(This piece was first published on 8 August 2017 and is being republished in light of recent calls for ‘One Nation, One Language’.)
Basar is a quiet, mesmerising hill town inhabited by the Galo people. The Galo are a central Eastern Himalayan tribe who primarily inhabit the West Siang district of Arunachal Pradesh. The Galo language is based on oral traditions, which means much has been influenced, differently interpreted,or lost in translation. Recently, efforts have been taken to preserve the language by developing a text using the Roman script.
The poems I wrote during my stay includes many words from Galo to give it a strong local flavour.
Old Galo songs don’t play
on radio anymore.
I ask Mikom to sing
Moge Doji, Marto Kamdag
or Mibi Nyadu, who, the locals say,
sings better than Lata Mangeshkar.
I hear most children sing
Bollywood; it’s cool.
Who sings in Galo?
Everybody has their versions of folk tales
yann and kaben songs at weddings,
own ways of speaking Galo,
code words broadcasted verbally to children.
Who needs a written text?
Walking aimlessly in the valley,
I see two kids playing with getis.
‘Where can I buy one?’
Pinjum and Kirdum laugh at me. ‘You can’t.’
You make it on your own.
Who wants to shop online?
Toku patta roofs last for fifteen years;
bamboo floors shine longer.
All you need is food to be cooked
for villagers helping to build the house.
Bamboos are known to survive
the atomic blast of Hiroshima.
Who needs cement?
Between freedom and chain,
life strides like a Mithun.
You can tell if a Mithun is healthy
by the size of its hump, and the front lobe.
The healthy ones go to the bride’s side.
Who looks at the shine in their eyes?
Lichum and Lacquer are antique ornaments
but their value in the plains are unknown.
The Galo are laden with them during weddings
and nida parikh, the welcome dance,
holding sliced branches from Enchi trees for good omen,
with cane-hats adorned with bear hair,
and the beaks of Hornbills
Who needs blood diamond?
(Note: Getis: Catapult/ Yann/Kaben: Lyrical poems in Galo/ Toku patta: Palm leaf/ Mithun: A semi-domesticated animal/ Nida parikh: A Galo dance)
(The writer is a poet, social activist, curator and founder of Poetry Couture. He can be reached @NotSoMadhu. This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)