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  • Writer's pictureGarima Raghuvanshy

#19 Kwikstar Tmung

(Names have not been changed in this summary Tmung spoke in Khasi during our conversation, and I spoke in English. Khraw translated for both us, a big thank you to him!)

Kwikstar Tmung is 51 years old. She lives in Diwon village, Ri Bhoi district, Meghalaya. She is a third-generation natural dyer, yarn spinner, and weaver. As a child Tmung studied in the village school, where they were taught in Khasi and English. But she is not comfortable speaking English. Khraw, from mueZart, is happy to translate. At mueZart he looks after logistics, partnership with artisans, supply chain, and admin work.

Tmung learnt natural dyeing, spinning, and weaving from her mother, who learnt it from her mother. Tmung works mostly with Eri silk and cotton. She uses only natural ingredients like iron ore, lemon water, and lac to dye the yarn. All ingredients she needs for dyeing are available in her village and in the forest nearby, with the exception of lac which she has to buy. In the past Tmung’s mother used to make the dress worn for Shad Nongkrem, a festival and traditional dance in Meghalaya. She taught Tmung and her sisters how to spin, dye, and weave, so that they could help her cater to the demand for these dresses. Tmung used to weave before going to school, and after coming back from school at 3, she would weave again. Tmung’s mother would sell the dresses in Umden market in Ri Bhoi district, and with the money earned she would educate her daughters.

Tmung is also a farmer. She grows paddy in her family’s fairly large agricultural land. Over the year it yields about 100 bags of rice, enough for her family, with some left over to be shared with her mother and other relatives. At the moment Tmung already has the rice from her field, but it needs to be processed in a machine. She needs to dry it first, she hasn’t dried the rice, and the person who has the machine is not available right now due to the lockdown. So she is buying local rice from the government.

Diwon, Tmung’s village, is 75 kms from Shillong. 265 households live in the village. Out of these, 200 households are weavers and the rest are farmers. Of the 200 households who are weavers, only 25 weave Eri silk. The other households weave with wool or cotton and make bags and so on. Households weaving Eri silk make shawls, scarves, and things like that. Of these 25 households, only 5-6 know natural dyeing. Tmung is the most popular natural dyer in her village. She did not say this, but Khraw knows that she’s the one who knows most colours in the village.

Before the lockdown, Tmung would wake up early in the morning and do household chores like cleaning. From 9 am to 5 pm she would dye yarn, mostly for mueZart, her primary customer, and sometimes for a few other customers. Four people would help her, they’d come from Umkon village to assist in the dyeing process. While waiting for the dye to catch, Tmung and the others would spin more yarn. When there is no yarn to dye, Tmung would process cocoons sent by mueZart. After 5 pm Tmung would spin yarn once again, even while she sat and talked with her family.

In the lockdown Tmung cannot work freely. It is difficult for her. The people who used to help her cannot come from their village. So now, two of her four sons, all of whom she has trained, help her with her work. Dyeing, spinning, and cocoon processing are Tmung’s only source of income. Before the lockdown she made about 30,000 rupees a month spinning, dyeing, and weaving for mueZart. Now with the lockdown her income is less than half, about 10,000 to 15,000 rupees. Khraw adds that mueZart tries to help as much as they can, but they cannot deliver cocoons or yarn to Tmung because there is no transportation during the lockdown. Since she cannot dye yarn, Tmung is processing the cocoons they had sent before the lockdown. Khraw explains that Tmung is a hard-working person, someone nice to work with. Her yarns are also very beautiful and mueZart would like to invest more in her.

The elders in Diwon are very strict about the lockdown. Tmung cannot even go to her mother’s house. People can only leave their houses once a week to go to the market between 9 am and 1pm. At the market they are able to get what they need, and they maintain one mtr distance as advised by the government. There is complete silence in the village during the lockdown. Only from this Monday restrictions have been relaxed a bit and the market is open throughout the week from 9 am to 5 pm. Farmers are also allowed to go to their fields, but they cannot be more than 4 people together, and they are not allowed to mix up with farmers from other families. In the fields they must maintain one mtr distance.

Tmung doesn’t know much about doctors in her village at this time. She has not gone out of her house and she hasn’t come in contact with anyone except her immediate family. There has been no announcement by the headman regarding doctors or something like that. Announcements have been made only at moments like when rice was being given out by the government. However, Khraw has been in touch with some other people he works with in Diwon. He wants to be in touch with them not only during good times, but also through bad times. So he called them last week, and from them he heard that doctors are coming to the village, and people have been told to visit the Community Health Centre (CHC) if they feel sick. At the CHC doctors are wearing masks, headgear, and gloves, not more than that. Not the entire PPE or something. The closest civil hospital is 30 kms away from Diwon, in Nongpoh village, the HQ of Ri Bhoi district.

There have been no cases of Covid-19 in Diwon, and not in the entire Ri Bhoi district either. In rural areas in Meghalaya there are no cases till date. All 11 cases in the state are in East Khasi Hills district, which includes the city of Shillong, where Khraw lives and where mueZart’s office is. The only testing facility in the state is in Shillong. Students and others have been coming back to Meghalaya from different states and from abroad as well. When they come back the government screens/tests them. Then they are sent to their villages. In Diwon the village headman has decided that people coming back from outside have to spend 14 days in a quarantine house before entering back into the village. Tmung has heard that at the moment there are 6-10 people in the quarantine house in Diwon. Under the leadership of the headman and village elders Tmung’s village has given a mask to each and every person free of cost.

Tmung is in a self-help group. Khraw shares that in Meghalaya most villages have self-help groups. Tmung’s group continues to have meetings during the lockdown. They cannot come together so they have meetings via video calling. Her group has collected some money, whatever each one could contribute, and they are giving it to poor families in the village. They are helping each other in the lockdown. Most people in her village obey the rules, but there are some who don’t want to obey, who don’t want to wear the mask, who want to go out. But they are being controlled by the headman.

Diwon is at the border with Assam. In normal circumstances, people from her village go to Assam to buy vegetables and other products to sell back in the village. Tmung is scared that in the coming weeks when the lockdown in her district will be relaxed, if these people who regularly go to Assam start going again and get infected, the virus will spread in Diwon. Khraw adds that in Assam there are so many positive cases, like there are those muslims who went to that event in Delhi. He is just giving an example; he does not mean anything by it. Kharw feels if movement to Assam is controlled by the government or the headman, then infections will not spread as Tmung fears.

Tmung is very afraid about this disease coming to her district, to her village. Her district is not like other districts and our country is not like US, which can handle this pandemic disease. She feels that if this virus comes to her district the village people cannot control it, and it will be very difficult. Khraw adds that apart from transportation issues, this is also one of the reasons mueZart is not sending yarn to Diwon.

If the lockdown continues for two or three or four months people in Tmung’s village will face difficulty. Because they cannot sell their products and they want that freedom to do what they used to do in the past. Tmung also wants her freedom. She used to go to church every Sunday, now it has been almost 5-6 Sundays since she has gone. She feels sad and wants the time when everything will be normal again. She doesn’t have anything to say about what more could have been done, or what could have been done better by the government.

Tmung’s husband is in the police. He has not been able to come to the village since the lockdown started, he has to attend to his duties. She is in touch with him over the phone. She worries about him. The positive of the lockdown is that it unites the rest of her family. All of her sons are at home. Usually they are not able to spend time together. But now they are, and it helps to bind the family.

She doesn’t have much to say, but Tmung just wants to add that she wants this pandemic disease to end, for this virus to end in the whole world. In the future when the times comes and she cannot do natural dyeing anymore, Tmung wants her children to take it forward. At the moment she wants to continue her dyeing, she wants to go to the forest to collect ingredients – she doesn’t want the ingredients to go to waste.


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