One day a strange voice

asked me a strange question:

“How do you spot a Khasi?"¹

I gave it a strange answer.

Not by his mother tongue since

too many mothers and fathers

have rendered his tongue truly macaronic,

his features truly olla podrida.

Not by his dress since

he is truly universal.

Not by churches or temples since

he doesn’t have any.

Not by his religion since

they would simply label him “non-Christian".

Not anymore as “a red-mouthed demon" since

kwai² stain has afflicted everyone.

Not by his syiems³ since

they rule like commission agents

and serve at the pleasure of scoundrels.

Not by his leaders since

they are the scoundrels.

A Khasi is a man, who once a year,

sports a muga-mulberry4 turban,

an eri shawl and is seen en grande tenue

at Weiking or Pomblang5.

Who once a year, speaks of these great festivals

and the teachings of his great ancestors.

Who once a year, says

“to Know Man—to Know God,

to Know Maternal-Paternal Relations,

to Earn Righteousness" is our faith.

But this, only once a year.

(1. A tribesman from Meghalaya, especially one still adhering to the indigenous faith; 2. Areca nut chewed with betel leaf and lime; 3. Khasi traditional rulers; 4. A type of silk. 5. Khasi religio-cultural dance festivals in spring and winter.)

A collection of Kynpham Sing Nongkynrih’s poetry, published by HarperCollins India, will be out next year.

Write to lounge@livemint.com

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