A Joyful Autobiography

Yarns from an Administrator and other Stories Tokiwaio Blah BlueRose Publishers Rs 200

Book Review
By Glenn C. Kharkongor

It didn’t strike me at first, but the title is cleverly constructed. If you read the words in bold, it says “Administrator Stories”. If you add in the other lines, it expands to “Yarns from an Administrator and other Stories”. What a charming introduction to the book.

Storytelling is an art of the tribal community, ancient folklore has been handed down through generations of grandmothers recounting tales of yore to wide-eyed children around the hearth. When bedtime came, we were reluctant to leave the warmth of the fireplace, and afraid to go back to a dark bedroom with scary stories still ringing in our ears. This rich pedigree of storytelling still runs in the veins of modern writers like Toki Blah.

The book delivers what it promises.  Story upon story, yarn after yarn, interlaced with strands of humour. If you know the author, this is exactly who he is, an inveterate spinner of tales. Travelling light is a wonderful way of journeying through life. Of course, life for no one is always smooth sailing, but the rocky road of life is best reconnoitred by remembering that joys and sorrows, hardships and good times, and defeats and triumphs are two sides of the same coin. The spirit of humour is the currency of this book.

Tongue in cheek, twinkle in eye, spring in step, the author takes you through the journey of his life. Drawing on our tradition of Khasi folklore, he begins with the origin and migrations of the Blah clan. The escapades of childhood and the woes of college life fill the first part of the book. Life takes on some seriousness with the grim challenges of being a young district collector in the culturally unfamiliar landscape of rural north India. But there is inevitably a funny side to the pitfalls and pratfalls, and some of the stories are rib tickling funny.

In the good old days of Shillong, music, fun and adventure was the order of the day. But when the author returns, after a decade and a half, to the familiar green pastures of the Khasi Hills, he finds changes in the air. No longer was the locality one big family, a certain grimness had crept into society. Yet in the hurly-burly of his varied professional pursuits in Shillong, there was often an amusing experience to lighten the harshness of life. Toki skillfully balances the ups and downs of life with laces of levity.

Here is a snippet from a Christmas story enacted at the Jaintia Club House in Jowai. The local church had rehearsed the Passion Play for weeks, the man on the cross was the local pastor. The drama was staged on a cold December night. “The Roman soldier was dressed in a short brown skirt, his daughter’s school uniform, a red shawl (of Naga origin), and a scooter helmet for a Roman soldier’s headgear. He wore rubber slippers with plastic thongs wound up his legs to represent the leggings of a Roman legionnaire.” Clad in this skimpy costume, bare-chested with only his daughter’s short skirt to keep him warm, he had to wait three hours for his part on stage. In the miserable cold he fortified himself on the sly with a couple of pegs. You’ll have to read the book to see how the story plays out. It’s quite different from the account in the Bible.

To be a raconteur of humour, one must be able to laugh at oneself. And in this way, the book gives us a delightful break from the seriousness of life, from dour faces and dreary longwindedness. What a joyful autobiography!

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