The magic of market day at Sohra / Cherrapunjee is something to be experienced by the discerning tourist. It is not just a market place to buy and sell the produce / things alone but it is a socializing event. There are two types of markets – ‘Iewbah’ meaning Big Market and ‘Iewrit’ meaning small market.
Iewbah is held once in eight days. If this market day (Iewbah) falls on a Monday, the next ‘Iewbah’ will be on Tuesday. The advent of Christianity has brought some modifications to this rule, to enable people to devote Sunday to attend church services by preponing all Big Market days falling on Sunday to the preceding Saturday. However, these days you do see a few vendors turning up on Sunday – other than the ones who keep their shops open on all days of the week. The small market day i.e. ‘Iewrit’ is held on the 4th day from Iewbah.
When you come to Cherrapunjee try to manage your stay to fall around one of these Big Market days. You can mail us in advance for getting information about the market days. You can get the dates of current market days at Sohra from ‘Market Days’. You can see Cherrapunjee come alive on Iewbah with the Bazaar buses disgorging loads of people from all the surrounding villages. People of Sohra especially those having regular shops and those who vend on market days are all primed for a busy action filled day. There is anticipation in the air about that day’s turn out.
The Syiem of Sohra (King / Chieftain) has a toll tax collected from every vendor for the upkeep of the market place. The ‘Ambassador’ Taxies ordinarily meant to accommodate 6 people including the driver have people packed like sardines up to 12 or even more. The drivers have half their bum on the seat and manage to drive squeezing themselves between their door and their ‘kwai’ chewing fare. (Look up ‘Legends of the Place’ regarding the significant place ‘kwai’ has in Khasi hospitality – ‘Kwai’ is a combination of betel leaf, supari / areca nut / betel nut, lime and often times a pinch of tobacco.) The boot of the vehicle will be usually filled up with one or two pigs packed with their heads into a conical bamboo basket, baskets of vegetables or other produce being taken to the market. Sometimes 2 or 3 persons manage to sit in the boot with the lid up.
The village women wrapped up in checked woolen shawls (which tell tales of textile designs peculiar to Wales) whether it is cloudy and cold or sunny and warm, men with their smoke pipes taking a puff now and then ( again a legacy of the Welsh missionaries) some dressed up well and smartly turned up with lipsticks, face creams, high heels, designer jeans and leather jackets and some in suit that has not been washed or pressed for a long time, village men with unwashed turbans and pants with patch work, village women in sloppily clad jingersia busy arranging and minding their wares or lost in their own world in their hurry for making their purchases make up the market melee.
The market has different departments for meat – pork, beef, fish, dry fish, chicken (Occasionally the prohibited deer meat is also put up for sale.), vegetables, fruits, bamboo baskets, iron implements for agriculture, construction work and home uses, beaten rice, bakery products, spices, tobacco, textiles, ready made garments and furniture. When the sky opens up in torrents which often is the case during the monsoon months, the milling crowd from Sohra town and the villages all around can be seen scurrying around with the traditional rain shield ‘kunup’, all types of umbrellas of different colours and also wrapped up in colourful plastic sheets.
The area around the market place is choked with buses and taxies moving at snail pace plying people to and fro the market place. Sometimes you can get caught up in the traffic for the better part of half an hour during the peak hours. The few big shops around the market place have extra helpers on market days to help them to manage the buying crowd. Cherra Shopping Centre is one such ‘departmental store’ where one can buy almost everything – provisions, electricals, electronics, music systems, cameras, film rolls, building tools, clothes, bags, suitcases, shoes, fancy articles, imitation jewellery, music and video CDs, hardware, paints and welding rods. ‘Paduh Rolin Tariang and his children Kordor and Mai Dohling’ who own the place are really smart hard working business people. Bah Phos Tariang and his children are busy selling Recharge Vouchers and new mobile connections, taking out photo copies of documents and creating and printing documents with their computers. Bah David Paswett of K.L. Paswett Store is animated while selling fishing equipment, a passion he shares with his clients while also selling hardware and newspapers.
There seems to be no progressive effort taken for easing the traffic congestion and for the scientific management of the flow of traffic on market days by providing easy exit without clogging the only entry point. These days there is a person directing the traffic and helping to ease the traffic jams around the market place.
Market day in Sohra is the day when all the Government Offices and Extension Services have full attendance of their staff. People having work at these offices can often times meet the office people only on market days. The system of keeping the offices manned throughout the week by a couple of staff with nobody losing attendance is an art perfected in all these offices. The casualty, of course, is the involvement and commitment of these educated elite for the development of these backward places and their underprivileged brethren who are in need of help to better their lot. Most of them contribute to the earnings of the Sumo Shuttle Taxi operators by retracting to their hearths in Shillong on those days they grace their office with their presence. No one has any qualms about accepting the full pay packet at the end of the month. So one can understand the slow pace of development of this area despite government initiatives through its various arms.
Market day also finds the Civil Hospital and the private clinics of medical practitioners filled with patients – pregnant women, mothers with babies, young and old and those who are cutting short their life span with their passionate liking for the local brew ‘ka kiat’ – hailing from all the surrounding villages. It is a busy day for everyone including the medical personnel, much in contrast to other weekdays.
By evening kerosene lamp stands called ‘dongmusa’ – originally made of cut bamboo with kerosene in the cavity and cotton rags as wicks but now metal replicas replacing some – are propped up around the market place for the late buyers and bargain seekers. The day draws to a close around 7 p.m. for the buyers, vendors, taxi and bus drivers, helpers, porters and shopkeepers. The major buying crowd would have dissipated by 5 p.m.. For many, a sip of the locally brewed rice beer or Indian made foreign liquor (rum/whiskies/vodka/gin) caps another hectic market day.
Try to identify the persons in the above pictures on one of the Market Days of Cherrapunjee.