United they make country tunes

By Daiaphira Kharsati

When the dog days are over, it is time to get your shoes dirty and get absorbed in the tranquility and picturesque beauty to beat the urban monotony. And if music comes as a surprise rustic charm, then consider yourself lucky.
Nohron village in East Khasi Hills’ Mawkynrew block is salve for a lonely heart and an experience worth cherishing for life. The natural beauty, the warmth of the local people, their jocund company and most importantly, their music will move any traveller.
There are 271 households here. From a farmer to a daily wage earner, everyone in this village, which is hemmed in by scenic green hills, is a passionate musician and that too self-taught.
The villagers can play mandolin, violin, guitar and drums and they learnt this from their forefathers. It seems that music is their heartbeat and the hamlet would have been just another tourist site had it not been for the music which the villagers have kept close to their heart. They call themselves the United Band of Nohron.

The journey

When good music and vibrant nature blend, it is a perfect treat for an exhausted traveller who wants to free the mind that is discombobulated by deadlines and competition.
The journey is arduous with long winding roads, most part of which is unpaved, but it is definitely a break from the humdrum of Shillong town. It was comfortably sunny on the day that this wandering urbanite chose to visit Nohron.
Farmers could be seen tilling the soil, caring less for the early winter sun that was rather harsh that day.
The car finally reached a signboard that indicated that Nohron was to the right and Syntung to the left. We took the turn towards our destination and instantly I felt, “Is it the right one?”
In front of us were verdant hills, majestic stones and a waterfall. “What is this place,” I muttered in my mind. One ought to feel calm and relaxed at the sight of such beauty and so did I.
A few meters ahead, a rock caught my attention. It had a distinct shape and I immediately guessed it to be Rngain, a village in Pynursla. My fellow travellers agreed that it is indeed Rngain. As we proceeded, the road only got worse and the place more deserted. But who’s complaining?
As the road grew longer, I wondered whether we were lost in this paradise. Others in the car sensed something was wrong and so we decided to call the headman of Nohron, Gosper Revive Lyn Nongrum, who assured me that it was the right way and a few more kilometers were left before we reached our destination. The unpaved road lay ahead of us as a challenge but nothing could dampen our spirit.
From afar, we noticed black plastic covering in a plot of land and the driver immediately recognised them as strawberry fields. We came across a dilapidated park that looked eerie even during the day. There were no children inside but a rusty signboard showed something that made us heave a sigh of relief — we have finally reached! Nohron was written on it.

Their heartbeat: Music

The century-old Orchestra has District Lynshiang, Lamphrang Sumer, Nasar Nongrum and Hanbor Nongrum playing the bela; Kulur Lynshiang, Oskar Nongrum, Shemphang Suting and Ste Lynshiang on mandolin; GRL Nongrum, Sawar Nongrum, Tirot Lynshiang, Apil Nongrun and Liphring Manar as guitarists; Bren Nongrum as drummer; and Kyrkhu Iaki Lynshiang and Ishmael Lyting as vocalists.
Some of them are daily wage earners and some are farmers. Gosper Nongrum said they took a day’s leave to welcome the guests. It was a genuinely kind gesture as doing away with a day’s earning is not easy for a poor villager.
As the musicians from all age groups got ready with their instruments, the children gathered around them followed by the adults. As the tempo went up, the crowd started clapping with the beat. The children watched the performers keenly as they clapped and one could tell from their eager eyes that they are going to be the right heirs of the musical legacy that the village has for generations now.
More people gathered around the performers. The songs, though in Khasi, had a typical Scottish countryside tune. When asked where they learnt the tune from, Gospel said, “They (the musicians) look at how the other musicians hold the strings and try to get the chords. Strum and there you have it, the tune!” It sounded simple but I am sure it would be harder than I thought.
There is no institution to teach them except some old folks. It is their passion for music that drove them this far. Gosper said there were leaders of the band who instilled in them the love for music. “They were without doubt skilful people and used their talent wisely,” he added.
The band also performs at weddings and other occasions.
Gosper said the children who watch them play will soon take up the mantle of playing in the band. As the men sang, two women performed Chad Pliang, or the Jaintia plate dance.
The villagers here speak Pnar as they live near the Amlarem border in West Jaintia Hills.
As the plates slipped from the dancers’ hands because of sweating, the crowd jeered.
The band does not play traditional instruments as they find it hard to procure them. Whether traditional instruments or not, music always makes one happy.

A nearby hillock is a potential tourist site as one can see the plains of Bangladesh from there. However, clouds had shrouded our enthusiasm as soon as we reached the top. There the band played a few songs. The hills surrounding the village echoed the sounds emanating from the hillock.
After a few kilometers’ walk, we caught an amazing view of the deep gorges. Down below a river can be seen winding its way and a waterfall rushing through the thickets. “During the monsoon, there will be 4-5 waterfalls here,” said Gosper.
There at the viewpoint, the Orchestra Band gave us a parting song and another on Nohron village composed by them. The mood turned solemn. We took out their mobile phones to record the song.
After lunch, Gosper said most of the villages in Mawkynrew constituency have their own bands who sing during special occasions. Mawkynrew is famous for such bands and they are a bunch of music loving people.
As we set out for the same broken road, the music reverberated in my mind. The day spent in this little ‘Scotland of the East’ was fulfilling. And yet there was emptiness inside as I moved away from the music of life. Even as I write this piece the tune of their fast tempo still remains in my mind.

Photos by Daiaphira Kharsati

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