East India has remained an enigma to the entire world for a while. Comprised of a number of states that differ from each other in a variety of physical and sociological markers and at the same time share a common trait. The indigenous people of East India comprise of a class of society the western world calls “Tribal” or “Adivasi“. The Mizo, the Khasis and the Nagas would be those of the few tribes that one might recognise today but a vast segment of the tribal community still remains hidden behind a shroud of negligence to this day. The Kharia, of whom I am one, happen to be one of the oldest tribes of the Chhota Nagpur Region and the paragraphs that follow shall be as honest an attempt as possible to better acquaint the masses with my people and their land.
It is customary in the land of the Kharia, that when a generation of a family are no longer contained by their earthly bodies, their names are written in stone and that stone is hoisted in the village through a rigorous ceremony of rituals both kharia and Christian. And when the mother of my father, flitted into the other world the next generation prepared for the stone carving ritual which for the first time in 21 years brought me to my ancestral village, Buri Kudar.
As the family slowly congregated at the Baa residence on a very dry October morning, a quick prayer for a safe trip was observed. Under normal circumstances I couldn’t have bothered Mr. “Almighty” with our safety, but these weren’t normal circumstances. I had been informed of the hostile conditions that now manipulated the daily life of this people and I would be lying if I claimed to be unperturbed by the nasty implications that were quietly assumed.
Nestled a few good kilometres within a dense labyrinth of jungles and river streams, a quiet village lay. A victim of the growing Naxalite movement, escalated concern for our lives and those of our beloved was apparent in our briefing. No idle talk, no backgrounds to be divulged, no running off into the woods, no offending the “Gangs”, the list was relentless. It seemed like a two day visit to a very strange prison, but weird as it may sound I have never embodied this intense a surge of liberation on any previous occasion.
Buri Kudar, had always been the mystic land of rivers and bears and heroes. A popular destination, protagonist of many a story that my grandfather would patiently narrate to his naughty grand children. It was an absolute thrill for all the cousins, to crowd in his study and marvel at the heroics of our ancestors. The bear hunts that they had once indulged in and the misadventures that did paint a gruesome picture for us 6 year olds. Nevertheless, Buri Kudar had been a fairytale up until this very dry October.
As the car slowly clambered through the jungle, an overwhelming amalgam of peace and excitement flooded my veins and seared through limb to limb. It had been a long journey and I couldn’t wait to see what was mine since the day I had breathed my first. And well, I wasn’t disappointed. This little village had remained to this day relatively untouched. A stream dwindled carelessly through the backyard, and a room inside the house, encased a number of ancient weapons and guns. The House was built in traditional tribal style, a hollow square with a courtyard in the centre and the rooms along the perimeter of the square. I’ve heard a number of explanations that implore the practicality of this style of construction, but I’ve decided to omit this part out due to well, conflicting theories.
Much of Buri Kudar had adopted rituals that are characteristic of the tribals of the Chhotta Nagpur Region, thus, it wasn’t as difficult to infer the administration of certain rituals. The prayer meeting in the courtyard followed by the preparation of “Hadiya” or the indigenous Rice Beer, saw the whole village huddle together in the courtyard. A few tumblers later, the courtyard was empty as the villagers retired for the night. In anticipation for the ceremony that was to take place the next day, we called in an early night too.
As dawn broke over the hills that weren’t as far as they seemed, the city folk awoke to an uncomfortable realisation of the amenities that this village lacked. As most of us ran for the deserted school that catered to a couple of bathrooms, a few of us did decide to embrace the Kharia in them. ‘Twas a funny sight that beheld the eye, as a few troubled women scurried about. Amusing.
Most of the morning had been identified for exploration as the priest did not show up on time. But come Noon time, the altar had been set and the procession to the burial grounds commenced, sans priest. Prayers, blessings, words subjected their holy powers to the stone as it was slowly hoisted. Closure invited itself in and we cried for the last time. This is where my my Grand Father wanted to rest and here he will live forever now. A Kharia father, a Kharia Son, a Kharia warrior.
After the ceremony, the priest finally made an appearance and another short prayer meeting ensued. At the end of this came my favourite part. The lavish feast. As the village folk gathered and yet another pot of Rice Beer was brewed, a few “Baandas” and some “Khassis” were spiced over an earthen stove. And as the meat slowly tendered, I caught up with the Kharia women. They taught me how to weave leaf bowls and they told me about their tattoos. In return I showed them my tattoo which was essentially the same symbol. Different tribes have devised different tribe symbols to identify their brethren. But tattoos in this ancient land have had more ornamental purposes than practical. Tattoos came to be mostly because of the poverty of our people. The absence of jewellery led our ancients to engrave these symbols into their skin and well the tradition persevered. To this day Kharia brides have the “Khoda” engraved on their foreheads.
A simple people, they were thrilled to have me take pictures of them and so remote was this village that it had been the first time a lot of them had ever tasted Maggi. Maggi, the most famous instant noodle brand in our country made its debut in Buri Kudar in 2012. I was shocked and well in ways deeply touched too. I was touched by the innocence, the warmth and the beauty of this place. I don’t think I would have ever wanted to leave.
Anyhow, the lavish feast that followed my interaction left me looking for a shady tree under which I had already foreseen a comfortable nap, and such is the beauty of Buri Kudar, my every wish was her command.
I awoke a few hours later to the sound of drums, and I followed the sound to our courtyard where festivities were under way. A few arcs of girls and boys swaying concentrically around the drummer boy. As the girls moved in effortless grace, it took me a while to catch up, the boys rolled with impressive swagger, this little jungle town had a beat of its own. There was youth and there was life and there was no stopping them. This party went on till a little after midnight and then slowly the village trickled into silence.
Phew. A busy day it had been. The next morning, I hugged the trees and told them to wait for me, I swam in the stream and promised to come back, I made friends with my cousins and gave them my number. I swear I’ll be back one day.
And I wont be a visitor the next time around, I’ll be the daughter.