Sunday, November 10, 2013

Of Dusk and Swings

And if light shall fade 
and fall to black...

There's probably some psychology term for it but a certain memory comes to mind every time I watch dusk fall - which isn't every day with all the things happening at the end of the day that prevent you from just sitting back and watching the world changing outside. Also I happen to live on the eastern side of a hill which means I get to watch sunrises but sunsets never. 

But I digress. Dusk somehow always brings back to mind a particular image. A little girl sitting on a swing, all on her own while nature shifts and changes colours all around her.  I was about 9 or 10, recently sent off to a boarding school (albeit with my two sisters) after years of living with my grandparents. The school had two sections separated from each other by a large, grassy field with a narrow cobbled pathway connecting the two sections. One section housed the classrooms, and the other was the main, rambling, Assam type building with dormitories for the boarders and a closed off section housing the chapel and nuns.

The swings were in the classroom section and were always in great demand during lunch breaks and before classes. I never even dreamed of trying to get a turn at those times. Instead, sometimes in the evenings when the pushy day scholars had gone home and the hostel girls were all busy doing something or the other, I would wend my way alone down the cobbled path and have the swings all to myself. There were two of them - one was high and scary and the big girls loved to ride it, giggling and screaming. The other one was children's size, I guess. I would sit on the wooden seat and  swing to my heart's content. Everything would be peaceful and quiet except for a few crickets singing in the trees and hedges. I would listen to the iron hinges creak as dusk fell around me. The world would grow soft and mellow,  enveloped in swift changing hues of crimson, pink, orange and purple and I would think of how the older girls always talked about how homesick they felt at sundown. Maybe I was too young to feel homesick, or maybe since I had never really lived with my parents since childhood I didn't feel that way. But I did sense something sad and lingering in the air around me. And then I would remember the classrooms behind me were supposed to be haunted so I would get up and make my way back to the dorms before it all got too dark.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

I've come a long way, baby!

Came across this quote just a couple of days before my birthday the other day and it didn't need much thought. Yes, a resounding YES, no question about it. In fact, I'm wondering if anyone would even reply a no to this. Surely we've all come a long, long way from the girl or boy we were yesterday. The self-assurance, the confidence, the wisdom accumulated from experience - some of it at harsh/painful/humiliating expenses.

On the flip side, I suppose there probably are still be a few areas that could do with some adjustment for desired results. A little tweaking here, a little tweaking there. But on the whole, yes, the girl I was yesterday would be more than proud to be the woman I am today.
*doffs cap*

Friday, October 25, 2013

Of Shadows Dark and Deep and a Truth Uncovered

A cold, wet, dreary evening. Puts me in the mood for this poem whose title or lines I couldn't recollect apart from "and if tonight." That was enough for good old google though. Though I've studied and taught Lawrence for years, it was only last year or so that I got to know this poem which became an immediate favourite. Not as well known as his other works, probably because this is such an intensely personal poem - not something you teach in a classroom but something you treasure deeply especially if you're feeling the weight of passing seasons. From a quick research online, I found this beautiful piece was written just before his death from tuberculosis in 1930. It is so movingly heavy with a sense of peace and a rich, deep faith in God. And to think all my literature books say Lawrence had always been something of an agnostic. 

Shadows by DH Lawrence

And if tonight my soul may find her peace
in sleep, and sink in good oblivion,
and in the morning wake like a new-opened flower
then I have been dipped again in God, and new-created.

And if, as weeks go round, in the dark of the moon
my spirit darkens and goes out, and soft strange gloom
pervades my movements and my thoughts and words
then I shall know that I am walking still
with God, we are close together now the moon’s in shadow.

And if, as autumn deepens and darkens
I feel the pain of falling leaves, and stems that break in storms
and trouble and dissolution and distress
and then the softness of deep shadows folding,
folding around my soul and spirit, around my lips
so sweet, like a swoon, or more like the drowse of a low, sad song
singing darker than the nightingale, on, on to the solstice
and the silence of short days, the silence of the year, the shadow,
then I shall know that my life is moving still
with the dark earth, and drenched
with the deep oblivion of earth’s lapse and renewal.

And if, in the changing phases of man’s life
I fall in sickness and in misery
my wrists seem broken and my heart seems dead
and strength is gone, and my life
is only the leavings of a life:

and still, among it all, snatches of lovely oblivion, and snatches of renewal
odd, wintry flowers upon the withered stem, yet new, strange flowers
such as my life has not brought forth before, new blossoms of me

then I must know that still
I am in the hands of the unknown God,
he is breaking me down to his own oblivion
to send me forth on a new morning, a new man.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Against the Wind

When the seasons turn and the sticky heat gives way to a nip in the air, and that cool nip dips a notch with autumn rains, my thoughts always go back several years in time when I was young and life was sweet and simple. Happiness then was sitting in a cosy hostel room, warmed by a heater, and Bob Seger singing about running against the wind while horses clip clopped across an icy river...

We were young and strong
but we were running against the wind.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Of a Cold Day in October and Smileys for Dinner

Early October,
a bleak, wet Sunday evening
deep frying smileys for dinner
the kids in the bylane outside the house
playing marbles are gone.
They're there every day
come daylight and shine,
the little ones to the bigger ones,
even the young father with
the five month old child.
On my phone atop the fridge
Springsteen plays
his harmonica and sings
of a meanness in this world.
The french fries sizzle in the pan
browning nicely,
the smiles held in by the hot oil -
fixed, fake, plastic.
I think to myself that's not how life works,
for into every life a little rain
must fall on and off
and the smiles don't stay in place
all the time.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Left in the Dark: Mortal Thoughts

I went to pay my condolences today to a neighbour just up the road who had died a couple of days ago. Apart from that it had been a sudden death and the deceased had been a long-time friend of the family, it felt disquieting to think that of the happy family unit that had once lived together - parents, two sons and a daughter, only the daughter is alive today, the others having all passed on at varying points in time. Granted she has a family of her own, and the offspring of the two brothers are very much around, but that's not the point unsettling me.

When I was younger, especially in my very early teens, I used to hate being the last to sleep at night. Power shortages were the norm back then, so we always had kerosene lanterns at the ready when night came. Every morning, we would wash the glass chimneys and array them out for drying on a flat surface. Then at dusk, we would check and trim the wicks, light them and turn them down low, then fit on the glass chimneys carefully. At bedtime, whether or not the lights were working, we would take the lanterns to the bedroom, turned down low but ever ready for any emergency in the night. 

It was in those times that I always liked to sleep while the lights were still on. On the few occasions that I was so caught up reading something that everyone else had gone to sleep and I was the only one awake in the dark, I would feel claustrophobic and suffocated. Not scared, mind you, but the dark, despite the dimmed lantern, made me feel like the air had suddenly gone heavy and oppressive and I couldn't breathe.

It's not a choice, I know, but given the option, I would not like to be the last in the family to be left behind.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Teaching Dylan: Yes, the Times They Are A-Changin'

Not Dylan Thomas of And Death Shall Have No Dominion but  Bob Dylan himself. Yep, that's him on the wall, blowing on his harmonica and singing Blowin' in the Wind.  And that's not just any wall but the wall of my classroom where I was last Friday showing a video of him singing. A little hazy but still in my class, doing his stuff. Besides him, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. making his I have a Dream speech, as well as a video of the song I had blogged about here last year. Yes, the times they are a-changin' indeed.

All of it is part of a radical, new twist in the syllabi. Six classic songs from the 60s and early 70s and I get to teach the course, yippee! Growing up on those songs, I had never remotely imagined for even a minute that I'd one day be actually teaching them in a classroom situation. On the flip side, and a rather burdensome flip side it is too, it turned out I have to do a whole lot of researching into an era that was, to put it mildly, fast and furious. And maybe it's because I've become so used to teaching things that are over a few hundred years old and  have little, if any, relevance today apart from the fact that they're literary classics but I feel decidedly daunted about teaching stuff like this which has so much contemporary significance.

Fingers crossed.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Mummy, When did Trees become Green and other Tales

In the wake of new interest in my grandparents, we've all been digging into family memorabilia. My aunt (my mother's immediate younger sister) has been proving to be quite a custodian of family treasures, unearthing old photographs, letters and diaries in her keep. She even found her very own diary, kept and faithfully maintained during the Mizo insurgency of the mid 60s. I'm hoping to do some work with that later for a little project of my own.

As the older generation has been ooh-ing and ah-ing over the old pictures, gleefully shared on a private family group on Facebook, and noting with some surprise and wonder at how tall Grandmother had been, how much one family member resembles another, etc, it never occurred to me how strange it must all be to the younger ones. Until a cousin reported that her little 4 year old son had been looking at the old black and white photographs and then perplexedly asked, "Mummy, when did trees become green?"  Good question, kiddo. Blame it on technology.

While on the subject of diaries, all through my growing up years I was a dedicated diarist. I probably got the habit from my dad who always kept one. But then again, with both my aunt and grandfather's dairies in mind, I guess it was a popular thing to do back in the old days. I'm not sure when I stopped but until the last couple of years, I still hopefully made sure I bought a diary come every January, never mind that I never actually wrote in them anymore. Recently, I figured that to help boost my increasingly flagging memory, I could make use of one of those unused diaries and record important daily happenings. It all worked very well - for about 3 days. The evening of day 4, oops, I forgot. Ditto day 5, and 6th. And 7th. Sigh.

On a different note, every winter I like growing flowers. Not from seed though. I tried that once and found it too much work so I simply buy seedlings from the early morning Saturday bazaars and replant them in clay pots, always with a little prayer  said over them after the earthwork. Through the late winter months onto Spring, I have these beautiful explosions of colour, and then as the weather heats up, they wither and fall off. Usually I buy only petunias because they're so nicely low maintenance but this time, I also got a few snapdragons. Around late Feb/early March, I thought I had cleared up all the pots but just a few days ago, I found a single stalk of snapdragon bravely bearing up to the scorching April sun and dry earth and pushing out a solitary bloom. Ah, late bloomers. I think most people tend to think of them as a joke. Those slightly weird, out of rhyme folk who don't do things in time with the rest of their kind.  I'm one, for one. But looking at this lone sprig of colour and vibrancy on a grey, soggy day in May, I think thank the good Lord for unexpected late bloomers,  so much more precious than if it had been just one of multiple blooms in Spring.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Two Exhumations and a Re-interment

Yesterday, after time gaps of 43 and 30 years respectively, both my maternal grandparents were re-interred.

One September evening, over forty years ago, my grandfather was struck down by a speeding car and killed. The family had fled Mizoram in the terror-filled days of the MNF insurgency in 1964 and settled down in Shillong where we started schooling there, my two sisters and two cousins. Grandma lived with us while our parents went back to Mizoram. Grandpa divided his time between Shillong and Aizawl. That fatal September, he was in Shillong with some Mizo church leaders for the opening of a Mizo Church, and they were all walking home when the car sped by. The other men managed to jump out of the way but not my grandfather. He was already 74 and obviously not as agile as the others. The car knocked him down flat and raced away, and was never traced: it left Grandma a widow.

It was 1969, a time when all journeys were taken by road, and with the insurgency problem, vehicles had to travel in convoys, with stopovers and sleepovers enroute. Since some of the family, including Grandma already lived in Shillong, I guess it was decided it was easier to bury him there. And so at the slope of a little pine hill in Laitumkhrah cemetery, Grandpa was laid to rest.

A few years later, the family, including my grandmother, moved back to Aizawl, to the family home at Mission Veng. In 1976, she suffered a sudden stroke which left her paralyzed on the entire left side of her body. She managed to survive that until 1982 when she broke her left thigh bone in a fall. She was then living with my family at Chanmari. Her health declined rapidly and in July, she passed on to join my grandfather. She was buried at the Chanmari cemetery.

Earlier this year, following long, faintly hoped-for but never actuated family dreams, it was decided that Grandpa's bones be brought back home and reburied at the Mission Veng cemetery. And since most of our now large family lives at Mission Veng anyway, Grandmother's bones should also be brought to join her husband in his final resting place. 

And so it was that both my grandparents' bones were re-laid to rest in a little white satin-covered coffin. It had taken three male members of the family to travel to Shillong earlier this week to locate Grandfather's grave and to reopen it. His remains, as scanty as might be expected after 43 long years,  were reverently gathered  and brought back home. Meanwhile, back home, some of us worked on exhuming Grandma's grave for her remains. It was an experience that made me realise how unsubstantial human life is. Once we die, we pass into nothingness, our carrion passing back into the earth. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. All is vanity. 

My grandfather, Pu Zalawra, is today an established name in Mizo Church history, most notably in connection with the Sunday School that he helped set up. My grandmother, Pi Lalnemi, was just an ordinary, extraordinary woman who took good care of her family. They lived and they died, their mortal remains today mere debris. But they live on in and through their descendants and so long as we live, they will too. 

Rest in peace, Grandma and Grandpa.

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Unwinding

A woman's muted laugh, a male voice, drunken, loud, uncaring of the time of night. "Shhh, shhhhhh!" "What, it's early yet, not sleeping time." Away in the distance a dog barks, a lone bike roars, a truck rumbles, a window pulls shut. The dog on the couch sighs in its sleep, on the bedside table tick tick tick tock. Day unravels, dissolves quietly in the dark.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Sweet January


Sweet January, I miss your crisp cold touch, your warm sunrises, your threadbare trees, and lazy stretches of endless clear blue skies.

February arrives, still cold, still wintry but soon it will thaw out to the smothering warmth of slithering sweat that will drown me. Or just about.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Wait and watch

Earlier today I was taking down the Christmas trimmings and wrapping up the ornaments in newspapers. The papers were mostly recent Times of India issues, and a lot of them carried pictures of high-end cell phones, iphones 4 and 5 etc. I didn't have time to look at any of the small print but one headline caught my eye, the details of which I had carefully read days before. "Gang-rape victim's fight will not go in vain: Sonia Gandhi"  It struck me that by year end when it's time to deck the house up for Christmas and we unwrap the baubles once again, we will know for sure. Time will tell.

As with a lot of things we don't know now. A happy new year all around.