8 Things We Can Learn from the People of Meghalaya

8 Things We Can Learn from the People of Meghalaya


I recently visited Meghalaya, one of the most beautiful states of India, situated in the north-eastern part of the country. This was my first tour of the north-east, to Assam and Meghalaya, two of the popular ‘seven sisters of India’ as they are called. While my visit to Assam was much of what I had expected to see, the tour of Meghalaya was an eyeopener.

Here are 8 things profound in Meghalaya that made me reflect hard on our ways of living in the cosmopolitan, metropolitan cities. Take a bow, Meghalaya!

Laitlum Canyon, Shillong
Laitlum Canyon, Shillong

1. Clean your own mess
Nearly every household in Meghalaya, particularly in the surrounding areas of Shillong and in Sohra, takes care of its garbage. They not only reuse stuff a lot, but also make compost of the wet waste, burn the rest of the waste and then use the ashes as a soil fertilizer. The government agency does come for waste collection but what’s noticeable is that people neatly pack the garbage in bags or covered bins before keeping it outside their houses for the regular pick up. People are generally conscious of not creating waste, disposing it only where there is a dustbin, and keeping their surroundings clean. For miles, on the road, in the hills, around the lakes, in the grasslands, nowhere one would see any waste, and therefore touring the state is a pleasurable experience and the only thing you are to see in Meghalaya is its extraordinary beauty. Unlike some of the cosmopolitan and metropolitan city dwellers of India and indifferent administration, people in Meghalaya seem very particular about keeping their houses and city/villages clean.

It is admirable that from the lowest to marginal to large income families, nearly everyone in Meghalaya makes an effort towards keeping their place clean, making their state probably the cleanest in India. And that deserves respect because no other state in India that I have visited has been able to match up to this level of conscious effort from residents and the government.

2. Go organic
The people in Meghalaya seem to have a deeper connection with nature. Both the residents and the government opt for maximum use of organic material. For example, extensive use of bamboo, roots, natural herbs, wild plants, etc. can be seen in the stuff that is being used in houses and in the state, in general. For example, nearly all over the state the government has put dustbins made of bamboo. It doesn’t get affected by rains, it is easily replaceable, and it is cost-effective! I feel it is a vicious circle – they preserve nature, which leads to better weather conditions, better green cover and which in turn gives them easy access to organic produce for use.

3. Dustbins everywhere
It’s true. This is the first state I have seen in India which has a dustbin at nearly every 100-200 meters. It was simply super cool! I always feel that one of the main reasons why cities like Delhi and Bangalore have turned into garbage cities is because there are no dustbins, for miles! And the ones that are there are either full or do not have a base! There is no regular collection/clearance either! In Meghalaya, not only were the dustbins made of organic material (which also promotes local industry), but they were also placed everywhere at a uniform distance and they were being cleared with great discipline, even in remote areas. I did not see any overflowing dustbin, rather each one in Sohra (which is the wettest place on the planet) was covered with a reused cement bag to prevent the trash from getting wet! I wish municipal corporations in India visit Meghalaya, instead of making trips to foreign countries, to learn how to manage city waste!

Street lamps in Sohra
Street lamps in Sohra

4. Reuse
It is amazing how the entire state is focused on reuse. In Sohra particularly, the street lights are covered with not glass or metal lampshades but by reused, half-cut plastic bottles/jars. It not only reduces the plastic pollution but also protects the lights from the constant rain in the region. And, again, it is durable, cost-effective, and easily replaceable. I found it quite an innovative model adopted not only by the people but also accepted by the state government. Imagine if we adopt the same for all of India in some manner – we could reuse a considerable amount of plastic and save on generating more waste.

5. Kindness matters
The culture of a state/region matters a lot when it comes to tourism. Unlike Uttar Pradesh, a state where you need to be wary of thieves, eve-teasers, fake guides, etc. around the tourist spots, touring Meghalaya is very safe. People are generally kind. Even the very low-income groups living in remote areas are kind in offering help if you need it. In my five-day tour, there are several instances where we stopped for tea and snacks and witnessed locals’ kindness towards each other, be it a free tea or a free ride or an affectionate bowl of soup! When people are happy, and share a hearty smile, the general mood/the environment is light. In Meghalaya, especially in Sohra, one could feel it almost everywhere.

6. Endurance
Living in the hills can teach you a lot. Life in the hills is hard, the weather conditions, the distances, the lack of proper livelihood, the lack of facilities, etc. make living daily life quite a task. I believe endurance comes naturally to the people who live in the hills. In Meghalaya too I found that people have far more endurance and acceptance of life as is than we who live in the well-provided for environments. I find that quite admirable. To learn to live life at its pace, not rush it or fret about it, is something one could learn from them.

Flowers on the roadside in Sohra
Flowers on the roadside in Sohra

7. Care for nature
Nearly every household in Meghalaya is a garden! No matter the size of the house, every home is well kept with nice little windows and white lace curtains, and a welcoming garden of flowers or an alley of potted plants. People are very careful about preserving nature. They care for it, nurture it, and protect it diligently. I also found that people are quite conscious of how their actions could harm nature and they try avoiding them. A conscious effort not to litter is just one of the things that’s on the list. And that is why all over the state one can see clean, abundant flowerbeds on the roadside, grasslands, flowers and vegetable gardens in the houses, well-maintained parks and lakes, and untouched natural beauty. I feel much of Meghalaya’s beauty is nature’s gift to its inhabitants for the care they offer towards its upkeep.

8. Live like a community
Last but not least, I found a great camaraderie and a sense of community in the people of Meghalaya. It makes a lot of difference to a tourist to see the people of a state as one community, and a welcoming one at that! In a 10-day tour, I never saw a fight, heard no arguments, no abuses, no accidents. I am not doubting that they all must be existing but no one was washing their dirty linen in public. Why I point this out is because there are places where the behavior of the locals among themselves can tell a lot about the culture of the state, which at times is not a pleasant realization. I feel that people in Meghalaya are aware that they are a tourist-friendly state and they are supposed to behave responsibly. It almost looks like there is an understanding among them and certain behavior is promoted as a community.

I hope this list evokes curiosity in you to visit this beautiful state and contribute to its economy. Do write in if ever you visit Meghalaya and are able to observe any of these eight things. It would be great to learn from your experience. Also, I hope someday someone will take inspiration from this to start making amends, at home, and drive change to make our cities technologically advanced, yet naturally beautiful.

I wish for a world of empathy

I wish for a world of empathy


Disability
Photo by Yomex Owo on Unsplash

My recent and the first tour to the US opened my eyes to a whole new world which was so fantastically friendly for the differently-abled. I wonder why we in India cannot make it the same! It is not so much about the economy or the wealth a nation has. I am sure it has more to do with the culture itself  —  with the way we think and look towards the differently-abled.

Nearly everyone I crossed on the streets of America – in the shops, on the ship, in the desert — everywhere — had the same regard for the disabled and gave way for priority access to them at the cost of waiting a little more for their turn. It was one of the most humbling experiences in my life.

I am thankful to all those people for the courtesy they extended and made my wheelchair-bound mother feel equal in every way.

It was the tourist season at the time when we were there and therefore many times we were part of large groups at entry and exit points of tourist spots. People from all over the world were there and yet everyone was polite to the differently-abled and extended a helping hand whenever they felt that someone requires assistance.

I feel sad to see the state of things at home, in my country. We have somehow forgotten our basic culture of being courteous and to respect everyone.

The attitude towards this small group of society (of the differently-abled) is of neglect, ignorance, and indifference. Shameful to say the least! While towns are turning into cities, businesses are willing to spend millions on lavish decor and swanky lifts but not on creating ramps and easy access for the differently-abled in their offices, shops, or malls.

It is nearly impossible for a differently-abled or a wheelchair-bound to navigate in India – we do not have proper pavements, roads are uneven, there is absolutely no way they can cross a road and get onto a pavement safely (we do not have those wheelchair ramps on any traffic light), most malls and shops have stairs at the entrance as the initial access point, and certainly no one wants to wait or give way to the differently-abled. In fact, most people take advantage of the slow speed of such a lot and run ahead of them to save their spot. That’s sheer apathy in action.

I am not sure how we Indians will ever change and imbibe empathy. I am not even sure how to make my countrymen understand the importance of being nice and being considerate towards the differently-abled. A minuscule percentage of people/not-for-profit organizations work towards helping the differently-abled but no one ever demands an equal place for them, an equal infrastructure for them. The efforts are clearly unable to move the needle. All of them, including the state governments, seem to be busy attaining something except cleanliness, hygiene, health, quality of life, ease of access, and empathy.

The difference between us and America is that there it is a law to create ease of access for the differently-abled and that law applies to governments, shop owners, infrastructure agencies who build roads, hospitality industry, everyone. So every service is meant first for the differently-abled and then made available for the able folks. The key is – the law is enforced to the core. Honestly. The intent is to make everyone in society feel equal and safe and nearly everyone works towards it, together.

Will any government in India ever be able to enforce such a law and lead that change? Will my people ever realise what society they are creating by choosing apathy over empathy? I love my country and I wish that someday this world of mine becomes equally safe and accessible for the differently-abled.

If we believe, we can

If we believe, we can


During my recent tour of the United States of America, I had the chance to visit the famous Niagara Falls. It was a beautiful sight! However, what I found more interesting was the movie that was shown just before the visitors enter the Cave of the Winds  — a passage that takes you close to the “bridal veil” (waterfall).

In the movie, I was dumbstruck to see that the site of the Niagara Falls was once a private industrial land where several factories used to push their waste into a bunch of natural waterfalls in the area, choking the water bodies and killing the area’s entire flora and fauna in the process.

NiagraToday, the Niagara Falls that we see are a super cool example of what human beings can do, if they unite towards common good. Seeing the plight of natural beauty and resource, a few thought leaders came together and started a movement to remove the factories. Soon people came together to dwell on how the site could be revived, and then what we see today is an artist’s impression that was turned into reality after much on-site engineering and restructuring.

And now the same site is home to one of the world’s most spectacular waterfalls! It shows the power of the human will, belief, and determination. Loved it!