Focussing on one’s strengths: Some thoughts

Paul Lyngdoh

PASHAT La Tynrai (An Offering of One’s Roots), ably organized by Seng Samla Seng Khasi Kmie- the youth wing of the Seng Khasi- on July 19, 2011 at Soso Tham Auditorium, Shillong was a musical treat one would not forget in a hurry. For someone used to witnessing badly organized shows with unimpressive results and an unresponsive- even abusive- crowd, the extravaganza has raised the bar on at least two important counts: content and presentation. More than that, it warms the coddles of one’s heart to see that, contrary to popular perception, there is still an abundance of young performers who are rooted to their cultural moorings and are proud to of its rich heritage. For this to happen in the age of Hiphop, Justin Bieber and Bollywood is certainly a tribute to the inherent strength of a society that very often perceives itself to be staring in the face of extinction.

Which takes me to the kernel of this write-up: the need for the Khasi society to refocus on its strengths. For too long we have been brooding over our perceived negative points. I, for one, would wear no blinkers when it comes to those points. Our lack of a long-term vision and never-say-die spirit, the pervasive crab mentality- the list could go on. In fact, our sheer lack of self-belief in our abilities, both as individuals and as a community, tend to be very corrosive. It is healthy to be objective and self-critical, but certainly not beyond a point. This ancient race trying to find its feet in a fast evolving world would do well with a liberal dose of optimism and positive energy. Despite everything- everything- the Hynniewtrep People has certain USPs. Our rich legacy in music and the arts are some of them. Sadly, we have not been focused. Nor have we been supportive of the vast legion of artistes, performers, songwriters who, like the proverbial tiewdohmaw, continue to languish in relative obscurity.

Not surprisingly, the 1990s onwards have witnessed a remarkable phenomenon- a rise in the number of Khasi musical albums with a corresponding fall in quality. A few singers and songwriters I spoke to were candid enough to admit that they would rather pander to the demands of the market, rather than take the long and winding road to the ultimate Hall of Fame . The formula is simple: compose a tune ( or, better still, lift one from a popular number) and scribble a few bawdy lines intended to make the elders squirm while the young have a heartful laugh at the profanity of it all. It’s sure to be a megahit in the villages, where the demand for Khasi songs is high. Why care for the sophisticated urban gentry whose taste is more refined and who wears a disdain for anything indigenous like a badge of honour ? In any case,don’t the urbanites have their punk rock, Lady Gaga and Clapton to keep themselves entertained?

The Pashat La Tynrai show scores best on one point: the finesse with which it was crafted and executed .It underlines the importance of team work, and the absolute need to leave a lot of space for Gen X to establish its foothold(It was a sheer joy to see the likes of Damang Syngkon brimming with pride at what they were doing best). Combine the two with an audience that is ready to put its money where its mouth is (something we are,unfortunately, not very good at) and the recipe for success is yours for the asking. With our cornucopia of talent and cultural legacy ,I am sure it will be only a matter of time before Khasi folk and pop music move centrestage and ultimately get the attention it certainly deserves !

Interestingly, last week also saw the release of the much-awaited album Tienphira, described as a medley of Khasi songs and didactic poetry, bringing together a host of fresh talent belting out memorable numbers composed by the upcoming trio, Mebanker Lapang (lyrics) , Desmond Sun and Sylvester Mukhim (music).

Finally, a word on the Department of Arts and Culture. In a state where music is a budding industry with a lot of ground to cover, the necessity of transforming it into a major department cannot be overemphasized. The mantra has worked well in Assam ,Mizoram and Manipur. We surely have a lot of catching up to do!

HOPELESSLY OUT OF SING(SYNC)

BAH Hoping’s vitriotic attack on the legendary Khasi warrior, U Tirot Sing, earned him a lot of media space recently. While the Grand Old Man of Meghalaya politics can be brutally honest at times, his jibes this time around have left a bad taste in one’s mouth. I have always believed in the need to clearly sift facts from opinions. You are entitled to your opinions as long as they are grounded on well-estabished, incon-trovertible facts. What is the basis of Bah Hoping’s claim that Tirot Sing was not the patriot he has always been held to be? Going by A. White’s well-chronicled accounts, the decision to allow the East India Company to construct a road linking the then Assam with Sylhet through Hima Nongkhlaw was not Tirot Sing’s personal decision, but that of the Dorbar Pyllun (General Council) which met and deliberated on the subject at great length. Even assuming that Tirot Sing was in favour of the road project, would that have made him less patriotic? And to conclude that Phan Nonglait was not the wily temptress who helped the cause of the Uprising but rather a rape victim- with no shred of historical evidence- is certainly unacceptable.

I am currently reading Gurcharan Das’s well-written India Unbound, which demolishes the myth of Nehru as the maker of modern India. The author cogently argued that Nehru (and, subsequently,his daughter) were largely responsible for pushing India’s clock backwards by several years together. Would Indians dub Nehru and his successors to the Dynasty as traitors? Would we ever tag them as unpatriotic?

SING ON

While on the subject of Tirot Sing, let me confess my bewilderment at the ubiquity of the name Sing, which is the Khasi word for lion. It used to be a common name, specially among the Khasis till recently.In fact, most of our Syiems bore this name. I found out that it bears the same meaning in Hindi, Punjabi, Gujarati and Manipur(where it is pronounced as Singh) as well as Tamil and Malayalam (where it is pronounced as singham ). Originally from Sanskrit, the word is also widely used in languages of South Asia like Thai, Burmese and Sinhalese. Interestingly, the Sinhalese of Sri Lanka owe the origin of their name to the lion (Sinha: lion and Le-Blood, meaning lion’s blood.) And, surprise of surprises, Singapore, means, well, the City of Lions!

PARTING SHOT

OF the many anecdotes associated with Winston Churchill, my favourite is his encounter with a lady whose dislike for the witty statesman was reciprocated in equal measure:

Lady: If you were my husband, I’d poison your drink.

Churchill: If you were my wife, I’d gladly drink it.

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