FeatureSunday Monitor

Where deadwood comes alive

Aminda Ransagre village is one man’s dream & a visitor’s delight

Aminda Rangsagre village in Gambegre block is about 25 km from Tura town. The dusty and damaged Tura-Dalu Road leads to a black-topped path. As one enters the village, one is welcomed by a stone carving — two hands embracing a stone, as if welcoming any stranger who desires to explore the surprises amid the greens.

The West Garo Hills village is strange no more. The state government recently awarded Aminda Rangsagre for Development of Arts and Crafts. It is the ‘living woodcrafts museum’ in the state and one would understand the aptness of the title at the entrance.

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The village and its periphery are dotted with stone and wood carvings, peeping out of the foliage almost in a phantasmagorical way. The blind stare of a stony face and the serene Buddha-like countenance of the lifeless boulder beside prepare a first-time visitor for more surprises. Handum Marak has rightly chosen the nooks for his handiworks.

Handum Marak’s woodwork in the mini-museum. Photo by MM

The black-topped path crosses a bustling market to reach the village. On both sides are unfinished and old wood carvings. Beside a shed under which wood pieces are stacked, a hut with carved wooden pillars stands as a welcoming note to visitors. The intricate works are testimony to the artiste’s expertise and experience.

Marak’s workshop is situated a few yards away from the ornamented hut. He does not speak any language other than Garo. When Sunday Monitor requested him to narrate the story of his journey in woodcraft, he politely declined. A few minutes later, he introduced the reporters to an accomplice who spoke Hindi, and through him, he guided the visitors to a fenced plot of land. There were installations by him — the dead coming alive in different forms and characters, all rooted in Garo culture and tradition — all of which defined one man’s obsession to give life to deadwood.

Marak started wood carving in 1999. He was 23 and was curious to see how a piece of deadwood could transform into a natural ornamentation for the quaint village. “I would carve small articles out of rejected wood pieces. The neighbours would appreciate my work and even buy the wooden crafts. This piqued my interest and I continued working on more challenging works,” he told Sunday Monitor through a translator.

The artiste’s first creation was a Garo woman performing Wangala dance.

Marak is the first person in the family, and even in the village, to start woodcraft. He neither had a master nor did he get guidance from the elders in the family. “I was deeply interested in this form of art and taught myself to achieve finesse,” he said.

The artiste. Photo by MM

On the way to the workshop, one could see a dead tree with carved branches. The faces of Ambi (grandmother) and Atchu (grandfather) smile down from the lifeless arms of the tree. A traditional Garo woman looks askance from a distance. A little ahead is the artiste’s storehouse. A few works — a bust of popular Garo leader late PA Sangma takes the centre stage — are always displayed for visitors to enjoy and prospective buyers to choose from. Marak’s works range from Rs 2,500 to Rs 1 lakh.

The workshop is an open space with just a tin roof above. An armchair, also made by Marak, stood near a rack full of wooden figurines, ready to embrace a fatigued traveller in a warm October afternoon. A few tools of various sizes were on the table. Marak’s work-in-progress was right outside the tin shed. He is a bachelor and stays with his sister’s family. The courtyard was clean. So was the village, which is the cleanest hamlet in Garo Hills. Aminda Rangsa won the Nirmal Gram Puraskar in 2011 for its cleanliness. Hand-made cane dustbins can be seen at every corner of the village and none, not even the children, was found littering mindlessly. It is a perfect setting for open-air art installations and Marak has utilised the space.

Though the artiste never had a teacher, he has taught many to make woodcraft. “The two apprentices that I had last left after they learned the art. Now, I am the only person doing this work in the village,” said Marak, whose works were first recognised in 2006 when the district administration awarded him. In 2018, he received the state Tirot Sing Award.

Prestone R. Marak, a fellow villager, helps the artiste in his workshop. “I know a bit about wood carvings. I only help Dada (elder brother) at times,” said Prestone in broken Hindi and Bengali. He informed that another artiste by the name Roshan Sangma works in the neighbouring village. However, Sunday Monitor could not meet him.

No fund

The site where most of Marak’s installations are kept is a small space with dense foliage covering the path. Cyclone Sitrang a day before also left its footmarks as broken branches and heaps of leaves covered most part of the land. “I am planning to build a natural museum in the village where all my installations will be put up. But we need money for that. The village society has already promised me land,” informed Marak, adding that though the government has given a certificate for arts and crafts, no money has come.

To a query, Marak said he participated in several exhibitions in the past, but at present, he is busy with work as well as earning money. For a daily wage earner, it becomes an ordeal to balance livelihood and passion. “I do conduct workshops in schools and privately. Woodwork takes more than 2-3 months, and I barely get time to move outside my village,” he said as he took the visitors around the mini-museum.

A broken branch, a felled tree, and a dead trunk, all come alive in Marak’s museum in the form of a playful young woman wooing her lover with her musical instrument, or a mother toed by her toddler son, or a carefree woman trying to break free.

No end to surprises

The herbal doctor. Photo by MM

The Garo village has more surprises than one can imagine. While Marak’s creations can leave one speechless, the signboard outside Habel Ch Momin’s herbal care centre, Sam-Achik, is unexpected in the hamlet. The board in English gives details of the centre, which is described as a Bio-Resources Development Centre.

Momin and his wife Mollina Marak, an Anganwadi worker, were welcoming. The 56-year-old doctor looked older than his age but he had an easy gait of a youngster. “I am a certified herbal doctor and have been practising for decades now. I learned about natural medicine from my guru in Guwahati,” Momin said.

The doctor collects medicinal plants from the nearby forest. Some frequently used varieties are in his garden. “I treat people with high blood pressure, stomach ache, and high fever, among others,” he added. Unlike others, he spoke broken English and understood Bengali.

Aminda Rangsagre, which has around 40 households, is a visitor’s delight. From the hidden stone carvings, faces hanging from trees, the lush green in and around the village, arches made by hanging branches, and an open-air museum, to a soft-spoken herbal doctor with twinkling eyes and years of experience in the wilderness, and a quiet artiste, the place can be enchanting.

~ Team Sunday Monitor

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