Come on! It is very strong. It can live up to 500 years, she said.
I followed her, a bit nervous, cautiously taking one step at a time. It was the first time that I was crossing a bridge entirely made of live tree roots, a wonderful creation in the forests of Meghalaya. At the other end, I was exhilarated and so was Indari.
I met Indari when my husband was posted in Meghalaya, a few years ago. At 15, she was the youngest member of a Khasi family that lived a short walk from our accommodation. Her beautiful round face, shining monolid eyes and sleek straight hair made her look like a Japanese doll. She sensed my love for nature and my perfect Hindi accent in the first meet and the deal was sealed. Hindi classes and then nature walk.
I enjoyed trips with her to lush green coniferous forests from limestone caves to rippling waterfalls and soon, we were forging a bond that further led me to the wonderful, unique world of the Khasi people. The tribe in Meghalaya is one of the few matrilineal groups in the world which follow a form of family life in which the line of descent is through mothers lineage and inheritance of ancestral property is through the youngest daughter.
The youngest daughter also acts as the priestess of the family in performing rituals and it is her duty to do the death rites of her family members. The house of the youngest daughter is regarded as a refuge to all her family members, including her elder unmarried or widowed brother and sister.
In other parts of India where women generally do not get most of these rights or freedoms, a peep into the Khasi world was quite fascinating for me. It was the sense of being the paramount authority in the family that made Indari act more mature than her age. Sometimes I felt like she is an old soul in a young body. She had her self-discovered solution for every problem and a well-analysed plan for every goal. She innocently, sincerely believed that she can heal any pain.
During my stay there I met other Khasi women also, some of them highly educated and working as headmistresses, college professors or in state organisations. Whatever they were, there was one thing common in all of them their impeccable, confident smile, which is unforgettable.
Before we shifted from there, my last trip with Indari was a birdwatching tour. After a short trek, we were at a point where we could see a wide variety of birds.
Look! She is so small and delicate, I exclaimed, looking through my binoculars, pointing at a colourful bird in the flock which looked more like a female bird.
Oh yes! But you know what? They all have their own wings. Nature provides equal care to all and they all fly to equal heights, she said thoughtfully and started playing with the trekking pole.
I stood there transfixed. Totally absorbed in the deep meaning of her words.
The picture of that beautiful, colourful bird still decorates the wall of my living room as her words decorate my imagination.
The rights of women and equal opportunities to girls is a much-discussed and debated issue. Despite time to time changes in the social structure, girls in many parts of our country have still to achieve a lot to have equal status with boys and this, to a large extent, requires change in the archaic mindset of a patriarchal society which views girls as a liability.
On getting enough love, support and encouragement from their family, girls can win against all odds and become the best version of themselves. A radical change should start from the family itself, because the real change comes, not by rules and laws, but with the change of mindsets. Girls in many parts of our country, including a small, innocent girl somewhere in me, heartily wish to see that change.