Nov 29, 2011

Christmas away from home... Again!

We're entering December this week! And I'll welcome December with a very bad cold, sneezing and a low humming in my ears. I'm all excited and not so excited.. all at the same time! I've decided this year that I will be spending another Christmas away from home! This will be the fifth Christmas I spend away from home and I have quite a mixed feeling about this one!

The other four times I was away for Christmas was, once when I was in my secondary school in Chennai when I didn't have a winter holiday and, thrice after research when I felt going home for Christmas would distract me from my work. But this time, the case is different. I could somehow blame it on my (hopeful) impending synopsis interview in the first few months of the new year but mostly it's because I'm too broke to pay for my tickets back home. My student budget allowed me a trip home only once in a year, and I've already gone home during the summer. My family would want me home, but then again, I'm but too proud to ask my dad to pay for my tickets. Pride - it has always been my biggest vice, especially when it comes to asking for money. 

After the 15th of December, only two of the Mizo students will be left in campus - The 'often misquoted' Zara and I.  We've already decided that we'd team up during the holidays but we haven't decided on what we'd do yet. We said that we'd start by picking each other up for church. But with the Delhi temperature furiously dipping, I highly doubt if I'd want to sit behind him on his 'vintage' bike on  freezing Sunday evenings.

So what do I do during the lonely month? In reality, I have a lot to do. I have to make sure that my synopsis is perfected for my interview; I have to kick start my exercise routine again (My latest visit to the doctor  confirms my ribs are healed completely) and go for a lot of Christmas Carols. Christmas in Delhi is not too bad, I have close friends here where I know I can just bunk in if Christmas or New Year's Eve ever got too lonely. In fact, when it comes to social life, I have a thriving one here in Delhi rather than back home. I guess I've been away from home long enough to kill my social life. The friends I had back in Aizawl are mostly friends from church. And after 10 years of being away, you either lost touch or you grow out of that comfort zone into the awkward zone. My friends back home, if not married, already have their own circle which I can't quite fit into after this many years of being away. So when I go home, I take part in church activities like an outsider and the very church I grew up in already treats me a like a mikhual. But inspite of all that I can't deny the fact that Christmas is best when it's spent back home.

Ah!! The struggles of a student life!! When am I ever going to stop being a student? And I realized with the line I choose, it's for a lifetime!

My roommate, an UPSC aspirant, once told me about two filthy rich sisters from her hometown who are here in the city for their UPSC coaching. The sisters, used to their luxurious life, continued living so even after moving here. They lived in a flat so grand that it is decorated with chandeliers where they have their own group of staffs to take care of them and the house. I remembered my roommate's lips pulled up to a raw smile as she said "The whole point of clearing UPSC exams, apart from the respected job, is the struggle and the success story behind it". I agreed with her. Those sisters, given they cleared the exam, I reckoned, will hardly have any success story to top the cherry.

So stealing a line or two from my roommate, the whole point of fighting for a PhD is not just the degree in itself. It's the struggle behind it; the stress and sleepless nights and the sinusitis caused by it; the innumerable hours spent at the library; the painfully small hostel room you have to live in; the missed holidays and the Christmases you have to sacrifice; the stringent budget you have to live with and most of all, the success story you get to tell your future children. I know, a few years down the line, it'll be all worth it.

So in the meantime, let me go air out that super-mini Christmas tree that a friend gifted me a few years ago. The tree, too small, that when I try decorating with even the smallest ornament I could find, it topples over. So each year, I decorate it mostly with earrings! The person who gifted me got his Doctorate, I reckoned, after a struggle too. The 'Dzuvichu tree' which reminds me that each Christmas spend away from home will be all worth it in the end! After all, Christmas is still Christmas. Be it Aizawl, Delhi or even Bethlehem!

I'm sure Lipok would've given me a much bigger tree had he known I'd draw so much inspiration and strength from it! :)

Nov 14, 2011

Now and Then: Of 11 year olds and 'normal' childhood

For a few weeks, I've been giving English Classes to an 11 year old.  Lets call him Sam K. for the time being. Sam, an only child of two scientists, is in Seventh Grade and scores above 90% in all of his subjects except in English where he scored 84%. And I am brought in to give him an hour long class, four days a week after his school. 

Sam : a voracious reader who reads everything from science encyclopedias to Harry Potter; a science wiz who can spend an hour just educating me about the black hole and also still a pre-teen who sometimes complains to me about his mother who, he says, nags him a lot and about a certain classmate who sometimes bullies him. Sam, the smart kid who argues with me for 30 minutes on why 'Scylla and Charybdis' should not be used as such an idiom because with Charybdis, the whirlpool, you still have more chances of survival. His argument? The right centrifugal force and inertia can propel your ship right out of the giant whirlpool. I didn't have a comeback for that because it's been eight long years since I've read about centrifugal force, inertia and all that jargon.

This evening, I just spend a couple of hours with Mrs. K discussing about Sam's progress and drawbacks. And I am taken aback by what is expected of him. I can't blame the parents. It's a competitive world after all. But somehow, deep in my heart, I feel pity for the 11 year old boy who is already in Seventh Grade and who is under a lot of stress and pressure at that age. Mrs. K talked about her concerns with Sam, his performance and also his relations with his classmates in school. She noticed a lot of personality change in the past two years and she, as a mother, is concerned when Sam refuses to discuss what is happening in school. In short, she literally wanted me to dig into Sam and learn about his personal problems in school, get him to talk and learn what is bothering him so that the parents can take certain measures. And here I am, with the overwhelming responsibility of 'shrinking' Sam, an 11 year old who is already fluent in four major languages of the world.

On my way back, as I hugged my cardigan against the chilly evening wind, I could not help but compare the 11 year old me with Sam. I was in Class 5 when I was 11 and made my first major slip from 'O' grade to 'A' grade in my second term exams. My parents were unhappy with me but somehow let it slide. After all, there were only two 'O' graders in my class. I don't know half the things that Sam knows, yet I don't have half the pressure that Sam has. My mother, a high school teacher, never nagged me into doing my homework but helps me when needed. But if I didn't do my work, my teachers in school were more than ready to cane me or give me extra work. I was never forced to take extra classes or tuition classes after school as my parents were contented with my grades. I know it is unfair to compare my life with Sam's when I was his age a decade and a half ago, but I just could not help it.

My uncle in Aizawl wanted to put his 8 year old daughter in a boarding school in Delhi ever since she was 5. "I wanted her to have better opportunities" he told me. My cousin, a strong-headed girl for her age, strongly refused. Last summer when I went home, my uncle told me to somehow coax her to come to Delhi. "She looks up to you, she will listen to you" he quipped. When I talked to Esther, her little face fell and she cried when she said she doesn't want to live in a place where she can't see her siblings everyday. I stopped then and there. I never resumed the conversation again. I thought the coaxing is unfair to her.

I cannot say the way we were brought up was the best. My parents never raised bars too high for me and my brothers. One sibling is never compared to the other. 'Each of you have your own personalities and your own calibre' my mother used to tell me. So we grew up contented with whatever marks and results we got. My  parents never had the finances to send us to boarding schools until we finished high school. My mother told me she never found the need to send me to a boarding school, when I got accepted in 'the best school in Aizawl'. I don't know if that would be the same, had we the finances.

Everyone in my generation grew up wanting to be doctors, engineers or IAS officers. Though we don't even know what those were at first. Kids, these days, grow up wanting to be much more - dancers, artists, rockstars, CEO's, lawyers, cardiologists, astronauts. I wanted to be a doctor when I was a kid but I decided I wanted to teach during my secondary school. My parents were fine with me when I changed my stream in college and my dad was ecstatic when I decided I want to go into research after a Master's degree instead of hunting for a job. The case, I believe, might not be the same for another generation. 

I want to be a mother at least by the time I'm 35. Sheesh!! I cannot say I will have the same attitude as my parents with my (future) kids. The bars will certainly be raised by the time they get to high school. After all, it will be a more competitive environment than the one we had. But will I make my son go through the stress and pressure Sam has to go through everyday? Will I want to send my daughter away to a boarding school at a tender age in order to give her 'better opportunities'? 

I know that my children cannot have the sort of childhood that I have. It's a changing world after all. But I would want them to have a stress-free, pressure-free normal childhood where they grow up with their siblings. I would want to share their test marks, their school picnics, their first crushes and their turbulent teenage years instead of sending them away to a boarding school. But then again, 'normal' changes after every decade or so. So by our kids' generation, maybe a stressed, pressured childhood would be the 'normal' childhood. To each his own. But then if the case is such, I will definitely teach them how to 'live outside the box'.

But then again, why do I even write a post on such topics?? I'm not even married yet! What can I say? I am, but, the myopic girl who suffers from perpetual hypermetropia.

Nov 11, 2011

When 'Sorry' meant something else...

Remember these two boys?
Sawmtea and Sawmsanga who decided  they wanted to pull a face for the picture! 

My two Sunday school kids, the best friends with the magic words 'sorry' and 'please'??

Tonight the post is all about one of the magic words 'sorry' and a little bit more.

Let me ask you a question and I dare you to answer yourself in honesty. How many times have you uttered the word 'sorry' and not really mean it. What does 'sorry' mean in the first place? Isn't it a word you say when you regret what you did and wished never to do it again!? Now let me ask you again. How many times have you said 'sorry' and not really mean it? Have you said it just so you could get away, just so it would take the load off you for being the one at fault, or say it just because it's the proper thing to do? I must confess, I have, many a times.

But tonight, I looked at the picture of Sawmsanga and Sawmtea grinning with me and remembered the night we took this picture. It was at Delhi Mizo Kut when they spotted me in the crowd, both climbed into my lap and asked me why bamboos are used for the Cheraw dance, while repetitively telling me "Ka tlangval hunah U Autea saw ka ni duh" (Autea was beating the drum while Cheraw was performed). It dawned on me how life is still so fascinating for them and seeing them reminded me once again how many times we, and most of all, I have misused and abused one of their magic words... Sorry!

I remembered many a times, I say sorry after I hurt someone. And I use that mere utterance as my reconciliation with my conscience after I hurt that someone. Not that I made a note to myself to never do it again!

Sometimes I say it just because it's the proper thing to do. But worse of all, sometimes I say it so I could blame the other person for being unforgiving and holding the grudge. "Hey. I'm the clean one here!". So I could say 'I'm the one who apologized first' and paint the other person the darkest shade of black by saying so.

It's the same with those times that I do good for a person just to feed my 'Good Samaritan' ego. Sometimes I count the things that I've sacrificed for a person too much that if that person does not give back, accusations soon follow the him/ her. Ungrateful human, Thankless idiot.

When such situations arises, is my 'good deed' really valid? Or is my 'Sorry' genuine? If not so, what's the use of me doing the 'good deed' or the apologetic utterance anyway? I should not be saying 'Sorry' when it connotes something else. I should not be 'sacrificing' when I expect something back.

Self-interest. The culprit that perverts and negates all things good into something ugly and contemptuous.

And I end this post with a line which goes against something I always tell the girl in the mirror.

Never love yourself too much!

Nov 8, 2011

Before I turn 28...

Happy Birthday to me.

I just turned 27.

My first 27th year pic and I had tired eyes! :D 

When I was 16, I used to imagine that by the time I turned 27, I'd already be a doctor (a medico), married, settled and in control of my own life and finances. Well, I'm 27 now, I'm still studying to be a doctor (a PhD),  single and in doubt to get 'double', still lives in a campus dorm with a roommate and financing myself with a meager research fellowship. If I could go back in time, I'd tell the 16 year old me to give myself a few more years!

I don't mind getting old growing up even though with age comes difficult life complexities. Yet sometimes, I feel like a failure. Three more years and I'll be 30. I wonder where will I be at that age?? But anyways, let me take a look at what other people have accomplished when they are my age.

My mom already had a kid, my brother 2 and my sister-in-law 3. Baby Machines they were!!

My dad was already a Member of the Legislative Assembly in  the Union Territory of Mizoram.

Cosmonaunt Yuri Gagarin became the first person in space. (Yikes)

Jimi Hendrix died. So did Amy Winehouse.

Norah Jones had already won 8 Grammies. (Yikes again)

Julia Child was an unknown government spy. 

Mao Tse Tung was an elementary school principal. (What??)

Jesus Christ was a carpenter.

For some people, they've already achieved so much while for some, they haven't even heard their calling yet.

So here I am on this glorious night that I turned 27, jotting down my list of things to do for the next one year. I just got back from a movie 'In Time' where 'time IS money' (Appropriate with my night, isn't it?), I have a meeting with my thesis supervisor tomorrow and I plan to spend the day at the library and give my usual English classes to an 11 year old in the evening. Nothing fancy. It's not my first birthday after all! :D

I've already said my 'thank yous' to the Big Man above and and my 'readymade' roommate already had a delectable kiwi muffin waiting for me when I got back from the movies. Happy 27th to me!

So here's the list of things to do before I turn 28 and I have exactly 365 days to tick them off!

  1. Learn to ride a motorbike (not a scooty). I conquered the bicycle... at the final cost of three fractured ribs. It's time to move on!
  2. Learn how to pray in Lai. It's quite a challenge, I know, because I'm out of practice with the language and hardly fluent. But it'll be a good start in practicing it. I wonder how it will be like to pray in my own ethnic tongue.
  3. Lose a few pounds **Reminder** Keep it real.
  4. Three words. Goa, Leh and Pondicherry. For Pondicherry, it's been 10 years already, a high time I conquer my fear of returning down South. Viral fever and typhoid fever will hopefully leave me alone this time. I know I'll get altitude sick at Leh, but I've wanted to walk on the roof of the world for so long. Remember my breathing problem at Malana? I still enjoyed myself , Didn't I? And as for Goa, I want to take a trip during the monsoon. I know it's off season but I feel beaches are prettiest during rainy season.
  5. Pet a snake. (I have nightmares just thinking about it)
  6. Make a snow angel. I've never seen snow yet :(
  7. Paint my own version of a famous painting. I feel I should move beyond kindergarten art. I'll bribe my dreadlock-sporting artist of a cousin to help me with this. Any suggestions on the painting? Email me a picture.
  8. Learn how to swim. I know, I know. There's a lot of 'basic things' I don't know how to do.
  9. Mean it when I say "I'm sorry" and never repeat the thing that needs a 'sorry' afterwards.
  10. BE happier and stay happy. Everyone deserves to be happy everyday of their lives. I know this point might be a bit difficult to tick off. But I think I need it in my list anyway! 
In the meantime, I tell myself 

"Be happy. Laugh a lot, smile always and Cry when you need to..."

Nov 6, 2011

My Stint at Chheihlam...

So, once again for the Confluence - The North East Cultural Night in campus, we are asked to present a cultural item from our state. Over the years, we've done most of our well known dances. During my five years in campus, we've danced Cheraw thrice and Khuallam twice. Sarlamkai  was also performed the year before I joined.

And since Confluence usually falls on the same time as the Delhi Mizo Kut and JNUCF Advance Christmas, people who are from the North East, who are a part of the CF and are also Mizos are always very busy. I happen to tick off every category I just mentioned. So, late October and early November are usually the busiest seasons in each of my five years in Delhi. By the time all three got over, I would be worn out from all the song practice, dance practice, football practice and Kutpui Ni. Eversince I came to Delhi, I remembered not being sick for exactly one birthday. And I blamed my sickly birthdays from over exhaustion from all the hype and crazy busy season. 

So keeping all the busy schedules of the season for everyone into consideration, we decided this year that, at Confluence, we'd present something simple, easy to learn and something which doesn't need too much practice. 

We all agreed on Chheihlam. We later learnt we couldn't be more foolish.

We figured we'd ask two of our off-campus 'dancer' friends to help us in leading the dance, engaging all the attention of the audience while we would just mindlessly hop in the background. We figured we'd have just a few practices when we'd get use to the dance, instead of a month long vigorous practice we'd have for dances like Cheraw. We practiced exactly for four nights out of which I attended three because I was busy working on a deadline.

I am not a dancer, but I am not a non-dancer either. I am not too bad when it comes to dancing, yet I have never come across a dance I felt more awkward with.

At the first practice, I realized my back, and my recently fractured ribs didn't quite agree with the dance posture where you have to stoop low and go hippety hoppety hop hop and flirt and smile at your partner all at the same time. I went home limping that night. I never knew that Chheihlam is the world's best lower body workout particularly for the butt!!! I woke up with a sore bum the next day and realized I pulled muscles in parts of my body where I've never felt muscles before. However, I was proud of myself that I got the dance technique on the first practice itself.

The second practice. I was confident but when we got up to dance, I realized I lost all my newly acquired dance moves!!! And I have to learn how to hop in that certain manner all over again. By that practice, we decided that we'd choose our permanent partner. Zara and I were quick to run to each other because both of us were not too good so we were comfortable with each other's pace. But by the end of the second practice, we were the proud- twosome who said that we danced the best!!

A few of the girls were quite good with the dancing but the attention always goes to the men. We have only a few men in campus and I don't think that they'd be hurt if they hear me say that they all have two left feet when it comes to dancing. Engkima doing the Chheih looks like he's doing the lengkhawm lam. Tetea, 'the scientist', was worse. He looks like he's doing a chicken dance. When we asked him to put his legs together while hopping, he said he didn't want to look like an old man. So there he goes, arms stretched at the back, stooping, legs apart and hopping! I haven't seen a more awkward dance position. Zara, on the other hand,  thinks he dances the best. But compared to whom??

So after practices and several limpings and butt workouts, Confluence Night finally arrived.

And all hell broke loose!!

Out of the two off-campus dancer friends that we thought we'd leave all the dancing to, Jacinta had to cancel last minute because she couldn't get off work on time. So we had to shift and break-up the dance couples, just 20 minutes before the programme started. I was somehow paired up with Autea, the dancer dude, not because I was the best dancer among the girls but because they felt I have the 'highest level of confidence' at impromptu items. And that is how I ended up lead dancing Chheih in front of the whole campus and a lil' bit more.

I pulled Autea to one corner and warned him beforehand, "I'll dance however way I can. I know I'm not good but it's upto you to make me look good". He grinned through his glasses and nodded vigorously.

And, Boy, did he!!

While we were on stage, I have never felt more comfortable dancing Chheih. People would have never guessed that Chheihlam is one dance I feel like I have two left feet with. I was proud to say I even enjoyed myself while dancing. In fact, I was so confident that by the last verse, I had the guts to dance up and down  the runway so that there would be more space for the others to dance in our little stage. And all that insurmountable level of confidence boosted up within just the few minutes of the song with a right partner!

Did I not say I enjoyed myself???

My knees were shaking and my legs were giving away when we were done. I knelt on the carpet backstage, grinning ear to ear, relieved that we're done with our item and happy that I somehow enjoyed myself. Of course, all the adrenaline wasn't quite enough to stop me from popping an ibuprofen tablet before I went to sleep that night. The next day was Delhi Mizo Kut, and I should be nowhere close to limping on that day!

So what did I learn from my Chheih stint?? Just three things.

One. When it comes to dancing, unless it's a competition, it doesn't matter how well you dance. What matters is how much you enjoyed yourself!!

Two. Our Mizo forefathers are so darn FIT!!!!

Three. With the right partner and a good amount of effort from both sides, you can get through almost everything together. Be it a 6:56 minute of a dance you feel most awkward with or maybe even life itself!!

"Hei lo a liam a inchhai!!!???"

So whether it's Chheih or not, I'll keep dancing through life! *Grin**Grin*

Nov 1, 2011

Malana Diaries Part Finale : "Why God, Why Malana?"

So, there I was, in the middle of the 45 degree dirt trail to Malana, tired, stomach upset from indigestion from the travelling, out of breath, panting, throat dry and parched and the night falling on us. Just when I thought the worst was almost over, I looked to the trail just disappearing into a steep rugged climb where you have to grab on bushes to pull yourself up. In my mind I was asking "Lord, of all the places... why Malana?".

I wasn't the only one. A few meters ahead the trail, the Color Kuki was catching her breath, on a dizzy spell  and panting "Lalpa, i rawngbawl tur hian ka tling lo a ni".

There I was, curled up in my sleeping bag against the cold Himalaya winds. I knew it would be just a matter of an hour before my upset stomach would compel me to take "a visit behind the bushes" with my roll of toilet paper and a hand-sanitizer while the others were singing around the camp fire. I longed for the security of my hostel room and a proper toilet with running water. In my mind  I was asking, "Lord, why did You even allow me to take this trip?"

Malana, an isolated community who shun the outer world; A holy community who regards all outsiders to be  filthy; a community with the oldest republic in the world; a community in spite of their shortcomings have  unshaken faith in their deity and  have absolutely no need and regard for the outer world.

And here we are, a handful of Christian Youth in the floating Delhi Mizo population, who are here today and gone tomorrow!

Who are we to think that we can make a change to an old, strong and stubborn culture? Who are we to persist after ten years of failing to make a change? Who are we to think that we can make a change when the proud culture itself doesn't want change? Who are we to poke our noses and push our faith and our beliefs to people who don't want it?

The answer, I realized, after visiting the village, is: We are absolutely nothing!

There have been talks going around even among our own members on why we should stop supporting a missionary for Malana and support something else where we can see results. Since we haven't even made a dent in ten years time, should we stop and turn our attention, our prayers and our money to something or someone else??

I was wide awake while Zama was snoring beside me on the overnight bus back to Delhi. The face of the  topaz eyed Malani girl kept haunting me. She must have been around 6 years old. The same age group as my eldest niece. Her pretty face dirty and her chubby cheeks dry and chapped. Her light brown hair dirty, unwashed and discolored yellow from malnutrition. Her tiny body clad in the shabby salwar doubled as a school uniform and her feet in dirty pink gumboots. The way she'd stand on the side when we pass her in the road, the way her face fell each time Zeta tried to take a picture of her and the way she'd turn her face each time she caught us looking at her.

 I imagined her face at 30. She would be married, have a kid or two with a miscarriage or a few still-borns in between. Her flushed complexion would have been wrinkled, saggy and hidden under the layers and layers of dirt covering her skin. Her beautiful topaz eyes would have the same dazed look that all the people in the village had from daily consumption of weed. Her daily chore would have included cultivation of weed and preparing and drying them for sale. By the time she reached 45, she would have looked 60. That little light-eyed girl violently woke up the Protector in me! I wanted to protect, hug and shield that child from the inevitably dark future that awaits her. Of course, she'd do alright by her own because she's never known the outer world, but still that thought doesn't stop me from wishing to give her options other than the inevitable.

I remembered those kids on the terrace playing and pretending to roll weed, shouting at us and bringing a little one into view so we could take their pictures. I remembered those three little children in their town square who were more than ready to pose with everyone for pictures and who didn't even flinch when some of the girls held them. I know that it's out of my reach but it still doesn't stop me from wishing that somehow they'd have more options in life.

LH-a and I with the adorable picture-ready-threesome.
The only Malani kid who approached us. He didn't even mind when  I sat next to him  almost touching him!
My thoughts drift back to my insufficiency and my negligiblity as someone who wanted to make a change in a community which doesn't want change. I looked at us, the Youth Fellowship, ordinary youth members with our bouts of slips, wrong turns and mistakes but with this magnificent responsibility. Then I looked at the looming, roaring Giant, the stubborn Pharaoh and the Stormy Sea called Malana. Then I remembered the little shepherd boy called David, the stutterer called Moses and the coward called Peter. 

I know that there must be a reason why God allows us, of all the Christian groups in the world, to make contact with this isolated place.  More established Christian organisations like YWAM, I've heard, have tried for several years to penetrate this culture without success. And yet, we, the Delhi Mizo Youth Fellowship, a handful of youth who mostly comprise of students and a few working youth, who one day would leave Delhi, are given the once in a lifetime chance to make contact with Malana.

We cannot let this chance go by. A one day Medical Camp will never be enough. A week long camp will not be enough either. But one thing I know is that, we cannot turn back now. We must have faith that He who started this, will finish this as well. After seeing the village and meeting the people and experiencing their life just even for a day, I, now understand why U Eli can't stop talking about Malana, why our ex- youth leader Johnny often said "Hlawkpui kan inti" even without making an ounce of change after ten years and why Debby would burst into tears each time there were discussions on why we should turn our focus on something other than Malana.

We may not see the result in a few years. We may not see the result in another ten years. Or even a lifetime. Our next generation may not even see the results that we want to see. Or even the next.

But there's one thing clear in my heart after I came back from Malana. That one thing is that of all the people in this world, we've been assigned this responsibility by God himself. And it doesn't matter if we never see the results we want to see, we just cannot go back now.

A friend of mine joked yesterday, "What if my grandson asked me 'A Pi, where is this place called Malana that you often talk about"?"

I smiled to myself. I only pray that flicker of light will burn that long in all our hearts!