Site Meter

Monday, March 31, 2008

Of Rats and Man

The year of the rat was predicted long back. It came slow but certain. The package was like opening the Pandora Box. It started with the bloom of doom flowers (gregarious bamboo flowering). The bamboo seed turned out to be a blessing for the rats that multiplied their population after consuming the starch rich seed. The rat boom severely destroyed crops, particularly rice, which is the staple food of the distressed villagers in Manipur’s Tipaimukh and Mizoram. These two constituencies are the epicenter of the natural phenomenon that occurs after every forty eight years. Villages in Thanlon and Singat sub-division were also affected. The rats raided and invaded the rice bowl of the self reliant farmers, who are all dependent on their traditional jhum fields for their livelihood. They were left anguished, distressed, hopeless and shattered after the rats invasion that destroy food security and the prospect for it. Today hunger and famine visits them day and night. The plights of the distressed villagers is moving towards deterioration as there is no trace of proactivity and political will to address their serious situation. That is worsened by the absence of road and connectivity, and public distribution system. Moreover, as the villagers do not have alternative source of income, their pangs of hunger and the fear for it multiplied. They were left to fend for themselves, which is why they are pushed to resort to their forest and jungles to look out for wild yam and other forest produce to relieve their hunger.

It is unfortunate that despite the prediction of the approaching natural phenomenon that hits the distressed villages with clock like certainty, no significant measures were identified to combat the destructive impact of the bamboo flowering. With the advantage of advance knowledge about the famine the Centre as well as the Government of Manipur could have drawn famine codes to identify emergencies and measures to be taken in situations such as these. With the harvest that never took place, the government could have provided wage employment of public works, which could become the mainstay of famine relief. The failures of the government to operationalise public distribution system and food storage have resulted in skyrocketing the prices of rice and other basic commodities that could be purchased. This is worsened by the absence of local food supply. However, with no other source of income, particularly money, the distressed villagers failed to be potential buyers, even of their dire necessities. Price stabilisation is the last thing that would take place in these cut off compartments. The usually sluggard bureaucratic machine would take its good time to put the famine codes into operation even if it felt the need for it. It may take no time at all, which could be the situation when it comes to marginalized constituencies like Tipaimukh, Singat, Thanlon and the fringe villages and sub-divisions in Mizoram, which are the epicenter of the dreaded phenomenon.

In the middle of February, 2008, distressed villagers of Tipaimukh’s Leisen and Parvachawm reached Lungthulien to buy rice with whatever little the villagers could collectively contribute. On reaching Lungthulien their fear of hunger was burdened as they were told that there was no rice to sell or buy. They were not given any choice, but to retreat with their burden of fear and hunger that was added with the inconvenient truth; to tell the villagers that there was no rice to buy at all. Earlier in September 2007, the same villagers collectively decided to lend money from one money lender to buy rice for the entire villagers from the rumoured NREGS promises that could never reached them. I met them in October 2007 when they were stalled with anguish at the brink of fear of hunger and debts. That was when Christmas was awaited. But the entire villagers had nothing more to look up to till the month of Christmas. That was when, for the first time, I heard them say, “We wanted to celebrate Christmas in October when we still have little of our trifle harvest.” That was very disturbing. But the tense situation of theirs speaks out for itself as the fear of hunger and helplessness gnaws them.

The unfortunate year coincides with the Chinese “Year of the Rat.” For once we did not get to hear of the government who tend to side track and beat the bush by looking for some outside hands in all of its calamities that toll the country. The Chinese were not blamed. Pakistan is spared. But the state actors are still in deep slumber when its constituencies and the people who should matter are confronting famine. The serious plights of the long marginalized people were never presented with the will to do the needful. They don’t seem like they were ever represented. Their existence fails to impress anything on the conscience of people who ought to act for their share of precious suffrage that turned the wheels of democracy. But today, they were off the map. Off the conscience. Off the will. Off .

Shall we watch them live the Christian sayings; there is time for plenty, time for hunger and time to bear them silently. The kingdom belongs to them. Or shall we speak like some dirty holy men and say, “Let them repent to end their hunger and famine.” Or shall we speak like some unusual self styled religious men who must have bathed and cleansed himself in some imagery seven holy rivers and sea and say, “They sowed sins and reap hunger, anguish and distress.”

But if anyone thinks this is true, then religion is the most beautiful myth created by man to serve his fear with elusive hope. He dwells in that because he is weak, hopeless and small. He dwells in that because he wanted to give himself the idea of eternity to clothe himself with that absence and feels like superman. He dwells in that because the reality of brevity and the fear of death in this sinful world is inevitable. He dwells in that because he wanted himself to be forever in the summer of life. But he could say that, not because he is religious or spiritual, but because he is selfish and brutish, which are his “state of nature.”

The big question today is, what is required of us in such urgent situations? Public actions, which you and I could exert, could make great difference for the distressed people who are living with famine in forgotten hills and mountain. Distressed villagers of these constituencies were reduced to starvation and hunger by the natural phenomenon that makes it no longer possible for them to acquire anything to secure their hunger. Public action has the strength to avert famines. It requires you and me. It doesn’t need any magical wand to address the challenges. Man has enough. We just have to exercise them, rather than celebrate them in the waste of abundance and uselessness. It is time we give up those multiplying supernatural explanations and looked at the realities of the unique link between food production, natural disasters, hunger and the absence of political will. But I believe, we could be the agent of change. When that happens we would realized that we could end hunger.

(Delhi, March 30, 2008)

Monday, March 24, 2008

Inside the Heart of Darkness-X

October 14, 2007. Senvon: The morning breaks open with a warm glow clothed in surreal lights. The sun, like a stranger, tries to find a place for itself in the sea of clouds. The sun move with its unusual hesitancy; like Judas Iscariot after kissing the Son of Man. But nothing is stopping it, which was why we had a bright sunny day. The leaves glisten with infectious holiness, as if it has shed its earthly dirt that has layered upon itself. Finally they seem to be breathing with a new life. I wonder whose side they are; the sun or the clouds.

There were many visitors in the morning. One was a tall and lanky hunter from Leisen village. He happens to be a relative of our host. I was told that his family severely distressed by the rats that gnaw every sheaf off his ripe golden field that was once pregnated with fat grain. Vanity Fair’s great expectations is ruined by rats and rodents that are generated by the gregarious bamboo flowering. The hunter told me that he came to Senvon with two of his most treasured possession – his gun and his faithful dog. He told me he came to sell them as he had no other choice in the face of hunger and the inevitable famine that awaits them. His fear and insecurity was loud and clear. It was his first experience of the impact of doom flowers. He was helpless. He took me to the house where he was putting up. He showed me his old gun and the tattered license. The gun was older than I expected it to be. There was a couple of soldering marks on it. He did not expect a good price for his gun. But he wanted to sell it just to secure his fear of hunger. Then there was the dog, which was not around when we reached. He sent out a high pitched whistle and a black dog came running. Waging its tail, the dog jumped in excitement. In that new place the only person the dog knew was his master who was his faithful companion. But it was sad because the dog did not know what his master was already hatching. If his master came across a prospective buyer he would end up in many bowels. The hunter told me that the dog has been his most faithful companion. He said, “The idea of selling my dog hurts me like nothing ever did. I could not even sleep when I started giving a thought to it.” He told me that the dog has been with him through thick and thin. “But it is the only thing that will fetch me money. I have nothing to sell other than my two most treasured possessions”, he said. The hunter’s dog was all black. He called him ‘Blackie’. It was not a big dog. But by the look of it, the dog was more adorable than his master. The hunter asked me to buy them. He asked a price of four thousand rupees. One thousand for the dog and three thousand for the gun. However, after seeing the attachment he had with the gun and the dog, it was a difficult contemplation to exchange hands. But if one has to acknowledge his fear and apprehension, the attachment would be merely worldly. The bamboo flower bloom has forced the distressed Tipaimukh villagers for an inconvenient somersault where they were forced to act against their will. Sell their valuable possession for the small bowel and the big fear of hunger.

I saw their fear and anguish growing bigger and taller than their hills and mountain. Everything cannot be seen. Everything was not made to be seen. But the invisible can be felt. They could be heard. They also have smell too. The political economy of Tipaimukh has been balancing between mild and severe hunger since long time back. Besides the bamboo flowering that occurred after every forty eight years, there is also the yearly recurring cycle of natural disasters that resulted in crop failure, food insecurity and food crisis. The vulnerable people, who are also forgotten, did not stand any chance for any convenient and stable existence with their primitive and traditional methods of jhum cultivation. There is no scent of modern science and technologies injected to assist their decadent know–how. Their deteriorating situation is worsened by the absence of any proactive intervention by the government. There is no public policy towards addressing their decades of deprivation. No public distribution system. No governance. No infrastructure. No health facilities. And worst, no school in good running condition. They are victims of entitlement failure. Small self reliant farmers without any other sources banking on the most primitive agricultural practice hardly find anything in their favour. Not only that the indices of human welfare in this constituency, which is already, off the map and conscience of the authorities, is very poor. Life expectancy, infant mortality and literacy are also in a distressing situation. Man and his might is a mite here.

After meal, we headed for the worship service. There was lots of singing. Dancing too. Some of the dancers were, I supposed, in an unconscious state. They did not know where they were dancing. They did not know where they were moving. They hit whatever stood before them. They fell everywhere. I don’t really know what happened to them. I don’t know either what should be done with them. Since I was a kid, such people concerns me a lot as they tend to disturbed the order of the worship service. Unfortunately, they have been accepted, through the ages, as some sort of unquestionable holy cow.

I remember the quite frequent revival session we used to have in many of our small churches. The same kind of people used to be the dancing kings and queen. I remember they used to start dancing with a song that got faster. The big church drum made of cow skin would thunder louder as the dancers continued without the song. They would run wild. Some climbing just everywhere they could. They used to stir up the dust as they run about, while some rolled on available ground. It would go endlessly. The church liturgy got affected and the conductor would be in a puzzle; to stop the song, to let them be, to beat the heat with another song or to allow the service to flow. I remember the mess it used to be. It was a difficult situation where any man was afraid to judge or take a decision. So it used to end up beating the bush without the fire. I realized the impact of those uncontrollable sessions were disastrous to the health of the Church. After all those celebrated sessions, we witnessed the birth of many sects that were seen to have indoctrinated outside the Church yard. They actually multiply, which we have in plenty today. It has become difficult to situate them. In the end, I strongly believed, religion is between you and God. The rest is a make up in that unquenchable quest for that evading power and glory.

Well, in the course of the service, there was this song that lost itself in the fast beat of the drum that seems to get faster. And you know what happened to those dancers. They just got wilder too. It was monotonous and meaningless for me to keep standing there as if waiting for that something to get hold of me too. I was actually scared that it would. So I went outside and met distressed villagers from different villages. I started the meeting with three elders from Leisen village. One of them, Lalchawilien said, “After the long toil we battled with rats, rodents and birds over our rice field. But there is no way to guard and protect them. We tried every little thing we could, but it was all in vain. That day my family members and I left our field late in the evening with a prayer. I had a bad dream that night. I suspect what it would be. The next morning I reached to find my rice field standing without any sheaves. It was a very dark and disturbing sight. I went back home barred and heavy hearted and every step I took was like a move to an end that I did not want to remember again.” Leisen villagers were made to realize their unfortunate turn as the rats and rodents destroy their field one after the other. Hrangtlunglien also had his share of nightmare when he was left to collect share of his labour that was spared by the invaders. “But they spared me too little that will never last my family for even a month. With whatever little we managed to reap it is our desire that we celebrate Christmas in October”, Hrangtlunglien said. Christmas month December is gone. I wonder how they managed to keep themselves going.

Zarzolien of Tipaimukh’s Leisen village said that the bamboo flowering did not only destroy their food security, but also negates the man in him. He said, “The bamboo flower reduced me like nothing else could. It is a shame that my toil would not allow me to feed my family. It is very shameful. I could never feel like a man anymore.” Lalmanlien (Leisen) also said, “Rats and rodents plagued our rice fields at night. They came like angry and hungry ghost. It took them just few hours to spoil our year’s toil and left our rice field like useless grass. Many of us in the village did not even reap two tins of grain.” Sangneitling of Senvon village said, “We are in vain. We knew much in advance about the bamboo flowering, but we could have no choice at all. What alternatives do you think is here in this god-forsaken place? We toil with hopes and fears. But we were made to realize fear bigger than we could ever imagine.”

The bloom of despair has driven many young men like Lalhmingmawi, Lalditum and Siema, of Sipuikawn village to look for work in Mizoram and Assam. But they move out of their homes to realise the limited avenue available for them. “We have been working all our lives in our jhum fields and we are not really good for other jobs. We came back to our empty homes looking for something like hope to keep us going. The bamboo flowering has created uncontrollable chaos within us and our homes”, Lalhmingmawi said. Siema said that he guarded his jhum field with burning torches for many nights. “I did my best, but the rats won. Today I am left with nothing. They even came to our house and gnawed our blankets, shoes and chappal. I was afraid. I thought they were angry with me.” Distressed farmers like Darkung filled his rice field with traditional traps to get rid of the invading rats and rodents. “It is a vain effort. But what can I do? I did that with a hope, which was shattered in one dark night” Darkung told me. The trapped rats were again consumed by the distressed Tipaimukh villagers. “They eat our rice and we also eat them if are trapped”, Darkung said.

It is a helpless situation despite the pilot-like project that was initiated by the Centre to combat the impact of bamboo flowering, not a single paisa reached the affected villagers. No government officials have visited the Tipaimukh villages to take stock of the situation in the hills and mountains where death looms large. It is shocking that food insecurity and the near-famine situation continue unabated despite the Central Government funding to bail out the region’s distressed farmers. None of the measures adopted at the power corridors to alleviate the plights of the distressed farmers made an impact. The visible insecurity has already reached a crisis situation where the rosy special packages that were announced for securing that right to food and livelihood has no meaning and relation to the distressed lot. Taking into account the money that was allocated to combat the bamboo flowering, the farmer’s distress and the near-famine situation in Tipaimukh is rather man-made than a result of natural calamities.

Hrangtlunglien told me that no one in his village is aware about the Centre’s policy to bail them out of the near-famine situation. “We never knew that the government would act in such situations as we have been living without any form of government for many decades as far as my memory could recall. There is no motorable road inside our village. There is nothing, but just us. We are independent and self-reliant people. We never knew that there is something called the government to represent us. Manipur government has no meaning for us”, Hrangtlunglien said. Zarzolien also said that the Manipur government does not exist for them to be trusted. He told me, “We are unrepresented and forgotten people.”

In Tipaimukh villages the prices of rice and other basic commodities have skyrocketed beyond the villager’s reach. While the issue price of rice at Public Distribution System by the Department of Food and Civil Supplies are Rs. 7.29 (APL), Rs. 6.21 (BPL), Rs. 3.47 (AAY), the same quality of rice are getting sold at Rs. 16 or 17 per kg. However the situation has deteriorated and in most of the cases there is no rice to be bought at that price even. Today if rice is available, no one dare to sell them. Last month, in February 2008, I was told that villagers from Leisen and Parvachawm came to Lungthulien came to buy rice. But there was no rice to sell or buy, so they went back empty handed, except for the burden of hunger.

In October 2007 when their fields were raided and there was no food to eat, Leisen villagers made a collective decision to borrow money from a money lender as they have heard about the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), which came into force in the country in February 2006. “We borrowed sixty thousand rupees from one money lender and bought rice that was distributed to all the villagers.We thought that when the guaranteed wage employment for 100 days under the NREGA reaches us we would all repay again. But we are so worried as there is no talk about the 100 days work anymore and we have nothing to eat again,” Lalmanlien said.

By ensuring guaranteed wage employment for 100 days to any adult in a household who is willing to work, the NREGA is the first legislation that compels the state to provide a social safety net for the poorest people of this country and seeks to address the urgent issues of hunger and rural distress that afflict large parts of India. However, in Tipaimukh villages, there is no awareness of the entitlements of workers under the scheme such as the concept of work on demand, unemployment allowance, and the availability of work site facilities. Despite that, the state is bound to give work on demand and this is a fundamental principle of the NREGA. However, for Tipaimukh villagers to realize that it would need a strong democratic governance to ensure accountability and transparency. Despite the vain wait, NREGA was not launched to combat bamboo flowering. But the distressed villagers are trying to plot their hope in everything in the midst of their biggest fear. Lalditum of Sipuikawn village said, “The 100 days work scheme is just a dying rumour. Do you really think it will reach us? If the government of Manipur is serious about saving Tipaimukh villagers, it should lose no more time and act fast.” Various Church Organisation have come to the aid of the hunger stricken Tipaimukh Villagers. However, with their limited capacity in the face of the gigantic problem they could not sustain their efforts to aid the distressed villagers. There is a big vacuum, which has to be filled in by the State. The Government of Manipur has to step in to aid its citizens by addressing policy issue related to the farmers’ plights. To combat the impact of bamboo flowering in different parts of Manipur, the Ministry of Environment and Forests has allocated Rs. 6.9 crore and 1 crore in the years 2005–06 and 2006-2007 respectively. The State will continue to receive Rs. 1 crore till 2009 for the same cause. However, the funds have not reached the targeted group till today. It is not known if the Centre allocated funds for the distressed farmers were diverted, drowned or drained. In case of Tipaimukh there is a need for the Government to identify the village as distressed villages. Besides, the need for taking stock of the situation, the Government of Manipur is yet to connect and link the villages with roads. Moreover, to combat the deteriorating plights of the people of Tipaimukh and other affected areas in the State, the Government of Manipur could avail funds such as Additional Central Assistance from the Planning Commission, 12th Finance Commission and, if necessary, also from the Calamity Relief Fund under the Ministry of Home Affairs. Moreover, the Government of Manipur has to intervene on war-footing scale to develop regeneration plan, development of necessary infrastructure, survey and mapping resource, spread of epidemic, awareness campaign and more urgently famine control. Not only that, the Tipaimukh villagers need a mass counseling programme on issues such as changing the crop patterns and subsidiary activities other than the traditional slashed-and-burned practice., which is a threat to the environment too. Besides, the government should draw famine codes for identifying emergencies and measures. The Government of Manipur should act immediately knowing that its decisions and actions could save its distressed citizens who are rendered hopeless by its inactivity in the face of the gregarious bamboo flowering.

I spent the day meeting distressed villagers. In the evening I went to buy Darkung’s roasted rats to take it to Delhi. Dinner was early. Kaia invited us for the specially prepared mutton dinner. After the night worship service it was followed by a singing session. Hrangthangvung and I joined the wonderful session, which was one of the best things that happened during the conference. After the singing session, we were told that a girl from a distant village was severely sick. The girl lost consciousness and hundreds of people gathered in the small house; waiting for the girl to wake to her senses again. There was no doctor. No medicine. So they were pouring buckets of water on the girl’s head as directed by the pastors who were there. I was told that one of the pastors poured oil on her head and prayed for her. There was nothing much to do. It was a helpless situation. You have to “just believe”, when inside the heart of darkness.

(New Delhi, March 23, 2008)

Friday, March 21, 2008

Dear Judas Iscariot

“You will exceed them. For you will sacrifice the man that clothes me.”
– Christ to Judas (The Gospel of Judas, ca 150)

Dear Judas Iscariot. Here's another time again cycled by the inevitable Christian calendar, to also remember your last kiss on earth. This too shall pass. But not until He comes again. You were fortunate to have kissed the Son of Man. But it was that thing you did, Judas kiss, which made all the difference. A difference for you. For the world after Christ. Your kiss will always be remembered. But you will remain the treacherous disciple who sold God’s begotten Son for thirty coins of silver. But Christianity and everyone who follows the religion would not be the same without you.

That is when I said to myself that you were also chosen. Chosen, but to be the traitor. Chosen to be cursed. Like the tree of wisdom in the Garden of Eden. Chosen amongst many. I realised that life is a game of choosing. In the end when He comes again the chosen few would be lifted. Those few would inherit the Kingdom. Not everyone. Many will be missed out. That goes to say that the leftovers would be plenty. Like the plagued quail in the desert. A blessing of manna turned rotten again. This place is already a grave of lust. But the world remembers you, for you were chosen to be one among the faithful twelve, and the chosen one again to “exceed them.” You were the choice of fate. In anger they even pitied the womb that carries you.

Many a times, as a Christian, I resemble you than I did of the Son of Man. When, fortunately, I was chosen and blessed with salvation, I also sold him for no price at all. I am a traitor too. Sometimes, I sold Him for less than thirty silver coins that you took. Many a times, it was for a trifle amount. But I sold Him too. Not just once. I dare not count them. The guilt is all the same. Is there a smaller guilt? A smaller sin? But I won’t hang myself like you did. Sometimes the guilt is too heavy. Just like the burden of the cross. But I won’t choose the noose if I were not chosen to be. Many a times, I tried washing my hands like Pontius Pilate, the Roman, did. The water has changed. I need not wet my hands to wash myself clean. I need no circumcision to become one of the chosen. I am a changed man. Even then, I felt the guilt of you, Judas, the Jew. That is when I used to find myself trapped in two identities - The act of the Roman, which has become an inevitable part of me, and the guilt of the Jew. None of them could swallow my guilt, except for the cross. But I belong to them both. I suppose this will be me as long as my life dwells here on earth. But did Pilate ever carry the burden of guilt like you do? Maybe he wasn’t chosen to feel any sense of guilt too. When you are chosen, you are the chosen. The choice is never yours to keep.

Today people remember you for all the wrong reasons that you lived through. But you were chosen for that. You could really have no choice. From Hollywood to the distressed people who are confronting famine in the hills of Manipur’s Churachandpur, “You will be cursed” again as the Son of Man warned you. That must be the reason why none spoke of the other side of you. Sometimes I wonder if I would ever be chosen to be one of the disciples if I was there during Jesus time. I wonder if our multiplying tribe of pastors, who spoke in tongues and learn to skin the Book, would be chosen for the same too if they were there at that time. When I know I won’t even sound like a cowbell, you were chosen to be one of the disciples. Not only that, you were chosen to take charge of the treasury. That shows you must be good with numbers. That also shows you were most trusted for the job. Honest and worthy too. What if Peter had taken that charge? He might buy the best boat and fishing nets available in Galilee, if not Nazareth, and move far away where he will never become fishers of man. And if he happens to be bowed down by his guilt he would return and still say that he knew nothing about the money that he was supposed to take care of. You never know, for he despised Jesus three times. Serial liar. But fortunate son, Peter was. He was not chosen to be the traitor to sell Jesus. Otherwise he might even take money three times and kissed the Son of Man for more than that. But he was chosen to be the rock despite disowning Jesus in His helpless hour.

You also knew about the dark hour that has its clutches firm on you. That approaching gloom where your part was to be the biggest mole. When the Son of Man honoured you with the bread dipped in sauce, it was an affirmation of the dark path that you were chosen to tread. The Book said that the devil entered inside you after you were served the bread. And the Son of Man, in anguish, had to drink from the cup the Father has given Him. Did you know that he prayed, wishing the cup was not His, but if only the Father wishes? Did you know that after you betrayed the Son of Man, in painful loneliness, cried and asked, “Father why have you forsaken me”? It did not end with the kiss that you planted. That bitter kiss. That kiss that changed the world. Christianity would not be the same without you. Without your kiss.

The Son of Man left saying, “It is finished.” And you became the most hated man in the history of Christianity. You still are. There could be no turning back for you. You were seen as more than an enemy. That must be the reason why there seem to be no love at all for you. You were trapped in the course of time and prophecy. Caught in the path that no man will ever choose to tread. You were chosen to be the traitor. The noose was yours too. Pontius Pilate chose Caesar. Not Him. But I am chosen too. This time salvation is mine, dear Judas Iscariot.

(Delhi, March 21, 2008)

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Inside the Heart of Darkness-IX

October 13, 2007, Senvon: The morning was fresher than the day before. It was because it rained endlessly the last night. It stopped briefly. As if to take a break and breathe. It resumed with a renewed strength, with thousands of raindrops falling in a matter of second on the tin roof that keeps us warm and dry. The yellow village road was wet, slippery and muddy. The wet surfaces almost glow under the heavy rain. We were served milk tea that was sweeter than usual. I couldn’t remember who told me this, but I was told the sweeter the teas, sweeter are the hearts that welcomes you. Good signs. It doesn’t mean that the host have sugar in abundant. Sometimes you can read hearts from what is served. In some places it is said that when courting a woman if sweet tea is served it means that you are stepping inside a court that could be shared. In some other places where the host could not afford sugar, I was told they served salt, which has to be lick. I did not take the liberty to remain blissful in the calculation of our sweet tea for I thought the rain was showing its strength for me. I went to the lifted balcony and watched the rain showering with heavy drops; bigger and fatter than any woman could cry them out.

In Senvon and other Tipaimukh villages October is supposed to be a fruitful, busy harvesting month. But just as expected, the doom flowers (gregarious bamboo flowering) bloom and left them without much to harvest. For many it left them nothing to harvest. So it was a gloomy month that will continue with more distressing time to confront. How they will negotiate is one big unimaginable question that gets clogged if one contemplates from their cut-off situations. There is nothing to resemble the State or government. It has no presence in anything. So there is no scent of welfare or development to take place. Every man is for himself. His life is defined by the swell of his muscles, the sweat of his brows, his traditional knowledge and wisdom of clearing the forest for his jhum fields, and the seeds he preciously treasure in the heart of his hearth. In the end, after all efforts were exerted and invested, he waits for October to come and December to follow. But His dark expectations proved true with the doom flowers that multiply and explodes the rat population that invaded his ripen fields of life. He did not surrender or sacrifice. Rats, rodents, birds and other wild animals were his enemies when the nation “shines” and “boom” in the 21st century that is defined by leaping progress in science and technology. However, in Tipaimukh, man’s science and technology is limited to his usage of spade, Dao, and the matchsticks used to burn the slashed forest. The other science to him is the unexplainable creations of God, which he did not even think of questing into.

I met quite a number of distressed families who cannot help but spill their apprehensions as hunger awaits them. It was a helpless situation for them as well as me. From that moment on, I said to myself that something should be done during our brief stay to give them hope. An ounce of it at least to help them carry on. I knew it would be impossible on my part, as well as ours, to provide immediate financial or material aid. The question was how to do that. What will you say or do in such situation? How will you respond? It was a difficult situation. I could not find a way out. But I have one thing in my mind that says, give them hope. If then, what will be hope in this situation and how do we deliver that hope? That was when I was wishing I was like Jesus, filling their garner with fat yellow grain to rest their worries. But reality gnaws like a boil on the head. So to many that I met, I told them we will do anything to relief their hunger and distress. That was an empty promise, but I could see little glow that appears like some thin brittle glass. So I must act. We must act. Today, hunger has driven them to uproot deep wild ham and other wild foods. We cannot be merry in ignorance and pretension when hunger and the fear of it could not comfort them or lull them to sleep. This is high time you and I act and respond to their distress call. They just need rice. Nothing more.

I remember kids who came for the conference brought along their load of vegetables from far away villages early in the morning hoping to take home something after the conference. They also brought roasted meat of wild animals. However their thin chance of fetching a good price for their goods was spoilt. They went from door to door selling the same stuff. In the end they had to bring down the price to the ground level. They were compelled to do so, rather than taking them back home the same load. Something is better than nothing. That will always be with man here on earth. We bought the dry meat. L Keivom bought their vegetable as well, which we eat them fresh in Senvon. Senvon did not have a separate market of its own. People who have stuff to sell take them door to door. If not they leave it in the available shops. There is another way of making them public, which is done with a written notice that would be placed in places frequented by the villagers. The last and effective practice is when it got spreaded by word of mouth. In Senvon and other Tipaimukh villages, everyone knows everyone. Sometimes one wonders if the word of mouth has everything to defy technology in places like Senvon.

The morning meal was early, heavy and healthy. I was proud not to be fasting or dieting. The time difference has inevitable interference that tends to sneak into our eating time. But I could forgive because of the beautiful rain. After meal we immediately dressed up for the worship cum seminar. We were halted by the rain, but the appointed time was running against us. So we walked the muddy road shaded by black umbrellas to find the congregation hall occupied. One thing Tipaimukh villagers are good at is in keeping time. I don’t know what it would be with other affairs, but for the religious session, they did not seem to give any missing chance.

The worship service was followed by the choir singing competition. Thirteen village choirs participated and battled for the prize money. The competition breathes with a fresh change as the choir did not represent any particular denomination despite its teeming presence. It was for the first time that Tipaimukh villagers came together leaving behind their scarred unseen high walls to worship Him. The change was celebrated. It was visible. I hear many saying that too. When, in the name of religion, their small villages were fragmented, the change is a big leap as they near the centenary of the Gospel. I haven’t seen such a potent dividing force that molests the religion we are professing today. Again, I see this as no handiwork of the masses who were led. It is the creation of the so called “leaders” who are designing differences to carve an identity for themselves. The bigger the differences the better their chance of survival. When it has become a game of survival for their “leaders” the masses blindly sacrificed their reason, integrity, innocence and their belief to find themselves in one of the multiplying compartments that housed outdated doctrines, which actually professed all the irreligious negativities. As they sacrifice, they do so at the cost of shattering bloodlines, love, peace, and what not. These houses of doctrines have presented itself merely as a way of life, where the spiritual quest took the backseat. Sometimes, the battle gets too narrow that the race is to wrest the imported orphans quota and free education that were never really imparted. The situation is one big grave. Forty eight years from today, the impact of the spoilt generation by these houses would be felt more severe than another cycle of gregarious bamboo flowering. When that time comes to wake us, if we are fortunate enough, it would be too late to ask about the fire starters who will all be rotting with their layered sins. My fear is that they might leave behind their infectious virus that will sincerely follow their footsteps to lead us into that Vanity Fair. How long are we supposed to say, “Father forgive them for they do not know what they do.” Do you really think they did not know what they were doing?

After the singing competition, L Keivom’s translated Bible (Baibul, Delhi Version) was released. The new translation of the Bible was presented to all the pastors and elders in Tipaimukh. L Keivom, then, led the seminar. He immediately posed a big question; What do you think is the need of the hour for us as a people? It was interesting as many voices were raised in response. More than fifty people responded. However, I recorded 29 responses as the rest were similar, if not related. Theirs answers were God fearing, obedience, repentance, Gospel, truth, surrendering to God’s will, courage, peace, meekness, unity, road, self examination, good leader, God’s spirit, salvation, education, hardworking, bridge, wealth, God, state, goodness, wisdom, Jesus, trusting God, rice, health, selflessness, and free education.

If we delve into their responses that carries their expectations, one cannot help but weigh them with the challenges of their reality. Their desired approach towards solving their problems were absent of any realist perspective. It was too ideal, where the entire teaching of salvation and deliverance have also wedded their expectations. I wonder if it was because the seminar was part of the Gospel conference. But too much of the indoctrination without any other substantial feeding for the faculties has resulted in what Marx called it an “opium.” That has invaded “the masses.” This has pushed us into expecting the supernatural forces to work on our lives, while we never act to move the mountains.

L Keivom digressed and stressed on two things: the need for establishing good school, which will mould generations and future. Keivom said, “If a school is not in order, nothing will ever be in order. School is the biggest factory.” Keivom said that a good school is the need of the hour in Tipaimukh. He challenged the gathreing to act and report if they know of government aided school teachers who are not doing their duty. He said, “If you dare not do this, you are equally committing a sin.” He said that there can be no bigger thief than such people who are not carrying out their obligation. He reminded the congregation that one has to have courage to do good. L Keivom also said that the mission aided schools today have resembled school of the thieves, run by the thieves. “To rebuild our nation, we need to revive good school that will remain our foundation as we progress. We need a new beginning”, Keivom said.

Keivom also stressed on the great mistake, the misuse of the Gospel. Keivom said that the devil has taken hold of us as we could never wake from the mistake. He strongly impressed of the need to celebrate the Gospel centenary in union, which will take place in the year 2010. He said, “We cannot fail ourselves and above all the Lord our God.”

After Keivom spoke, tea break was announced. However there was no tea, so it was resumed with the response session. A heated discussion follows regarding the date of the Gospel centenary celebration. Two factions were visible. One house strongly opines that the Gospel reached Senvon on February 5, 1910. The other house holds that it was on May 7, 1910 that the Gospel was sowed in Senvon. The learned and men of pulpit drew their historic swords. The ghosts of Coleman and Watkin Roberts, the Whites missionaries, revisit as if it were some unfinished agenda that has to be negotiated again. Efforts and temper were exerted with the ball changing courts. It could not be an easy nip. It could not be a win - win situation for both the groups. The issue was, and it still is, crucial. However, it was sensitive than the surface looks to be. I tell you public memory is not short with everything. I witnessed one side defending its stand in the interest of correcting the blunder of history. The other side defended its dates as if salvation was attached to it. I believed it was more than that. Their entire belief system seems to have been oriented to immerse in that sanctified numbers. I said to myself that Christianity has too many signs, symbols and dates that if we erase them, many would see their faith slowly fading away.

Two things are involved here; the historical evidence and the missionaries propaganda. With the passage of time it has become difficult to separate the grain from the sheaves. That is exactly the American problem today; the nation who were seduced with the distorted history that Columbus discovered America. After the gullible nation was fed with the distorted staple of history, it is trapped in its own wrong that will never be corrected despite the knowledge of the truth. Are we with Bush here who said, “If you are not with us you are against us.”

Fortunately, the heated discussion was put to halt by some sort of divine intervention. It was the conductor, who is also a pastor, who said enough of it. It has become inevitable. The session ended with a prayer. There is an immediate need for a constructive discussion and a secular retreat to our contested history. If this is not done, we will be remembered for our worship of sanctified dates, signs and symbols.

After the service, I met lots of people from different villages of Tipaimukh who were affected by the bamboo flowering. Their stories should shame the government if it exists for them. It should shame their elected representatives if there is any. It is a big shame, soured by helplessness, where hope ended with the visible walls of hills and mountain. I met people who don’t know what a government is for them. I met people who don’t know what a government stood for. Their decades of self reliant and independent existence are threatened by the doom flowers. Every bloom is not a blessing. Every flower is not beautiful.

We (Hrangthangvung, Darkung,our hosts’ son, and I) went to see the jhum fields raided by the rats, rodents and other wild animals. Darkung has his paddy field fillled with all sorts of traditional traps. His neighbours did the same. It did not even seem to tickle the menacing invaders that caused the ongoing famine. The scene in the jhum fields, rich with the colours of nature set in the evening of the day, was a mesmerising sight. The red and fading glow of the sun that slowly slips behind distant hills and mountain could make one lonelier than the solitary sun.

There was the post dinner worship service again. It was still muddy and the crowd gets bigger than before. The dancing also gets wilder. There was always something that feeds the soul. But we returned to our warm room to find the imported spirit runs dry. But it rained.

(Delhi, March 15, 2008)

Monday, March 10, 2008

Inside The Heart of Darkness-VIII

October 12, 2007, Senvon: I woke up earlier than my usual constitution in Delhi. Nature was punctual and early. I went out to the lifted balcony that opens itself to nature’s masterpiece. I did not take time to make a decision whether to sleep for another while or not. I choose to remain awake after I sighted the hills and mountain covered with clouds that were always on the move. The clouds, clothed in virgin white, were moving hastily in the lap of the silent green hills and mountain. How secure, content and peaceful they are. The naked and uncovered parts were yellow and barren if not clothed with little young green trees. I said to myself that we have no forest anymore. I wonder what our contribution would be to the alarming global warming. I suppose that if we are not a big actor we would be a small contributing actor. A sleeping partner at least. As I stared the moving clouds below me, the clouds did make way to show a river that it must have frozen in their embrace. I was told the river is called Tuibuom in Hmar. There were jhum fields on the foot of the chain of hills. I was also told that the jhum fields were all destroyed by the uncontrollable rats that overpopulates with the gregarious bamboo flowering. They look pale and yellow. Like jaundice painted colour. In them I saw hope shattered. Vain toil. Rotten dreams.

As I looked farther I saw a village cosily wrapped in the armless cloud. I was told it was Parvachawm village. The village was drowned in the sea of cloud. But they don’t seem like they need to be saved. They seem alright. Everywhere there was cloud. It hid the sun too. But the sunlight could find its way through the thin layers, sending out bright golden rays that fell on the hills and mountain. The clouds were busily engaged as if in some invading mission. I stood wondering if nature wars too. But they did not disturb me a bit. It was a mesmerising sight. The painter seems to be lavishly indulged in the abundance of beauty. Everything is at home. But I doubt one. So I asked myself, if man is at home?

After tea, our host, who is also the Elder of Evangelical Assembly Church (EAC), L Keivom, Hrangthangvung and I went out to tour Senvon village. Senvon is well known for one reason: it is considered as the birthplace of Gospel/ Christianity for the Hmar people and its kindred tribes in Manipur. Senvon is recorded to be one of the biggest village in Manipur’s south. It is recorded to have existed much before 1871 (Woodthorpe, R.G., The Lushai Expedition, London, 1873). The acclaimed Christian missionaries William Pettigrew and Watkin Roberts have made their presence in Senvon, with the later establishing the Thado-Kuki Pioneer Mission (TKPM). It was in Senvon that the first conference of the TKPM was held in December 26, 1914.

The yellow untarred village road was shared altogether by the loosened pig, goat, cow, chicken, sheep and the villagers. We all met without any greetings. But we are all animals. Sharing the wide road with the animals, there is an infectious feeling that makes one to feel no higher than them. There could be no space for pride as man.

Today Senvon housed many doctrinal churches. After almost every twenty steps we found ourselves walking in front of different church building. Some of the churches have memorial stone erected strategically close to the road for passersby to read. The erected stones are interesting as some of them carry different dates of the same event. Besides the inevitable and unnecessary doctrinal battle, these houses of doctrines are also battling the blunder of distorted history. Despite their ignorance of the undocumented history, they are ready to die for mistaken dates that have been miraculously sanctified to become holier and greater than the Word itself. I won’t be surprise anymore if tomorrow some precious sinner’s blood is spilled to save these unholy dates. Today Senvon stands fit to be called the village of churches. Village of small bells. Village of high unseen wall. Village of black sheep trading. Village of clogged doctrines. The virus shed another interesting symbol of identity. In Senvon it is easiest to find out about anyone’s denomination without necessarily asking anyone. In every house a nameplate would bear the name of the head of the house along with the name of the church they belong to. For the first timers it would be easy to mistake them as some heavy degree imported from some underrated university in neighbouring Myanmar. But that is where they belong to. Christianity is a visible fragmenting force. A little is collectively shared. But the differences are widely accepted. Man dwells in layers of identity. People in Senvon are no exception.

I was surprised to see children playing cricket in the middle of the road in front of an unused public water tank. Their stump was one rotten wooden plank. The bat and the ball were their made too. It would be one of the most inexpensive games they could afford. To add to their energy, they have precious little knowledge of the game rules that they strictly adhere to. I photographed them play the alien game. While, earlier for the Englishmen, it was a royal past time with a strict dress code, the cricket playing children in Senvon wore tattered clothes and blue chappal. It may not be a planned-out outfit, but the four boys were all wearing blue chappal as they negotiate the game.

I found that the villagers have a way of decorating their houses with the skull of wild animals and long horned buffalo. This proves they were hunters. But the head hunting history that has been widely presented is still doubtful. The post-christianity approach to the fluid history of the pre-Christian tribes has been one of inhumane retreat. This cannot stop me from wondering further, particularly with the history of the Hmar people. Sometimes I thought that it must have been deliberately done to sell small people better to win that loose frontiers of love, mercy, grace, support, sponsorship, and funding. A justified Christian project that resulted in dependency and bruised history. The religion has taught many blind men to preach about “truth”, but they never seem to learn to speak for themselves. We are one naive people who will be celebrating the Gospel centenary after dining and feeding with the theological interpretation of our history. We are still living with that version as more men of pulpit crossed the ocean, presenting us as sons and daughters of headhunters, naked, tribals; people who are still drowning in the dark of ignorance and primitive localism. Senvon is a victim of those unquestioned and uncontested version, which today spilled to multiply small houses of doctrines. These houses assert conservativeness, difference, exclusiveness, and all the negativity that exist beyond one’s imagination. The virus is hardened at the bottom from the top, which has become a privilege of the few. It is interesting to observe the Churches move from a people’s institution to a family dynasty. The progress resembles a failed state diversion from democracy to dictatorship. I don’t think we would be good in cultivating a healthy democracy with our powerful suffrage. We have too much to learn with our bowed heads and bended knees. I don’t know where and why we learn to sell our integrity in the name of religion to become headhunters and orphans, which have been a powerful trademark in the hands of Columbus like missionaries.
We headed for the village cemetery to visit old graves of people we have heard. The gravestones are mobbed by multicoloured moss. We were shown the gravestone of (L) Kamkholun Singson, who acted as the chief of Senvon till his death. We, again, visited an old grave that sleeps besides a road that snake inside the village reserve forest. Tea grows wild besides the cemetery. The lonely grave still reverberates of unfulfilled love. The moss ridden grave stood nameless and dateless. It was visible that the grave was uncared for. But L Keivom knows where exactly we are. We stood right in front of the faceless grave as if meeting an old acquaintance. This is it, Keivom told us. The grave belongs to Darkholkim who died of Pneumonia when she was blooming in her 19 years of life. Darkholkim, daughter of Ngurzakhum of Vengthlabir in Senvon, was an orange farmer. (L) Darkholkim was known in the Hmar hills for her beauty. She was (L) Rokung’s bride-to-be. But death took her away from him and they never get to marry. (L) Rokung, whose life brims with challenging experiences was a politician and successful businessman. He was a good friend of L Keivom and breathe his last in Keivom’s arm in the year 2003 after long ail. We visited the grave in remembrance of the two departed lovers and the beautiful unfinished story they have lived here on earth. L Keivom followed the old lines on the gravestone and re-etched (L) Darkholkim’s name. The first and last acquaintances that we visited during our stay in Senvon were the graves.

We went to the school hill where a new and hastily built government school stood. We were told that there were never enough teachers for the school children whose drop out rates is alarming. The teachers who are paid out of the State treasury were basking in their respective hometown far from Senvon, drawing fat salary for their toil-less job. I was told that these teachers constitute the whole lot of “believers” who scored highest marks in their respective Sunday school and getting rewards for best attendance in the same school, while they do not do what they ought to do.

We walked up a hill where, I was told, Mizo National Front (MNF) fighters as well as people from Mizoram came to seek shelter during the height of the MNF movement in the early part of 1960s. The MNF fighters as well as the displaced people were forced out of their homes by the State forces who are trying to quell the MNF movement as well as by the threat of famine due to the bamboo flowering that occurred during 1958-60. Today the villagers who are living in that same hill are in dire need of refuge as they confront famine due to crop destruction as a result of the same bamboo flowering. I met few families who expressed their distress and anguish. The invading rats, after the bamboo flowering, left them fighting another battle with a thin thread of hope. Today that hope has shattered. They are forced to resort to the forest to dig deep ground as they trace long roots of wild yam for their hungry bowels. In this land, every man is for himself. There is nothing that comes from the government. Even the news of corruption that gnaws into their trifle share failed to trickle inside this village. It is difficult to imagine from this deprived corner that there are “booming” and “shining” compartments in other parts of the country and the world. I wonder when the government’s ideological and political commitment would sincerely reach these marginalized constituencies. If there is something called democracy as the nation’s pride, there is no decentralization in its functioning. Democracy, however good it may be, without decentralization is a privilege of the few. These peripheries, which are India’s inconvenient reality, are a blot to the celebrated big talk.

We reached the mount where another EAC church sits. There are two EAC church in Senvon. Senvon could be scanned from this point. There I saw the clouds toy with the village, as they playfully hide and show the sleepy village at their will. Watching nature play is peaceful. I forgot the Machiavellian world for a good while. They exist outside, but only when nature reigns. We retreated to realize our thirst and hunger.

In the evening we climbed Senvon’s Zopui mount. Zopui is the highest point in Senvon, which is also the village reserve forest. Zopui, the only virgin forest visible near the village, is also the water bank for Senvon. The three legged Sikpui Lung stood there. The Hmar Students’ Association (HSA) celebrated Sikpuiruoi at Zopui in the year 2005 and erected a stone that says that Sikpui was also celebrated in Senvon’s Zopui in the year 1898. There was yet another erected stone with a carving of a man with heavy headgear and his smoking pipe standing on an elephant. The man on the stone also carries an axe on his right hand and a head of a man on his left hand, portraying him as a headhunter. Just above his headgear it was recorded – 28-2-87, Shenvon Chonluta- Lungtau. Whatever is, erecting the tall, big stone was one big effort, but the writings did not seem to carry any water.

On our way back we were caught under the rain. L Keivom told me the rain is called Airuo in Hmar. Airuo usually occur in October and would rain heavily and continuously for seven days. We seek shelter in a house and watched the rain wet the ground. We watched bands of distant villagers who came for the Hmar Kristien Thalai Pawl conference. One group was from Leisen village and the other was from Parvachawm. Some children came with their loads of vegetables to sell. It was visible that they came not for the Word alone, but also for the bread. The rain did not stop. We decided to walk under the rain as they fell on us like thousands of harmless spears.

Post dinner we took part in the first night of the conference. It was muddy and slippery with the rain still pouring down heavily. The big extended conference hall was not enough for the congregation. Participating Tipaimukh villages gave their reports. Jinam Valley choir also came all the way from Assam’s NC Hills. There was lots of singing and announcement inside the heavily decorated and packed hall. After the service we returned with our tired muscles and wet hair. It was cold and dark. The candle light flickered, delivering unusual religiosity inside the room for the three thirsty mortals. We pegged the water that did not rain. It ran down warm inside us. The next thing I realize was that our tired words were lost in the snore and slumber.

(Delhi, 09 March, 2008)