A bit about me
As a new contributor to Macfilos, a word of introduction. Mostly I take pictures only when I’m travelling. In Delhi, I don’t carry a camera when I’m out and about. But at least once a year I like to get out of the city and use that opportunity to take some pictures. A few years ago North-East India beckoned — I’d never been there. That was in 2014. I’ve gone back every year since, sometimes twice, once even three times in the year. And along the way I discovered an intriguing new sport, Teer
North-East India is a collection of states we like to refer to as the Seven Sisters. They are made up of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Tripura. They have a younger “brother” too, the state of Sikkim.
Together, they share their borders with Tibet, China, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan. Getting to any of the north-east states means a two-and-a-half-hour flight out of Delhi to Guwahati, Dibrugarh or Jorhat in Assam. You can imagine the landscape, people, language, customs and food are all very different from Delhi.
The trip to Meghalaya
Last June, my wife came along when I went back to Meghalaya. The state is fortunate to have some of the best highways in the North-East, part of the Asian Highway network, cutting through the Khasi hills and reducing travel time. Accompanying us on the trip was my trusty and knowledgeable guide and friend, Bamin Baro from Arunachal, who met us at the airport in Guwahati with his niece, Guddi, a guide in her own right. We spent eight glorious days in Shillong (the state capital), Cherrapunjee (the former record holder for the most amount of rainfall in the world), and Mawlynnong (the cleanest village in the country).
On our second day in Shillong, Baro introduced us to Teer. I’d never heard of it before on an earlier trip to Meghalaya, but apparently it is an archery contest held every day in Shillong where people bet on the results. Though archery has been for centuries a traditional sport of the Khasis, a local tribe, betting was a more recent development. It was banned in the 1970s, despite protestations by the bookies, and legalised only after the Government realised in 1982 that it was a good source of revenue. Today it employs thousands, mostly women, at bookie counters all over the city. As the results of the contests are declared every evening, the winning numbers are posted on teer signboards.
To get to the teer grounds we left our car near Ward’s Lake and took a taxi to the Polo Ground. The sport is a big draw for cabbies so getting a ride home shouldn’t be a problem. The venue was a bit of a surprise. I had expected it to be held in an open field like a sports ground. But it was a walled empty plot with a semicircular covered corridor running around the periphery. Already there were people waiting for the 3.30 pm start.
The rules of the contest are pretty simple. Every day two clubs compete against each other over two rounds. In each round, fifty archers shoot between ten and thirty arrows each at a straw target, tied to a stake in the ground, for an allotted time of five minutes. At the end of that time, two officials yank up a cloth to cover the target. Arrows that hit their mark are sorted into bundles of ten. Officials count the arrows and the last two digits of the total count are declared the winning numbers. For example, if of the 1,500 arrows shot in a round, 1,050 hit their target the winning number for the round would be 50. Simple, eh?
Calculating the winning number
Choosing a winning number is a tad more complicated. That involves knowledge of the skill level of the competing teams. If a team is considered strong then the percentage of arrows finding their mark should be high. If, on the other hand, one considered the archers not very skilful then one could hedge one’s bet on a lower winning percentage.
There is, however, a more interesting way to predict a winning number by interpreting one’s dream from the night before. The presence of a man or woman in the dream means one should bet on a 6 or 5. If in the dream a man and woman appeared to be quarrelling then the winning number would be 37. Dreams of an erotic nature mean one should place winning bets on 03, 08, 13 and so forth. Dreams around money mean 00, 14, 15 and so on. There are always a couple of guys you can find who would swear by this method.
Bookies sat behind desks, open notebooks at hand, speaking into their cell phones, jotting down bets coming in from all over the state. We hadn’t quite understood the rules yet. Nevertheless, I put 10 bucks down on number 25 to win. Baro put his wager on number 33 (on my advice, which turned out to be bad). We received a little piece of paper each with the numbers on them as the receipt for our bets.
When the announcement came over the speaker for the contest to begin, archers who had taken up positions around the corridor dropped to their haunches and raised their bows. Arrows whizzed past, thudding into the target which soon bristled like a hedgehog. The chap nearest us went about drawing his bow unhurriedly and mechanically. As the time limit approached, an official counted down the seconds. At time up, two officials at either end of a long rope yanked up a gunny cloth and prevented any further shots from reaching the target. Round one was over in ten minutes.
After the round, the arrows were collected, sorted and counted according to their serial numbers. Spectators gathered around and I spotted a couple of foreigners as well. Arrows in bundles of ten were counted and placed in a sort of grid in the ground. The arrows that don’t make a full bundle of ten were also counted. For example, if there were 30 bundles of 10 arrows each and 7 arrows that didn’t make a full bundle, the winning number from the round was taken as 37. It took us a while to get our heads around the system. Anyway, we were down 20 rupees.
The X Vario
On this trip, I had my X Vario — just three years old but well-travelled on trips to the North-East, Europe and Singapore. It has permanently replaced my Panasonic LX100. I’ve stopped bothering with a tripod; instead, I try and remember to keep an eye on the shutter speed when indoors.
I keep the camera on silent mode so I can be inside a church (of which there are many in Meghalaya) so no one will be disturbed. I don’t use flash for the simple reason that I don’t know how to. And I don’t use the autofocus either because I prefer manually focusing through the attached EVF. I love the lens, despite it not being the fastest arrow in the quiver.
It is perfect for my needs and I find that most of my shots fall in at the two ends. Since I take most of my pictures travelling, I don’t get to spend a whole lot of time in a particular place and I have to accept the light for what it is. In India, there’s plenty of it. Though the country follows the one time zone across its width, the sun rises and sets almost an hour earlier in the north-east than in Delhi. I carry a spare battery but usually, I can come back from a two-week trip with just over 600 photos. I guess old habits die hard.