Artist Residency at Basar

[ Anil Bairwal ]
When I signed up for the Artist Residency at Basar, I did not know what to expect. Staying with the Galo community sounded interesting, but I was also apprehensive as I had never lived with a tribal community for such a long time.
I wondered about the type of environment that I would get and whether it would be conducive to writing. As I crossed the Brahamputra to get into Arunachal Pradesh, I worried about the type of poems that would come to me and the shape they would take.
In the run-up to the residency, I had spoken to several organisers from Basar. Everyone was friendly over the phone and I started looking forward to Galo hospitality. But when I spent my first evening with them, I realised that their hospitality would be something that I had never experienced before.
We sat around the traditional fireplace right in the middle of the kitchen-cum-living room of Tomo Basar, the president of GRK. After a glass of water, and a cup of green tea, we were introduced to poka, the local beer made from rice.
It was a special evening and a great introduction to some of the Galo customs. We were served dishes after dishes of local delicacies. All my apprehensions disappeared as we interacted with the locals till late in the evening.
As we went around the nearby villages the next few days, we were invited by many others to their houses. We realised that what we had experienced on the first evening is how Galo people spend most of their evenings. They get together with friends, sit around the fireplace and have long chats over poka. These evenings have become the most enjoyable feature of the residency and we have already made many new friends.
Over the course of these past 10 days, we have been further introduced to the Galo way of life. We have listened to their songs, watched their dances, observed nyibos perform ceremonies and listened to their folklores.
We have been to the forests to look at mithuns and partake in the marvellous views that the surrounding hills offer. We have watched rice husk being kindled, and being mixed with rice for the preparation of poka. We have watched fresh poka drip from the fermented rice and have been exposed to the ancient Galo wisdom.
Galo people are one of the friendliest people that I have ever come across. They are a little shy to begin with, and their women become too self-conscious when they see a camera being pointed at them, but they open up soon after. Since most of them also speak Hindi, I have been able to connect to them without any problem.
I feel that this residency program is one of the most significant initiatives taken by the people of Basar. Spending three weeks in the midst of the community, allows a cultural-exchange which is invaluable at many levels, particularly in bringing unity in diversity. I hope that other communities across India take cue from it and start similar programmes.
As I continue to immerse myself in these surroundings, I find that there is a lot to explore in Galo culture. Their symbols and traditions have started to find their way in my poems, which I hope to share at Basar Confluence. I also wonder if three weeks here will be enough for me. I have a feeling that I will extend my stay beyond the confluence and will keep coming back once the residency is over.