SHILLONG, Jan 10: Tucked away in Shnongpdeng Sohra is 73-year-old Selina Blin Khongsit who learnt the art of making creams and balms.
Originally from Khar-ar Shnong village she shifted to Sohra many years ago. The cream is white in colour and the balm is reddish-maroon. Selina calls it dawai lieh (white medicine) and dawai saw (red medicine). People with skin problems go for the white cream which has at its base cucumber, milk cream and honey. The red medicine, Selina says, helps in healing rheumatism, eczema, joint pains, burns, cuts and bruises.
Selina says she sells here cream and balm on market days in different villages but she has agents in Jowai, Smit, Nongstoin, Nongpoh etc.
Now she has demands from Bangalore and as far away as Israel.
Like every Khasi healer, Selina learnt the herbal medicinal art from her father who was also a traditional healer. She in turn is teaching her daughter-in-law to brew the medicines – such as the proportion of the ingredients and how much is too much.
However, the other ingredients used are a closely guarded secret as is the case with most Khasi healers. Traditional wisdom is only passed down to members of the family.
The cream and balm are used by the local people and are dispensed in small plastic pouches so that they do not remain for too long. Those who buy them in bottles are advised to keep the medicines in a cool place, preferable a refrigerator. The local people find the cream and balm quite affordable.
Selina is a member of the local Catholic Church at Sohra and meets many who come to visit the Church from outside the state.
“Somehow they have heard about my cream and my balm and they come and buy them from me. They ask me to pack them in big containers so that they can carry them home. My cream and balm have travelled all the way to Israel.”
Indeed, Selina needs no advertisement. Word of mouth travels faster and to distant places.
In the little kitchen where the cream and balm are prepared there are big pots and pans for blending and brewing the potions. Selina keeps the prepared balm and cream close to the place where water is stored because that is a perennially cool place.
When asked if she is part of the association of traditional healers, Selina said she has never heard of such an association. She operates solo and only her family members know the trade.
There are those who swear by the cream and red balm and they are in big demand; hence the need to constantly be churning these.
When asked if she would be able to sell better if her cream and balms were to have better packaging and marketing outlets, she says she is quite happy with her present state as they are much in demand anyway.
Perhaps what is needed is some incentive from the state for these traditional healers so that they keep their trade and traditional wisdom alive.