READERS’ FORUM | August 08, 2018:
Not long ago, there was a young girl from Cherrapunjee who fell in love with a Shillong lad back in the 50s. She had to leave her native place, Sohra and come to Shillong to build a family with her husband. In the pre-70s, Shillong was an emerging hub of trade and commerce ever since the British shifted the capital from Cherrapunjee.
Her husband was very much gifted with craftsmanship, he started working with different contractors for construction of houses across the state of Meghalaya; in the course of time, her family had to move from place to place due to work commitments especially when her husband started to work with social organizations that promote education throughout the length and breadth of Ri Khasi.
From Shillong to Mawkaiaw and Mawkaiaw to Wrangling, they have always been on the move due to work requirement. With the passage of time she gave birth to their first child, a daughter and happiness reigned because the birth of her daughter brought more warmness to her family and relatives whom she had left while she was in Sohra.
Later, when she gave birth to her son “Deng”, she became more happy because she wants someone who would spend time and play with her eldest daughter so that she can give a helping hand to her husband in order to give the best to her family. The eldest son was the most loving person who would always take care of his siblings because most of the time his parents need to leave for work early in the morning. When you are into construction, sometimes there is no fixed time for work especially when the building materials arrive early in the morning and being a senior craftsman, the Chief Contractor would assign you a task to take care of the new craftsmen or interns, you need to be at their beck and call. Deng’s father being an experienced craftsman would be assigned with other responsibilities because of his hard work and commitment.
During the birth of Deng’s youngest sister, his Mother passed away and he was so helpless as a kid because she was the only person whom he could turn to, especially when his father is drunk. Seeing his Mom’s dead body, Deng told his Dad, “Pa, ngan iarap noh ma nga ia phi” (Dad, from now on, I will help you). That was the day when Deng, a Class 1 student, decided to stop pursuing his studies and help his Dad in order to allow his siblings continue with their education. Deng never knew the reality of working as a helper, assisting other craftsmen. It was an impulsive decision to quit school without knowing the harsh reality of life outside the school premises. With the passage of time, Deng realized that he wants to continue with his schooling like his classmates because he wants to spend time playing with them after school but his desire was never heard by his father. Often Deng would reach late for work after he started making friends with other neighbourhood kids, who would go to the saw-mill factory and collect firewood; that was the most happiest moment for him because it was the only source of his entertainment.
His only happiness was being with friends. After the death of his Mom, his father would come home late in a drunken state, sometimes he would shout and beat Deng if his siblings are crying and some of his younger sisters and youngest brother would ask him, “Deng, Meimei sha ei? Nga sngew kynjah bad katta ruh im pat wan”(Deng, where is mother? I feel so lonely and she didn’t come home after a long time). Deng would reply to his youngest brother, “i lah jan wan Hephep. Ngin ia bam ja noh shuwa khnang ba i Mei ruh yn kmen haba i iohi ia ngi ba ngi ia bam bha” (She is on her way HepHep. We will have food first so that mother will be happy if she sees us eating our food on time). Deng would often cry alone after his siblings are asleep because his Mom was the only person whom he could turn to especially when his Dad is angry.
Deng, being a kid, would often be tempted to play with his fellow kids and would sometimes miss work. On some days, when Deng couldn’t turn up to his Dad’s work, his Dad would come home with the same mood, beat him and even kick him. Sometimes in the cold Shillong winter, he would be confined to sleep outside with an empty stomach. To warm-himself, he used sacks as quills to beat the harsh climate of Shillong’s winter. Sometimes his eldest sister would leave a portion of rice for him and she would wake up when all are asleep and hand him a portion of rice in a plate. A veranda has frequently become a dormitory for him. His inability to shoulder the responsibility of a working professional at a tender age, prompted him to look for other avenues to supplement his family’s income. Since he was the eldest son in the family, Deng has been habituated in doing household chores, cooking and taking care of his siblings. He was lucky enough because some of his neighbours found him to be a responsible person, they would ask him to work in their bakeries or tea stalls. Deng’s gentleness and ability to respect customers enabled him to earn well. Whatever he earns, he would give to his Dad who would often ill-treat him whenever he is drunk.
Deng’s only happiness was only when he is out for work or else looking for one. Whenever he comes home, his heart would grow heavy because of his Dad. His Dad started drinking excessively only after the death of his Mom. The loneliness made his Dad to find alcohol as the only companion after his work. Whenever he is sad, Deng’s father would start drinking till late midnight and would sometimes shout at him, “Dei namar jong me bad ki para jong me ba ngan sa jynjar haduh katne! Hato mem tip, ba nga lah ban ieh ia me bad ki para jong me? Nalor ba nga trei shitom, pha ia haram pat, khun ka ksew!” (It’s because of you and your siblings that I suffer so much! Don’t you know that I can leave you and your siblings? Despite the fact that I work so hard, you still dare disrespect me, son of a b*t*h!)
Deng and his siblings would tremble by their Dad’s statement because they knew that they are helpless and sometimes fear would crop on Deng’s mind; what if his father leaves him and his siblings? He would often ask, “Where would I turn to?”, he would cry most of the time, “Mei, balei phi ieh ia ngi? Shaei ngin leit kein Mei, lada i Pa i ieh ia ngi? Mano ban Khot sah ia ngi?” (Mother, why did you leave us? Where can we go, if daddy leaves us? Who will provide us shelter?). These words would bring tears to his eyes especially when he sees his friends with their Mothers; he would feel left-out despite his friends calling him to share their company when there is any get-together. His heart would cry in pain and he would only pray for someone to understand and console him. His only belief was that, if he follows the right path, the Almighty would bestow on him someone who would love and understand him.
Undoubtedly Deng’s father is a very talented person who would grasp well the art of design and sketching. He was always assigned the art of design in construction. Cherrapunjee was once upon a time the capital of Assam under the British regime. Town planning and Architecture can be seen till today due to the effort made by the British govt. Deng’s father would be working with Salesian Fathers predominantly from Italy, who spent time promoting education in the hilly terrains of Ri Khasi. Construction of schools has always been his area of specialization because the Salesian Fathers would construct schools wherever they start their mission. It was in Cherrapunjee, when St. John Bosco School was constructed, he met Deng’s Mother and later got married. Deng’s father would often spend time alone in his pastime and would love to draw sketches of design ideas that he has in his mind.
Silence has always been his companionship that can be seen in Deng’s life. When Deng has just started his nursery schooling, his father would take out time from his work and teach him how to read and write, using a chalk and slate. This quality speaks volume of Deng’s father even though he lived in the 40s and 50s of Shillong.
The simplicity of Deng can be compared to any kid who live up to his family values. It is something challenging when you are raised by a single parent at a tender age of 8. His father spent most of his time trying to find additional source of livelihood to give the best to his five children. Work has been his only focus in order to take care of his family. Entertainment in the form of movies, picnic or a short-stroll for his children has been viewed as something which is a waste of money.
Sometimes Deng’s younger siblings would often ask, “Pa, ialam bam rasgulla seh ia ngi sha Diary?” (Daddy, please take us out to eat Rasgulla in a diary). Deng’s father would often shout and yell at them, “Ka kam kai, kam lutphut suda! Pha lah ia heh, pham nang ban wad lad hi?” (All nonsense, nothing but a waste of money! Can’t you find your own ways?). His words would haunt them and they would tremble in fear before requesting any favor from their father.
As a lay man, I would sometime ponder, “What has rasgullas got to do with money or wasteful expenditures? Are kids looking for Sunday brunch or expensive dinner? What is happiness for these kids?”. I do remember as a kid, I have great affection for this particular teacher, who would sometimes take me and my classmates for strolls. Few pieces of biscuits and burgers are enough to make us happy. Did this teacher give us a luxury feast despite the poor salary that he earns? This is just a personal reflection on the above angry statements used by Deng’s father.
I often thought, may be Deng’s father never had the luxury of childhood entertainment, probably his father might have had difficult childhood moments, plagued by poverty and insecurity. May be some of us might have had similar experiences and it might be a common journey among Khasi families or Tribal families because as a Khasi, helping our neighbours next door is a part of our culture besides taking care of our own roof and it is this same culture that differentiates us from the rest of the ethnic communities in India.
(The writer is an Independent Business Development Consultant for Handcrafted Wooden-Furniture Design houses in Delhi.)
You can also contribute your articles, short stories, poems to firstname.lastname@example.org