Pilgrim Trail

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

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.


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.