Pabitra Mukhopadhyay: When the jungle safari of Chapramari National Park organized by Forest Department of West Bengal concluded without a sight of Gaur or (thankfully) Royal Bengal Tiger and our Land Rover cruised into the disembarkation point, I was up for a pleasant surprise.
The tourists were given a complementary tea with a throw-in tribal dance. I cannot say I like such blatant show of a ‘culture’ in a song and dance package where tourists munch snacks and peep into a soiree that, in retrospect, is a showcase of such a huge timescape of humanity that it’s almost cruel. But I didn’t know my inhibited mind was waiting to be swept off my head.
She was dancing and singing like a fairy, with her slitty eyes lost in her world and I could not believe that standing amidst a crowd I was being smitten beyond farthest length of silliness. Dance over, when my wife was hugging her and squeezing into her small palm some money, she told us shyly that her name was Simran. And where do you live Simran? She lives in a village named Rangapani. That’s God’s own village I suppose!
Simran is 15, a petite teenage girl from a village and she is from Mech tribe of Dooars, one of the five sisters named the Rava, the Mech, the Toto, the Koch and the Rajbonshi. I wondered if she knew the grand epic of mixing of a complex gene pool all the way from mongoloid of the hills of Maynmar to proto-australoid of Chotonagpur behind her moon face, but it looked like she hardly cared. She is in school, in 9th standard and she comes here because she loves to dance. Simran is a muslim name and that’s not surprising as Mechs in West Bengal follow both Islam and Christianity as religion.
What is surprising is that few places other than Himalayas have this cauldron of racial and ethnic cross currents. Mechs come in three distinct categories. Originally migrating from Patkoi hills between India and Myanmar, one stream went up to Cachar District of Assam, where they are called Kachari, another, the largest by far followed the mighty Brahamaputra and made home in whole of Assam up to Goalpara District, parts of Jalpaiguri and Kooch Bihar Districts of West Bengal where they are known as Bodos, and yet another went west along the foot of Himalays up to Mechhi River bordering India and Nepal where they are called the Mech.
Hardly she knows that in her blood Simran carries the stories of the great lost Kingdom of Pragjyotisha as far back as 4000 years and since her distant ancestors worshiped Asuras which earned her race the tag of Mlecchas, which experts debate from where the name Mech came. Who knows? They lived and flourished by river catching fish (Maach in Bangla) so there you have another guess. But what haunts me and I hope, may haunt you too my dear reader, is that no amount of research and scholarship can fathom the ancient beauty and mystery encapsulated in graceful movements of feet of our little Simran.
Perhaps a sense of awe and a deep feeling of connection can touch it for awhile.
Author: Pabitra Mukhopadhyay has written this article for Climate Himalaya’s Youth Leaders Speak Column. Pabitra is an environment enthusiast and amateur blogger and keen to network with everyone with active interest on issues related to the Himalayas.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of Climate Himalaya Initiative’s team.
Started in year 2010, ‘Climate Himalaya’ initiative has been working on Mountains and Climate linked issues in the Himalayan region of South Asia. In the last five years this knowledge sharing portal has become one of the important references for the governments, research institutions, civil society groups and international agencies, those have work and interest in the Himalayas. The Climate Himalaya team innovates on knowledge sharing, capacity building and climatic adaptation aspects in its focus countries like Bhutan, India, Nepal and Pakistan. Climate Himalaya’s thematic areas of work are mountain ecosystem, water, forest and livelihood. Read>>