Monday, October 20, 2008


I'm just about all wilted out. Been a hectic last few days. Exams at work again with the obligatory morning rush to be on duty by 8.45 am. When duty calls that early, I usually skip my morning meals and make do with omelettes or some other stomach fillers at the workplace. It's always struck me as being absurdly silly that we have to rush about so berserkly just to sit quietly for the rest of the day.

And then we've been having this unusually scorching spell of Indian summer. Octobers up here in the mountains are usually mild, pleasant times when the monsoon rains and humid heat fade into a cool tranquility by day, and nights have us digging into our cupboards for light blankets to top up the quilts. This October has been anything but. First it was heavy relentless rains and then relentless searing sun. I've been having to slap on sunblock first thing in the morning and then forget to reapply.

One of the saddest things about life is losing loved ones who were part of your life for as long as you can remember. Last week, my cousin gave up the fight after a fierce struggle with cancer. One of nine children, of which six were boys, he was the last male to go. Two sisters are the only survivors of that brood. I remember loving going over to their house as a kid. They had this pomelo tree right outside the house which grew the best fruit ever and any time we wanted, we just had to get a fruit and feast on it. My cousins also had lots of friends and at a time when record players were costly, precious things to have, they had one with plenty of great LPs and singles. The house seemed to be always filled with people, long-haired and hip, and every visit was always truly a memorable experience. The old house still stands today but the tree is gone, as have the people and the music. And one by one, my cousins drop away like tired fallen leaves.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

5 Life Lessons My Mother Taught Me (and Some Of Which Backfired)

With Mum and older sis

1. Bur keh thei a thil sa thun dawnin a bur tih lum phawt tur (Preheat a glass jar before pouring something hot into it). This came about one evening when I'd been heating pork fats and pouring the liquid into a glass jar which began to crack, spilling away the precious fat. Mum then gave me this piece of advice which I've never forgotten. She was like that, full of common sense and practical wisdom. I don't think she knew everything but in crunch situations, somehow she always had the knack of coming up with a practical solution to the problem.

2. Rizai sin lam zawng bik neih loh tur (Don't use just one side of a quilt or blanket, as the case might be) This one came when I once complained I needed a new quilt because the edge of one side was badly torn and dirty. She got me to bring it to her and on inspecting it, tut tutted disapprovingly. "Do you always use it just this side up?" she asked. "Yes Mum." "Well, you shouldn't do that. Use both sides, otherwise you'll quickly wear out the one side you use." Right, this one taught me to be adaptable and has stood me in good stead in several other things in life.

3. Mipa hnathawk bulah nula an thu mai mai ngai lo (Young ladies shouldn't sit around doing nothing beside working men) In an all-female family of four sisters and a widowed mother, we often needed male help around the house and usually took on hired hands. Sometimes they would be guys we knew well - neighbourhood guys who'd come over after dinner and watch TV or just drop in for some timepass. We liked those days when they'd be working on some very hard manual work and we'd hang around talking to them. That's when Mum would drop her admonitory stinker. The catch was we never did quite understand what exactly she meant. Don't distract working men or if you want to talk to working men, give them a hand. We assumed she meant the first and would quickly go looking for something productive to do elsewhere.

4. Mi mawl biak loh tur. An hminga koh zel tur (Address people by their names. It's rude just talking to people blankly) This was something Mum drilled into us right from the time we were little kids. She insisted it was impolite and rude asking people questions or just blurting out things point blank. Instead we were to always say, "Pu Biak, khawnge i kal dawn?" or "Ni Tlan, thingpui i duh em?" Mum drummed this into us so thoroughly that much later in life, there were often times when I'd meet acquaintances whose names I couldn't remember and end up passing by without a word or avoiding eye contact altogether. I've now learnt to let go of Mum's lesson in certain situations and acknowledge people with a word or a nod or a smile without actually remembering their names.

5. Aia upa zah tur (Respect your elders) Again a lesson I learned so well I sometimes have trouble with the flip side of it - respecting my juniors. Sigh, how terribly complicated life is.