Understanding the fight for Khasi identity

Filmmaker Wanphrang K Diengdoh believes in the ‘insurrectory power’ of the documentary form, says Nawaz Yasin Islam.

 

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JANUARY 21, 1972. A buzzing excitement grips the abode of clouds and the most memorable lines on this day could possibly be that of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who in a crackling voice over the microphone, declared, “A new stage in your history has opened.” This not only defined the creation of a new state but also set up a demarcation of ‘where the clouds end’. The hypnotizing narratives that introduces one to the movie, whisks you away to the past but gently guides you to matrilineal Meghalaya, a land of the Khasi race.

Wanphrang K Diengdoh who has come up with his second film, ‘Where the clouds end’, this year following his earlier release, ‘1987’ attempts to understand the struggle for Khasi identity by looking at the different strands of cultural interface that the Khasi society has gone through, beginning with colonialism, post colonialism, struggles for political autonomy and of course the unavoidable present day politics of development.

Neatly crafted into three subtle chapters, whose titles are the pillars of the Khasi traditional faith, Diengdoh constructs the movie on the foundation of the basic understanding of the Khasi identity and the matrilineal society which through the later stages culminate at the debatable topic of ‘fear of outsiders’, plaguing the society today. The film attempts to look at how the ideas of culture and man-made concepts of identity are fluid in nature, a human transition which is generally never questioned. In support of this view is the ritual of Tang Jait which incorporates a non-tribal, non-Khasi into the community. The rationale here is that the Khasis, as a community, had inter-married with those of other races. So Diengdoh asks why is it that all of a sudden the idea of intermarriage with someone from outside the community, become a problem now?

Wanphrang K Diengdoh: weaving ideas into narratives

Wanphrang K Diengdoh: weaving ideas into narratives

“Sometimes we are fed with so much Nationalism that we do not question things anymore. Why is there a boundary?” questions Diengdoh who however believes in the rights of the people. Diengdoh tries to elaborate the debatable tag of outsiders who are not only detested in the present day but are feared to an extent that the wiping out of a race seems inevitable if outsiders are not ‘weeded out’. “We should not look at things from a racist perspective. There are two types of outsiders. One who integrates with the local population like migrant labourers. Then you have the other kind of outsiders who come under the banner of development and exploit. They are by far more dangerous!” highlighted Diengdoh.

The idea of purity has also been addressed in his film. Traditional tribal laws show that there is always room for an outsider though specific integration processes. There are Khasi families living in Bangladesh who only converse in Bengali, questions do arise on the purity of such families if language is taken as a barometer to measure identity and purity. Culture or traditional practices are always fluid. The traditional Khasi faith is also questioned in the sense that most of the ideas were borrowed.

Counter arguments to the advent of outsiders in the State has always been the banner of development to which Diengdoh reiterates that development has been concentrated for the ruling class and it makes more sense to start bottom up. Free health, free education are just some of the developmental activities that can be brought about by the Government first before depending on outside companies.

Shifting into a different gear, Diengdoh, on being asked about the sizeable population of Khasi Muslims in the State who are gradually being accepted said, “Muslims have been in the space prior to the existence of the International boundary. To imagine that the coming of Islam is very recent is problematic. This is however different from the issue of influx.”

At certain levels, fear of Muslims has also gripped the State. In the recent context, the demolition of the twin towers, terrorist attacks in the country and even the Babri Masjid demolition has tinted the image of Muslims throughout the country. Diengdoh in justification asserts, “The power of propaganda and media is only highlighted when we see that the fear of a person in a skull cap resonates to smaller spaces like our state!”

Diengdoh seems to be least surprised by the conflicts that Meghalaya witnesses these days. The lines which divide spaces, he says, are sometimes blurred because human beings are constantly in motion, sometimes “trespassing” into others’ territories. In the process, when one crosses someone else’s political or personal space, a confrontation is bound to happen.

“A repressive society will always create its own elements and disillusioned youth always make the best foot soldiers,” mentions Diengdoh who feel that student bodies have certain dissenting voices which definitely need to be heard by the powers that be. The film is non-judgmental, as all films should be, leaving the audience with more questions as they figure out their own dilemmas. A mere 52-minute film surely can’t solve problems but can definitely make people introspect. An important issue of Diengdoh’s film is land allocation for development purposes and its implications. This topic has been touched in context of the New Shillong Township.

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Talking about the ramifications of strict geographical borders, the conversation invariably turns to the debate over Inner Line Permits (ILP). Very recently, pro-ILP groups submitted a representation to the Meghalaya government that included certain measures to ensure that “illegal influx” remains in proper check. Diengdoh feels that question put to the Government could be remodeled as, “who does the idea of borders benefit the most and whom are these laws intended for?”

The ILP was an offshoot of the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulations 1873, which basically ensured that the tea plantations of the British were not disturbed by other “British subjects”, thus ensuring the Empire’s own commercial interests by negating any competition.

The film does not jump into radical conclusions. It does, however, raise questions that are usually unasked. ‘Where the clouds end’ documents the Khasi struggle to claim an authentic ethnicity, racial purity and right to land. It challenges stereotypical notions portrayed by the media of the unwanted ‘outsider’ who threatens traditions, social structures and moral values. “Once these questions are asked and answered, the future will be written by the people themselves,” says Diengdoh.

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Destructive forest fires wreck havoc in Meghalaya

By Nawaz Yasin Islam

SHILLONG: The onset of spring season characterized by a rather dry and windy climate synonymously sees an upsurge of the havoc of forest fires in Meghalaya.

Forest fires have become a regular phenomenon during the months of December to April, with main causes that can be attributed to the dry and windy weather, not to forget human error and most importantly a lackadaisical attitude on the importance of having a thick belt of flora.

Authorities from the emergency response centre of GVK EMRI Meghalaya have informed that regular distress calls on the occurrence of forest fires together with reports of houses being on fire were received by them over the past few days with a staggering number of nine calls being received on a particular day. GVK EMRI sources highlighted that the dry wind conditions aided the spread of fire, thereby maximizing damage to forest and property.

The biggest of casualties was reported from Sur-Bathiang Bird Sanctuary in Ri Bhoi District in which over three hundred acres of forest cover was razed to the ground following an uncontrolled fire resulting from the random burning of hills and valleys by people at large.

A roadside fire spreads to areas under the Golf Club on Saturday.    (Photo by Sanjib Bhattacharjee).

A roadside fire spreads to areas under the Golf Club on Saturday. (Photo by Sanjib Bhattacharjee).

This fire, massive in nature, lasted from March 31 to April 2 and habitats of birds of exquisite nature have all been destroyed.

Speaking to The Shillong Times, VK Nautiyal, former Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, while highlighting the detrimental effect of forest fires said, “99.99% of the fires are caused by deliberate human acts which result in severe damage to the flora and fauna. Soil organic matter is destroyed which ruins quality of soil; micro fauna in soil gets destroyed which are vital for the productivity of soil.”

Forest fire is sometimes desirable or detrimental in specific season to the ecosystem, but forest fire is used for different means and purposes by the human beings from time to time. It has been used for clearing the agricultural land, driving away the wild beast, for cooking, for heat, for light, pasture land or regeneration of floral and faunal habitation

Ecologists informed that burning of grass and shrubs during the dry months is ecologically destructive because when the first rains come before the grass and other plants have resurfaced, there is heavy runoff and soil lies completely exposed to the elements.

The detrimental impact of forest fires on the ecosystem is far from what was thought earlier. Scientists working in this field have argued that controlled fires are actually beneficial. Published works state that microbial population gets destroyed completely just after the burning and re-colonization occurs after some days.
Bacteria and actinomycetes are found to be the first colonizers followed by fungi. Burning initiates better growth and higher population of bacteria.
Proper sensitization of the masses is needed in this regard whereby people have to be instructed to make sure that sources of fire like burning coal, cigarettes, matchsticks and camp fire during picnics are properly put off to prevent the spread of fire.

In the rural areas, forest fires were started by people who believed that large amount of smoke would attract the rains!

The fires usually chucked up all the tall grass lands along with the saplings which had naturally sprouted or planted during the torrential rains. There were fire-lines around the property but anybody could hurl a lit up torch across these fire- breaks into the grasslands.

With the Fire Service Week being held from April 14 to 20 every year, it remains to be seen if measures to tackle such accidents will be addressed by the concerned departments.
http://www.theshillongtimes.com/2014/04/05/destructive-forest-fires-wreck-havoc-in-meghalaya/#sACymkZb8HXq0A2j.99

Trading the same fair

The International trade fair which has become a yearly event has become a much-awaited carnival. It sure remains the single largest platform for buyers who wish to add exotic materials to their collection, usually unavailable in other markets.

But again, the good/products on sale at such fairs are repeated and don’t leave much choice for trade fair enthusiasts.

One thing that does change every year is the entry fee. Starting from Rs 5 a few years back, the current fair allows a peek inside at Rs 20 per head. Inside? Well you have the same thing lined up with some minor changes.

Before entering the main gallery, we have the cotton candy stall which is always a hit for customers who fail to be lured into buying unreliable quality products with weird prices.

ONE THING THAT ANYONE WALKS OUT WITH IS A COTTON CANDY!

Then comes the line of food stalls dishing out broiler chicken and basmati rice in a truckload of spices…we do have takers for this too. Step inside and without an air of doubt, you will find yourself looking at the same stalls in the same location.

From melamine crockery coming from Bangladesh to carpets being claimed to have been handcrafted in Kashmir, the products found five years back still stand strong.

Take a walk and you will find sellers chanting the same lines over and over again.

Belt sellers putting their items on fire to show the genuineness of their leather products, salesmen dealing in floor moppers squirting ketchup here and there to show the effectiveness of the mops. Not to forget the ones dealing in knives, chopping boards and juice machines who end up chopping sacks of vegetables in the pretext of demonstration (onions as a demo item has reduced possibly due to the price hike!)

From jewellery to bags, tops to trunks the fair has it all. For the smart buyers it’s an opportunity to get things at the best price. For the more gullible shoppers, it’s a festival for the businessmen who yearn for such fairs.

Disaster of a management

We can never be too prepared and if we are, there is definitely something wrong. The active participation of volunteers during the mega mock exercise in response to the hypothetical situation of an earthquake on March 10 was impressive. Blaring sirens, alert ears, streamlined traffic and loads of action…bring it on; we are ready to face it!

Is all this with the hope of tackling nature’s fury when it strikes hard? One wonders the impact of such preparedness if in another hypothetical situation, hospitals and fire stations are first hit in an earthquake. But what happens when it’s no longer in the jocular vein and real crisis strikes with nothing ‘mock’ about it.

Well, the same lethargic response is in store! The massive fire at Mawbah in the wee hours of March 11, a day after Disaster management was put to test, failed to garner attention. The response unit here seems to be prepared for a crisis when the earth shakes, not when smoke billows. With so much of a hype generated over the levels of preparedness, it’s a shame to know that it was only 20 minutes after the fire started, that the first fire tender appeared.

Even the MeECL took over 25 minutes to cut the power lines. They were possibly equally surprised as to how a short circuit could even happen amidst all the load shedding!

Residents also complained that there was no response from the emergency helpline numbers 100 and 101. We can only pray that after the pending electricity dues, at least the telephone bills are being cleared by the patriotic lot. If anyone in the State was convinced that we are prepared for calamities, it’s time to do a recheck on the logistics.

The first hint of a massive mock drill raised eyebrows of many who felt that the drill was a part of finishing certain ‘calculations’ before the end of the financial year.

Kudos to the GVK EMRI 108 team which responded promptly! That’s an example of being on your toes at all times.

A city held to ransom

This is what happens in the wilds. Two rhinos lock horns and it’s the innocent grass that gets trampled upon! The tussle over inappropriate choice of words by the Urban Affairs Minister and the dent it caused to the pride of Mawlai legislator had only one outcome…a city held to ransom.

Mammoth piles of garbage in Laitumkhrah and other pockets of the city with the distinct characteristic smell was the only sight that met every eye, thanks to the ban on garbage disposal by the ‘hurt’ lot.

The entire city was converted to a temporary dump thanks to the ego clash that we witnessed. (Photo credit: Sanjib Bhattacharjee)

The entire city was converted to a temporary dump thanks to the ego clash that we witnessed. (Photo credit: Sanjib Bhattacharjee)

Unplanned expansion of urban areas without adequate facilities, population explosion, rural migration, influx, and an intricate land tenure system which limits government control over usage of land are some of the reasons which have been identified as factors behind the growth of slums in Shillong and in this context, even Laitumkhrah together with many other localities are slums. With India itself being a developing country, are we harbouring mini Texas towns that even we are unaware of!

The specified indices used for declaring areas as slums include sanitation, drinking water, dwelling homes, economic status of the residents, conditions of roads, drains and sewerage system. If we start analyzing deeper in this context, the next address proof we produce would start with the label ‘Slum Area Number…..’!

Legislators are expected to be more mature in their understanding of topics if not proficient in their knowledge of words.

Bacterial discovery

Hot springs of Jakrem and Sikkim helped Rakshak Kumar come across a heat-loving microbe useful for industrial applications, says Nawaz Yasin Islam

 

Jakrem: the famous tourist spot, known for its hot springs and now for the most significant discovery ever...a thermophilic bacteria

Jakrem: the famous tourist spot, known for its hot springs and now for the most significant discovery ever…a thermophilic bacteria

THERMOPHILIC BACTERIA, one of the earliest bacteria found on earth, are less studied but important group of microorganisms due to their ability to produce industrial enzymes. A thermophile is an organism that thrives at temperatures between 45 and 122 °C (113 and 252 °F).

These microorganisms have gained worldwide importance due to their tremendous potential to produce thermostable enzymes that have wide applications in pharmaceuticals and industries.

Thermophilic bacteria have been reported from diverse habitats such as geothermal sites and hot springs. Their enzymes make them withstand high temperatures unlike other types of bacteria. Some of these enzymes are used in molecular biology (for example, heat-stable DNA polymerases for PCR), and in washing agents.

Rakshak Kumar (Acharya), a product of St. Anthony’s College who did his PhD from North Eastern Hill University, was awarded a Research Associateship award by Departmment of Biotechnology, Government of India, to work on a project titled ‘Study of thermophillic bacteria from the hot springs of North East India and its industrial applications” under the supervision of P Anil Dr Kumar, scientist at Institute of Microbial Technology (CSIR), Chandigarh.

Scientist TNR Srinivas from CSIR-National Institute of Oceanography, Visakhapatnam helped him with molecular phylogenetic approach.

Dr Rakshak Kumar (Acharya)

Dr Rakshak Kumar (Acharya)

Kumar possibly never anticipated that he would be a ‘discoverer’ after finding the heat-loving bacteria. “We explored the bacteria from four hot springs of Sikkim and Jakrem of Meghalaya. Hot springs have extreme environment condition evident of rich diversity and the bio-prospecting of heat loving bacteria may provide thermostable novel enzymes with industrial application,” Kumar said. He added that while studying the hot spring of Jakrem they obtained a bacterial strain designated AK31T which was previously uncharacterized or in other words never known to science earlier. The bacteria thus earned the name Caldimonas meghalayensis, the second word meaning ‘belonging to Meghalaya’.

“It was my dream since I started research in microbiology in 2005 to find such bacteria from my home state, bacteria that would carry the state’s name,” Kumar said. In the classification of bacteria, Caldimonas genus falls under the class Betaproteobacterium.

The journey to success was arduous. “First we had to go to collect samples from different hot springs, take the water and sediment sample aseptically to our lab in MTCC, IMTECH, Chandigarh and then isolate bacteria who survives above 50°C. After we confirmed those were pure bacteria, we proceeded further. About 200 pure bacteria were obtained from all the hot springs and three of them were found to be novel. This one C. meghalayensis was found from Jakrem,” Kumar said. SR Joshi from NEHU provided him the lab facility for isolating the bacteria and Macmillan Nongkhlaw helped him in sample collection.

The novelty of the bacteria came from matching the 16S rRNA gene sequences with the sequence data available in their database. Following a set of experiments in the line of polyphasic taxonomy, Kumar came to the conclusion that the sample was that of a novel bacterium. Experiments were performed together with two reference strains collected from Japan and Belgium.

Collection of water sample from Jakrem hot spring pond

Collection of water sample from Jakrem hot spring pond

Elaborating the possible avenues that could be explored by the isolation of microbes from hot springs, Kumar said, “Such hot springs are popular in the region for their therapeutic properties but no report in literature suggests exploration of diverse thermophillic bacteria from these springs. The thermophiles (heat loving bacteria) present a source of highly thermostable enzymes which could work at high temperatures thus widening the range of their applications. These enzymes have commercial utilization for their inherent stability.”

The bacteria, owing to tolerance of higher temperature, produce polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB) granules that can be generated on a large scale. PHBs are polymers belonging to the polyester class that are of interest as bio-derived and biodegradable plastics. Other industrially important enzymes produced by the thermophillic bacteria are amylases and ureases.

Kumar’s discovery could thus be a significant one in the field of microbial research.
Read more at http://www.theshillongtimes.com/2013/12/08/bacterial-discovery/#CYGDhlzvfOF2ZeCf.99

Art from the heart

Careen J Langstieh excels in capturing moods of women on canvas, says Nawaz Yasin Islam

Careen: stroking her way to fame

Careen: stroking her way to fame

PAINTINGS HAVE always been regarded as end-all and be-all of our work, which is contrary to the truth that such forms of expressions have come about from the culture that we inherited.

The contribution of the modern era – that is from Renaissance forward – was that we became free from an understanding of the universe where we were defined in terms of some larger cosmic order which in turn, as was the assumption, manifested the word of God. The new modern view was, instead, that we are self-defining.

In most of the paintings, we, as subjects, picture the world as a set of neutral objects, which we then observe or measure or manipulate. Every artist turns out to be self-defining subjects – a historical accomplishment indeed. But artists also become creative subjects that are separate from the objects painted, and that is the part of the achievement which is still troubling, for it means the task of the artist is rooted largely in observing or commenting on the world and recording our observations or commentary on canvas (or not).

Careen J Langstieh, a city-based artist who has embodied in her paintings, the truest sense of art, put up her work for display in a solemn yet responsive exhibition held at the Martin Luther Christian University on September 26. Langstieh has been often referred to as artist known to portray subject steeped in time-honoured custom with a spectacularly contemporary aesthetics.

The source of ideas for a masterpiece varies with her works. For some paintings, the jolt of idea comes from photographs and for acrylics, the idea of the perfect stroke lies deep in her imagination. Spontaneity is synonymous with her work ideas.

Most of Langstieh’s paintings depict women in various moods. “Being a woman, there are many experiences I have been through and I try to portray some on my canvas,” she said, adding that the water colour arena has a focus inclined towards still life. Her water colour paintings depict the use of newspapers in every way possible other than what it is intended for!

“I have used personal objects and things lying around and wrapped them in newspapers, and painted them,” she said while highlighting the fact that she loves the texture and text of newspapers and her paintings revolve around the subject idea that newspapers present both pleasing and displeasing things to read.

Women have always remain the main element in Careen's paintings

Women have always remained the main element in Careen’s paintings

Langstieh was more than eager to divulge her techniques used in creating magnificent works of art. “When it comes to acrylics, I emphasise on the colour and I like my colours to be unique, so I mix my own colours. In that way you become consistent. I like textures too,” she said adding that most of her works are not realistically depicted and have a surreal sense to it, yet remaining expressive.

Langstieh is of the firm belief that in paintings, both the subject and object holds importance. Describing paintings beyond acrylics, Langstieh said, “When it comes to water colours, I am very particular. I like good paper and focus a lot on the colours. Using paper, you can’t exceed three to four layers as beyond that, the art becomes muddy.”

An art enthusiast from childhood, Langstieh credits her current status to her mentor, late MH Barbhuyan who according to her, moulded her as an artist and imbibed in her, the technicalities of art. “I have always wanted to be an artist since I was a child and in that way it never occurred to me that I would venture into anything other than painting,” she said. “I paint everyday and whenever I have the urge to dab my brush in paint,” she added.

Elaborating the role of an artist in the society, Langstieh said, “An artist has the artistic licence to say what they want on canvas and that gives them a platform to express their innermost feelings. A lot depends on how it is perceived by people. An artist can surely can a lot of views to everyday things.”

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On the progress of art in Meghalaya, Langstieh said, “I have a lot of friends who are involved in this arena and I believe that we will have a great art community in the coming years” while at the same time mentioning that there is a desperate need for a gallery because artists can undoubtedly work from home but if there is no place to display the works, then justice is something that is vehemently denied to the paintings.

The exhibition of Langstieh’s paintings is set apart from many such events considering that there was no particular theme for the day’s programme. “If I keep a theme, I won’t have the freedom to express. At the back of my mind there will always be a theme hindering my works,” she said.

“I want to go for a residency if I do get a chance as I want to grow more and improve myself every day,” said Langstieh who feels that she has a long way to go in her journey of brushing towards glory.
Read more at http://www.theshillongtimes.com/2013/10/06/art-from-the-heart/#tld0YBfuDZWzwx5T.99