Pilgrim Trail

Lived mostly in North East India. Find beauty in the nuts and bolts of languages. Write a bit. Edit a bit.

Thursday 7 January 2016

Healing of the Land



2 Chronicles 7:14 "If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land."

Farmers’ suicide, rape, murder, increasing violence of all kinds, lawlessness, drug menace, racial and religious intolerance, endless problems are daily reported daily in the newspapers. What do we do when we hear about all these? Go into a desperate rant against the government or curse our ancestors for bringing our social structures to the brink of collapse? I understand each generation has to take the responsibility of itself. Rather than doing that we often keep the old baggage and add a few more items of our own making and pass them on to the next generation. If we need to see change or want to be change agents, we need to take the bull by the horn. No point in blaming anybody else. True, all these problems are not our making. But as the people at the receiving end here and now, it is our responsibility to find a solution. But the question is how do we go about it?
There are two ways to go tackle the problem. One, look for short term solutions and treat them like surface wounds. The result could be immediate relief and a feeling of well-being. But that can make us feel temporarily comfortable and in turn complacent. But the wound will be festering beneath the scab formed on the wound. The LORD talks about it this way: “They act as if my people's wounds were only scratches. ‘All is well,’ they say, when all is not well. My people, were you ashamed because you did these disgusting things? No, you were not ashamed at all; you don't even know how to blush!” [Jer. 8:11-12 GNB]. The second solution is to go to the roots of the problem and find a more permanent solution.

Many of the social problems have their roots outside the immediate circumstances. Many of them are a direct result of years or centuries of following a wrong philosophy. When one thinks of humans as divinely destined to be unequal from birth because that is the way God has created humans, it will have its social repercussions. Surely there are inequality of privileges from birth, but that is of human make and not from God. How do we treat the problem? Give the social discrimination a more attractive or politically correct name and shove it under the carpet. Once our leaders thought that by calling the socially exploited people ‘harijans’ [people of God] the problem would vanish. So also the handicapped people have become ‘differently abled’. What is shoved under the carpet will show a bump and will cause more people to stumble over it.

To really treat the wound one may have to go deeper and find the real cause of it. Even an emotional hurt cannot be treated with physical medication. But if the problem is of much deeper nature, a spiritual one, where do we start? Are the problems faced by our society only physical or emotional or are they spiritual? The Bible makes it clear that many of the social problems have spiritual roots. Spiritual problems can cause psychological and physical problems as well. This is true of individual humans as well as a society at large.

Jehovah’s instruction to the young King Solomon hits at the root of the problem and shows its solution. The change begins when God’s people begin to pray. But we can pray only when we are willing to acknowledge that our actions have been wicked. Or to be precise, we need to agree that God is right and we are wrong. As far as the social sickness of the country are concerned, we may say that we are not responsible. Our fathers have eaten the sour things and why are our teeth on edge? Any amount of blame game will not heal us. When our teeth are on edge, our first thought is to look for the dentist who can give us relief and get a root canal treatment or go for extraction. The dentist prescribes the treatment and not the patient. The doctor has already prescribed. We can have endless debate on whether it will work or not. But that will not give relief. The only way forward is to follow the instructions of the Physician.

As sinful humans, it takes a lot of humility to accept that we have been in the wrong. That is why Nehemiah’s prayer in this respect stands out. When he heard about the condition of his people in Jerusalem, he went into the closet and let his heart and eyes pour out the grief and he went into a session of confession. Was Nehemiah responsible for the happenings in Jerusalem? Or was he even remotely responsible for the exile of Israelites? He was most likely born in Babylon. I wonder if he had ever seen Jerusalem! He was a victim of the historical blunders of his ancestors. But that is not what he says before God: “I confess that we, the people of Israel, have sinned. My ancestors and I have sinned” [Neh. 1:6].

Nehemiah does not stop with confessions. He remembers the faithfulness of God in the past and seeks His guidance for further action. He is willing to take the responsibility to be a change agent. But he does not jump into an activist mode and start organizing morchas. He continues to spend time with God for the next four months and a plan of action emerges. The task is huge, it involves large organisational skills. Provisions have to be found. It needs people. Without the co-operation of the people on the ground, nothing can be achieved. They have to be motivated. It cannot be done from afar. One has to be on the spot to get a first-hand assessment of the situation. Governmental permissions are needed. Everything looks like insurmountable mountains. But when God is with us in it, the mountains vanish into the sea or He will give us mountaineering skills.

Do you feel like Nehemiah when we look at our own country? If you do, let's start where Nehemiah did. Cry before God for our country and confess the wickedness of our nation before God rather than blaming the politicians. Be willing to take up any responsibility that the Lord God wants to give you. Let us be change agents rather than onlookers.

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Wednesday 12 August 2009

Barnabas: Son of Encouragement

It was late at night. Aizawl had no taxis those days. So I rushed to Rex’s place. He took us to Durtlang Hospital and my wife was admitted there. Older son was safely put away in a relative’s house. Morning I rushed back to the hospital and he was already there. I had longed for a daughter. So we had two names ready: Christina and Barnabas. So it was Barnabas, meaning son of encouragement. Frail and fair.

After a week the mother and son were discharged. On the way he seemed to have slight temperature. But we thought it was just a feeling. Back home we were happily together for a day. [Two year old elder son had left his feeding bottle for his brother. He never went back to it again.] We called him Barnymon.

By next evening Barnymon’s fever seemed to have slight breathing problem. I rushed to the medical store. They said it would be better to take him to the doctor. Another night ride with Rex to Durtlang. That night and the next day went on without much of improvement. By evening he was put in a humidifier as his breathing was difficult. We were both with him in the coupe. It must have been well past midnight when the storm came. We could hear the swishing of the wind outside. We were praying desperately for the baby. It was getting colder. It went on for a while. Early dawn we felt something was seriously wrong with Barnymon. By then the storm subsided as if to mark the end of a cosmic fight. Nurse said it was over.

I walked to Chaltlang to our uncle’s place. Kids were on the road with palm leaves shouting Hosanna. It was Palm Sunday. How many of them lived to enjoy what Barnymon enjoyed that day? I do not know. But sure he was with the Lord where there is no sorrow or heartache, no booze or ganja and tobacco smoke.

That afternoon he was buried at Mission Veng Thlanmual. At the funeral Uncle Sunderaraj read this verse: “I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.”

He is alive in the land of the living. One day my wife and I also will join him. He is out there, encouraging us to go on till we meet there. I can almost hear him singing this old song:

“I’ll be waiting on the far side bank of Jordan
I’ll be singing, drawing pictures on the sand
And when I see you coming, I’ll rise up with a shout
And come running through the shallow waters, reaching for your hand.”

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Tuesday 21 July 2009

My Foolish Deeds: I am Proud of them!

Saying no to the sprawling ancestral house with the large property just because The Master said, “Leave”. And living in rented houses ever since.
Leaving home and hearth at 24 for a small village in Mizoram, not even bothering to find out the pay scale.
Not wanting to go to US or Gulf when every one was scampering for it and making pots of money.
Fighting against the Dowry system when it could have made me rich.
Rejecting the caste system that could give me added but undue dignity.
Marrying a ‘tribal’ girl from Northeast India instead of a ‘Syrian Christian’.
Leaving the job of a lecturer in a government college drawing UGC scale, and move in as a missionary with uncertain financial support and getting the wife to do the same.
Refusing to leave the work at hand to tour Gulf or the West to preach to the affluent to make a fast buck.
Deciding not to pay donation for kids’ admission at any level.

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Saturday 20 June 2009

Ten Rupees that Changed My Life

End of September 1974. I was waiting to board a bus at Tiruvalla, on my way to join Operation Mobilization when I got my M.A. result. As using a phone was a luxury in 1974, my folks may not have got my result for many days. Within a few days I was off to Uttar Pradesh at the back of a covered truck. Kochi to Bangalore to Mumbai to Delhi. [In Mumbai we slept in a room which has become my office now.] 22 of us, young people packed like sardines. Early morning the truck would stop wherever water could be found, for morning ablutions and quiet time. [The training came in handy later in Assam.]

We halted at Delhi for a couple of days for orientation for our two month long UP74 programme. Before leaving for Bareilly, our next destination, we had to load our trucks. Training for the cooliless Mizoram where our whole family would march to the bus station with whatever luggage one could carry.]

The next two months were spent in Bareilly, Bedaun and Chandhausy. One of the first instructions when we joined the team was to hand over the purse. No one was allowed to keep personal money. The team treasurer would be in charge of finance. Depend on the Lord for all provisions! We would be given books. We go out in teams to the streets or to the village ‘mandis’ [weekly markets] with the literature. We were to live on whatever money that came from book sales.

At Chandhausy I was made the team leader. Responsible for the wellbeing of six or seven people. We were dropped there in a church compound where we would stay with enough cash for a day and plenty of books. The truck would come back to pick us after ten days or so. The first week went well. We went around the town preaching and selling gospel packets in the streets. But by the time the Sunday came our funds were depleting. One family invited us for dinner the next Tuesday. But we had enough money only for Monday breakfast. How we wished that family had invited us for Monday evening! Our meals were very simple. One person’s daily expense would be about six rupees.

Monday morning comes. We are all very downcast. The truck will come only after a few days. The team has to survive till then. Grumbling had already started in the team. The whole town is already covered. We did not know where to go. Rather aimlessly we started off after breakfast and prayer. Hundred metres down the road we stopped. Spread the books on the plastic sheet and preaching. We had preached around there earlier. So we did not have any hopes of people coming to listen to the message, forget about buying the books.

But when we started, people came in ones and twos. Soon we were all very busy selling the gospel packets which cost 25paise and other small books. Noon came and we were still busy singing, announcing and selling. Cannot stop for lunch! People are still coming. Some of the team members took turns to go for lunch. I remember winding up around 3pm and going for lunch [Our usual meal: 4 thanduri rotis, subji and a banana for One Rupee Seventy five paise.] Tiered, exhausted but rejoicing we trudged back to our lodging. Checked the day’s sales. About eighty rupees! Wow! Record collection in that town! Once again God proved to us that He was our Provider. We do not eat or live because of our cleverness. “The LORD is my shepherd I shall not want.”

September to December, time passed off quickly. I had joined the team only for that short period. What next, was my question. OM asked me to join Logos ship for a 6 month training programme. I could join at Vizag port at the end of March 1975. Problem: I had no passport. So I was sent home to arrange that. My friend was running a travel agency. I put in the application. One day I went to the travel agent to enquire about it. It had been sent for police verification. The policeman had just come there when I reached. The agent said, “Give him ten rupees and you’ll get the passport soon. My mind was in turmoil. What shall I do? At last I told him, I haven’t asked for a passport for my personal use. If the Lord wants me to join the ship I’ll get it in time. If I don’t get it, I understand joining the ship is not His will. The policeman left dejected. I went back home wondering what would happen.

I did get my passport. Many months later! By the time I was already ensconced in a little hamlet in Mizoram.

What would have become of me if I had paid that ten rupee bribe? A successful Christian Leader? Struggles of Mizoram and Assam may not have been my lot. Shall I exchange my struggles for success? It would have cost me only ten rupees after all!! Those years of training through struggles was worth it. I could still keep the ten rupees also.

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Wednesday 17 June 2009

Yes and After

Mizoram first came into my horizon in 1971, though for a fleeting moment. At that time, I hadn’t imagined it would be eternally intertwined with my life. The occasion was a month long Bible study programme organized by UESI at Clarence School, Bangalore. I was at the end of 2nd year BA. Part 1 exams were on. But after the first two papers were over, the ministerial staff of Kerala colleges went on a strike and the exams were postponed for a couple of months. That made the Bangalore trip possible for me. [Thanks to the perennial strikes of Kerala, I am what I am today.]

There were two people connected with Mizoram at the camp. Both UESI staff workers. Ronald Adhikari received me at Bangalore East station on that misty morning. [Those days Bangalore was still cool in May.] Many years later when he came to stay in Aizawl, I came to know that his mother was a Mizo. The other person, Arthur Hope, used to be Kawnpui High School Headmaster during the fateful days in 1966. He had once been taken by MNF to the jungles to be shot. But that hadn’t dampened his love for the Mizos and the Northeast.

In one of those classrooms of Clarence with the background sound of the passing trains Arthur told us that Christian teachers were needed in Mizoram. In my heart I prayed: ‘Lord, if you want me to go there, I am willing.’ It was just between the Lord and me. No human knew about it. Camp over, back to college, strikes and studies, I coolly forgot all about it. So it was left to Him to do something about it. And he did it in a cool headed way.

1975: Having finished studies, I was on the lookout for a job. An ad from Mizoram was brought to my notice. Interview at Mizoram MP, Sangliana’s residence in Delhi. Three Mizo gentlemen formed the panel. Lalfakzuala IAS was one of them. I never discovered the other person’s name.

Sangliana shot the first question. How did you hear about Mizoram? I was more or less prepared to answer questions from English literature, but not this. Quickly my mind went back in time. Where did I first hear about Mizoram? Rewinding stopped at 1971 Bangalore. “Some years back a gentleman by name Arthur Hope told me about this place”, I tentatively started. Pat came Sangliana’s next question: “Do you know Arthur Hope?” “What kind of interview is this”, I wondered. Hesitantly I again answered, “Yes.” End of interview. Reason? When Arthur was in Kawnpui, Sangliana was school inspector and they knew each other very well. More than the governmental connection it was their faith that had bonded them. So, somebody who knows Arthur well has to be a good choice. For the next ten minutes, Sangliana told me how Mizoram was like Hardy’s ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’.

I came out of the ‘interview’ [or chat, was it?] with a strange feeling. My prayer at Bangalore came clear to me. I had said yes to the Lord. He took my ‘yes’ at face value and started working on it. In the interim, a new college got started, an ad was placed in ‘The Hindu’ for the post of a lecturer in Mizoram, for the first and last time. That happened to be the only paper my brother living in Madras read. [I had no access to any English newspapers then.] Chances or divine control?

Be careful about saying ‘yes’ to the Lord Jesus. He takes you seriously.

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Wednesday 12 December 2007

Encounter of a Different Kind

On a fine summer morning of 1975, I landed at Kumbhigram air port at Silchar, the southern tip of Assam. I was on my way to Serchhip in Mizoram, to join my first job as a lecturer. That day there was a private airlines flight for Aizawl the capital of Mizoram. But the travel agent said: ‘I have to ask the pilot whether you can be accommodated’. What!! This was just the beginning of surprises on entering a new world.

The Jam Air flight arrived. The pilot in a multicoloured bush shirt came out. I paid the fair of fifty rupees and hopped into the Second World War vintage Dakota, belonging to Biju Patnaik. Was this the one he had used for escorting out Sukarno from Indonesia. (For the new generation: Biju Patnaik who became Orissa Chief Minister later, was an ace pilot and when Sukarno of Indonesia was in trouble, he was sent by Indian Prime Minister Nehru for the rescue mission.) No tickets, no checking, no boarding pass! The entrance was at the rear end. The floor of the plane was at a twenty degree angle to the ground. The passengers occupied the front part and the baggage was tied to the rear seats by strong ropes. Won’t they get dislodged when going through air pockets? Thankfully, that thought didn’t occur to me then. A steward came around with some stale tea in a flask. After a smooth take off, we entered the land of the hill ranges, where one acquires a new sensibility for things beautiful and simple.

Soon we were at Tuirial air-strip, a hundred metre long, four lane highway sized tarmac tucked away in the middle of high hills. The ground control, one man squatting on the side of the tarmac with a small radio set. Looking around I wondered, how on earth we managed to land there! Every time I landed there in later years, it was a thrill.

A mini bus with ‘pilot’ boldly written on the back of the driver’s seat was waiting. We got in for our twenty kilometre ride to Aizawl – the city on a hilltop. Occasionally one saw a bulge on one side of the road. Only much later, I realized the significance of this. As the roads are narrow, two vehicles cannot pass each other. So on seeing another vehicle coming from the opposite direction, whoever came to the bulge first moved in there for the other to pass. It was a common sight in later years to see the drivers of the ‘Indian’ Armed Forces, not used to the ways of the hills studiously keeping to the left and causing traffic jams.

Passing through the uninhabited jungle road, the bus suddenly stopped at an unexpected place. The conductor, who looked like a thug with his head-band and well built body, got out and gave a yell. There was a reply from somewhere in the jungle. A cold shiver went through my spine. Were they signalling some ‘Mizo rebels’, the infamous head hunters? Soon the mystery was solved. A lassie came out of the jungle with a basket, full of fruits and vegetables, dangling on her back. How effortlessly she carried the weight! She was coming back after the day’s work in the farm. Because of the insurgency, the villages were re-grouped by the armed forces. This kept the farmers far away from their farmland and effectively destroyed the Mizo economy. These bus drivers were probably the saving knights of the people.

The bus continued through winding roads by the side of deep gorges and at last reached Aizawl. Got down near Aizawl Lodge, where many non-Mizos were staying. As night approached, many looked scared. A stout Mizo man staying in one of the rooms had got drunk the previous night and made a ruckus.

In the evening, a fellow lodger asked me: “Have you got your pass?” What pass? In my own country? Every non-Mizo, Indian or foreigner, entering Mizoram needs to get an inner line permit. This system introduced by the British to protect the outsiders from harm is now used for protecting the local people from outside exploiters. With my appointment letter, I could proceed to Serchhip and apply for a permit later.

My destination was another 110 kms away. But being a Sunday, no transport was available the next day. All roads lead to the church on Sundays. Monday morning I got up at 4-30 in the morning for the two km walk to the bus station. So bright at 4-30! The place is so far east that the Indian Standard Time is irrelevant here.

It is not only the IST that is irrelevant, but much of the Indian mind set and even Indian-ness. Culturally, linguistically, racially, historically, or politically, Mizos have nothing in common with mainland India. A fiercely independent people, they are part of India by a quirk of history. Brought up in schools where we adored ‘Chacha Nehru’ and sung Jana Gana Mana lustily every morning, I was entering a world where going to Silchar, the nearest town in Assam, meant going to India. For Mizos, India is a place of dirty beggars, bullying rickshawallas, and cheating businessmen.

The last stage of my trip took me once again to Tuirial area. My heart once again missed a beat; not for fear of guerrillas this time but the breath taking scenery. The tops of the dark green hills were brightly lit. The clouds which were nestling in the deep valleys for the night slowly came up to meet and embrace us, causing a thrill in my heart. But this brought along a deep longing for the home down south I had left a week earlier. Just as the dark thoughts came, someone started a hymn. Soon the whole bus was singing. A whole choir in a moving bus! I hadn’t realized then that any four Mizos formed a choir! The tune was familiar though the words sounded like gibberish.

Revived by the hymns, I was once again looking forward to the life in my new adopted land. Soon a large stone quarry was in sight. No way forward! The Border Roads people had just blasted the quarry and it would take hours to clear the road. But not for the Mizos! The passengers got down and cleared the road in fifteen minutes. The only men who did not pitch in were the two vais (plains-people). Shamefully, yours truly was one of them. Since then I have seen the whole community including ministers and top bureaucrats joining in church or school construction, or cleaning drains. Not for the photo session, but doing real labour!

Life is hard for the average Mizo; a daily fight against great odds. Unfriendly terrain. Water, hard to get. Farms not very fertile. Communication with the outside world difficult. But they are undaunted. From an illiterate head hunting tribe at the turn of the 20th century, they have emerged as one of the most literate states in India. When Mizos put their mind to doing something, they just do it. In later years when they decided to put an end to insurgency and to go for development, Mizoram became the most peaceful state in the region.

Soon we were at the village square of Serchhip, my ultimate destination. It looked like one of those towns in the cowboy stories. Houses and shops made of wood, bamboo and tin sheets, and a well maintained market place with notice boards and urinals at various parts of the village. To my disappointment, the horses were missing.

Where was I? In a dream or dream-come-true world?

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