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Tales of Darkness and Light

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Soso Tham

5. Ka Persyntiew–The Flower Garden

Texte intégral

1Evocative of Eden, this section describes the haunting beauty of Tham’s homeland. Although the Khasi and Jaiñtia Hills have been plundered for their forest and mineral wealth there still remain large tracts that are heartbreakingly beautiful, able to stir wonder today as they did in the distant past. That poignant longing for what once was is as acute now as it was when Soso Tham composed his masterpiece.

The Flower Garden

On bracing hillcrests, shielded lee
Refreshed I walk, alone reflect
Upon my homeland’s darkened heart,
Then under every thatch I find
Scattered grains of thought profound
Alive in pools of haunting tears

Golden grains forgotten old
Abandoned random still remain
As when in fresh fields left behind
Rice potato millet yam
Each with a bygone tale to tell
Of what was sown, of what has been

The bird still calls within the wood
The kite she casts her eye afar
Melodies I weave to make a song.
Swift I turn in an eye’s quick blink
To shake awake from biers extinct
The Ancient Past of the
Hynñiew Trep

Once this land was still untouched
Unpeopled empty pristine void
Then the
Seven first came down
To loosen the soil, to plough the land,
Filling gardens with flowers, orchards with fruit
A land where the human race could thrive

  • 1 The betel nut is central to Khasi social and religious culture. The serving and chewing of betel/ar (...)

To far-flung corners soon they spread
Their yield increased their harvests rich
Fruit plantations, betel groves
1
Grains of gold strung to adorn.
The wilderness rumbled, boulders crashed
Tumult echoed, shook the land

Groups into a Nation grew
Words ripening to a mother tongue
Manifold adherents, one bonding Belief
Ceremonial dances, offerings of joy, united by a common weave,
Laws and customs slowly wrought
Bound this Homeland into one

  • 2 Anoectochilus brevilabris belongs to the group of Jewel Orchids. Tiew Dohmaw literally means the fl (...)

The world was then a different place
Birds soared freely, beasts at peace
Out in the open or concealed from sight
Flowers with ease communed with man,
Submerged beneath the tangle-weed
Thirty-thoughts-have-sprung-from-two… where quiet
blooms
U Tiew Dohmaw2

  • 3 Lepidocephalichthys guntea. A small fish found in streams and in paddy fields. The full name in Kha (...)
  • 4 Greater Racket-Tailed Drongo. In a folktale he is cast as King of the Kingdom of Shade and falls in (...)

Peacocks danced with wild abandon
Wild boar rolled in cooling mud
In deep dark pools
Sher supple dart3
Under sheltering fern the doe lies quiet
The courting call of
U Rynniaw4
Lulled nodding monkey, capped langur

Grazing stags on tender green
Sleeping tigers in the gloom
Cooling hills warm days just right
While wild nymphs splash in waterfalls.
Look East, look West, look South, look North
A land beloved of the gods

  • 5 Chestnut-backed laughing thrush (Garrulax nuchalis) now endangered, but once common in Sohra, where (...)

High on the pine the Kairiang sings5
About the old the long lost past,
Sweetness lies just out of reach
And such the songs I too will sing.
Then once again will forests roar
And stones long still shake to the core

  • 6 The names of rivers in the Khasi and Jaiñtia Hills respectively.

Will the high Himalaya
Ever turn away from her
Pleasure garden, fruit and flower
Where young braves wander, maidens roam
Between the Rilang and Kupli
6
This is the land they call their home.

Listen to an audio recording of the poem at
https://doi.org/​10.11647/​OBP.0137.17

Notes

1 The betel nut is central to Khasi social and religious culture. The serving and chewing of betel/areca nuts (kwai) along with a betel leaf of the Piperaceae family (tympew) and a dab of slaked lime (shun) is never absent from a Khasi home, so much so that a folk tale grew around a tragic friendship involving the three. See Bijoya Sawian, ‘How Paan Came Into Existence’, in her Khasi Myths, Legends and Folk Tales (Shillong: Ri Khasi Press, 2006), pp. 12– 14.

2 Anoectochilus brevilabris belongs to the group of Jewel Orchids. Tiew Dohmaw literally means the flower which kisses the stone. This tiny flower, with its velvety leaves, blooms against boulders and rocks in the Khasi Hills, usually halfway up a gorge — hence it is not often easily visible. The sight of such vulnerable beauty, of fragile softness against enduring hardness, inspires the poet to contemplate this natural phenomenon. Hence “Thirty-thoughts-have-sprung-from-two”. Man and plant commune in silence.

3 Lepidocephalichthys guntea. A small fish found in streams and in paddy fields. The full name in Khasi is “shersyngkai I have used the shortened version. Syngkai means waist, so the name evokes the supple twisting movements made by these fish as they twist and dart in the water.

4 Greater Racket-Tailed Drongo. In a folktale he is cast as King of the Kingdom of Shade and falls in love with Ka Sohlygngem (Ashy Wood Pigeon) whose parents warn her against marrying a rich man. Unwilling to cause her parents any more grief, the selfless Rynniaw leaves and flies away. Even today the cries of the Sohlyngngem haunt the forest shade as she searches for her lost love.

5 Chestnut-backed laughing thrush (Garrulax nuchalis) now endangered, but once common in Sohra, where Soso Tham was born.

6 The names of rivers in the Khasi and Jaiñtia Hills respectively.

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