A fighter to the core, as evident from the way he came out of a massive cardiac arrest in 2005 and fought cancer in 2010, Robert Garnett Lyngdoh has not shed the adjectives used by his peers to describe him. Outspoken, witty, casual, bold, maverick and a fighter – this is how people know Robert Garnet Lyngdoh, popularly known as Bob. And of course, he is a man who has donned many caps in his life.
For many who know Bob, he is first a musician then a politician who took self-exile from politics because he termed State politics as a suffocation to his principle to serve and to empower the masses. At present he holds the post of Chief Executive Officer, Livelihood Improvement Finance Company of Meghalaya, Shillong, a MFI under the IFAD sponsored Livelihood Improvement Project for the Himalayas in Meghalaya, and Chairman of the Meghalaya Tourism Development Forum (MTDF). These two jobs, he feels, give him the opportunity to do what politics had restricted him from doing.
Born to QE Lyngdoh and Peter Garnett Marbaniang, a well-known seasoned politician and MP, Bob had all the basics to step into politics, but, preferred to take a different route altogether after completing his studies. An alumni of St Edmund’s School, Shillong, Bob went on to complete his bachelor degree in Commerce from St Anthony’s College, Shillong and Postgraduate Diploma in Business Management from Xavier’s Labour Relations Institute, Jamshedpur before joining the Mafatlal group of Industries as a marketing development executive in 1985.
In 1986, he took up the job of General Manager at Meghalaya Bamboo Chips Limited, a Government of Meghalaya undertaking that was experimenting with the use of bamboo in housing. He went on to become the Managing Director of the company. He held the post till he joined politics in 1998 by contesting the Assembly elections from the prestigious Laitumkhrah constituency soon after his father’s demise.
This writer vividly remembers how Bob contested the 1998 elections and won by a thumping margin. In spite of being a first timer in the State Legislative Assembly, Bob was inducted into the ministry headed by DD Lapang and since then he continuously held the ministerial post with important portfolios like Home, Tourism and Education until his retirement from politics. He was also the Chairman of the Meghalaya Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), with the status of Deputy Chief Minister.
But politics was never his destiny, even though he was described as the future Chief Minister of the State. Known to be a Chief Minister’s material to many in the political circle, Lyngdoh, however, doesn’t regret leaving politics in spite of being projected as the future Chief Minister of the State. He told this writer, “I am humbled by the compliments made by the people, but I was forced to leave politics because the thoughts of my political peers and the system is not in conjunction with the way I believe.” Bob vowed never to return to the frustrating world of politics, saying that he is content with his present engagement which he described as another profession to empower the people.
“I was a politician, but will forever remain a musician,” the former politician said. As a musician, Bob started his professional music career with the Shillong-based rock-and-roll band called The Great Society, before co-founding the famous Blues band called MOJO . He plays the mouth harmonica (mouth-organ) for these bands but didn’t quite remember the number of stage performances that he was part of. Asked why, and Bob said, “Every performance stood out in its own way.” Although Bob grew up when rock-and-roll music was dominating the world of music, his choice to pick up the harp and blues music at a tender age was not an aberration. Bob defined blues music by quoting Robert Johnson, “the blues is nothing but a good man feeling bad”.
Bob, also known as RG to many in the rural areas of Meghalaya, spoke about his fondness of the letter Z. He is blessed with a son and three daughters named Zackariah, Zenobia, Zahava and Zinzi. This writer asked him about his obsession with the letter Z and he wittily said, “Jesus said that those at the last will become the first and my believe that they will be the first prompted me to name them with the last letter.”
Even as his words displayed his true loyalty to Christianity, Bob was the man who demonstrated his true secular character in 2011 when he led from the front in taking on the NGOs and church bodies’ vociferous opposition to the Meghalaya Tourism Development Forum’s (MTDF) decision to conclude the Shillong Tourism Festival on Sunday. This writer asked him on this and he categorically said, “Personally, I felt it was a secular festival. I spoke out and stood my ground to ensure that religion and politics are not mixed, otherwise the danger of fundamentalism will run down our veins.”
Bob also spoke with pride about being a man who braved and came out from two life-threatening ailments. He also spoke about his new-found courage and attachment with people who are crippled with life.
Besides his professional job, Bob is also into photography and poetry, trying to bring his thoughts, imagination and captivation into the realm of the practical world. Bob has even written a book entitled Who the caps fits in 2005. The book was a satire on the developments in the State during the peak of militancy. Bob has another book in the pipeline but preferred to show his photographic skills and poetic lines jotted down in his cellular phone to illustrated his past-time activities.
During my closing minutes of the interaction, I rekindled his tough directions as a State minister in charge of Home and how his department blunted the militant groups operating in the State. He humbly said, “I was not alone because all the stake holders played a role in throttling militancy,” while alluding the police, the traditional heads and the public at large.
However, Bob was not a man without a critic. There were talks about his casual attires as a minister and jumping into a stage to be part of a musical performance in spite of being a chief guest. His hippy casual life style was also under scanner as a public representative. But Bob said, “I was only trying to be myself without disturbing others.” He summed up the conversation by saying, “The evil of the world is not because of the actions done by a few but because of the silence of the money.”
Here is a poem penned by RG Lyngdoh.
The Play park.
She ambles on, Towards Bangladesh.
Unhurried, She takes the time
The timeless infant.
Aah that I could linger, blues harp in my hand ,
Immersed in these images
Of a bright old world