Chow Chali Mein

 
      Chow Chali Mein - A Patriarch & Visionary Nang Fantry Mein Jaswal Every once in a while, a great man is born to a society whose destiny is preordained to do great things and leave a footprint for others to follow. One such great personality was Chow Chali Mein, a patriarch of the Mein clan of the Tai Khampti tribe, living in the fertile Lohit Valley of the North East Frontier Agency (now Arunachal Pradesh), who guided them to wealth and prosperity in an era when resources were scarce, administration was by the alien British monarchy, and the terrain, tough and unfriendly. Born in 1886 in Chongkham village, Lohit district of the then NEFA, Chow Chali Mein was the eldest son of Chow Plang Hung Mein. He was 6'2" tall, fair and handsome, and had an imposing personality. He was physically very fit and strong. Even today, elders in the community who had the good fortune of knowing him and associating with him closely, converse in awe about how he would lift his Humber cycle with one hand while swimming with his other, and cross the river. Due to lack of proper educational facilities at that time, he could not continue his formal education beyond 4th standard. He studied in an Assamese medium school in Sadiya. He was intelligent and spoke twelve languages including English, and could have discourses at an intellectual level with not only the Assamese and other tribes, but with the British administrators as well. He was also fluent in reading and writing the Tai Khampti script. Chow Chali Mein commanded immense respect amongst not only the Tai Khamptis, but people from other tribes and communities, and Burma (Myanmar) as well. He was popular among the Singphos and  was close to the Singpho king Bissa Raja. Upon the demise of his first wife, he married the daughter of King Bissa Raja. He possessed great wisdom and was honest and fair in all his dealings. Chow Kannan Namchoom, the Tai Khampti King of Chongkham, held him in high regard and had tremendous faith in him and sent him as his emissary to attend Sabhas and meetings. The British administrators too trusted him and held him in high regard. The Tai Ahoms of Assam gave him the title of Bura Gohain giving him all the respect due to a statesman. Due to his administrative skills and sound knowledge of the traditional Tai Khampti judicial system, he was appointed judge to settle disputes not only within the Tai Khampti community, but disputes arising between Tai Khamptis and other tribes as well. The Tai Khamtis have a distinct and unique judicial process laid down in the book called Lek Thammasat (Book of Dhamma) written in the Tai Khampti script. Before any hearing commenced, the judge, after chanting Buddhist prayers, would hold the Lek Thammasat on his head and take an oath to pass judgement as per the law. This is also known as Dharma Vichar. There is no higher authority of appeal against a judgement passed invoking the provisions of Lek Thammasat. Chow Chali Mein was appointed judge and he sat in judgement over many disputes. His orders are said to have been fair and judicious, which were respected and adhered to not only by the Tai Khampti community, but also by other tribes and communities in case they were involved. It is said that even the British respected the judgements pronounced by Chow Chali Mein invoking Lek Thammasat. Chow Chali Mein was a wealthy agriculturist. He owned vast tracts of farm land in Chongkham, Alubari and Sunpura, where he cultivated the famous aromatic Khampti rice and mustard. Chow Chali Mein was a pioneer in industrialist during NEFA time. Being endowed with astute business acumen, the British administration awarded him a contract to supply timber logs to the Assam Match Factory in Dhubri, Assam. He sent the logs from Sunpura via Sadiya in rafts that floated down the mighty Brahmaputra River all the way to Dhubri. It took months for the timber to reach Dhubri. Thereafter, he single handedly set up the first industry in NEFA called Lohit Saw Mills in 1948 in Sunpura , Lohit District. There were very few saw mills in Assam in those days, and Lohit Saw Mills was one of them. He was one of the few merchants of his time who were given a license to saw and trade in timber products by the British administrators. He was honest to the core, and followed ethical principles while doing business. As told by Khampti elders and his associates, he had the reputation of living up to his commitments and promises even in the face of personal loss. The Americans who were in Assam during the Second World War also  knew him well and regarded him as a reliable businessman. They utilized his expertise in executing  many important works in that area. He contributed significantly in building the historic Stilwell Road, constructed by the Americans during the Second World War from Ledo in Assam to Burma, connecting to Kunming in China, and passing through Lekhapani, Jairampur, Nampong and Pangsau Pass on the India-Burma border. Originally it was called "Ledo Road". Later it was named after the American, General Joseph Warren Stilwell, who personally supervised the construction of the road during the War. 31 kilometres of the Stilwell Road still lies in Arunachal Pradesh. During the Second World War a few Tai Khampti men went missing from the Chongkham area. After the War was over, Chow Chali Mein along with his nephews Late Chow Pann Namchoom, Chow Makha Mein and a few more relatives travelled from Chongkham, upto the historic Stilwell Road to Mytkyina and other places in the Shan State ( now Kachin state) of Burma in search of them. They travelled in two Willis Jeeps with trailers packed with provisions. Chow Chali Mein himself drove one of the jeeps all the way to Burma. They were guests of the Raja of Mannow in Burma. After spending a month there, they were successful in finding four of the missing Tai Khampti men but could not find the fifth. When they realized their search for the fifth man was futile, they returned to Chongkham with the other four. An skilled shikari and a crack  shot, Chow Chali Mein would often take along his two sons Chow Pok and Chow Hula on many of his hunting expeditions. His first gun licence was issued in 1942. He was also an expert in catching elephants and would organise expeditions to catch them from the deep forests of Patkai Hills. He would personally supervise their training to domesticate them. He possessed several elephants. Chow Chali Mein was a visionary and a man of tall stature. His uppermost concern was the welfare of the Tai Khampti people. He strived to improve the economic condition of the Tai Khamptis. His great qualities of head and heart drew him close to not only his own people, but to anyone who came in contact with him. He was a philanthropist and helped  everyone who came to him for help, irrespective of their tribe or community. He was kind and generous and would always ensure that whoever entered his house would not go away without having a meal. His house would always be full of relatives and friends, and buzzing with activities. Being a very sociable person, he participated in all social functions, always playing a key role in them. He believed in secularism and advocated inter- tribe peace and harmony. He was a "son of the soil" in every sense. Chow Chali Mein had two sons and four daughters. His elder son Chow Pok Mein followed his footsteps and continued his legacy of philanthropy, community service, and took Lohit Saw Mills and his business to another level. Chow Pok Mein was also the first member of the Agency Council of NEFA from the Tai Khampti community. His grandsons and great-grandsons are third and fourth generation businessmen, diversifying into tea, bamboo ply, paper industries, and are prominent citizens of Arunachal Pradesh. Carrying on the legacy of Chow Chali Mein, his grandson Chow Tewa Mein gained the distinction of becoming the first member of the Arunachal Pradesh Council and later first Panchayat member among the Tai Khamptis. Chow Tewa Mein then joined the Arunachal Pradesh Legislative Assembly and was appointed Minister. He is now a Parliamentary Secretary. His third grandson Chowna Mein and grand daughter-in-law Nang Sati Mein are also Cabinet Minister and MLA  respectively. His grand-daughters and great-grand-daughters are also well educated and are professional career women, thus keeping the family torch burning. His untimely death in 1951 at the age of 65 was a great loss to the Tai Khampti society. In the 127th birth anniversary of Chow Chali Mein, this is a tribute to a patriarch, a visionary and a noble soul, from his grand children, great grand children, great great grand children, and the entire Mein Clan of the Tai Khampti tribe.

(Writer is granddaughter of Chow Chali Mein and a retired IRS officer. With input from Chow Tewa Mein & Chown Mein, grandsons of Chow Chali Mein , and elders and associates of the Mein family.)