A life less ordinary

Prabhat Kanti Paul is a 76-year-old retired government employee and like many of his age, spends time pruning his small garden in the front yard of his rented house. But what sets him apart from others is his quest for knowledge and articulation in documenting history. When on his desk, Paul is a traveller, philosopher and poet lost in his world of words and lyrics.
Paul’s grandfather, Prakash Chandra Paul, came to Cherrapunjee in 1881 and started his business. The septuagenarian was born and brought up in Sohra and was schooled in the Ramakrishna Mission there. Later, he became a civil engineer and worked with the state government for more than three decades before retiring in 2003.
Paul’s story would have been an ordinary one had he not sailed out on his little adventures. One of his challenging tasks was translating Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali from Bengali to Khasi. “This is the first Khasi translation of the book from Bengali. Earlier translations were done from English. It was tough as I had to keep intact the meaning of the original poems,” he said.
It took Paul around three years to finish the translation. He also translated the Gita, which took seven years, and Ramakrishna Kathamrita (the teachings of Ramakrishna).
“Though I started writing while in office, I completely immersed myself into writing after retirement,” said Paul as he arranged his disoriented writing table set beside the bed.
The author was felicitated last year by Srimanta Sankardev Consciousness Society of India for his translation of Gitanjali. “My translation of the Gita is the first time in three languages — Khasi, Bengali and English,” said Paul, who was a member of the Ramakrishna Mission Sohra school committee from 1980-95. He shifted to Shillong in 1999.
His job had taken him to several places in Meghalaya including Nartiang. Paul found great interest in the local history of places where Hinduism had thrived or is still one of the key religions to be followed. He has published several booklets on the Nartiang temple, sacred places of Lord Shiva in and around Shillong and monoliths, among other things. He has also written about Lum Sohpetbneng, the pilgrimage of the Seng Khasis.
“Every tribe has its religion and culture and they should preserve that. Ramakrishna Mission has always encouraged this and I too believe in it. I have done elaborate research on the places of religious importance, both for Hindus and the locals,” said Paul.
During his stint in Jaintia Hills, Paul got interested in the history of Nartiang that was once under the rule of the Jaintia kings. He started collecting data on the Durga temple there and later wrote about its 600-year-old history. “I went to Nartiang in 1980 and saw the condition of the temple. I raised the matter and in 1987, Ramakrishna Mission renovated the temple. There was also no written history about the place and the temple and this prompted me to write about it.”
In 2004, he published his writings on Devi Jayanti in Bengali, which is also available in Khasi as Blei Jayanti because “locals should also know about the history of their place”.
“Nartiang is an ancient human habitat. The standing monolith of Nartiang is the testimony of Stone Age old civilization here,” he wrote.
Talking about the current imbroglio at the Nartiang temple, the author said it is sad that the annual Durga Puja there has been hampered as two parties continue to fight over who would be the priest. He also pointed out that Union Minister Kiren Rijiju had promised in 2017 that the Nartiang temple would be renovated “but nothing has been done so far”.
Paul’s works also include other Hindu historical sites in the state like Syndai and he believes that there “is a divine link between Syndai and Nartiang”. He showed the photographs of the spherical stone sculpture of Lord Ganesha that was found in the forests of Syndai.
In A Pilgrimage to Mawblei Mawsynram, Paul wrote, “The name Mawblei means Godstone and Mawsynram means stone of great Ram. Great Ram means Shiva. Thus the naming signifies the divinity and holiness of the place. Mawsynram is a tourist spot in the state. A Shiva-sakti pilgrim.”
Among his other writings are Megalithics of Meghalaya and Pilgrimage to Jaintia Hills and Sacred and Holy Places of Lord Shiva in and around Shillong. His first booklet, Cherrapunjee Rain, documents the heavy precipitation in this part of the Khasi Hills.
According to Paul, there is an urgent need to document history so that the future generations know about the gradual evolution of the places and the people. Though he works incessantly, fund crunch has restricted him from publishing many of his writings in a large scale. But Paul has not given up. “Someday my books, including the translations, will be available to all. I want everyone to know what is best in our culture and heritage.”

~ NM

Photos: ST & PK Paul

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