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5. Ka Persyntiew–The Flower Garden

Translation and Notes © Janet Hujon, CC BY 4.0

Evocative of Eden, this section describes the haunting beauty of Tham’s homeland. Although the Khasi and Jaiñtia Hills have been plundered for their forest and mineral wealth there still remain large tracts that are heartbreakingly beautiful, able to stir wonder today as they did in the distant past. That poignant longing for what once was is as acute now as it was when Soso Tham composed his masterpiece.

The Flower Garden

On bracing hillcrests, shielded lee

Refreshed I walk, alone reflect

Upon my homeland’s darkened heart,

Then under every thatch I find

Scattered grains of thought profound

Alive in pools of haunting tears

Golden grains forgotten old

Abandoned random still remain

As when in fresh fields left behind

Rice potato millet yam

Each with a bygone tale to tell

Of what was sown, of what has been

The bird still calls within the wood

The kite she casts her eye afar

Melodies I weave to make a song.

Swift I turn in an eye’s quick blink

To shake awake from biers extinct

The Ancient Past of the Hynñiew Trep

Once this land was still untouched

Unpeopled empty pristine void

Then the Seven first came down

To loosen the soil, to plough the land,

Filling gardens with flowers, orchards with fruit

A land where the human race could thrive

To far-flung corners soon they spread

Their yield increased their harvests rich

Fruit plantations, betel groves1

Grains of gold strung to adorn.

The wilderness rumbled, boulders crashed

Tumult echoed, shook the land

Groups into a Nation grew

Words ripening to a mother tongue

Manifold adherents, one bonding Belief

Ceremonial dances, offerings of joy, united by a common weave,

Laws and customs slowly wrought

Bound this Homeland into one

The world was then a different place

Birds soared freely, beasts at peace

Out in the open or concealed from sight

Flowers with ease communed with man,

Submerged beneath the tangle-weed

Thirty-thoughts-have-sprung-from-two… where quiet blooms U Tiew Dohmaw2

Peacocks danced with wild abandon

Wild boar rolled in cooling mud

In deep dark pools Sher supple dart3

Under sheltering fern the doe lies quiet

The courting call of U Rynniaw4

Lulled nodding monkey, capped langur

Grazing stags on tender green

Sleeping tigers in the gloom

Cooling hills warm days just right

While wild nymphs splash in waterfalls.

Look East, look West, look South, look North

A land beloved of the gods

High on the pine the Kairiang sings5

About the old the long lost past,

Sweetness lies just out of reach

And such the songs I too will sing.

Then once again will forests roar

And stones long still shake to the core

Will the high Himalaya

Ever turn away from her

Pleasure garden, fruit and flower

Where young braves wander, maidens roam

Between the Rilang and Kupli6

This is the land they call their home.

Listen to an audio recording of the poem at

1 The betel nut is central to Khasi social and religious culture. The serving and chewing of betel/areca nuts (kwai) along with a betel leaf of the Piperaceae family (tympew) and a dab of slaked lime (shun) is never absent from a Khasi home, so much so that a folk tale grew around a tragic friendship involving the three. See Bijoya Sawian, ‘How Paan Came Into Existence’, in her Khasi Myths, Legends and Folk Tales (Shillong: Ri Khasi Press, 2006), pp. 12–14.

2 Anoectochilus brevilabris belongs to the group of Jewel Orchids. Tiew Dohmaw literally means the flower which kisses the stone. This tiny flower, with its velvety leaves, blooms against boulders and rocks in the Khasi Hills, usually halfway up a gorge—hence it is not often easily visible. The sight of such vulnerable beauty, of fragile softness against enduring hardness, inspires the poet to contemplate this natural phenomenon. Hence “Thirty-thoughts-have-sprung-from-two”. Man and plant commune in silence.

3 Lepidocephalichthys guntea. A small fish found in streams and in paddy fields. The full name in Khasi is “shersyngkai”—I have used the shortened version. Syngkai means waist, so the name evokes the supple twisting movements made by these fish as they twist and dart in the water.

4 Greater Racket-Tailed Drongo. In a folktale he is cast as King of the Kingdom of Shade and falls in love with Ka Sohlygngem (Ashy Wood Pigeon) whose parents warn her against marrying a rich man. Unwilling to cause her parents any more grief, the selfless Rynniaw leaves and flies away. Even today the cries of the Sohlyngngem haunt the forest shade as she searches for her lost love.

5 Chestnut-backed laughing thrush (Garrulax nuchalis) now endangered, but once common in Sohra, where Soso Tham was born.

6 The names of rivers in the Khasi and Jaiñtia Hills respectively.