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Saturday, November 25, 2006

Laltuoklien: The Farmer Rocker

Laltuoklien has been working in the jhum fields since he was fifteen years old. His first jhum field was at Khawhnawng in Hmuizawl, Tipaimukh. “That place is one real rich soil I have tilled in my life,” he said. Laltuoklien said that working in the jhum fields is a “sweet but tough affair,” which he inherited from his parents, who, he said are “poor and ignorant.” “Working in the jhum fields was an inherited one and it ultimately became a necessity as we were not schooled by our poor struggling parents,” he said.

Living the harsh realities of life, the chance for eyeing other profession becomes a dry and dearth ground. To make a choice for a switch to other profession is not theirs to do. They bow to that “impossible” like hill that occupy them. The choice, then, was to decide whether to own and cultivate a bigger jhum field or whether to grow brinjal and chillies in the rice field. “I used to work so hard and I grow not only rice but also chillies, brinjal and other vegetables also,” Laltuoklien said. The farmer rocker boast of his hardworking days and the prize he beget of reaping abundant harvest. “I sow my part with all my strength and sweat, which with God blessing I reaped a good fruit. My garner used to look like a fair and beautiful pregnant woman.” Laltuoklien have toiled in his jhum field in Damdei,Tipaimukh as well as in his present village,Damdei,Vervek,Mizoram. He still remembers the richest harvest in his life when his jhum field produced four hundred and eighty trin (Tin).

The jhum fields made the rocker felt the importance of nature and environment in the face of its deterioration. “I have been toiling since I was a kid and I am slowly witnessing the soil losing its richness. The ground beneath is getting old and they no longer produce as they used to be,” Laltuoklien said. He said that toiling in the jhum fields are not worth the efforts anymore. Despite the harsh life in the jhum fields, Laltuoklien discovered the romance of the swaying paddy fields, which keep him longing for that life. “Everything was clean and healthy there. Everything was just fine,” he said.

Laltuoklien spent his farming days appreciating sharp farming tools as well as composing songs. The fairest woman in the village has been Laltuoklien’s biggest quest both in his life and in his songs. He grew up as a shy and silent human, but his love and appreciation for the tribe of the lost rib rings the loudest in his words and songs. From his courting experience, Laltuoklien have a word for the Romeos, “Say only the most important three words when courting a woman. The rest will settle perfectly.”

Laltuoklien cannot imagine himself living in a city like Delhi. “This place is absent of romance and the beauty of nature. It would be difficult to compose good songs and music out here,” he said. “Out there in the green hills and blue mountains,” he said, “everything is a story, everything is a song,” Laltuoklien said. Unlike William Dalrymple, the old, dry and weary city did not enchant the farmer rocker from Sinlung Hills. Growing up in the lap of rich and beautiful nature, “Delhi” he felt, “would be groaning with all the pain and loneliness. But woman saved the city.” Laltuoklien, although he has not seen enough of the city and its Eves, does acknowledge that women are beautiful in Delhi. That also saves him from missing his wife and four little children.

(25 November 2006, New Delhi)

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Laltuoklien: King of Sinlung Rock

Talent and creativity find its own man in Laltuoklien, the singer and composer who cannot read or write, but has composed more than fifty songs. He had recorded two albums, Pistol Puokruok and Sinlung Disco. Pistol Puokruk, which was recorded in Vanso studio, Imphal, in the year 1995, was a hot-cake like album that never ceased to impress. Sinlung Disco is filled with simple candid lyrics bordering on his experience with life. The sound of Pistol Puokruk is defined by gutsy classic rock, which affirms that Laltuoklien was born to sing, and live in the passion for that music. Most of his songs contained strong message that reflects his immense concern for the society, which Laltuoklien sees as heading towards the "unwanted decadence." The down to earth musician said that he couldn't change the wrong therefore he has his opinions that reflect his wishes for a better world. The rest of his songs are humorous, exciting and appealing. He also has about fifteen Gospel songs, which the rocker said, "They are my testimony of my faith and belief." Laltuoklien said that he couldn't imagine life without God's gift of songs and music. He felt that they are his biggest source of strength.

Laltuoklien was born at Senvon, Tipaimukh, Churachandpur, Manipur, which was the first Hmar village in Manipur where the Gospel was preached by the White missionaries. He attended UPC School at Senvon. However, in the isolated village where education lacks facilities and teachers, young Laltuoklien's inclination to music gets stronger without even getting to learn to read and write. The poor facilities in school where everything was almost absent, added by poverty to the struggling family never seem to encourage Laltuoklien to pursue the school life. That did not, however, restrain him from composing songs. He actually developed a language, call it a methodology that still is unique if not totally weird and strange, which help him remember and memorise his composed lyrics and tunes. Strange that he has not lost any of his songs prior to his album. He said, "I just treasure them in my head."

When Laltuoklien and his Sinlung Gurup started on the road, they bagged low brow and decadence identity firmly attached to them. But the fire of Sinlung rock burns the ice that could have frozen them. "We rented a house in Hmuizawl village, Tipaimukh to practice our songs. We must be the first band in Tipaimukh to rent a house just for the sake of playing what we created." Sinlung Gurup bassist, Hmingchunghnung , whom Laltuoklien considered "excellent" with the guitar is no more. He died of malaria few years ago. Thlamuonthang, the drummer, is in Vaitin, Mizoram, "catching river fish and growing ginger." Chawngthanglien the lead guitarist is also in Damdei, Tipaimukh growing what he called "the money plant", ginger. Sinlung Gurup's rhythm guitarist, Hrangtinai is serving as a pastor in Tripura with the Independent Church of India. Sinlung Gurup draws inspiration from the Zohnathlak rock band from Myanmar like Zodi and Vulmawi.

"Poverty", the farmer rocker said, "taught me all the precious things in life. Life is tough but it is also fun." Laltuoklien has been cultivating his jhum fields in the Tipaimukh hills for his livelihood growing rice, chillies and brinjal. He said, "I work real hard in the fields and I used to be among the biggest grain owner in my village. But today the soil we tilled is getting old and they are not as productive as it used to be." The farmer rocker said, "Even this year I worked real hard but I have grains for my family that will suffice for about six months." With the bamboo flowering Laltuoklien have no plans to work in his jhum fields next year, 2007. "Even this year rats and other wild animals have multiplied to destroy the crops. It won't be worth the efforts," He said. Laltuoklien hopes to tour and perform wherever he is demanded and invited. Laltuoklien and his family that is always on the move, seeking for greener pasture, shifted to Damdei village in Sinlung Hills, Mizoram. "The Government of Mizoram gave us a little over twenty thousand rupees to built a house. They also provided us with six kilos of sugar for my family. The Mizoram Government is very different from that of Manipur." Laltuoklien said. "Comparatively the governments in Mizoram and Manipur are like heaven and earth, day and night," he said.
Besides working in the jhum fields, Laltuoklien have also worked as "Painar", building roads in Tipaimukh. "Those were hard times. We get paid only six hundred rupees a month. But the poor man cannot have a choice," he said.

Laltuoklien said that music flows in his veins. In the year 1992 he and his friends formed a rock band, Hmuizawl Gurup, at Damdei, Tipaimukh. "We did not have a drum set," Laltuoklien said, "so we headed for the forest and find ourselves logs and wood to make ourselves a drum set. Then we used cow-skin and rubber band to make the drum." That was the ripen years when Laltuoklien composed some of his songs with rich meanings and messages. Songs like Zinga Zana is a strong critique of the chauvinistic drunkard who lives in Damdei, Tipaimukh, who is none other than his friend. Laltuoklien said that he composed the song for his friend on the request of his wife who wished him to quit his drinking habit. Laltuoklien songs never run out of the challenging relevance of a society undergoing change.

His second album, Sinlung Disco, was recorded at Parbung, Tipaimukh in the year 2004. Sinlung Disco was recorded without a recording machine. "We fitted a keyboard to a tape recorder and then we recorded the whole album," Laltuoklien said. Strange but true, Sinlung Disco was another hot selling album with its music video pepped up with the Tipaimukh villagers dancing to the disco beat of Sinlung Disco. Laltuoklien hit songs like Pistol Puokruk and Sinlung Disco were specially composed for a movie. Sinlung Disco sold many copies but I was paid only two thousand rupees. "In the year 1992," Laltuoklien said, "We were up to making a movie. I composed those songs for the movie. Unfortunately my friend, a kungfu master who was supposed to act in the movie was murdered. We were compelled to back out." Pistol Puokruk is a rock heavy song that is strongly influenced by the Wild West and cowboy culture. On the other hand, Sinlung Disco is a big shift from the rock laden Pistol Puokruk, where Laltuoklien and the dancers from Tipaimukh discoed under yellow flashing lights.

Laltuoklien expressive love songs are composed for his girlfriends, who, he said, are the queen of the village hearts. "Woman is a beautiful creature. But they hurt," Laltuoklien said. They are not only beautiful but also happen to be the source of his love songs as well as hate songs. Laltuoklien's mesmerizing songs like Thlasik Tawllawt, Zoengmawi, and Ngaizawng Hmelthra born-out of his heartache with his girlfriends. Had there been no woman, no doubt, Laltuoklien's songs would be leaking with emotions. Laltuoklien is one person who cannot imagine life without woman. "The world will be a dark unwanted place without woman," he said. Today Laltuoklien is happily married with his third wife, Ramdinthar. He is blessed with four children. "Besides other reasons, I had to part with my first two wives because they could not bear me children. Now that I have four kids, I am happy and content." Laltuoklien represents the voice and image of the old rocker peppered with the new world correct mix of the issues and challenges of modernity and tradition seen from a villager eye that imagines and travels through his songs and music. Laltuoklien continue to compose songs with the purest strains of rock and roll. He certainly is one of the legends who lives on.

(19 November, 2006, New Delhi)