Category: Culture

July 2, 2018 /

Most of the problems and social conflicts experienced by the Khasi society today are due to misinterpretation of traditions and acceptance of colonial innovations as sacred and God-given traditions that existed since time immemorial. Let us discuss on one of these colonial innovations which remains in force today through modern legal instruments, but stands in perpetual conflict with the deep-seated cultural sentiments of the people. Khasi elders of old said that the Syiem was appointed in a Raid or Hima because the Bakhraw, as leaders of the founding clans refused to take over the properties of extinct clans, to inflict punishments on criminals, thieves and murderers. The Bakhraw also thought that it was dishonourable for them to live by begging for free gifts, donations, or to fill one’s coffer by fees, fines and taxes levied on the products of others in the markets. Hence, all these reprehensible functions and unholy sources of income were handed over to the Syiem.   

July 1, 2018 /

Venkat Raman Singh Shyam, artist and author of the autobiographical Finding My Way (2016), found himself at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London speaking on 21 June at a seminar on “Indigenous Media, Self-Determination and Cultural Activism”. This poem came to him then as he first typed out Hindi in Roman script on his phone and sent it to his friend and accomplice S. Anand, publisher at large at the small Navayana. Anand felt impelled to find the words in English just like he did when working with Venkat on his autobiography. Venkat’s work has been exhibited worldwide, including at Sakahàn: International Indigenous Art, at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, in 2013.

June 30, 2018 /

“Bhairavi was trying hard to concentrate on her Haruki Murakami novel as she kept tossing on her mahogany bed. But she was frequently getting distracted by the beautiful sharp notes of Himachali folksongs she played on her laptop just a short while ago.
At that moment, she suddenly heard a hiss hiss sound coming from the window near her. She was dazed to see an enormous python creeping through her window railings and slipping along its body towards her room. A chunk of his large smoky body glittered in the mid-day sunlight.

June 28, 2018 /

At a book reading in Kolkata, about a week after my first novel, The God of Small Things, was published, a member of the audience stood up and asked, in a tone that was distinctly hostile: “Has any writer ever written a masterpiece in an alien language? In a language other than his mother tongue?” I hadn’t claimed to have written a masterpiece (nor to be a “he”), but nevertheless I understood his anger toward a me, a writer who lived in India, wrote in English, and who had attracted an absurd amount of attention. My answer to his question made him even angrier.
“Nabokov,” I said. And he stormed out of the hall.

June 22, 2018 /

Today is “Rev. Thomas Jones Day”, gazetted as a Special Holiday for all State Government Offices and all revenue and Magisterial Courts and Educational Institutions across the Khasi and Jaintia Hills and the Ri-Bhoi District. What might this 22 June holiday mean, individually or collectively, for Christian or non-Christian, in that shape-shifting ground between the past and the present?
The 22 June holiday commemorates Thomas Jones as a founder, a father, a first. The idea of historical “firsts” often drives a popular understanding of the past— and more pertinently, the political use of the past in the present—but is not always helpful in really getting to grips with complex and interconnected historical processes. There’s not necessarily a ground zero moment when it comes to cultural change. Hero worship, furthermore — though it comes with a feel-good factor— can be rather unhelpful.

June 22, 2018 /

Convergence of an existing ‘fitness fad’ amongst India’s aspirational middle class with the #HumFitTohIndiaFit social media campaign as a precursor to the International Yoga Day, has helped to convert an exclusionary and violent somatic nationalism of the RSS into a secular principle. This appeals greatly to the Indian middle-class. It allows India Inc. to feel the rush of patriotic sentiment without having to get its hands dirty in a refurbished akhada. It allows those of us who live in comfortable high-rises with attached gyms and swimming pools to smell our own sweat and feel incredibly proud for having performed an immensely patriotic act.
This is lifestyle patriotism of the most insidious variety. It turns citizens into consumers, yoga into a collapsed 5-minute workout video, and the very real issue of both individual health as well as the health of a vast citizenry into nothing more than a social media gimmick.

June 21, 2018 /

“What about the Kashmiri Pandits?” For well over a quarter century every public conversation on Kashmir has been dogged by that question. As a tiny Hindu minority in predominantly Muslim Kashmir (they constituted less than 5% in the 1990s) Pandits have had an extraordinary valence in the often-heated discourse around the conflict, and their “migration” from Kashmir in the early 1990s continues to cast a baleful shadow on the present.

June 21, 2018 /

The convenor and the presenters of the panel ‘Feminist Reframings of India’s Northeast: Gendered Geographies and Genealogies’ have decided to withdraw our panel from the AAS-in-Asia, 2018 Conference. The panel has made this decision in the light of how the denial of visas to scholars from Pakistan was handled by AAS and Ashoka University. The Association has kept this news away from all other participants of the conference.

June 20, 2018 /

On August 15, 1947, when India gained independence, Bishnu Prasad Rabha led a black flag demonstration in a village named Dighelia, shouting “Ye Azaadi Jhootha Hain, Sirf Chamra Ka Badal” (This freedom is a hoax : only a change of skin), and he was promptly arrested and put behind bars. After he was released, Rabha went underground for years – presenting a serious challenge to the establishment. He took up arms and engaged in guerrilla warfare against the government.

June 18, 2018 /

The image she shows me on her laptop shows smears of blood on the floor, discarded clothing and prayer mats at one corner of the corridor. No action. No people. But Sanna Irshad Mattoo, one of Kashmir’s growing bunch of women photo-journalists, conveys the potential of objects and belongings to bear “witness”. The inanimate speaks out of the terrible violence that stains, not just the hospital floor, but, as the hashtgag suggests one that has permeated the soul of Kashmir.

June 16, 2018 /

In #Shillong, never is #masculinity as intensively interrogated as during the World Cup…Personally, I had never developed a love for any sport, let alone football. This year’s world cup for me is a time machine. As it takes me back, I rediscover an old feeling of resilience. Each time the world cup happened, it has allowed for me to become a target of collective bullying. “Why are you such a sissy?”, “What kind of man are you?”, “Hijras like you should not be born”.

June 13, 2018 /

The complicity of the Association of Asian Studies (AAS) with the Indian government’s violation of academic freedom compels us to boycott the conference. We do so in solidarity with our Pakistani colleagues and to express our commitment to the unfettered exchange of ideas. Today, this government has decided to ban Pakistani scholars. Tomorrow, another might decide to deny Indian or Chinese or British scholars, or issue conference visas on the basis of religious identification or sexual preference. Would we still allow pragmatic reasons to dictate our participation? Boycotting is an obligation we owe not only to our Pakistani colleagues, but also to the values of open and inclusive intellectual exchange that we cherish.

June 12, 2018 /

Sukracharjya Rabha was born in 1977, in a remote village Rampur in Goalpara district of western Assam. He started working with local tribal people to promote theatre. Within short span of time he authored and directed number of drama and got recognition as a unique theatre activist in the part of the country. He was honoured with the Bismillah Khan Yuba Puraskar from Sangeet Natak Akademi in 2009 for direction and the Aditya Bokra Birla Kala Kira Puruskar in 2010. On June 8th 2018, at the age of just 41 years he succumbed to a massive cardiac arrest. He is survived by his wife and two children. Maulee Senapati, filmmaker & Abdul Kalam Azad, an activist write pay their tributes.

June 11, 2018 /

Hasmukh P. Modi and his wife came with their young daughter to Shillong in 1979. A Gujarati family from Rajkot, they had settled in Africa, but were forced to leave during the civil war in Ethiopia. Their quest for a suitable school for their daughter, a place where they could strike roots and establish means of livelihood ended during a holiday in Shillong. In Ethiopia, Hasmukhbhai had worked in the marketing department of French and British firms selling everything from pins to jet planes. In Shillong he decided to take up the business of his grandfather— grocery—and deal in spices imported from Kerala—cardamom, cinnamon, cloves—and from Gujarat—coriander, cumin, fenugreek and fennel seeds (jeera, methi, sauf ).

June 10, 2018 /

My mother is a woman with ten tongues
That is why she raves incessantly
Unmindful whether it’s day or night!
I run from home to bazaar
Muddle-headed on lanes and streets
Like an owner-less dog;
When I returned she fumed again
“Offspring of sin why don’t you die
At least other children die by swallowing poison”,
I became so angry my blood boiled,
From my heart my pulse bounced in and out.

June 9, 2018 /

This essay describes socio-economic profile of the Mazhabi Sikhs (and other ‘sweeper’ Punjabis) settled at Shillong for more than a century. These safai karamcharis (sweepers) have been keeping the city clean but themselves live in worst slums. The essay tries to locate survival strategies of Punjabi sweepers in a milieu hostile to ‘outsiders’. What makes them stick together, maintain their ethnic and religious identity and resist various attempts to ‘relocate’ them.

June 5, 2018 /

I am near the Indo-Bhutan border in a village called Dimakuchi in the Udalguri district of Assam in Northeast India. There are hundreds of people around me and we are in a large field where temporary tents are pitched. Lightning flashes in the sky as people huddle together under a slight drizzle. The faces of the crowd are all turned to one direction, captivated by the spectacle of dance, song and entertainment on the makeshift stage as though they are under a spell. As the compere monotonously calls for the next performer in line for the Master of Dance competition, I wonder if this is the Bodo Film Festival I was invited to, and how I am supposed to make sense of it.

June 4, 2018 /

I intend to go beyond the Punjab and seek to review the Mazhabi Sikh past of two important urban centres of north-eastern India. They are located in Shillong and Guwahati, and have so far escaped the attention of scholars engaged in studying the Dalit past of the region. Situated in the Khasi Hills, their early presence in Shillong goes back to the days of colonial rule, while in Guwahati of the Brahmaputra Valley they may have settled around the time of the country’s Independence. Their emergence in two different cities under dissimilar political conditions perhaps offers an interesting point for the enquiry.

June 2, 2018 /

This is the best time to read Kynpham Sing Nongkynrih’s poem Sundori, while we sit amidst angers, rumours and curfews in Shillong. Kynpham Sing Nongkynrih is the key Khasi modern poet whose rooted yet critical verses uncover the unsaid of Khasi society. Sundori was written during the troubles of 1990s when the local nationalist anger and resentment was at its peak. 

May 30, 2018 /

Documentary film has had a long and interesting career in India. It was mobilised, until Independence, as a vehicle for Imperial propaganda, and put in the service of the nation-building project in free India. To be sure, much of Films Division (FD) sponsored documentary work also did not rise much above the status of propaganda, but its ideals were self-avowedly loftier – to educate the ‘masses’ beholden to tradition, to create modern and scientific-minded citizens, national integration, etc. Work of several filmmakers, like S. Sukhdev and SNS Sastry, supported by FD in the 60s and 70s did betray an independent streak, evidenced by their efforts to tackle difficult subjects coupled with bold formal experiments, but their critical perspective seems to have dissipated by the time of the Emergency.

May 29, 2018 /

We who come from the north-east of India to feel a sense of guilt for reading English books, watching Hollywood movies and soaps and not regional cinema, let alone popular Hindi movies and for hearing and singing English songs. I also found myself sometimes, defending the fact that cinema halls in Darjeeling and Sikkim did screen Hindi movies, which were widely watched and that south Indian movies were much awaited and enjoyed as well. But to much dismay, this still did not alter the attempts at fitting in well to engage in the cultural dialogue that existed among the lower classes in mainland India.

May 28, 2018 /

By this time, most of you would have heard of Modi’s huge blunder in China where he misspelled “STRENGTH” as “STREANH” and became a laughingstock.
Now, let me make myself clear on one thing: I don’t expect Modi to know good English. So I do not judge him poorly for his poor mastery of English.
I would have been perfectly happy if Modi gave a speech to the Chinese in languages he is comfortable with – Hindi or Gujarati.
But given that he chose to speak in English despite having the option, he bears the responsibility for the goof-up.

May 18, 2018 /

With grief in her usual frail voice she utters, “I saw the poverty with my own eyes; my Mother’s gold and silver ornaments had to be traded to make ends meet. I remember running from pillar to post for loans and to collect pending money. What other alternative we had? None! All of us left Wahlong for Shillong in the next few months after partition for the better or worse, while Dad persisted to stay back and supervise the remaining lands (certain portions of our land is in Bangladesh today). Our journey to Shillong was treacherous! We walked from Wahlong to Mawbang and then we finally took a bus to Shillong.”

May 14, 2018 /

Soso Tham refused to believe that a people with no evidence of a written history was without foundation or worth. He set out to compile in verse shared memories of the ancient past—ki sngi barim—presenting his people with their own mythology depicting a social and moral universe still relevant to the present day. For him the past is not a dark place but a source of Light, of Enlightenment. It may lie buried but it is not dead, and when discovered will provide the reason for its continued survival. Ki Sngi Barim U Hynñiew Trep is the lyrical result of dedicated devotion. It is an account of how Seven Clans—U Hynñiew Trep—came down to live on this earth.

May 4, 2018 /

Gillo Pontecorvo (1919–2006), whose masterpiece “The Battle of Algiers” (1966) remains the most perfect example of a ‘reconstructed realism’, the purest cinematic equivalent of Marx’s famous metaphor of the ‘life of the subject-matter’ being ‘ideally reflected as in a mirror’. What Pontecorvo set out to do was, in his words, ‘represent the irreversibility of a revolutionary process when a colonized people acquire consciousness of its identity as a nation’. And he did this so well that the film was boycotted by the French delegation at the Venice Film Festival in 1966 and banned for over three years in both France and England (till 1971).”

May 3, 2018 /

“The Ken is considered to be one of India’s cleaner rivers. It is part of the Ganga basin and meets the Yamuna at Chilla Ghat in Banda District, Uttar Pradesh. To closely understand the  Ken, this walk along the Ken was organised by SANDRP – South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People from Delhi and Veditum India Foundation from Kolkata. The difficult terrain of the Ken River and the harsh weather required this journey to be undertaken in multiple parts (June 2017, October 2017 and April 2018) and took 33 days to complete this over 600 km journey on foot, where they discussed issues of the river, water, agriculture, the proposed Ken Betwa project and other socio-environmental topics with villagers in over 60 villages.”

April 25, 2018 /

Born and brought up in Guwahati, I have a bond as deep as an umbilical cord with the city. Living outside the city and the state for almost fourteen years now, I have been through my academic and creative pursuits in the recent past, trying to explore non-mainstream narratives of Assam. This is a project that I embarked on since 2016 where I am trying to map the cityscape through my camera.

April 20, 2018 /

I first heard of the “Gaidinliu notebooks” when I was doing research in North Cachar Hills of Assam, India, in 2005. These “notebooks” are associated with the prophetess, Gaidinliu (1915–1993), affectionately also known as Rani (Queen), who was the leader of an indigenous religious movement known as the Heraka. No one possessed the notebooks in their entirety. Therefore descriptions were elusive and mysterious—some people talked about them as “god given,” and others as a “script” that contained in it many “signs” about future events. There was speculation that once the notebooks were made available, translated, and understood, it would usher in the heguangram, generally translated as “kingdom.” What is this kingdom? And how is one to recognize it? Then, other requests came in: people wanted to know of these “notebooks” and whether I had seen them. I assuaged their curiosity by informing them that I had seen a copy of the “script” in the Pitt Rivers Museum at the University of Oxford. I assured them that I would request a copy from the curator. Upon returning to Britain, I contacted PRM regarding the Gaidinliu notebooks and about taking a copy to the Zeme people of North Cachar Hills.They scanned the notebooks and provided copies to take back to the community.

April 11, 2018 /

There are nationalist, there are racists, there are right wingers and there are these so called ” KHASI SONS OF THE SOIL” whom we term as INTERNET KHLAWAIT. They are found in their natural habitats; Facebook, Whatsapp, twitter and sometimes, in you tube. They are always criticising everything that is not Khasi or written in Khasi along with other languages. Here are some of the traits of these INTERNET KHLAWAIT…

April 8, 2018 /

I was twenty-four, fresh out of University and eager to put my skills to the test. My first teaching assignment was at a private college where my cousin, upon hearing about my incursion to the relative unknown, jokingly remarked, “There are colleges for First Class students, so there must be colleges for Third Class and Simple Pass students as well. If there aren’t any of the latter, you and I can establish one. We will have many takers. ” It was also the first time that I saw women in burqas

April 7, 2018 /

But of course it cannot be said that the fascists of any single nationality have a monopoly over the ‘ethnic cleansing’ of libraries. In 1943 the Nazis had ‘soaked each room of the Royal Society Library in Naples with gasoline and ignited them by throwing in hand grenades’, destroying about 200,000 books and manuscripts, ostensibly in retaliation for the shooting of a German soldier (Knuth, Libricide, p.53). More recently, in 2013, Islamist insurgents retreating from Timbuktu in Mali ‘set fire to a library containing thousands of priceless historic manuscripts’, according to the mayor of the town. The vast majority of those were in Arabic, others in Songhai, Tamashek and Bambara, showing just how much the self-styled protagonists of Islam (in this case, AQIM, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) care for the heritage of Islam itself.

April 7, 2018 /

Deep Choudhury’s debut venture Alifa is a story of a family’s struggle languishing in the margins. Young Alifa and her family lives in a hill overseeing the sprawling city of Guwahati. Her parents Ali and Fatima played by seasoned actors Baharul Islam and Jaya Seal work as daily wage labourers while she and her younger brother Faizal stay home or roam around in the wilderness. They go to the maktab and are waiting for a school to open in the vicinity to resume education. This family like many others living in the hill comprises of Muslims of East Bengal origin or ‘Miya’ Muslims. Hailing from Barpeta, they have lost their home and hearth to the Beki, a tributary of Brahmaputra.

April 4, 2018 /

On March 29, 2018, Mahesh Hegde, the founder of the alt-right online news site Postcard News was arrested by the Karnataka police and several sections of the Indian Penal Code were cited to justify the police action. Within a matter of hours many users of social media posted in joy and glee that action was taken against a much-despised site that often peddled fake news and radical opinions that were invariably pro-government, pro-Hindutva, often Islamophobic and xenophobic.

April 2, 2018 /

The recent speech in Hindi by the Chief Minister of Manipur on 28th March at Madhavpur fair held at Porbandar, Gujarat claiming Manipur and the entire Northeast region as a part of the Brahmanical cosmological universe dragged out from obscurity and obsoleteness, an old debate which have been dumped in the darkest abyss by generations of historians so that it does not find light again. The Indian state has not been very successful in nationalizing this recalcitrant region and its population, and successive governments have used different strategies to bring the region under their firm control. With successive electoral gains in the region, the ruling party has been emboldened to go ahead their master plan of submerging the entire country under one national identity. The Madhavpur Mela, organized by Ministry of culture in Gujarat to celebrate another mythical claim that Lord Krishna married an Arunachali princess, is a grand and a very expensive affair to bring the region and its population under the hegemonic Hindu nation.

April 1, 2018 /

Easter is one of those times of year when even the most irregular churchgoer can feel impelled to don their Sunday best and attend a service. This joyful highpoint of the Christian calendar – and the darker-toned days of the Passion which precede it – may not nowadays have quite the same all-pervading presence in the secular consciousness as Christmas. But this time of year has captured the imagination of composers through the ages – not least because the Church was one of the few steady employment options available for composers for centuries. The result has been some of the best-loved, most enduring, and most ethereally transcendent pieces in the choral repertoire.

March 31, 2018 /

The quaint hillside house was larger than it had looked from the outside and the first room led to a wide hallway. She coughed mildly as she entered the aisle, her footsteps disturbing the dust that had settled undisturbed for a long time. The dust was now dancing in spirals in thin sunbeams that seemed to magically cut across her. Her backpack felt heavy, so she slid it off and left it on the ground. There were two broken windows on the west of this long hallway, or maybe it was large enough to be a room.