the single ply yarn into exquisite horizontal patterns. A narrow paddy field in Gohpur’s Mising-gaon (about 230 kms from Guwahati in Sonitpur District, Assam) leads me to her loom. If you walk some kilometres further, you can get a serene view of the hills of Arunachal. The sound of working looms takes over the chirrup of tiny local sparrows looking for some grains to chew. The grain providers, mostly neighbours of Sumi, have to tend to the poultry and pigs regularly. Their children go to the nearby primary schools and have picked up the dominant Assamese tongue fluently—yet, all through the year, there is someone or the other tending the fibres of the loom.

February 2, 2019 /

Why an Iraqi and an American in an Indian play, somebody asked me? Not to difficult to figure out:
I wanted an Indian army officer, Rajiv Kapoor, playing the part of the American, Robert Klarmann; I wanted a Kashmiri, Anwar Mir, playing the part of the Iraqi, Raza Husain. I would play with locale, idiom, make it real for us in this country, tell ourselves that we are no different from Robert and Raza.
Then I thought to myself, would the goons of the hyper-nationalistic ABVP, actually allow this to be staged? No way. I’ve seen how they operate, spitting venom, ready to cripple and kill.
Not important. Let the locale be Indian, let the characters be American and Iraqi. Maybe watching Soldiers’ Silence, audiences will put two and two together and say, hey, this could be happening in Kashmir too.