They came for the trees. They stayed for the climate. The British, drawn to the hills overlooking Bengal — it reminded them of Scotland they said — then proceeded to convert Meghalaya into Scotland by cutting the trees down. They made their own houses with some and and sent the rest by river into present-day Bangladesh.
Rolling hills. Stunning valleys. Wind-swept plains. No trees. Crucially, no trees. They hacked them all. Each and every single one of them. Well, they gave it their best.
The same trees that invited the rain, held the soil that absorbed it, turned it into life for the people who had been living there before the new immigrants.
With the trees fled the soil. It eroded with each gust of wind, each barrage of water that came with the rain, each tree that was now converted into a house. House of God. House of settler. House of industry. It did not matter. The trees and the soil quit in quick succession. Helped, no doubt, by settlers and the elements.
A century later, they dug into the ground for black gold. Lungs black with soot, they went at the coal. Little grew on top by now. Might as well dig in. Rape. Pillage. There is a similarity with which cultures treat nature and women that makes spines curl up in terror into the foetal position. The comparison is flawless, unfortunately.
Rainfall patterns have changed. It rains as much as it did earlier — highest rainfall in the world, mind you — but the number of rain-days in Meghalaya have reduced. So have the stories and fables surrounding Sohra’s rain. It was said that people could not dry their clothes for months on end during the monsoon, as recently as the previous century. They do not face such problems now. The rain still falls in waves but the distribution is all awry. The number of rain days is down by half. The intensity has doubled.
The problems have changed, as have the stories. A severe lack of top soil means a lack of water retention. The awesome ferocity of the downpours leads to a flood of water. The locals say that all the water from a downpour in Sohra flows into Bangladesh within minutes. Despite the amount of rain it receives, Sohra has been facing regular water shortages.
Sohra or as you may know it, Cherrapunjee. Water shortages.
Take your time. Digest that.
The coal, gone in some places and with a ban on it being mined, is now a dream gone black. No matter. People have now turned to the hills and the limestone that make up the hills. Trucks. Thousands of them. Loaded. Overloaded. Lined up, engines wailing. Huge stones strewn over pockmarked highways. Soon, these hills too will be spoken of in the past tense.
Hills are, yet, but just about. The forests are too, at least those considered sacred and in valleys too deep to puncture with roads.
Wonder what the British would have made of all this. They’ve long gone, but the seeds they have sown, are still spreading and sprouting.