Wednesday, December 02, 2009

When a Number is Up

I've sometimes wondered what it must be like to have numbers on your cell phone of friends who die. Do you hit the delete button? Make a quick clean break? Or do you keep them and hang on for old times' sake?

In the five years since mobile phone connectivity came into my life with a major bang, not one contact on my list has died. Surprising since so many blood relatives and acquaintances have passed on in that time. That changed today though. Sawmtea, aged 28, and much too young to die, passed away this afternoon of heart failure. His was a number I often hit for help and information about my internet and cellphone connections since he'd helped me with both. He knew strings to pull and often had strictly confidential updates about new plans and schemes BSNL had in the oven which he'd gleefully tell me in hushed tones. You will be missed, my friend. And I think I'll keep you on my phone for a while yet.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Of Expectations

do our expectations
of those we love
heighten so heavily
it strains the fragile bond
sometimes almost
to breaking point?

Thursday, October 08, 2009

From the outside looking in

Ever have that outsider desperately wanting to belong feeling on coming across an invitingly cozy cocoon of light, warmth and comfort on a cold dark night?

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Along Life's Pathway

How amazingly perceptions can change with age and experience. As I was hanging out clothes in the sunshine today, a young teenaged boy on the road across was turning around a gleaming red motorcycle that looked new. He was coiffed and combed and nattily turned-out. Had probably taken him ages to get ready and was obviously anticipating a lot of peer admiration and envy but the impression that struck me was quite the opposite. I wondered if young people who go around flaunting expensive new geegaws are aware how spoiled and shallow they actually appear. They obviously can't afford such extravaganza themselves, especially when they don't even look like they've done a day's labour in their young lives. But with the smug attitude of the cat that got all the cream, they exhibit luxuries with an affected casual nonchalance that's actually quite laughable when you really think about it.

When you're young and impressionable, all you see is what your eyes show you but experience reveal hidden aspects of the very same view.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Turning Artsy

As blogging gets relegated to an increasingly less important activity on my online program, I find myself discovering newer ways of self-expression. One of these being this web-based application that lets you mix, match, collate and collage images at Never having been any kind of dab hand at drawing, sketching, painting and the other things that are effectively known as art in school, I've often wondered if I have any creative, artistic instinct in me. Well, polyvore has let me happily explore and indulge that part of me. My four creations in as many days thus far.

My first - I initially thought the place was just about fashion which explains this rather unlikely montage from me. Steppin' out in style.

My second - I deliberately set out to create a vibrant burst of colours since the first one had been somewhat monochromatic. A happy patchwork this if I may say so - Music and Butterflies.

My third came about purely as a result of all the gorgeous jewellery pieces I picked up. What every woman wants - Bling it on, girl!

And this is something I made just an hour ago. The Angels called Home Too Soon. Brought on in a rather reflective frame of mind following the sudden heart attack death of a friend's wife yesterday. He paid a moving tribute to her saying she had always been both wife and mother to him and he could not imagine how he and their two young kids would possibly do without her.

By the way, this technique is called layering and I find it incredibly exciting to work with in the sense that it's possible for anyone to produce something close to a great piece of abstract art this way! Just loving every moment of this.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Whose perspective is it anyway?

Funny how skewed perspectives can get. I say this with particular reference to the insensitive but widely-held notion in these local parts that spinsters are mostly either all pathetic or desperate specimens of humanity, and that, to put it delicately, once you're past the first flush of youth, you're supposed to meekly accept you're now fair game to being the butt of crude public jokes about old maids etc. My fellow blogger Aduhi vented on all of that here so I don't plan to tread into that territory now.

What I'm more focused on is that having being a netizen for several years now and the Mizo online circle being primarily dominated by people below 30 years of age, I've pretty much resigned myself to being thought of as something of a senior citizen. Even with these handles/nicknames/online personaes we all create, I still get the oh so respectful U attached to my online names. Helloo, that's quite unnecessary since I don't even know you personally and probably never will.

A senior citizen online and an old maid in daily life, little wonder I've been deluded into thinking I must have one foot in the grave. Last evening shattered that idea. Another fellow blogger wanted a picture of an old Mizo woman reading a book and asked if I had one. I said no, being busy harvesting pineapples and other virtual produce. The incorrigible fellow persisted, saying I could take one of myself and he'd blacken out my face. (yes, indeedy, I have the chat log right here, thanks to gmail's dinky little chat log feature) Being the obliging kind, I did as requested and duly sent the picture - all within half an hour, at the very least I'm sure. He examined the picture carefully, said he'd have to edit it a lot and finally said something that brings us all to the point of this post: "ure not old enuff though :( but ill take care of that too." I quickly ran a critical eye over the picture and aha, even to my tired, bleary eyes I certainly didn't exactly qualify for an Old Woman prototype. Anything but.

Thanks, Amos, I owe you one :D

Thursday, July 23, 2009


I'd thought I've grown out of those out-of-body experiences. You know, those experiences that leave you so mortified you feel disconnected from your body and like you're in a dream watching yourself being stupid from a hazy, far-off distance.

But I had another one today at work. This academic session, the powers that be finally threw out the outdated chalk and blackboards that rack up so much dust and put up pristine new whiteboards. As thrilled as we were at first with the tech progress, we quickly realised that writing on the slippery boards with felt markers isn't as easy as with the old chalk sticks and rough blackboards. Especially in letters large enough for everyone in a big room to read. And especially in anything resembling our usual handwriting.

My boo-boo today was taking in to class what I thought was my usual, black, whiteboard marker. So on a beautiful, sparkling, white-as-the-driven-snow board, I wrote out in large, crooked letters Hamlet as a Revenge tragedy/play. I did wonder at the time why the pen tip seemed so much finer than other days but it was only when I tried to rub it off that I realised I'd just accidentally used a permanent marker. Ack.

I went hot and cold all over but quickly composed myself and went on as if blissfully unaware of my gaffe. Class over, I wondered worriedly if my unslightly script would remain on the wall forever and what other teachers would think while always having to carefully navigate whatever it was they had to write around my permanent snafu. I wondered if I'd have to pay up for an expensive new board and if the one I'd damaged would be stored away somewhere, always bearing my ignominious bungle upon it.

As it turned out, I went to the office to report my blooper and the office staff assured me that someone else had done the same thing a couple of weeks earlier and they had effectively erased it all with a rag and white correcting fluid. Phew. If only all our slip-ups could be as easily wiped out.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Childhood Vignettes

Been meaning to post these old pictures but only after I'd touched them up a bit. Well, they required a bit more touching up than I'm equipped for so I've finally decided to just put them up and put out of your misery all you poor folks who have been dropping in here hoping to see something new hehe.

I just love this picture. In the wake of the Mizo insurgency, the family fled to Shillong and settled there. At least, us children settled there with Mum's parents while Mum and Dad stayed on in Aizawl since Dad was in govt service. It wasn't often they could come visit, especially Dad, so family get-togethers were rare and pretty joyous occasions.

My grandfather was one of the kindest men that ever lived. His name was Zalawra and he helped start up the Mizo Presbyterian Sunday School. We used to have a picture of him and a little me going off to church together on a lovely sunday morning but ack, despite frenetic hunts for it I just can't find it. Grandfather was the strong, silent, hardworking, bookworm type and one treasured memory I have of him is a beautiful, gold-coloured little pen that came with the tiny little diary he had (they made tiny diaries in the old days) and I loved the pen so much that he eventually gave it to me. That was when I couldn't even properly write anything yet. He was run over one evening in Shillong on his way home from church by a speeding car whose driver was never known.

My youngest sister wasn't born yet here. She came as something as an afterthought. Which reminds me we used to have a lot of pictures of her as a baby, even on the lawns of Roberts ' Hospital in Shillong where she was born so I must go look for those to scan. Childhood memories disappear so quickly without pictures, and the pictures themselves fade, mildew, get misplaced or eventually just lose all significance for the living.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Practical Woman's Guide to Commonsensical Feminism

Perhaps because I'm a single, working, financially independent woman, people often assume I must also be a hardbitten, raving feminist. The kind who doesn't need a man at all and goes around talking men down and putting them in their place. Not quite.

With no brothers and my father dying young, I grew up in a very feminine environment. There was my mother, grandmother and three sisters. No man to kowtow to or lording it over the womenfolk, expecting to be waited upon or cleaned up after. No male so visually challenged or physically incompetent that he must royally summon a wife or daughter to turn on the radio that's just within his reach as he sits hogging the TV. At least that's what a friend once said was one of her father's most aggravating habits. When I reminded her about it recently, she said that was just what her husband now does, adding exasperatedly why is it that men just cannot seem to find anything around the house even if it's right in front of their noses.

I sympathise entirely with women who have to put up with that kind of running-after-grown-men-as-if-they're-infants-in-diapers affliction. At least infants grow out of their diapers into a happy I-can-take-care-of-myself-now independence. If they're not male, that is, hyuk hyuk.

Snipes apart, I'm not really one for an all-out, virulent feminism. In fact, I think men are really very useful creatures. And that's not being sardonic. I do really, actually mean it.

Precisely because I grew up and continue to live in a feminine environment, I've learnt to appreciate and be thankful for the way Nature has programmed and hardwired the male of the species. They don't think like us, for one thing, and I have the greatest respect for the male thought process especially in practical matters. Time and again, there have been problems around the house that leave me stumped and male friends/neighbours/relatives have bailed me out. Their qualifications and training often don't even begin to enter the picture. Just being male somehow seems to equip them with a natural-born know-how.

Unplugging drains and deflooding sinks, working out kinks in the mechanics of all things mechanical, sizing up a worrisome situation and swiftly coming up with a workable solution, I've lost count of the number of times men have come to our rescue with invaluable help and advice. A few years ago when we first brought my paraplegic sister home from hospital, I remember desperately wanting practical male advice on how to re-plan her room and parts of the house, and later her wheelchair so it could hold a toilet bowl. One by one, things fell into place with the systematic aid and advice of male guardian angels.

So it often seems absurd and unrealistic to me when overly strident feminists raise ex-parte slogans like Down With Men! Women Power! and the like. I believe in the indispensability of the male of the species. I believe in the structure of the male brain that approaches and responds to a problem coolly and logically. I believe men complement women perfectly by providing a down to earth take on things while women open up men's eyes to the emotional aspects of life. Ultimately, in the grand scheme of things, I believe in the perfection of the Maker's design in creating both male and female differently to form a complete whole. And vive la différence.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Sotto Voce

Just back from church and another sunday school session where I once again almost caused myself bodily harm trying to make myself audible to my little class of 8 teenaged girls, some of whom by the way, are much taller than me even in my 3 inch heels. That's the story of my life. Not the everyone towering over me bit. At 5'2, I'm perfectly happy with my view of the ground. What I'm not so happy about is my aggravatingly soft voice.

For as long as I can remember I was always told, "Speak up. Talk louder, nobody can hear you." I was always having to repeat myself. It didn't help that I was one of those painfully shy children who hang their heads and just can't seem to bring themselves to say a discernable word no matter how much they're coaxed. Of course as you get older, you don't find understanding, sympathetic adults supervising and helping your every move so I somehow must have learned to make a few slightly more distinct sounds over the years as I grew up. I have fond, proud memories of loud laughfests with friends and family, heated arguments - even the occasional screamathon with siblings, and then standing up in public and saying things without help of an amplifier. I even ended up with a job that calls for good, loud speaking, of all things.

But my poor voice remains my bugbear. Even when I think I'm speaking perfectly distinctly, people say, "Sorry, what did you say?" My sister constantly tells me to stop mumbling and at work, I haven't been given a large class (meaning something in excess of a 100 kids) for quite a few years now. Even with my smallish, 10 to 20 elite Honours classes, I still occasionally notice kids with furrowed brows, obviously straining against the noise pollution outside to catch the pearls of wisdom dropping from the teacher's mouth :D

Once in a while I do try lung exercises - the deep breaths in and out thing, and once it struck me that blowing balloons might be a great help. But I can never really remember to do it on a regular basis. So much as I'd love to sound authoritative and commanding and have people in splits with sharp, sotto voced repartee, I think I'll just have to resign myself to speaking pianissimo and have people eye me dubiously and go, "Yes dear, what was that again?"

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Cash Crunched

One thing I often dislike intensely about life here is the never-ending cash collecting by the Church and other social organisations. Apart from the monthly tithes that every God-fearing churchgoer gives in good faith, there are literally dozens of begging bowls that come around every month. There's the church building fund, the missionary fund, the Bible Society with its numerous offshoots like the Bible-a-month/Testament-a-day/ Bible for China and other schemes, the YMA building fund, etc etc etc. Just over the weekend, our veng had a cleaning-up-the-neighbourhood hnatlang where at least one volunteer from every family was expected to show up. That or fork out a hundred bucks or else. I opted to part with the hundred and later learned that a not-to-be-sneezed-at pile of Rs 16,700 was easily made from opt-outers.

Now while I accept without question that money matters big time in these times of big spending, it's always seemed to me that donations ought to be made voluntarily. People ought to be giving from the heart and not because they're pretty much ordered to shell out so and so amounts of their hard-come-by earnings. Years ago I always cringed at church begging announcements. Talking about money and the need for it so publicly always struck me as crass and vulgar. Now I've grown somewhat immune to it all though there are times I still wonder if it can't be done with a little more subtlety and finesse. In a manner more Christian, with a little more heart and humane consideration rather than as an arrogantly preemptory dik-tat.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Bitten by a Farm Bug

Every time I close my eyes these days, all I see are little squares of ploughed fields with grapes, potatoes, tomatoes, strawberries, etc flowering prettily while trees stand laden with red, yellow and orange fruit. I've been killing my eyes, totally absorbed in a game on Facebook called Farm Town.

It's a seriously addictive game where you literally spend hours ploughing fields, seeding plots, waiting for them to ripen, then harvesting them. There are always scores of online farmers literally begging for a harvesting job because it's a great way to score points and earn tons of coins. You can have your FB friends as neighbours whose farms you visit or tend while they're away and in return you get points and coins. You can send them gifts in the shape of animals or trees as well. You can also interact with other players by going to the marketplace which is always full of online FT players begging for harvesting jobs. Or to the very respectable Inn which serves only water, prompting wiseguy quips like, "Waiter, bring me a casket of your best water!" Likewise in the market, besides the tediously unimaginative job-beggars, "Hire me, please hire me, I need a job, big or small", you get the occasional, " I have starving children," or "I have only 3 cents." Don't you just love witticisms in the most unlikely places?

I got so addicted that on my second day, seeing a friend's farm with crops all ripe and ready to be picked (there's a time limit within which crops should be harvested or go to waste), I picked up the phone and called her. She was knee-deep in house repairs, pointing out to hired carpenters which window frames needed to be replaced et al. I felt like a total idiot troubling her about her virtual harvest but oh well, what's a good neighbour for anyway? Another time, I chased down another neighbour in an mirc trivia gameroom to ask if he would hire me to harvest his crops.

I'm not sure what's the highest level for this game but apparently you can buy a mansion at level 35. I'm on 12 now and hoping to buy a small house soon. It costs a kingly 70,000 coins and I have only about half of that now. I know someone who's on level 24 after playing for a week. He probably cheats though he insists he just knows the secret of scoring points. The other day he dropped by for a visit and was aghast at seeing my fences, animals and open spaces. He went, "Tsk tsk what did you put up all this for?! No need for it. Just cover every available inch of space with tons of crops." I told him the fun was in designing and creating your farm, even putting up initials of your sweetheart - check out pictures. He said he was going to do all that once he out-levelled everyone else, even people who'd been playing for 4/5 months. Claimed he'd buy a mansion and a swimming pool then. I told him he was way too competitive and to stop and smell the roses along the way.

The ambitious guy's get rich quick layout!

Some people just don't know how to have fun. Or maybe their idea of fun is getting to the top before everyone else. I've realised once again something about myself. I'm definitely not the ambitious type. No fast and furious, ambition-driven life for me. I'd rather indulge myself first with friends and have fun along the way. The gentle, peaceful, laid-back life and feel of the first farm (of my buddy Alex from Wales) appeals to me best.

My farm (as it stood last Saturday)

Sunday, May 03, 2009

A Maid for all Seasons

Wanted: a maid to keep house when we're away and to cook us yummy meals. Sure, there are lots of wonderfully self-sufficient people who manage everything on their own without domestic help but we're in a critical position where we need one on the double.

So we've been placing ads in a local paper. No names or addresses, just our contact numbers. The responses have been frankly tragi comic. The first response came in the form of missed calls. Initially I dismissed them as crank calls but when they persisted, I called back and a young girl's voice asked if we were the people looking for a maid. Yeow, imagine looking for a job by making missed calls. Talk of cheapos.

Another caller offered a package deal. His younger sister, 16, would work for free if he could come and live with her and continue his schooling (he said he was doing his 12th). Unfortunately, we don't have room for two and the idea of feeding two extra mouths was daunting so I said nothing doing.

Finally, we took in a young boy. He said he was 17 and could do anything a girl could and that he was desperate for a placement, so we decided there were times we needed a male hand around the house anyway. He stayed for over a week but didn't quite turn out to be what we had hoped for. On his second sunday day out, he came home after the stipulated hour saying he was going to learn driving, and that was it.

Our next try was a 22 year old girl who came with her aunt. She said she'd been married with a three year old child but the husband had taken to alcohol and turned abusive so they had separated last September. She was petite with heavily black eyelined eyes and tight jeans but once she settled down, seemed quite a find. She picked up things quickly and was neat, docile and seemed to enjoy working around the house. I had begun to breathe a sigh of relief but last sunday, around sunset, she told my sister she needed to buy a packet of tobacco just up the road and never came back. After frantic calls to her aunt, we learned she had gone to her friend's house and planned to stay the night there. The next day, it all came out. She'd told her aunt we had been getting her to take care of my paraplegic sister as well and that she couldn't cope with the workload. Needless to say, we took the aunt to my sister's room to see her with her daily attendant who is actually paid well over twice the salary we pay our house maids. We learned our girl was something of a pathological liar and had been surreptitiously using our landline cordless phone late at night etc.

So now we've placed yet another ad in the papers. We're dangling a bait of 1300/- per month this time. And there have been a number of callers already. One wanted to know if she could attend Burmese language church on sundays. When we said yes, she wanted to know if we could give her the bus fare every sunday. Yeow.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Calliopia who?

Almost three years after I started blogging, I still get the occasional query about the name I use here. Some assume it's just a fancy name I cooked up out of thin air but surprise, surprise, Calliopia isn't something I made up. Instead it's a very real name from the fascinating realm of Greek mythology which, incidentally, is something you can't escape from if you're a student of English lit. When I first decided to start up a blog, I thought it would make a great online scrapbook where I'd copy and paste all my treasured and favourite pieces of poetry and song lyrics. I figured I needed a name with poetic/songlike associations and that's where all the myth info overload came in.

Calliopia, also known as Calliope, was one of the nine Muses, and the Muse of epic and lyric poetry. And despite the fact that this is the internet and you can quickly google down every detail you never needed to know about Greek mythology, here's a quick summation.

The ancient Greeks, in the blissfully pagan times before the pre-Christian era, had a whole string of deities with a very clear cut hierachy. At the top of the table were the Olympian gods who were called so because they were believed to live at the top of Mount Olympus. There was Zeus, the El Supremo, god of the gods and ruler of mankind, the beloved Apollo, god of the sun and music, Hades the dark god of the underworld, Poseidon the stormy god of the seas, Aphrodite the original perfect 10, goddess of beauty, love and eternal youth, Hera the goddess of marriage and the family who also happened to be married to Zeus who regularly cheated on her and once famously seduced a mortal beauty in the guise of a swan, a union which led to the birth of the fabled Helen of Troy, etc etc. One great thing you can't help noticing about the pagan gods is that they didn't seem to have this much maligned distinction between male and female that plagues us today.

Next on the hierachy were the demi-gods and spirits. These included the Furies, who specialised in wreaking vengeance and retribution for crimes committed and relentlessly chased down the guilty, the Fates - the three sisters, Clotho, Lachesis and Atropos who decided on the life span or destiny of every human being, the Graces or the Charities, the Nymphs, the Sirens, and the Muses. The Muses were nine sisters, daughters of a clandestine but passionate nine nighter between Zeus and Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory. They lived on Mount Helicon and rode on the back of the winged Pegasus, gifted to them by Minerva. These beautiful and highly intelligent immortals were given the privilege of being the representatives of poetry, the arts and science, and divine sources of inspiration and guidance for poets, artists, thinkers etc, in other words, the intelligentsia.

Calliopia was the eldest and wisest of the Muses, and was reputed to have mothered Orpheus, the greatest musician and poet of Greek myth, whose songs were said to charm wild beasts and coax even rocks and trees into movement. As a child, I remember being entranced by the story of the death of his wife, Eurydice, and his attempt to bring her back from the kingdom of the underworld. When he failed, he became so inconsolable that he forever rejected female company, a situation which led to his killing by a group of furious, scorned women. They tore him to pieces and threw his severed head, still singing beautifully, into the river Hebrus, and it finally came to rest at the isle of Lesbos, home of the original Lesbian, Sappho.

Now you know why I call Greek mythology fascinating, and why I choose to use this pseudonym.

The original Calliopia, painted by Simon Vouet, 1634.

Monday, April 13, 2009

High tech learning, anyone?

What puts me off most about blogging is the regular updating thing. It's great when you have tons of things on your mind or just need to vent. I've done a lot of blowing my top online, not necessarily on my blog but on online forums I've patronised over the years. Anything that I felt was inaccurate, mispresented or didn't agree with, I had absolutely no qualms in making my difference of opinion quite clear but I guess I now have to accept defeat. There are just so many morons who cannot be talked sense into, I'd rather save my breath and leave them to drown in their ignorance. I've had it with trying to be a catcher in the rye.

Of the last 8 or so years that I've been online, it was only last year that I finally got a fast connnection. Earlier I'd been enthusiastically but laboriously exploring the much hyped world wide web at a top speed of 52 kbps. Laughable as it sounds now, it didn't stop me getting what I wanted. I frequented chatrooms, talked to all kinds of people all over the globe. Satiated my curiousity about people in far away, distant, seemingly glamourous places. Found out that they're just regular folks and some are even unbelievably dumb. Fell madly in love a few times with people I always knew I was never going to ever meet anytime but still stayed up long hours at night connecting with. I made a lot of friends, others, while I wouldn't call them enemies exactly, definitely not people I'd so much as say hello to were I to bump into them tomorrow.

What the little old dial-up connectivity couldn't deliver though was meaningful video streaming. I rarely, if ever, attempted to watch youtube. It just wasn't worth the hassle. And even after I got my broadband connection early last year, I'd got so much into the habit of avoiding watching videos online I often forgot about them. Now though I'm pleasantly surprised with the variety of visual information that's available. Last summer, I'd hunted down a few pieces of Hamlet that I wanted to show my students - from Laurence Olivier to Kenneth Branagh and Mel Gibson to this ingenious little rap piece made by a couple of American high schoolers.

Now there's a youtube/edu category which has so many amazing educational vids you could just sit and watch all day. Like how to roast the perfect chicken, poetry readings (mmm perhaps someday we can get our very own Mona reading her Ernestina), plenty of scholarly lectures from universities all the US (not exactly visual treats but there's only so much entertainment you can provide while giving a lecture). I think I can quite safely recommend this youtube/edu thing to my students. Perhaps one day I can just flick on a video of a Wordsworth's Preface to the Lyrical Ballads class in session and let the kids draw their conclusions from it while I recline in the back bench with an Archie comics :o)

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Anatomy of a Rainstorm on the Mountains

Ruahthimpui is what we call them up here. Ruah for rain, thim for dark, pui for big, so literally a big, black rainstorm. As opposed to those summery showers which thoroughly wet your umbrella but don't last very long. An RTP usually visits these mountains at least a couple of times a year, sometimes unexpectedly at the beginning of the year around February or March, much before the onset of the monsoon rains, and more usually during mid-monsoon from July to October.

There's never any indication earlier on in the day that an RTP is brewing. No bleary sunrise, no overcast skies, no agitated bird alarms. Just business as usual everywhere, people going about their work, children playing outside. Then suddenly, thick dark clouds start sweeping ominously down the mountains, a strong wind whips out of nowhere and noisily flaps clothes hanging out on lines, bangs shut unbolted windows and doors, stirs dust from the ground and sends debris swirling in the air. There are short, sharp sounds everywhere. Glass shattering, neighbours calling out to one another in high, hurried tones as they rush around collecting their wash, voices screaming for the children to get indoors immediately. Windows and doors are noisily shut and firmly bolted, the steel doors of shops dragged way down low, people on the streets, with or without umbrellas, rush for the nearest shelter. Lightning streaks viciously across blackened skies and thunder rumbles.

Within minutes, heavy raindrops smack fatly down, relentlessly rattling tin rooftops and glass windows. A smothering curtain of grey, impenetrable mist and fog settles over everything, drawing visibility to claustrophobic limits. Sometimes, little iceballs of petrified rain pelt down, hammering roofs of cars and houses. Hail always causes excitement. Children are especially fascinated and a few daring ones dart out to pick up the glistening, white stones.

Within four walls, the electricity is invariably cut off. Darkness reigns supreme. People light candles or old-fashioned lanterns at noon, a few awestruck faces peer through glass panes at nature's unleashed fury raging outside. Some huddle down on long chairs, others bunk down under warm blankets in bed to comfortably wait out the storm.

Sometimes it continues for as long as an hour. Sometimes it's done in a few minutes. The rain stops, the fog clears, the clouds roll back to their places somewhere beyond the mountains. The sun reappears. People open windows and doors and come outside. Everything is bedraggled and dripping. And life picks up again.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Individuality and the Poor Man's Culture

Ok, hands up all of you who've ever received this kind of encouragement from parents or teachers. I get the feeling somehow that this might be more socially divisive than we realise. Meaning it's dependent on the kind of society we grow up and live in.

From what I see of young people around me, I'd say practically none have ever been actively fed on an idea like this. In fact, I'll stick my neck out to claim that a clean 100% Mizo parents swear by the go with the flow school of parenting. Case in point - many years ago, our Sunday School dept teachers had made plans to spend a day out together on a picnic. But on the morning of D day, someone in the church community died and some of us hastily met to decide whether to cancel or go ahead with our plans. I hadn't been terribly enthusiastic about the outing anyway and it seemed quite wrong to go goofing off when there was a funeral of a fellow church member to attend. But out of around 25 people, only three or four opted to cancel, and the rest all went off picnicking. One said later that he'd gone despite qualms about it because his parents had always drummed into him the line that in crunch situations, he should always go with the majority. The soft, safe option that many parents take pains to teach their children.

It's a different story when you watch children in more affluent societies. Like with the American Idol no-hopers. They bellow horribly like landlocked water buffalos deprived of H2O on a hot day but swear that their parents, family et al have always told them they're wonderful, super talented and unique. And they believe the hype so completely, they can't take the truth that they can't sing to save even one of a cat's nine lives.

Parents in affluent societies where career choices are as numerous as the sand tell their children they can be anything they want. Try out even the quirkiest job they can think of. After all, there's easy money everywhere. In India though, parents expect their kids to be doctors or engineers. That's where the moolah is, alongwith public respect and recognition. In Mizoram, parents want their kids to hold government jobs, play active roles in the church and stay out of trouble. Trouble being everything from crime and jail to holding opinions that are too radical and unpopular, sticking out your head too much and rocking the boat. With the fairer sex especially, you're expected to hold your head down and never let on you have a higher IQ than all your bumpkin beaus put together. Shame, girl, do you want to frighten off all prospective husbands and remain a lonely spinster forever?!

Of course, times change. As social communities gradually move up the scale in terms of economic prosperity, public opinions also slowly evolve. But a paradigm shift is an excruciatingly s-l-o-w process. Which is why I don't think we'll see Mizo parents and teachers encouraging individuality in their young ones just yet. Instead all we can expect to see are more run of the mill products who do everything that everyone else does, never rock the safe boat, always live respectably within a marginalised circle and never ever venture to even flutter their wings outside the box. Like yours truly here. Sigh.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Down but not Out

13 days after surgery, and a week after coming home from hospital. I've been meaning to make a new blog post but I just couldn't sit long enough. My first day home I actually sat for over an hour before the computor. Bad idea. Ouch, ouch, ouch.

Ours is an upstairs, downstairs house and with my room upstairs, I was stuck here for 6 days because traipsing up and down steps, I was told, is strictly a no-no too soon after ovarian surgery. It jars the incisions inside, so the nurses said. As of last evening though, I've been slowly inching myself downstairs and upstairs, and feel terrific. Maybe the kitchen is the most home-like place in the house, I don't know, but I feel like I'm really, really home there.

I make a really bad nurse and an equally bad patient. I quickly get tired of everything. Reading, watching TV or stuff on a laptop in bed, even sleeping too much makes my butt ache. My hormones too got into the act, going into overdrive for a few days. Sigh.

When I first went to the doctor, it was because...hang on, STATUTORY WARNING: if there are any guys reading this who can't handle women's stuff, close the page right here! My period went on too long. Not a heavy, gushing one but endless spotting. By day 7, I knew I had to see a gynae but with a cold and its accompanying aches, I made it to him only on day 11. And when he said I had to take a pelvic ultrasound test, I was pretty sure all my vitals would come out normal, normal, normal and he'd sit me down and say, "Ah madam, welcome to your menopause!" Instead, the tests said I had a clearly defined ovarian cyst, sized 6 to 5 cms, and the doc said all cysts above 5 cms were better off surgically removed. And that was it.

I have a good friend who'd just a couple of weeks earlier had the same kind of surgery but her biopsy result suggested cancer and her gynae sent her rushing off to Mumbai. I was terrified that would happen to me too and despite the doctor's assurance that mine didn't look malignant, I had a few rough moments. But thank the Lord, all I did have was a harmless cyst. Meanwhile, my friend had her first dose of chemotherapy last week. Please pray for her.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Lunatic and Memories of Shillong

This past week, between sniffles and lazy lie-ins, I got to read this brilliantly written novel called Lunatic in my Head by a young woman named Anjum Hasan (Penguin, Dec 2007). Sometime last year, Mona Zote had sent me an issue of a poetry mag called Carapace which featured my favourite poem of hers, as well as this fantastic poem titled "The Last Winter, But" by the said Anjum Hasan. The structure of the poem just blew me away but I assumed she was probably one of those very high-brow, middle-aged looking eggheads with uncombed, scruffy hair. Recently, I googled her down and found that she was actually a young, pretty woman who'd grown up in the same place I did, Shillong. Now Shillong and the name Hasan rang a bell so I quickly made inquiries and discovered that Anjum was the daughter of one of my teachers at university, the laconic Dr (now Professor) Nurul Hasan. I remember him as a complete Thomas Hardy maniac with a gangly frame who'd come in and sit with his legs crossed, talking non-stop in the same tone of voice about Tess of D'Urbervilles, William Golding or Jane Austen, all the time kicking the air with one foot under the table and never really minding if the class wasn't quiet or paying him a great deal of attention. He was a brooding intellectual who approached things from the opposite end of the stick and gave us home assignments on topics like Lord of the Flies as an anti-modern novel or Pride and Prejudice as an anti-ironic novel. Despite his obvious knowledge, however he didn't inspire us as much as he might have because he was so close-mouthed and uncommunicative, and didn't exactly give off warm, welcoming vibes. It's wonderfully in keeping with the scheme of things though, that his daughter (and a younger sister Daisy who's reportedly also written a novel) should have inherited their father's formidable little grey cells.

Lunatic brings back many memories of Shillong where my family had fled Mizoram in the wake of the insurgency movement in the mid 60s. My father had been a high-ranking young officer then and after a while, had gone back to Aizawl with my mother, leaving four very small children (us 2 sisters and a male cousin) with my maternal grandparents. We lived in an assortment of houses, ranging from a Mizo family's ground floor tenement to a little cottage near a pretty field to a larger house in Nongrim just next to the Khasi section of Auxilium Convent. There had been many Mizo families then, many like us, on enforced self-exile due to the political instablity back home. Of course, Shillong was always the most cosmopolitan place in the Northeast even then.

I'd started my education at Auxilium and later shifted to the all-girl Loreto Convent. Loreto was, hands down, the most snobbish, stuck-up, snooty schools I ever went to. I remember lunch time when we'd take our little tiffin boxes to the lunch room or whatever it was called, and eat furtively with our right hands while with the left, we kept a tight grip on the slightly ajar lids of our boxes so that nobody could see what we were eating. Another memory I have of LC is funnier. My grandparents had instructed my older sister to always make sure she shepherded us younger ones home, so there we'd stand at the bus stand at Dhanketi and my older sister, always a voracious reader, would bury her bespectacled head in a book, usually an Enid Blyton, and never pay attention to the buses coming and going. So bus after bus after bus would sail by and we'd only eventually make it home when it was almost dark. Finally, grandma strictly forbade my sister from reading at the bus stand or until she'd brought us safely home.

Though I never knew Anjum Hasan personally, from what I do remember of her family, I can see that she weaves in many personal details of herself and her folks in varying degrees in her three protagonists. Like their little house just above the Fire Brigade bus stand which was opposite A la carte restaurant, and for anyone who knew/knows Dr Hasan, he's been immortalised quite unmistakably in the character of Mr Das. But despite the interest and hype about Anjum's Lunatic bringing the largely little-known and often ignored Northeast into the Indian literary mainstream, a word of caution. This is the Northeast through the perspective of someone who was born and brought up in the Northeast certainly, but to whom the distinctive essence of the Northeast must forever remain impenetrable because she is, as she keeps putting it, a "non-tribal". Never liked that tribal/non-tribal terminology and even while I understand perfectly well that the theme of the book runs along precisely those lines, I'll stick my head out and say I like Anjum the less because of her obvious inability to transcend the socio-cultural divide.

Her poetry though is immaculately faultless, and I include here the poem that first made me sit up and take note of her. Just love the innovative pattern of these lines.

The Last Winter, But...

This longing to get to the end of things,
I just walked everywhere, eating dust.

It was December and the light had changed,
Sunlight ripening like squares of rare fruit.

I just walked everywhere, eating dust,
Thinking, this will be the last winter, but...

Sunlight ripening like squares of rare fruit,

Every city street still resistant to habit.

Thinking, this will be the last winter, but...

I have explanations to offer myself.

Every city street still resistant to habit,

And barefoot women wanting the time.

I have explanations to offer myself,
Firmer than the day's jelly shadows

And barefoot women wanting the time,

The afternoon's sounds like, like a new alphabet.

Firmer than the day's jelly shadows,
That place where all sentences hold good,

The afternoon's sounds, like a new alphabet,

This longing to get to the end of things.

PS I'm going to hospital to have an ovarian cyst removed on Tuesday. Please, everybody, say a little prayer for me.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Feelin' Froggy?

With the sting of winter easing into balmier but v-e-r-y dry, gritty with dust and no rain for months on end weather, colds and sore throats seem to be the in thing these days. I'm no exception. And my colds are usually always long-drawn-out affairs with a couple of days' painful sore throat and then just one side of my nose starts running, and after it's mended in about 2/3 days, the other side starts its own little process. I caught my sore throat a couple of evenings ago and spent yesterday feeling like I was being slowly done in by an invisible Boston Strangler but this morning I woke up with the constricting pain gone. My head remains woozy and the old body like it's been hammered but at least my throat doesn't feel like it's being scraped raw anymore.

The secret to my vanquished sore throat comes from my sister. Many years ago, when her three kids were still small and catching childhood illnesses right, left and centre, she found a great way to zap away sore throats. Called the cold compress, it works like this -

At bedtime, take a face towel or a large hanky, wet it in cold water, wring it out well and fold it lengthwise so you end up with a longish strip. Wrap it all around the neck with the overlap in front. Then wrap a warm, woollen scarf over it and pin securely into place. Re-wet the compress after every 8 hours. This hydro-therapy usually cures a sore throat in a day, two at the most.

Forget about saline gargles, ginger tea, lozenge sucks, warm honey and lemon drinks and the rest. This remedy works like a charm every time.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Puppy Dog Tales

In the way that sparrows do with the coming of warm weather, some four or five were busily twittering and chasing each other around outside the door today when one obviously got a little over-excited and came fluttering right into my sister's room. I thought it would either find its way out again or my sister, in bed with her seasonal sniffles, would take care of it. Not so. An hour later I walked into my room to find a dead bird neatly left smack in the middle of my bed. My sister's naughty 3 year old poochie Kuri she'd adopted from our neighbours a couple of years ago, had struck again.

My sister says this is possibly the seventh bird Kuri's exterminated. We think it's appalling that she goes around mauling these fragile little creatures. Not that she's done it for a while. When she wasn't yet a year old and an exuberantly energetic little puppy, she'd gambol around and somehow keep nailing the sparrows that seem to love our terrace but to our relief, she seemed to have slowed down with time. No more dead or injured birds. Until today. Hopefully this will be the last.

Of the 15 or so dogs that we've had over the years, there was just one other that seemed to share this kind of predatory instinct. Except in her case, it wasn't birds but rodents. When Teii smelled a mouse, she just about morphed into a cat, albeit a barking, yelping, highly excitable one. She'd get into a tizzy, chasing the probably highly puzzled mouse around tight corners while we shrieked and hoped the mouse wouldn't come running in our direction, and after relentless hounding, Teii invariably ended up with a kill. At which point, she would lose all interest and we'd quickly get rid of the little unwanted creature.

I suppose the predatory instinct is just a little more pronounced in some animals than it is in others and with individual preferences hardwired into them as well.

Picture: Kuri looking demure with a neighbour's kid

Friday, January 30, 2009

Crazy Little Thing called Love

Back in the 70s, there used to be this little comic strip in black and white that was all the rage. You couldn't open a newspaper or magazine without coming across one of its cartoons. The sentiments expressed were invariably sweet, simple and innocent, and left you, more often than not, in a smiling frame of mind. I don't know when exactly they fell out of public affection. Perhaps they were just out of place in the new times. But recently, as I was mulling over that age-old, complicated thing called love, I suddenly remembered those little cartoons and did a quick online search. Despite the numerous cartoon sites available, there was just one which offered Love is cartoons. But bingo, there was actually a community on Facebook dedicated to the comic strip. A few handpicked favourites I ripped off from there. Click on the collages to read the captions.

The uh-oh side of love...

The mmm-this-is-bliss side of it...

And my personal faves...

So what is love actually? How exactly does it work? Is there truly such a thing as a soul mate? Can love fade away over time? Growing up on a chick lit diet of Barbara Cartland, Denise Robbins, Mills and Boon and the like, I fed off all the oooooh notions of "falling in love." Then I got older, met all kinds of people, perfectly normal, ordinary people who'd never been swept away by some earth-shattering, all-consuming Wuthering Heights kind of passion but had settled into matrimony for the most prosaic of reasons. They're living proof that you can live a perfectly contented life with anyone if you set your mind to it. Love grows, see?

So my conclusion is, as with all things in life, you can't generalize here either. It's not the same for everyone. Different strokes for different folks.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Flowers along the way

“…that best portion of a good man's life,
His little, nameless, unremembered acts
Of kindness and of love.”

As we wend our way through life, I wonder how many little acts of kindness we leave in our trail. Little acts we don’t give much thought to even a few minutes later, even completely put out of our minds, but which mean a great deal to the persons on the receiving end.

As I write this, two incidents instantly spring to mind. Several years ago, I’d been called to attend a month’s course of training in a little town called Burdwan, a few miles away from Calcutta. The liaison officer at Mizoram House arranged a car with a house worker to drop me off at the railway station, and the worker, on leaving me at the ladies’ compartment, asked the women there to make sure I got off at Burdwan station. It was about an hour’s ride and quickly getting dark and many of the women got off before me. As I began to panic wondering how on earth I was going to get to my destination, we reached a station where this woman, young, petite, obviously not that well-off, pallu over head, gestured to me that this was my stop. She beckoned me to follow her and we manoeuvered past busy travelers, all in a hurry to get home. It was completely dark by then and there wasn’t a familiar face in sight. The woman quickly led me out the bustling station to a rickshaw stand where she spoke to one of the drivers. They asked me where I wanted to go and as I told them, she spoke to him again, waving me to get on. I thanked her profusely, quickly clambered up and she melted away into the darkness as we rattled off in another direction. A few minutes later, I was safely ensconced at the guesthouse. Had it not been for her, I’d have been helplessly floundering at the station for ages.

The second incident happened a couple of weeks later. I’d gone to Cal for the day with a friend and we were at Howrah to get back to Burdwan by the local train. As we waited in the train for an interminably long time, for some reason I got off for a minute. Perhaps it was to buy a bottle of mineral water, I don’t quite remember, but as I was caught up doing whatever it was that I’d got off to do, I heard the train hooting and slowly start pulling out. Hey, I thought, that’s my train. I ran towards it but couldn’t remember my compartment. And to my horror, the train began to put up speed and I chased after it frantically. Then through an open door, a face popped out and a strong helping arm shot out to pull me up onboard. It belonged to a strong, sturdy, young coolie who was with two or three other coolies. I thanked my savior with a huge, breathless smile of relief and thank yous in English and asked where the ladies’ compartment was. I then took the direction they pointed me to and was soon back safely where I should never have left.

These are just two of the most vivid memories I have of little acts of kindness done to me. I never got to know my saviors or their names, probably wouldn’t recognize them if I saw them again and they probably don’t remember me or the help they once gave me. But I shall always remember them and the kindness they showed me at times when I was desperately in need. It didn’t matter that I was a total stranger. I obviously needed help and they gave it.

Perhaps there are one or two people out there somewhere who might say the same about me. Here's a lovely song that totally goes with my state of mind. A Beautiful Life sung by Kim Richey. Lyrics by William M. Golden here.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Meeting a Poet

Last week, I met the awesome Mona Zote, heir apparent to TS Eliot and all other elite poetic giants that I haven't even heard of yet :) Ever since I'd started my Mizo lit blog slightly over a year ago, I'd been in touch with her over the phone and email but despite living in what she once termed a one hoss town, we'd never met. I'd asked around, heard she was the daughter of a former IAS officer, worked, peculiarly enough, at the Income Tax dept, was a voracious reader and something of a social recluse. From my personal contact with her, I knew she also had a whacky sense of humour.

Last Friday, I finally had the opportunity for a face-off. I had sos-ed her for a new poetic contribution and while she was entirely sympathetic, didn't have anything new to offer just yet. She then suggested it was time we met up over tea someplace and I agreed though I must confess that the idea of meeting a mind as formidable as Ms. Zote's filled me with some trepidation. Perhaps she's clairvoyant as well because she firmly told me, "2 at David's Kitchen tomorrow and no reneging allowed!"

The next day she changed the venue to Silvermoon because they had "nicer momos." I got there a little late after first shopping for off-white curtain linings. As I made it up the steps and into the restaurant, slightly out of breath, I looked around for someone I'd never seen and had no idea how to picture. At one table, there were a couple of girly-looking boys and at another, a lone young woman busy tucking into her food. As I wondered if she'd reneged on me, the young woman raised her head and waved. And the rest, as they say, is history :)

I hadn't been too sure what to expect but Mona definitely isn't some head-in-the-sand or la-di-dah egghead. Yes, she's deeply into highly esoteric stuff, be it in lit or movies or the arts in general, and that ease with the intricate and abstruse explains her complex poetry. But she's also as into everyday stuff as you and me besides being wonderfully polite and well-bred. She loves tea and smokes like a chimney too. Yes, I had sensed that Ernestina, the "woman of the hills" who sat "pulling on one thin cigarillo after another" while lifting "her teacup in friendly greeting to the hills" was her.

Remarkably, there is actually another writer from the Northeast who reminds me a great deal of Mona. Mamang Dai is from Arunachal Pradesh but like Mona, she also writes from a world view, adeptly and skillfully fusing the ethnic, the universal and the personal into a highly individualised whole. While I haven't read much of Dai yet, here are pieces from her poem The Voice of the Mountain,

I am the desert and the rain.
The wild bird that sits in the west.
The past that recreates itself
and particles of life that clutch and cling
For thousands of years –
I know, I know these things
as rocks know, burning in the sun’s embrace,
about clouds, and sudden rain;
as I know a cloud is a cloud is a cloud,
A cloud is this uncertain pulse
that sits over my heart....

...I am the breath that opens the mouth of the canyon,
the sunlight on the tips of trees;
There, where the narrow gorge hastens the wind
I am the place where memory escapes
the myth of time,
I am the sleep in the mind of the mountain.

The best thing about these two deeply complex, highly creative women poets is not just that they're both from the Northeast but that they're personal friends. To Mona and Ms. Dai, may their tribe increase.

P.S. None of the above, the writing or the picture, either in part or in whole, may be reproduced anywhere, either in print or on the web, without my express permission.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

2009: Que Sera Sera

The Christmas tree and trimmings have all been taken down and packed away. A new year, a new beginning. Used to be that I'd get myself all worked up that a new year had come and what it might bring in its wake et al. This time I'm completely blasé about it all. The future's not ours to see or worry over. Amen.

What I've been feeling very strongly about over a fairly quiet and uneventful Christmas season though is that I want to live more for the Lord. Over the last few years, my enthusiasm for wholesome Christian living has ebbed disgracefully as my faith has dipped abysmally. I'm tired of that. I want to be reinvented, reinvigorated, reclaim lost ground and live less selfishly. In hindsight, I believe it was my faith that gave me whatever dignity I had. I'm tired of hobnobbing, especially online, with sceptics who disbelieve, and of unwittingly allowing myself to let their dissension and cynicism rub off on me. I'm a believer, been one since Christmas 1989 and I want to go back to remaining one. Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief.

On a less tired note, yesterday I picked up the entire 5 seasons of Ally McBeal on dvd. I have no idea when I'll ever actually get to watching all of them but I've been dying to get a look in at the Christmas episodes with Robert Downey Jr. Specially the part where he sings Joni Mitchell's River so beautifully.

I also have this thick tome of papers I'm supposed to edit. A friend, or perhaps more accurately, an old acquaintance, asked me to edit some 157 pages of a manuscript for a book on Mizo history. Whole lotta reading to do. I wouldn't do it if it weren't for my interest in Mizo literature. Speaking of which, my Mizo lit blog has been stagnating horribly. I've sort of run out of steam on that. Going around begging people to contribute is just not that high on my list of priorities anymore. Specially when the feedback hasn't been quite what I'd hoped for. Oh well, perhaps this manuscript editing will throw up something new.

Here's to the next 365 days of whatever will be.