Sunday, 9 October 2011

Lazy sunday afternoon...

Its been a month since I have been here in Bomdo, but it just sunk in, Bangalore is now not just physically away, its mentally a long way away too. This Sunday was unlike others. The day began late for me since all night the hum of rain falling on the tin roof of this 'bungalow' I stay in kept me. I woke up thinking its too much rain so field work is not a possibility and I can sleep in. The kid whom I recently employed to cook for me came in late too, at 6 am. I hear him chopping some wood to make the fire and very slowly I wake up. I was still hungover with the cold that I caught with the onset of the winter, four days back. The rain refuses to stop, so I sent my friend Army to pick up lots of seeds of a Castanopsis species. Small oak like fruits, that remind you of the fruit the squirrel would not let go of in the movie 'Ice Age'. These are quite tasty too, and the species fruits only once in two years, so I had to get some quick for my experiments, since many animals and birds make a quick meal of it. In fact I ate some two years back too; roasted on fire, they make a sumptous snack. So Army has left to bring back the seeds by himself since I am still a little sick and the walk to the place where these trees and seeds are is more than 5 km to and fro in the hills.

After the morning meal cooking, I put in more wood and decided a bath is due. So I made some hot water and just finished with a rejuvenating and a (a word that always takes me two minutes to remember!) therapeutic bath. For the rest of the day, I plan to read a couple scientific papers, do some data entry and plan the field work for the next few months. I can't help but remember how it used to be in Bangalore when I was even a little feverish. Amma would prepare a peppery concoction we call 'kashayam' and a peppery pongal (rice and lentils) breakfast. I could read the newspaper and then contemplate life the whole day! Here, I would miss her caring but hey there is warm ginger tea and I could do the latter but contemplate not just life but my Phd too! But a bath did me real good; I feel fresh enough to make an entry on the blog and perhaps to get well soon enough to continue field work.

Friday, 30 September 2011

More from the beautiful land of simple people

I will always remember what M D Madhusudan called Arunachal; 'The beautiful land of simple people'. It remains etched in my mind and over the last few years here, I have experienced it too. This post is more of an update from Arunachal about two earlier posts on this blog about gutkha bags and wild meat.

Last year, I've seen these beautiful bags made of plastic Tiranga (local gutkha/pan masala) packets in the Yingkiong town as well as in few villages. Folks used to meticulously collect the packets discarded by mindless people, wash them, cut them and weave them into these bags. It made me happy, the packets are getting cleared from the town and villages, and these bags are being bought by the locals and the tourists. Still, a decision by the Supreme Court taken earlier this year made me happier. Take a look at this article. So now in Arunachal, not only is the sale of gutkha packets banned close to schools, but the packets are also made of paper, perhaps more bio-degradable.

The second update is about the meat market at Itanagar. I was there two days back and was doing the usual rounds looking for wild meat and was glad there was none. Then, my friend informed me that there was a raid just a week ago, the local Forest Department found an unclaimed bag of wild pig meat in the market and then issued a notice banning this. Here is the article about this. Since the peak hunting season begins in early October, this raid and the ban are very timely. Lets hope the wild animals are spared from the meat market for at least this hunting season.

Lets hope theres more happy news on the way to the Siang districts where I am headed for another field season.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

An ode to Bomdo

This was written on an evening before I left Bomdo. There had been no electricity in the village for almost a week, and I was preparing to leave the village after a seven month stint. The only thing I could do more than mentally bid a bye to Bomdo was write about what I felt, so here goes...

"The evening sun creeps behind the green hills and darkness spreads, ever slowly,
there is no moon yet and I can't turn on any lights, there are none to be.
But I feel sublime, for, there is a glistening spark inside me
a glint of my spirit that ignites the embers within.

For a while, there will be no humming water springs, no more gush of the river below,
no more flowers that paint an entire hill, no orchids that rouge a tree,
no more humbling mountains, no more tall trees to gaze upon
and no more rain that forms cascades ever anew.

No more butterflies that paint the day, no more fireflies to flicker the night,
no more birds to add sounds to a silence
and no more clouds that move as fast as the river in might.
Yet this journey has now hardly come to an end.

After few days in the place I belong,
where the skies oft turn black from smoke, where refuse oft fills the lakes and soil,
where time will be spent racing with time itself, and days are not as long,
here I shall return where nature is unbound and where still stands time."

Incidentally, the day I left Bomdo was the biggest festival of the Adis, the Solung. The significant activity during this festival is that of sacrificing Mithuns. Five Mithuns were hung in the morning and I meticulously videotaped two of them. Millet beer was served for everyone and a dish made of fried Mithun stomach. After a stomach full of stomach, I packed up and left on my bike and was contemplating the day and the field season while I was slithering down the winding road from Bomdo to Yingkiong. Somewhere in the back of my mind I realised why Mithuns are so important for the Adis, not only are they a major protein source, they are also an essential part of all the rituals and festivals that go on throughout the year. My mind kept ringing 'The king is dead. Long live the king.'

An eight year old Mithun, she gave birth to many  successors
The meat being distributed to the seven families who bought the Mithun

Monday, 9 May 2011

Atypical Bomdo evening

The day was bright, unlike all the other days in this year. Its already April and four months into the year, we only just today had the sunniest day of the year. Its not like any other years too, March and April often pack in enough sunlight to make you miss the chill of the winter. But here at Bomdo, we had rains, lots of it, out of place perhaps, surely out of time. Sunny days come here rare; so I do the chores, wash up all my clothes, socks especially and the unmentionables. The day is spent mostly reading Murakami's 'Kafka on the shore' and for only the second time ever I am hungover with a book. The previous time I had read 'East of Eden' by Steinbeck and felt a pang. I was alone too, in a secluded Inspection Bungalow in Boleng town in West Siang but thats another story. Kafka on the shore left me with a feeling much deeper and intense and I decided to take the day off to meditate over the book and to do chores.

Evening comes by and just an hour before the sun dips into the hills, I head to the local shop that opens duly at 4 pm. Its closed. So instead I play cricket with the local boys, am not a big fan of the game but what the hell, any excercise in sport here can only do me good. Thats where the atypical day begins, not just because it was the sunniest day of the year but because of the events that follow up. I am not too good at cricket too, but today was different, I am usually a better bowler than batsman. I batted for an entire twenty minutes, the local boys trying their off-spins, leg spins and the occasional fast ball, but in vain they can't get me out. There are bowlers too who before bowling proudly announce, three off spin balls and three leg spin ones are coming at you. Whats subtle is that the actual spin of the ball is decided by which tiny stone on the pitch the ball is going to hit! I take a pause to see what the other local boys are doing, they are immersed into a game of housie, how did this game ever get here. This is what I wonder even in towns like Jenging and Yingkiong. These are places which have only in the last few years recieved cell phone network, but these towns have had snooker parlours for longer! And so in my village that has no network, people play housie, the scene doesn't definitely fit in, but I take it in, smiling at how a typical Bomdo evening can be, full of surprises and new thoughts and realisations. Just as I think this an old man walks casually close to the field with a boar on his back. It reminded me of Asterix & co. He had hunted boar from the forest that adjoins the village, and was walking with it strung to his back as though he had bought some ham from the local meat shop. However I understand he had put in a lot of effort into this, he went to a place called Dicheng which is at least an eight hour trek from the village for me.

Army, my field assistant sends a leg cutter meanwhile, and I drive, an on-drive, its a four by the looks of the shot. While the ball is collected, I look at the local children, all of them immersed too in the game of housie in which a wheel is spinning. Nyelik's three year old daughter spins me a look and a smile and I take a moment to see how beautiful she is and also wonder about the resemblance between Nyelik and his daughter, hang on, the next ball is here, oops I get the outer edge and a catch and finally get out, to my relief too. Minutes later, I am bowling, and take a wicket or two I can't remember.

After the game, I head to Bonggar's house, he was cross with me that I hadn't visited him since November, unintentionally of course, I was immersed in my field work and the other days in thoughts damp with the torrential rain. I was tired too, but it looked like more tired were my field boots and pants. The expensive field gum boots I picked up from Bangalore had a hole in them, so water would seep in and dampen the socks, much to the delight of the leeches whose season begins just about now. My field pants too tore yesterday, indicating and implying to me that field season is over, lets go home. But unfortunately for my field gear, I need to spend another two months in the village before I get a break. Anyways, back in Bonggars place, I stepped in for tea but had to settle for rum. And with the rum, dried venison which tastes awful, but the protein is good, so i dunk it in. Bonggars folks are immersed in a Television soap played courtesy of Tata Sky. I was thinking what a contradiction it is that we don't have phone network in the village but television plays like theres been no yesterday. Anyways, drink done, snack done, I head back to the Inspection Bungalow (IB) where I sleep. A tastier meal awaits me there.

When I reach, theres a bunch of boys working for the Electrical Department making merry and singing songs. Theres twelve of them and I call them the Inglorious Basterds. They get along very well with each other though almost every one of them hails from a different place. And they have a beautiful lingo going between them, someones calling the other a dog to be called pig by the other in turn. Phonetically it makes the IB a lively place, for me thats a welcome change, since the other months I have spent here, evenings have been full of sounds of either wind or the rain or things from trees bouncing off the tin roof that the IB has. The other good thing is they cook for twelve people anyway so I join them happily and eating with a bunch of people is something I miss here in the IB too.

After the meal, I zip into my sleeping bag and write this. What a typical Bomdo evening!

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Medo Karthik

I have been visiting Bomdo village for a long time now, since February 2008. But never have I felt a part of the village as much as in the last few weeks. There are eight clans in the village; Nyodo, Duggong, Yalik, Panga, Lanchong, Dungmik and Medo. The Medo clan has now unofficially included me in their clan; I explain here how.

The customs of the Adis are quite interesting. Among the clans, whenever any members hunts a wild animal, he gives a piece of the meat to closest relatives of his clan. Some meat is also distributed to close relatives among other clans; for instance, to the in-laws. It is quite surprising that there is no fine if somebody doesn't do this, but this tradition is now going on for several centuries. Nevertheless, distributing meat among clan members ensures supply of meat throughout the hunting season at least. So, the last time a barking deer was hunted by the Medo clan, I was called to my friend, Bamut Medo's home for dinner. He casually remarked that I was one of the Medos now, I didn't believe him then, but protein is not in an abundant supply in the village, so I happily obliged.

Today (6th Feb), a Mithun was cut in the village. In this case too, the meat is distributed among all the Medos. I was not only invited for dinner, which was mainly Mithun stomach boiled and rice, to three houses, I was also given a small chunk of the meat! Now, I believe I am one of them! 

On another note, I have fortified the camp I stay in the village (the inspection bungalow) with all the essentials. I now have a Chang (a smoking place above the cooking fire), a small almirah to keep all the stuff needed for cooking, a pestle, an aluminium mug, a small backup cylinder, a backup electric stove, a solar charged light, a radio, the works, take a look. Just now, I also made sure the fire goes on for a few hours so the Mithun meat gets smoked. That way it can stay for several days without getting spoilt. The way the Adis smoke it, the meat apparently lasts for five years!

Burning one (fire) down!

The pestle that brings lovely flavour to my food,
made of Jackfruit tree wood

My kitchen, its all there!

And finally here is the mug that I picked up from the market; its uses are several, heres a list of things that I have made in it; fried eggs, fried fryums, tea, coffee, boiled water, soup, dal, drink tea/coffee, chatni with the pestle, measure rice to cook with it and the list goes on. In fact, I call it the invincible mug because we had taken this mug on a trip to Mouling National Park and it was the only vessel we carried besides one large vessel to cook dal and rice. So in the five day trip, we used this mug to measure rice to be cooked, to make tea, to smash boiled potatoes, to serve dal and again the list goes on. I call it invincible because when we camped by the Sidi river in the Eggong camp, a Mithun had stepped on it to make it quite oval in shape. In the middle of the night, someone screamed saying my mug was gone. Calmly, I woke up in the morning and brought it back to shape by hitting it gently with a rock and the mug is back in use! Well, this is the one thing I rate as most useful ever in field.

The invincible mug!

So, I sleep today convinced that I am not only a researcher in the village, but perhaps also one of them now.

Friday, 25 February 2011

New kid on the blog

I arrived to the Bomdo village this time end of November last year. I had several expectations and was quite excited  and nervous since my field work was soon to begin. I was also excited that I would meet the village folk after six months. But I had an even more pleasant surprise in store for me. At about 1 pm when I arrived to the village and visited my man-friday Gekut's house he wasn't there. He and his wife had gone to the field, for it was the rice harvesting season. So I waited till early evening and then I saw Gekut rushing to the Inspection Bungalow where I stay. He said he had a third kid! In a hurry to catch a glimpse, I ran to his house.

The Poyup or the farm house where Kayit was born, in Loging
Gekut and his wife had gone to Loging, their current shifting cultivation field, and minutes after they reached Nyomen, Gekut's wife announced that she was in labour and having no other woman to help him with this, he just waited aside her helplessly and pulled the kid out himself. I was bewildered by the fact that the same day she gave birth she also went out to the fields to bring back at least 30 kilos of rice, and Loging itself is a good 5 km walk through the forests. However, here in the village there are several such instances. Perhaps due to their physical endurance during shifting cultivation, even giving birth to a kid is not as serious an issue as it is often in towns. The whole village apparently suggests names for new born kids till finally a name is chosen. I suggested 'Siben' which is the local name for a takin (Budorcas taxicolor), making him a very special person, being named after the rarest animal in the region. The lad was finally named Kayit and I see him almost everyday and still call him Siben! Gekut says someday Kayit will become the Deputy Commissioner of the Yingkiong circle and I said that I will happily fund his education.

Gekut and Junior

Friday, 4 February 2011

हैं होगा

I've by now absorbed a bit of north-east hindi lingo, which is quite confusing compared to the hindi we speak in the rest of the country. Here, the language has been adapted to the inherent logistical uncertainties there. Here is a hypothetical instance...

One day, one Nyishi tribe folk asked another, 'has the bus been here yet' and the other Nyishi replies, 'no'. It had so happened that the latter fellow had not noticed the bus leave when he was off for 'minus'. Minus is by the way, what folks here refer to answering nature's call, a simple logical euphemism. So then after waiting the entire day, the first Nyishi walked up to the other guy and bashed him up for no real fault of his. There must have been several such instances, with the topic of discussion each time being different, nevertheless, leading to major arguments or fights.

Here is the only way it could have ever got resolved, by the inclusion of this beautiful hindi word 'hoga'. Consider this, if in the previous instance, the person replying had said 'Bus to gaya nahin hoga', the other could have re-considered the truth in the non-affirmative reply, and could have asked another person who could be more definite about such simple things as to whether a bus had left or not. But it so happens that the other guy would also reply, 'Bus gaya hoga', since he was also involved in arguments as the one mentioned afore. My point is that in the general language, 'hoga' has become a diplomatic suffix which makes it tough to know answers to simple questions. The funniest hoga yet is 'hain hoga'. This is somewhat similar to scientific writing. Writing 'considerably different', 'statistically different', 'likely to be different' keeps the person writing safe from future discoveries!

By the way, there is an extension to 'hoga', which I assure you by experience, only complicates matters. Often, the word 'kya' is added as a bonus suffix to 'hoga'. So, 'has the bus been here yet?', pat comes the safest and often useless reply, 'gaya nahin hoga kya'. When I get this reply, I would ask about what time does it usually leave, to get an idea of his confidence interval and to know if his today's data is an outlier!

Like I mentioned earlier, anyone who has been here for a while adopts this lingo. There are other ways in which the hindi here is different. 'Nahin' (no) becomes 'ho jayega' (will do or enough). Not long ago, my sister in Bangalore had made rotis for dinner. After belting half a dozen when she asked me if I would like more, I said 'ho jayega'. She asked me 'kya ho jayega' (what will happen).

Apologies to folks reading this, who don't have a hindi background. 'Samaj mein to aa jayega hoga!'