Orange County: amazing Tura of the Garo Hills

By Raza R Haque

Tinti, the cook at the Central Agricultural University (CAU) – Tura campus guesthouse, though a local Garo boy cooked great Punjabi food. He had no formal culinary training though. Tinti carefully decorated the mess table with oranges at every meal. “Tinti – oranges at breakfast; oranges at lunch; oranges at dinner – what kind of table planning is this?” I teased him. I did not let him know that I loved those oranges.

“You will not get oranges like this anywhere – that taste like real oranges. This is the real taste of orange. What else we have in Tura to serve you excepting these oranges?” He smiled.

 “Ah, these oranges taste great, Tinti!”  I told him having gobbled one. “Really Sir, I must get more for you then”, Tinti exclaimed.

I love oranges. There is something great about this citrus fruit. The green ones are hard and tangy, and the ripe are sweet yet fresh!   

I was in Tura, the HQ of five Garo Hill districts of Meghalaya, last December. Tura boasts to be the abode of oranges. If you love oranges then do not miss to be there around Christmas – Tura would be gaudily painted orange. So, good to correct the visual senses – how the actual orange colour synthesised naturally by green plants appear under clear sunshine, unaltered by pollution, haze or mist!

On the roadside or the bazaar, on the left or the right one would see oranges all around.  Big and small in baskets or piled, these oranges are mostly attended by women.   Like the Khasis, the Garo women too are fond of kwai, betel leaf with a dose of areca nut.  They would smile with the kwai laden red lips in a welcoming gesture and one just can’t wait negotiating the price of the oranges.

 They sell oranges in lots of four, eight or 12 and display the lots in pyramidal patterns. No bargaining!  But on buying more one could get baksis, bonus of extra number of oranges.

The Garos are simple people and so is their obvious way handling business.

A Khasi friend at CAU living there for some time, Mr Lingdoh, told me about the endemic oranges of Garo Hills – Memang Narang. Garos call oranges as narang. Mainland India’s narangi, right? Is there a connect between the Garos and the mainland Indians through the nomenclature of orange?

Memang has ethno-medicinal values. It seems researchers make frequent visits to the Garo Hills to explore its bio-prospects and research potentials. I went around looking for memang but had to return without success. A student of Home Science told me that women from far off villages bring memang to Tura market. I kept my eyes open all through my time in Tura and through my return journey, till the Meghalaya-Assam border, for memang. Women sitting with piles of oranges by the roadside do not sell memang for its extremely sour taste, which visitors do not like. I had to, therefore, console myself for not getting to see memang and buy a few.

Tura is a clean and green city. Lovely roads. No smelly solid wastes around the municipal dustbins. Unusual of typical Indian cities! Governments after government, year after year India’s efforts have shown a bit of change yet just marginal.

My driver, a smart Manipuri boy, and I entered the newly built municipal shopping complex (Urban Hub). Meat, fish, veggies and groceries on the ground floor, and garments and other fancy items on the first. No plastics. Vendors use banana leaves for packing meat, fish or vegetable. Banana leaves come in nicely packed rolls for the vendors. This reminded me of the banana market of Darangiri, known to be the Asia’s largest, just down in the plain of Goalpara district. The banana growers would definitely get some incremental revenue from the leaves if plastics could be kept away from our society.

Solid waste management of cities is a difficult task due to too much of waste production in too little time, which also becomes all the more difficult due to unscrupulous mixing of various types of wastes together with plastics. Plastic has been a major challenge before mankind today for its resistance to biological degradation. Segregation of degradable and non-degradable wastes at source is the key to better management of municipal wastes. Therefore, citizen’s individual participation is imminent to help civic authorities.  

“I did not know this – Tura without plastics!”  I murmured.

“No, people of Tura are law abiding.”  – My driver corrected me. – “They obey the municipality orders happily.”

We hurriedly returned to the guesthouse since the Dean of CAU-Tura, an astute lady administrator hailing from South India, was waiting for us there after the day’s work. She took good care of me and ensured that Tinti cooked good food, and the hot water geyser was working.  In fact Tinti was picked and brushed by her for taking care of the kitchen at the guesthouse.

“Just to get some oranges, Madam.” –  I told her joyfully on reaching.

 “Only oranges. What else you get here? No good food. No good shops. It is just waste of time.” She responded with a bored expression. I enquired with a teacher accompanying the Dean if anything wrong happened. “Her car remained unlocked till the end of the office hour. So, Madam was upset.” He said to me quietly.

Just then my friend Mr Lyngdoh came to the guesthouse. “So many oranges! What are you going to do with these oranges? Let us go to the city. I will show you a few good shops.” Mr Lyngdoh tendered a warm offer.

“I am going to eat a few of these and take the rest home for my family and friends.” –  I replied. -“Okay. Let us go for few more oranges. I did not get enough. Need few more for my scholars.” Mr Lyngdoh and I headed the Urban Hub again.

Shops are modern, mostly run by women. There at the Urban Hub I met Nelorie Marak, a young educated entrepreneur.  She speaks fluent English, cogent enough to aid her work. I could forsee a successful big-time business person in her because of her sharp entrepreneurial sense and confidence. I was surprised to learn that she makes frequent trips to Thailand to buy assorted items for her shop. Nelorie understands the mind of the trendy Garo young generation.

Nelorie told me that Tura youths are very fashion trendy. Price is not a factor. As long as she had chic and fashionable stuff in her shop, which she collected from several destinations, she never had to worry about her business.

The people of Tura start Christmas celebrations much ahead of Christmas. Decorative lights are seen in most houses. Folks sing and celebrate through the nights. While returning to the guesthouse Mr. Lyngdoh who is a Christian from Shillong told me that the people of Tura celebrate Christmas with greater vigour.  The loud songs and music from the neighbouring village kept me awake through the night. As I had to leave for home next morning I did not mind lending my ear to the rhythms of the songs that were characteristically unique. Exclusivity is typical of folk songs, which was obvious in the rhythms.

Tura to Tezpur is a long distance by a cab. So, I started early. After we crossed the inter-state border, I dozed off for some time. When I woke up and enquired with the cab driver about the distance we had covered, he told me that we were just about to get Guwahati in another 40-45 km or so. We stopped at a small highway side bazaar – Bamunigaon – for tea. A few women selling oranges caught my eyes.

Ah, those oranges! “What are these smaller ones with the branch stick tied in bundles?”  I asked the ladies curiously.

Memang” – one of them replied.

Memang narang?”  I went ahead asking.

“Oh, you speak Garo? We all are Garo women from nearby village.” – One among them looked at me amazed and said to me in Assamese. – “Yes, Memang narang. These are special oranges. You will love them.”

(Pic courtesy berkeleywellness.com)

Raza R Haque

Dr Raza R Haque teaches environment at Tezpur University, Tezpur.

  • MUHAMMED MUAAZ

    Eager to know more about this kind of people