Witness to the change

One hundred and fifty years ago, Garo Hills became an independent district under a new law, the Garo Hills Act, 1869. The entire region — bounded on the north and west by Goalpara district of Assam, on the south by Mymensingh district of Bangladesh and on the east by Khasi Hills — was earlier under the administration and tribunals of Bengal. This September 24, the region will celebrate its independence and development over a century.
Garo Hills became part of Meghalaya along with Khasi Hills and Jaintia Hills when full statehood was accorded in 1972. Since then, there had been several changes. The region witnessed the birth of four more districts, besides West Garo Hills. Tura, the erstwhile headquarters of Garo Hills and the present headquarters of West Garo Hills, has also transformed keeping in pace with the region. The town will be 152 this year as it was formed before the region got separate administration. In all these years, development had been slow but steady. Electricity, connectivity, health and education have improved. Urbanisation has also set in and the face of the town is changing fast. But development too has a price and Tura is paying that.
Chean Marak was inquisitive about how the senior citizens of the town feel about the transformation. So he asked two prominent residents, both in their eighties, how they perceive the change and what is in store for the next generation. Many can relate to the brief accounts in first person.

Llewellyn R Marak, 82
Author and Sahitya
Akademi awardee

In my time, there was no electricity and vehicles were very few. People used bullock carts in which they came from Mahendraganj and Dalu to Tura. Earlier, the Tura market was weekly. It was held every Sunday. It was only later that the market day was shifted to Saturday. Every week on the market day, people would come in their bullock carts and bring their cattle for sale. Around 30-40 bullock carts would line up on the approach road to the market from Garobadha and from Nakam Bazaar to Dobasipara herding their cattle, like cows and buffaloes. People also came on foot. Many would camp overnight at a place then known as Soraikhan in Chitoktak and after finishing their trading activities for the day would return to their villages the next day. There was no electricity. Electricity came to the town only around 1956-57.
Unlike today, it was safe to sleep in the open back then as there were no thieves or robbers and almost no crime. We studied under the light of kerosene lamps but were completely satisfied. There was harmony among all sections of people and there was no communal feeling. For leisure, we had no modern gadgets. There were no radios except for a few gramophones owned by well-off families.
Judging from the past, the lifestyle of people has gone up and so has the population. In my time, the only inhabited areas of the town were the Baptist Mission Compound and Addinggre area, which is now called Upper Chandmary. After independence, most of the residents were missionaries and those who worked for them and those who worked in the police department. With regard to traders and businessmen, Muslim traders greatly outnumbered those belonging to the Hindu community. At that time, horses were used by government officials to travel from one place to another. In fact, government officials were the only ones who enjoyed horse and cycle allowance for travel.
Tura is definitely going to be over-populated. (The number of) vehicles is increasing every year and roads are congested. The town will also see an increase in students coming from different Garo Hills villages to study. There will be an increase in workers coming from outside and offices of various departments will also increase in the near future. It is also likely that employment in government departments will run out in the future. In view of that, the youths of today must learn to stop relying on the government and prepare themselves to take up some kind of business ventures.

In order that various services in the town get better, authorities of different departments, including those which run the government machinery, need to stop thinking for themselves and start working for the welfare of the region as a whole. There should be transparency in all departments and there should not be corruption. There should also be cooperation among citizens. There should not be any form of jealousy or communal feeling and only then can we hope to see the region prosper.
Among many others, the thing that I miss the most nowadays is the peace that was prevalent during my time. In the past, there was no communal politics like it is today. Incidents of crime were also very rare which are increasing constantly nowadays. There appears to be no spirit of patriotism now which is why the region cannot grow. People tend to be still social but not like they used to be in the past. Another thing that can be mentioned is the complete trust that people had for one another. You could leave your prized belonging outside and sleep without a care in the world knowing it would still be there in the morning. You could leave your doors and windows open at night and no one would even think of entering and doing any harm. In other words, there was complete trust and safety back then, which sadly is not prevalent nowadays.

Renald Brown
S Momin, 81
Industrial Promotion
Officer (retd) and former Tura Baptist Church
Deacon. Originally from Resubelpara, Momin came to Tura in 1957

The town has changed so much. When I first came to Tura, there were only thatched houses. Captain Williamson A Sangma, who became the first chief minister of Meghalaya, also lived in a thatched house. The Deputy Commissioner’s Office was also just a kutcha house constructed out of bamboo and straw. There were very few roads and they were not blacktopped. The Tura-Garobadha Road was one of the only existing roads and it was kutcha and had not been blacktopped.
At that time, the houses of all the town’s residents were kutcha houses. The place where my current residence is located in Lower Mission Compound and many other parts of Tura town were thick jungle. It was only at Upper Chandmary (then Addinggre), Tura bazaar area and Akonggre that there were a few houses.
Also there were very few vehicles. Captain Williamson Sangma, a local businessman and some non-tribal merchants were the only ones who owned vehicles at the time. It was only around 1960 that development started coming to Tura.
Back in those days, alcoholism among youths was non-existent. There were also no incidents of crime unlike today where you can hear about all sorts of crimes being committed every day. The youths were also much more social and would come out together to participate in social gatherings and locality works. We would also go on evening walks together as that was the only entertainment we had. These days, the youths only tend to keep themselves busy on the internet.
Tura has lived up to our expectations no doubt but today, there are too many cars on the roads and one thing that needs to be done is the widening of the town’s roads. At this rate, the roads of Tura will not be able to accommodate the number of vehicles in the future. It is hard to believe how much Tura town has changed. The GHADC hillock was once a jungle. Today, apart from the GHADC office, the area also holds two of the town’s parks (Gandhi Park and Captain Williamson Sangma Point). The Don Bosco School, which now caters to the educational needs of thousands of students, were yet to be established back then.

The field of education will get better. There will be many good schools but the thing that youths of today need to worry about is employment.
Today as it is, there is a job crisis in the government. It will be very difficult to get government employment in the very near future. The youths of today need to turn their attention to companies. They need to take up their own business ventures and learn to succeed. Otherwise, there will come a time when the government will no longer be able to provide them livelihood opportunities.
For that the authorities will need to look at the situation from the perspective of the youths and the general public. They must interact with all the stakeholders to find out the difficulties and solve them accordingly.
Back then, people were more social. People went on social visits to their neighbours in the evenings and shared their day’s stories. I also remember going to the Tura peak to collect firewood once every morning and afternoon. Back then, we didn’t have to go far, we would collect them from Nengsangrap area (waterfall) in Babupara (at the base of Tura Peak).
Shopping for essentials was also an opportunity to meet people as many of the people did their shopping at the same time. It was like a routine. There were also no television or any other form of entertainment, but we were satisfied just to watch the football match held regularly at the Tura Police Parade Ground. We would walk there on foot. In fact, we would always walk to get anywhere which is no longer done nowadays.

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