Yo, God I’ve got a question for you.
Are you Jew, Muslim, Christian or Hindu?
Do you hear when they talk or are you blank as my wall?
Are you small and compact and sit inside a room,
Or is it a tomb that houses your presence?
Can your essence be spread by just one faith,
And can they teach hate for the ones who can’t understand?
God, are you man, transgender or animal?
Do you have mandibles, fur or down?
Are you a clown? A non serious god, an old uncle who lives down the street?
Do your feet rise above the ground, or are you like us:
Not far from the dust and dirt and piss and cigs ?
God, don’t stay with the Big; come out of those stuffy spots-
Those churches, ‘gogs, mosques and temples- run outside, quick!
An elder gets into the cab, hauling her heavy bag into it. I move aside, making room for her. She rummages through it and brings out coins for the fare. I’m always drawn to such old people, who still have to worry about livelihood and cannot afford to rest in old-age leisure like many others.
-Mei, phin leit shaei?
-Polo, nga sah ha Polo
And we start conversing. She tells me about her being punished by the Governor’s gardener when she and her friends used to steal sohkhlur from there as children. How they would say sorry one day and be back at it the next. She chuckles.
She goes on about her father’s house which was made of thatch in Laban and how she misses it.
As we drive past Secretariat, she expresses her amazement that all those buildings could have come up in, what was once, thick forestland. She manages to draw a map of Shillong in every sentence and I try to envision all of it in my head.
In Keating Road, a beggar man comes up to our car and asks for “tea money”. She explains to him that she has no money either in proper Hindi. As he moves sadly away to the next car, she heaves a heavy sigh, looking back at him.
I pay for her and she is so grateful it startles me. I can not help tearing up as we separate and I thank her profusely, which must have startled her in turn.
She was just telling her story.
I have come to realise that such profound warmth and empathy for fellow sufferers is not alien to the poor and as I walked through the detritus of PB- that place with its SUV driving crooks and self-indulgent brats- I could not help but tremble as I thought of that old soul, walking down Jail Road, trying to navigate home.
There are these small silent people who sneak under our sights:
Old grocer women dragging bags around, depressed men in corners,
Children sifting through dung piles to salvage metals,
Hawkers trying to work, survive Khasi customers.
These are my people.
People left behind in the dust plumes and exhaust,
People who need “development” but will never have it,
There is a better way, a better world that only we hope for,
I want to to run alongside them in chasing that dream.
No Chanel with gutkha smell, no models beside garbage piles, no need for roundabouts, regrettable busts, traffic lights or traffic cops.
No CRPF (syiar pi) goons for our insecurity, for midnight threats and slaps, for moral policing, for bribe taking and eve eyeing, no AK, lathi or Hindi fence.
We’ve got problems but we’re not trying to hide them under tar, cement or steel. You can always turn away if you drive past. We cut the stuff out in the open, display it on hooks: you decide what parts you want.
Community i.e. Head| Freedom i.e. Heart| Fight i.e. Liver