June 04, 2011

Find the teer

The friend wrote from across the country, "find the teer". I had visions of going up to Shillong residents to ask "Where's the teer?" -- and have them give me suspicious glances and edge swiftly away. But it didn't turn out that way. The first person I asked knew what I meant and gave us directions.

"Teer": arrow. Every afternoon, a couple of dozen archers gather on a nondescript ground in Shillong and shoot arrows at a target, two different spells of ten minutes each. A few hundred people, mostly men, gather to watch. That day, we joined them.

We got there just after the first spell was over. Waiting for the second, we watched a few men line up to throw arrows -- yes, throw them, not shoot -- at a small straw target several dozen feet away. One arm cocked behind the ear, the other pointing at the target, take a step forward and, in one swift smooth blur of the cocked arm, throw. Amazing how many of the long slender bamboo missiles struck home.

But this was merely a teaser. Half an hour later, several men who had been tending lovingly to their arrows suddenly rise and position themselves along a curved shooting gallery. They have a much larger target, a straw cylinder on a stick, to aim for, also several dozen feet away across the ground. At a quiet signal, arrows begin slicing through the air in their hundreds. Absolute silence, except for the twanging of bow-strings and gentle thwacks as the arrows either hit home or hit the ground beyond.

Ten minutes like this and a man raises a tarp: time's up. Crowd surges forth. Men peer curiously at the now pincushion-like target. Officials gather the successful arrows, sit in a row. They count. They stuff the arrows, ten by ten, into square holes. Crowd waits, still in absolute silence.

Finally, an official announces "Four hundred and twenty!" But he also has a bunch of arrows in his fist. Walks ostentatiously toward the crowd, throws arrows from the bunch into the ground. One, two, three -- now the crowd counts -- "four, five, six!"

Breaths are released. A hubbub ensues. The crowd disperses to various tables to collect their winnings. 426 arrows hit the target today; drop the "4" and you have today's winning number -- 26.

Thus does Shillong gamble. Find the teer.

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