June 14, 2000
"Some things are better felt than telt," he smiled and invited me to meet his family in person!
Even husbands of the honorable women of the Parliament don't relocate to New Delhi. But the families of the men of Parliament dutifully follow. The women instead commute, flying in and out between session, while their family lives in the district they represent. In general it would be absurd for a man to follow his wife the way Devdutt did. But he is an extraordinary man, not bound or confined to the way of life simply because it's status quo or tradition. He recognized how limiting these constraints are and how unfairly India treats her women. Not to mention he married into a very different culture. It was reassuring, still, to see that there are those who see this error and don't fall into its trap.
Once off the two-day train ride from Delhi, I rested for the night in preparation for the next leg of my journey, a ten hour bus ride to this remote village to visit the angelic descendants of the Ri Hinniew Trep, or Seven Families. Khasi legend has it that in the beginning there were sixteen families, nine in heaven and seven on earth, connected by a golden vine ladder. But when sin poisoned the earth, the link was severed. Today, the women are regarded as angels on earth, life-givers, and caretakers of their people. For that they receive the utmost respect of their people.
Once off the bus, which sped along the one main road that leads down into the fertile Himalayan valley and into neighboring Bangladesh, Devdutt and I were greeted by curious smiles near the river down below. They shyly found their way up the roadside to take a closer peek. "Didi," they smiled to one another. I was welcomed and regarded from that point as "Auntie." We continued on the road, across a small bamboo bridge which crosses the Hashimara river and into the village. Smiling faces poked out of huts along the way as the word was trickled down that a stranger had come.
I was easily head and shoulders over everyone in the village, but no physical difference seemed to matter, not race or color, sex or appearance. I was instantly welcomed, and from there it was easy to make myself at home. First things first. I needed a Khasi wardrobe! Eve gladly pulled me out one of her small dresses and then tied a second piece of material over my shoulder.
Khasis wear small house coats or dresses with another piece of cloth tied over her shoulder or two pieces one tied over either shoulder. This is symbolic of their wings as angels. To wear this ensemble is to be respected, Eve said. Still, I think the shock value of the villagers seeing me in traditional garb was just as priceless!
Since I was now styling in the latest Khasi fashion, I was ready to get into the swing of things. But I quickly found that there wasn't much swing to get into. The village life was slow and peaceful. Some worked in the fields or grazed the cattle. Most could be found on their porches relaxing or playing cards. We walked along the road, stopping to visit with neighbors and have chay. One man even came to Hat Mawdon from another village to ask Eve if she would bring me by after dinner to meet his town and his family. By the orange glow of an oil lamp, we ate hot chirra sprinkled with sugar in Mr. Mawphlong's small hut and I was stunned to see how easy it was to make. We know chirra as rice crispies, but I'll bet you never had any hot off the grill! They're delicious!!!
At seventeen he seemed very well-aware of the world around him, and he attributed that to his education. Unfortunately, not many young boys in Hat Mawdon have the same opportunity. The girls, because they are the future land-holders, are the ones who are educated. The boys usually till the land. This was not always the case. Prior to India's independence, the Khasis were a prosperous people. They suffered greatly at the hands of Bangladeshi outsiders due to lack of protection from India, whose attention was focused on establishing an independent nation.
The men in the room agreed that their counterparts feel like they are shortchanged in the society, while the women debated that they are loved and cared for from boyhood to manhood, unlike the girls in the rest of patriarchal India, who grow up knowing that boy children are more desirable. The reality is that a girl child that is actually born and taken care of should be thankful for her life, as many are aborted in hope of a boy the next time.
Until next time...
p.s. - Please e-mail me at ...firstname.lastname@example.org
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