It was around 1987-88, the house next to ours was bought by a Jaintia family hailing from a village not too far from Shillong. In the first year or so, there was hardly any interactions due to lack of a working medium of communication !!
But, two persons of the family with exceptional charm demanded that we made the first move to bridge the gap ! The first one was the portly, graceful, grand old lady of the family, the quintessential adorable “Aita” or Bei-Pun(grandmother) as they addressed her !! She would not speak a word other than in Synteng dialect, which was pure Greek to us, though we were familiar with the Khasi language somewhat ! She was soon to become the Bei-pun of the entire locality. My mother and she would spend hours together expressing themselves in the language of the heart.
Since 1991, almost every Monday morning while coming down to Guwahati to attend office, I would say bye to Bei-pun and receive a five rupee note as blessings !
The practice continued uninterrupted till she breathed her last on 7th, January, 2007. She took to bed for two weeks and passed away peacefully, exactly as she had told her daughter (Bei) long before.
She continues to remind me of things beautiful, whenever life passes through bumpy patches.
The second one was a five or six years old sprightly little girl for whom the world outside didn’t exist, happy as ever in her own small world ! It didn’t take long to woe her, chocolates having done the trick !
That was the beginning and the relationship has flourished over the decades till date. The little girl has grown up to be a fine young lady. What’s more important is that she has her place as the youngest one of our family in true sense of the term.
“Bei” (mother), became the grand old lady of the family after demise of Bei-pun. Now, the family has grown and Bei has become a grand mother herself with school going charming grand children enlivening the ambience of the house.
Over the years , I have come to be accepted as one of the family members of the “clan” through the family of Bei, spread over Shillong, Mawngap,Jowai and other interior villages as “Bhai”. No one has ever bothered to ask a question beyond that and I am sure that most of them will fail to recognize me by my good name ! It is a humbling experience to be accepted warmly by a society just like that !!
Our part of the locality in Shillong, had a concentration of Assamese population earlier, who gradually shifted to Guwahati disposing off the properties. A few families remained, ours being one of them. But, soon the void was filled by the relationships that grew with our new neighbours who became intregal to our lives.
The scene of seeing off my mother coming down to Guwahati every winter for three months is always an emotional affair with a few tears shed both by the neighbours and my mother. To me the relationship is beyond any definition !!
As for me, the practice started by Bei-pun is still very much on. I continue to receive a ten rupee note as blessings, now from Bei !
Looking back, I feel immensely grateful to the circumstances that contrived to bring our family close to these beautiful, dignified, warm hearted people who have enriched our lives.
If I may, one observation I want to make is– they are to be approached with an open heart, removing the looking glass tinted by ego, a toxic byproduct of any ‘community specific culture’, for being embraced with open arms by these beautiful people, belonging to a beautiful land !!