Republic Day at Wah Khri

Give a tribal an excuse and he’s off to where you won’t find him.

26th of January, Republic Day, India.

For more than two decades, holidays that celebrate India as a nation have been boycotted by various militant and pressure groups here in Meghalaya. Urging citizens to stay indoors and off the streets, shops, schools and anything with a door shuts. Children and stray dogs play in deserted market areas and streets. When we were children, these were days of a populace in fear, inflated prices for household necessities,  and homework piled up by the kilogram for us kids. There were years when the violence was intense and we stayed indoors listening to the crack of a rifle replying to staccato bursts of assault rifles. Some children even made a game out of identifying weaponry only from sound. There were years that were peaceful and we roamed the streets in cycles and jury-rigged “skateboards”. Passing armed policemen waved to acknowledge us as the princes of the road for a day. As children on these days, we were either clean and indoors or scruffy and out. In it’s own time and place, it was a pretty good childhood.

In more recent times, these public holidays although still spent indoors and off the streets, are an excuse to do some spring cleaning, gardening and what have you. For some, its another excuse to disappear where the pestilential mobile networks have no signal and camp out for a commune with Nature.

The river Khri at West Khasi Hills is a favourite of anglers. Sinuous yet gentle in the Winter and rabidly furious during the Rains. Water levels between high flow and low water differ to approximately 20ft/6mtrs between seasons. Even as late as October, water is seen as brown,full and fast. Pregnant with silt, hill runoff and drainage from all the streams that fill its banks, it takes more than 3 months to reduce in size to a playful and clear river. Water levels are largely dependent on rain and a good year’s torrent can drastically raise the high flow mark. People joke that you cannot trust the 3 “W’s” in Meghalaya – Weather, Water and Women. I will not agree with the last one, because both genders are equally volatile at the end of the day. Weather and Water however, are sometimes anybody’s guess.

The pictures above tell a short story. We did have a great time outdoors and the weather was kind to us.

Tired and dirty, but silently content from the experience and camaraderie, we returned to Shillong.
Those sitting in the back of the car slept a deep and dreamless sleep. The headlights probed the darkness and revealed the road in twists and turns through the hills, and out of the gloom, loomed a truck laden with fallen timber. The tire flaps said “Good Luck”. To us, to the river, to the forests or to what, i do not know. The symbolism of the whole situation was eerie in it’s irony. While we slept, the forests were being carted off. “Good Luck” indeed.

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