“Shhh! There need be silence,” she says, “A white chicken will meet its death.”
If there is any kind of water-spirit lingering beneath Barlekha’s renowned Madhabkunda waterfall in Moulvibazar District, what kind of spirit would she be? The gentle falls and cool, dark pool certainly look like a place where a spirit might dwell.
|The gate to Madhabkunda Eco-park.|
“Roll up! Roll up!” she says. “Get your clothes, plastic dolls, toys, chip packets and chanachur! Stock up on cold drinks or bottled water – my waterfall’s charms might make you thirsty. Fried snacks can satisfy, souvenirs bring joy!” The spirit of Madhabkunda is not shy of modernity.
|The pathway to the falls.|
|A kitchen in Madhab Kundo Punjee.|
She’s watching too – she must be – as the kettle boils on an old wood-fired stove in a Khasi kitchen on the other side of things, a room in smoke-stained blue that feels like it belongs in the snowy, dark winter of some faded Taiwanese hill town.
|In the punjee.|
She’s listening I imagine, further uphill as I speak to Wanbor Longdohgiri, the 32-year-old Montri – the headman of his village. He’s been the Montri for two and a half years now. His older brother held the post for nine before he retired. Another villager was then elected but it didn’t work out. So they chose him. “It’s like the work of ten people,” he says.
|Montri Wanbor "looking wise".|
|Madhabkunda waterfall is a Facebook star.|
“Now concentrate!” she says. It’s not the only photography going on. In the late afternoon the young lads are lining up, finding space. Watch them perch on the slippery rocks that edge the waterfall’s pool. In best checked shirt one outstretches arms as if to hold the sky. In the glowing white purity of nearly-brand-name sneakers he falls slightly backward while tilting head and smiling, as if fashionably struck by lightning.
|Facebook posing at Madhabkunda.|
His friend’s smart phone captures each post-able “Been to Madhabkunda” still. The water spirit must welcome each electronic click – as her waterfall’s fame grows.
|A house in the punjee.|
And, just an aside, perhaps those lads are seeking young ladies with those poses; but perhaps in the waterfall background, unseen, she is already there.
|The path to the falls at Madhabkunda.|
|Madhabkunda and the hint of a rainbow.|
But what sort of spirit is she really? Is she a benevolent pari or a malevolent prai? She remembers the wilderness. She’s hostess of the Eco Park. She’s observed the future coming. Every day she watches crowds leaving. And just maybe she dances under the full moon. Ancient, modern, pleasure, accident, crime, ritual, photo, plastic doll souvenir and chanachur: in that busy place the water spirit bears witness to humanity, all.
This article is published in Star Magazine, here: The Spirit of Madhabkunda