Gambling through archery ('Thoh tim') and interpretation of dreams
By HH Mohrmen
Very often we associate ‘thoh tim’ with gambling and yes without the slightest doubt thoh-tim is a game of chance, but it is more than a number guessing game. It would be interesting to know how long the Khasi Pnar people have been practicing this game of chance. Perhaps very few know that this game also has some connection with the Khasi- Pnar’s milieu of interpretation of dreams. An uncle of mine, who represented NEHU at the University game somewhere in Punjab, told me that while in Punjab one CRPF personnel who was earlier posted in Shillong, on seeing the inscription NEHU, Shillong, on his tracksuit, approached him and exchanged pleasantries with him. But in course of the small talk the policeman told his fellow policemen, “In Meghalaya the State from where this man comes from (pointing his index finger at my uncle) if you are lucky to dream a good dream you have the opportunity to win big money.
In the seventies during our childhood days my parents owned a cloth shop at Yawmusiang market of Jowai. Those days in the entire district and even in the State readymade garments were not so popular; so every dress was made by the local tailor. There were women seamstresses for tailoring female dresses while men made dresses for males. So the local cloth store was also a tailoring shop. My father employed two tailors in our shop named Join and Moor and since both my parents were also working in the shop there was nobody in the house to look after me and my siblings. So we were taken to the shop every day. I remember that every morning as soon as we reached the shop, the first thing that both the tailors would do was to ask us, “What did you dream last night? (ym em u ymphoo mi?) And if the answer was in affirmative then we were asked to tell them the entire dream and they would then interpret the same and convert it to numbers for playing Thoh-tim.
I learned from them that in the Khasi Pnar tradition of interpretation of dreams, each individual is represented by a number. If one dreams of an ordinary Khasi Pnar man the number is 6 while a woman is represented by the number 5. The number 4 signifies blood. Four is ‘saw’ (pronounced saaw) in Khasi and since ‘saw’ also means red, the colour of blood, so 4 gets its meaning thereby. The number 7 is for a non tribal and 9 is the number for death. If one dreams of teeth the number is 3, and water is represented by 8, the number for money is also 8. All animal’s are numbered 7 except for the elephant whose number is 9. If one dreams of an elder like the daloi the number is 9 and a car is also represented by number 8. These are but few examples of the numbers used by the Khasi-Pnars to interpret dreams for playing the game of Thoh-tim.
There are instances where the numbers was arranged to rhyme with the incidents or the items it represents. For example number 4 ‘saw and soo’ in Pnar rhymes with ‘mynsaw in Khasi and mynsoo’ in Pnar; hence 4 is chosen when an accident or something which has blood in it occurs. It is the same with money ‘pisa or poisa’ and number 8 ‘phra’ was chosen because it rhymes with the above words. It reminds me of the time when as a young boy I tried to listen to my father’s tailors debate on our dreams. If the dream is about a woman who met with an accident the number to be played is 54 or 45, number 4 for accident and 5 for woman and if it is a man who met with an accident the number 64 or 46 and if it is a non tribal, the number is 74 or 47. The number for a dead man is 69 or 96 and dead woman is 59 or 95 and a dead non tribal is 79 or 97 and if one dreams of a man and a woman the number is 65 or 56.
Recalling the days gone by, I understand that for the people who play Thoh tim it was a pastime which gave them some money if they were lucky. During those days there was very little or no entertainment in the towns and villages in the region. Initially the game was organized privately. Later Thoh tim was considered illegal. Later on the government legalised the gambling game of Thoh-tim and that was also when it became commercialised. In Jowai the game was uniquely organized in such a way that localities like Loomyongkjam, NGOs like the Kiang Nangbah Iasiat Khnam Memorial Fund and even individuals were allotted a day of the week to organize the game. But once the state laid its hands on the game, Thoh-tim was no longer part of culture. It became pure and simple gambling. Later it became a bad habit that was difficult to get rid of. Some became addicts of the game. This compelled lyricists to compose the popular folk song, ‘La shet u 57’ (betrayed by number 57, meaning that the person invested his all on the number but lost)
Perhaps if one understands Thoh-tim and the number associated to it then one can also have a little insight into numerology or people’s understanding of numbers and its usage in the Khasi Pnar tradition. For instance we already see the link between the number 9 and the dead and their abode. But then when we call the Khasi Hills ‘Ka Ri ki laiphew (30) Syiem,’ it does not mean that there were precisely 30 chieftainships only in the Khasi hills. The number 30 is associated with something that is uncountable or innumerable because we also say, ‘Ki laiphew mrad’ which means innumerable numbers of animals. Then there is also something unexplainable with way the Khasi Pnar use the number 12, we say ‘Ki rang khat-ar (12) bor’, ‘ki 12 daloi’, ’12 snem pynthiah,’ ’12 snem lynti’ and so on and so forth. The Khasi Pnar’s understanding and usage of numbers is an interesting study that one could pursue.
It would be interesting if the department of folk studies of the Universities in the state conduct a study on this unique tradition of the Khasi Pnar. Where did the tradition of Thoh-tim start? Was it Jwai or Shillong? When did the Khasi Pnar first play the game of Thoh-tim? If Thoh-tim has its origins among the Khasi Pnar, then how did our ancestors link the game of archery which is another favourite pastime game of the Khasi Pnar with dreams and numbers? And the most important element is the interpretation of the dreams to numbers. How are incidents, individuals and other parts of human life linked to the numbers? There are still a few elderly individuals who gather everyday at Yawiongpiah, Loompyrdi, Jowai who still while away their time interpreting dreams and converting them to numbers to play the game of Thoh-tim. Unlike the now big time players in Jowai and Shillong who play with big money, these few individuals still play the game the usual way they used to a long time ago. They do not buy big stakes. Unlike the big time players who spend a lot of money in the game and are sometimes accused of manipulate the game in their favour, the elderly individuals play the game just for the sake of playing it.
(The writer is a researcher and an environmental activist)