No cattle, no fencing

As the road diverted at Dhupdhara, it was hinting at me on a signpost, saying Adokgre, the high-sounding word, was so hard to pronounce to my fellow travelers.
No cattle, no fencing

Kamal Baruah


As the road diverted at Dhupdhara, it was hinting at me on a signpost,
 saying Adokgre, the high-sounding word, was so hard to pronounce to my fellow travelers. Besides, the articulation of vowels and consonants of those broken teeth words, especially from the language families of Trans-Himalayan, made me wonder. However, the tiny lane leads to the East Garo Hills of Meghalaya. Meanwhile, it had been a smooth road ahead to our destination for a relaxing weekend.

We moved through the forest of wild Salwood that grew close together, creating an umbrella-like canopy, and also noticed a few rustic, poor settlements through the windscreen that brought some wry amusement, especially the names of places that end with common suffixes. It was Salbari, followed by Kathakuthi, Amguri, Bahbari, Majebari, Mozebari, Ghilabari (bari means compound), and Jaihat. Place names may be plausibly derived from the local accent, and whether you like it or not, it may be unpleasant to interpret the meaning. At Saraibaha (bird’s nest), there are patches of dense vegetation. We saw a wild, uncultivated bush land region where small birds live, breed, and take shelter. We went deep through the jungles.

The signs of human habitation are scattered close to the hills. We had driven further than I realised, almost reaching the zigzag border. It’s a small deserted settlement, residing around a population of one hundred. Their cottages are small and dilapidated in an idyllic rural setting, while the demarcation of the border is its proximity to the hilly region. The area is probably forgotten and left unmarked due to an administrative oversight. The villages and areas are inhabited based on the needs of the people. The saying goes: hills are for Meghalaya and plains for Assam. We stared at the entire valley with an eagle’s eye. A primary school in Assam is located behind the missionary school in Meghalaya. Wow! They share a common playground, as the borders are an issue to this day.

The only shop was closed then. People are living in a very isolated existence. However, there are plenty of trees, from betel nuts to bananas; they are the most in production. By this time, we could see some tribal people approaching in the distance. D’Great Marak told us a real tale of woe about how fellow villagers move to the neighbouring state because the border runs through them and is not demarcated. Even though they have no boundary fencing in their compound, the villagers don’t keep cattle.

For decades, the promises of bijli, sadak and pani have been election manifestos; hitherto, these tribal groups, mostly Garos, are living in abject poverty. They totally depend on the state’s welfare scheme. They live in Assam but go to the other side; the state of Meghalaya generously provides a helping hand. Villagers look out for neighbours and go at their will whenever there are opportunities. Now, Assam started giving its scheme to woo the tiny village so that to keep the border intact strategically. We saw the construction of a drinking water project going on. The dirt road connectivity is laid in some way till the last home of their village.

It was dusk time; birds were chirping while returning their nest; nevertheless, the passing car of ours was the only noise that perhaps disturbed the tranquilly of the rural set up at Bhalukmari village. Once upon a time, the place would have been related to a bear that was beaten to death by local residents. I was scared stiff for a moment. I realized at once. The ethnic configuration of the people is similar on both sides of the borders, and it is quite challenging to discern between them. Mr. Marak was right. He looked around for support, and I nodded while he flashed his most winning smile. There were no herds of cattle seen and no cultivation of crops either, so there was no trespassing into their cottage, thereby no fencing in their homes.

Imagine a world without walls and fences at our place. From Gaza to Ukraine, wars and crises are piling up recently, where the long bloody history of the Israel-Gaza border is well known. Ethnic violence has plunged Manipur into a state of civil war between the majority Meitei and minority Kuki over land and influence. The division of Assam into five north-eastern states—Mizoram, Meghalaya, Nagaland, and Arunachal—left a border dispute from a demographic and historical perspective. But people in Bhalukmari village, on the Assam-Meghalaya border, are living in perfect harmony.

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