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Sunday, December 30, 2007

Christmas, Boxing day and the Leveller

Brevity is the breathe of life (DB, Life)

One long year wait for Christmas ended in a single day. The celebrated day trickled down to exit in a brief second. Like martyr it left when other calendar days were not expected or feasted upon. It doesn’t take time for anything to end while the rest seem to be in a never-ending journey. Many a time the beginning is never seen or known, but the ending is too obvious. Too evident. Too inevitable. But brevity adds to the pleasure of life. It is all that make things matter. Better too. If everything were eternal, it would be so ugly.

I started the day trying to save all the SMS Christmas wishes I received. After sometime my mobile screen was blinking with the message that said: no space for new messages. To create space for the incoming messages I deleted those that have no sender’s name. It was a desperate move trying to save some while deleting others. The might and power of religion has attached unquestioned value to the messages of the day while technology delivers them with assured certainty. Then I wonder what the day would be to different people who are negotiating pale uncertainties. In Manipur’s Chandel, Kuki brothers and sisters have called this year’s Christmas as “Black Christmas.” Their land continued to be an uninvited battlefield with the Indian Army fighting against the United National Liberation Front (UNLF). The protracted conflict in Chandel has once again resulted in severe internal displacement of the Kukis from their homes. Their lives are trapped in the dictate of the barrel of guns. Their lives are on the run. Their lives remain shattered in the broken State that house many broken hearts. However, their plights, as human being, are never address as there is no governance and order with the Government. In the process they have become “refugees”, “landmine victims”, “displaced”, as they continue to lose everything in their own homes.

Then I thought of the distressed villagers in Manipur’s Tipaimukh who told me in October that they desire to celebrate Christmas in October with the little harvest they have as they were gnawed by the impact of gregarious bamboo flowering. They knew they have so little to last them through December 25. I saw fear in their eyes. Their words quake with waning hope. Of helplessness. They, who battle with rats and rodents, also wish to have a wonderful Chrsitmas. As doom flowers, they bred hope in silent prayers. Their faith is not moving mountains, but it is making them see the unfolding days and nights. A grim situation where they are compelled to hope against every possible hope. They are victims not only of natural calamities, but also of man made disaster. While the Government at the Centre has pumped in money to combat the impact of the dreaded flowers nothing reaches the marginalized villagers who are living a near famine situation. They don’t know that someone somewhere is getting filthy rich with their share of money that was designed to fight their hunger and the fear of it. They don’t know that the food shortages and the crisis were man made and not merely nature’s cycle. But they keep blaming the bamboo that flowers and not the corrupt insatiable lot who will never bell the cat. I wonder how they would be facing another day.

Then on the night of the Boxing Day I was woken by Robert Sanglora Khawbung. He told me our friend Mesak L Sinate breathe his last at AIIMS hospital. I got to know of Mesak through Robert in Delhi. I remember we shook hands and greet each other on Christmas night after the dinner in the Church. He said it’s almost late but we still can shake hands for Christmas sake. That was about five hours before he met with the accident. From what I was told Mesak met, greeted and called all his near and dear ones on Christmas day. His father told the congregation at the funeral service that Mesak telephoned home early on Christmas morning, which his father said was very unusual and unlikely of him. Mesak cried over the phone saying he was feeling homesick. Then he spoke to everyone in the family. One by one. His father said that it must be his way of saying goodbye to the family. We also shook hands, and as he said, before it was late. I must also believe that must be his way of saying goodbye. The hungry leveller had his way on the Boxing Day.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Christmas again

Tura and Baghmara in Garo Hills geared up well in advance for Christmas. The forest town were decorated with sparkling multi-colour lights as it ready to celebrate the memories of the birth of the Son of Man. Rohminglien Buhril, who hosted L Keivom and I and who is also the Divisional Forest Officer of Meghalaya’s Tura and Baghmara districts, told us that the town would be witnessing a Christmas decoration competition very soon. The competition has become an annual affair for the Garo protestant and catholic Christians who populated the eco-friendly districts. Like the hidden lamp Tura and Baghmara celebrates the beautiful season unknown to the outside world. Everything beautiful hides while the ugly and the beast lord with evils. If the wait for the Messiah is still on, it should be over for that evading beauty is already wagging its tail in Garo Hills. When man comes to his realization he would flock to the virgin hills and mountains to see the already revealed power and glory. There would not be any need to wait or preach with doctored doctrines and fanatic religion. The power and the glory is more than enough to make the blind see and cease the long wait. The sights and sound are honest than any truth of the embraced religion. They are alive ever with His breath and touch.

We left Tura for Baghmara on December 16 evening. Baghmara is about four hours away from Tura. On the way we were gulped by the majestic night with sparkling stars that flooded the sky. We passed through “No Mans Land”, between India and Bangladesh. Rabbits and deer leaped away from the piercing jeep headlight. They don’t seem to find any comfort in it. We passed through many sleepy villages that were, otherwise, awake with homecoming like celebrations. I wonder not who came, for I think I know the unseen visitor. That’s salvation for me. Band of caroling boys and girls dotted the serene road in the cold and clean night. We passed them undisturbed. Sometimes four or five teenage boys would be sitting in the middle of the silent empty road with the traditional Garo drum. They seem to know no fear, but only the spirit that has shine through. Some were not clothed enough in that chilly night. But they seem to have more than enough. Their overflowing hearts shine in their faces. They don’t seem to be in want. They seem to have everything, which the mad world is racing for. Be it peace. Joy. Contentment. Rivers and water. Trees. Nature and all its beauty. Nations will war for them tomorrow while the Garos sacredly preserve them in their lap.

Coming back to Delhi is no joyful retreat. The mess and chaos with the angered ancient city does not seem to bear any resemblance to that blissful expectation that lifted Garo hills. The journey was Christmas. But we save the stirring spirits within us, undisturbed by the magic of many Black Dog nights. The best is still saved. So merry Christmas.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Inside the Heart of Darkness – VI

11 October 2007 : We left Aizawl for Tipaimukh a little later than expected. There were two reasons: One, the “religious team” said they took a good while trying to wake up L Keivom who, I know, slept later than usual. Aizawl hills must have faintly seen the early morning light when he hit the bed. The religious team was indeed waking the sleeping mortals, just like the miraculous act of waking the dead to life again. Sometimes I wonder if waking the dead to another life is Christian at all, despite the act that saved many teardrops. I somehow felt that the mortal flesh, which will inevitably turn into dust again, was given abundant importance. I sometimes wonder if at all it was inculcated and challenged by another inevitable provocation, which must be frequent for the Son of Man. But the life that Lazarus got for the second time did not last like salvation, as the act was committed before He was crucified for the sins of mankind. Anyway, Keivom was woken as we still have miles to go. The second reason was that the sumo jeep that we were travelling in ran out of fuel in the middle of Aizawl city. The driver was all red with wordless uncomfort for causing the inconvenience. He ran to the nearest gas station with an empty bottle to fetch diesel to make the wheel box run again. The unexpected dry fuel tank in the middle of the street caused severe inconvenience for everyone. At one point of time the traffic came to a standstill as our lifeless wheel was blocking the entire life that has to pass through the congested road, which Aizawl is popular for. It was geography blocking science. I stood wondering what the future holds for Aizawl road, as they seem to be getting clogged with each passing day in the face of unquenchable materialistic race that multiplied wheels and engines. There cannot be many options left for the State to widen the road. Otherwise, it would have to put a ban on all the multiplying private vehicles. Something like the “Total Prohibition”. The people did not seem to like the total ban imposed on alcohol. But majority might celebrate the total prohibition on private wheels, which has almost become a show of might and power in the “most peaceful state” that is awaiting for another unfortunate tag, “disaster zone”. Introducing flyover or underground road will not also work out. That would forever label Mizoram as the “Disaster State”. The other alternatives would be to be like good Roman in Rome and become a good Christian in the “Christian State” by giving and helping the uncounted poor and needy instead of buying more for a future chaos. The materialistic race has to be negated to save Mizoram roads. Otherwise, the State would standstill with big oiled wheels. That would still be mistaken as signs and evidences of progress and development in this blind vested race. If not, the city has to be shifted somewhere. The concentration of everything possible in Aizawl is already making the city vulnerable.

We halted at a place called “zero mile” in Seling for lunch. A couple of rice hotel stood by the roadside. The modest hotel was airy with big pane- less windows. Big black pots stood by the fireside. The sight was like homecoming. They were reminders of beautiful things that I fondly recall in quite sigh. They were not merely pot. They represent memories for which they stood like a clear milestone. The table was set with all the foods they have in their unprinted menus. Not many, but enough. After the meal, thin bamboo sticks that were dried for agarbati sticks served as toothpicks. I was told that Mizoram produces agarbati sticks in plenty. The house besides the hotel played music continuously, a little louder than usual. Loud enough for many to hear undisturbed. Pu Hrangthangvung told me it was RTC Lalduhawmi’s house. RTC Lalduhawmi is a popular Gospel singer, whose songs I have listened to when I was in high school. I went to Chibai (greet) her. She was sweeping the house then. Another bright and airy house again. I told her I used to listen to her songs in my bad but improving Lushai. She told me she is working on her Christmas album, which she hopes to release sometimes before Christmas. It is always a joy meeting artiste. Life on earth would be too lonely without them.

Our jeep was covering the endless snaking miles like the hungriest machine that science has invented. The long run across the hills and mountain was hardly interrupted. The sights and scenes changes with all its nude beauty. It was like running across the longest chain of the biggest beauty pageant ever held. We passed through many sleepy villages. Some of the smaller ones seems like they were actually sleeping. The sights stirred in me revival-like feelings. But not like those wild and noisy ones they had in those houses of worship. I said to myself, “How great thou art.” That’s my testimony. It is easier to see nature and realised His greatness, than deriving from man. Atheist should travel more. Even if they did not change, they will see a change.

We reached Vervek before sunset. Vervek is one of the last villages before reaching river Tuivai. It situates in Mizoram’s Sinlung Hills Development Council. We met one Independent Church of India’s (ICI) elder who volunteered to show us direction till Tuivai. After the brief introduction, he discovers to his utmost surprise, that he was sitting with the worshipped Zoram Khawvel author, L Keivom. He could not believe himself. He shook Keivom hands again for the second time. If the first one was the sweetest, the second seems to be sweeter. If the elder was Columbus, he would, vainly, but still, say that he discovers Keivom. The spirit suddenly soars for him and spill over all of us. He shared many things about New Vervek. He told us that he was one of the pioneers who erected ICI at Vervek. He also told us that the bamboo flowering severely affected their village. He became more energetic than ever as we discuss several issues. I enquired him about Laltuoklien, King of Sinlung rock, folk and blues, as his village that sits on the top of a mountain could be seen from Vervek. He knew the king, which was no surprise. In this beautiful part of the country, everyone knows everyone. The level of acquaintance resembles the biblical sin, something that cannot be hidden. No one can take a hide. They would still know even if you hide.

The road after Luok, a deserted place, reveals the tip of abject neglect by the governments of Mizoram as well as Manipur. The road is National Highway 150. On the side of Mizoram the road that is actually in its deteriorating mess is a short stretch. On Manipur’s side, the deterioration worsened, which seems endless. The church elder told us that the Government of Mizoram finds it useless on its part to work and repair the neglected highway unless Manipur government does its part, which is much longer. Our driver, who is from Mizoram, was also shocked to discover the state of the poor road. He told me that he has been driving everywhere, but have not seen such a bad one. Almost after every three minutes good run our jeep ran into deep pool of mud. Everyone has to get down to push and pull the jeep from its deepening pool. If one is in it, one cannot just sit and watch. In most part of the road, it has deepen alarmingly where the wheels run so that the engine sometimes stand on the protruding ground while the wheels make a vain attempt to find a hard ground as it slips. I told the driver that he has to bring along a spade, shovel and big rope next time he travel to this forsaken place. Many a times the driver said that the jeep won’t be able to make any inch forward again. Many times he dip his right leg into the pool of mud and water and find them too deep to give any test-drive again. He even suggested that we walk with our baggage, which was impossible in that middle, a part of the heart of darkness. We actually have to challenge him to make all those attempts that were fortunately not in vain. The National Highway was travelled with faith and by deeds. Many deeds actually. Before reaching Tuivai bridge our jeep got stuck in another trap like deep pool again. After desperate attempts we did not want to give up. So L Keivom, the Church elder and I walked more than 5 kilometers to reach river Tuivai to ask for help from friends who were waiting for us. During the long walk, we were surprise not to hear any birds chirping. We did not spot any birds too. The little raindrops moved the leaves to life. Otherwise, it was like a sad mourning day. The deep jungle was silently alive. They walked back with spade and shovel while Keivom and I sip many cups of sweet, milk tea flavoured with Tipaimukh grown tea leaves in the hotel besides the flooded river that was running wild yellow. Keivom’s words still lingers as he said, “Home again, at last.”