Sunday, December 28, 2008

Feasty Christmas

videoTraditions with origins before the coming of Christianity among the Paites in the Indo-Myanmar border, has still got favours in Christmas Celebrations. For example Soiree (it's Christianised version not captured in video due to poor lighting in the basement of EBCC Church, New Delhi, where the social singing is held) among the Paites is as old as history. Bonfires, rice beers, dances and singing are the ingredients of traditional merry making.

The beginning of the 20th century heralded in the good news about the death, the resurrection and the saving work of Jesus Christ, which was believed to have taken place in AD 1. Soon the gospel of Christ spread like wild fire. And to the followers of Christ a date conveniently fixed for celebration of His birthday, is the 25th of December.

The worship service, popularly referred to as the Mas (if Im not mistaken) is universal all across the churches, east and west, pole to pole. With the passage of time, the Christmas celebration has got enriched and diversified. To the western revellers drinks, gifts and santa claus have crept in as part of the celebration.

There are things that a Paite considers essential to really go high during Christmas; a Christianised form of soiree and a big feast. Matters of tradition, uniqueness, identity.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Lady: a likely subject of song writing

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Lady, Im your knight in shining armor and I love you

You have made me what I am and I am yours

My love, theres so many ways I want to say I love you

Let me hold you in my arms forever more

You have gone and made me such a fool

Im so lost in your love

And oh, we belong together

Wont you believe in my song?

Lady, for so many years

I thought Id never find you

You have come into my life and made me whole

Forever let me wake to see you each and every morning

Let me hear you whisper softly in my ear

In my eyes I see no one else but you

Theres no other love like our love

And yes, oh yes, Ill always want you near me

Ive waited for you for so long

Lady, your loves the only love I need

And beside me is where I want you to

because, my love, theres somethin I want you to know

Youre the love of my life, youre my lady!


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Monday, October 20, 2008

Choir

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Three Days Walk



Early the next morning Abraham got up and saddled his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, "Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you." -Genesis 22:3-5

The place Abraham saw on the third day was the Mount of Moriah, where he was supposed to give his only begotten son, Isaac in sacrifice to God, which was purely between him and God, no third party involvement, no publicity. That's Abraham the friend of God, a no seeker of admiration from fellow human beings. He left everything behind to carry out the command of God. Firstly he left behind his wife, Sarah and other household things, then he left his attendants at a distance and went all alone for executing the ultimate act God had called upon him to do. At a distance of Three Days Walk.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Cross Border Harmony

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The man that hath no music in himself,Nor is not mov'd with concord of sweet sounds,Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils;The motions of his spirit are dull as night,And his affections dark as Erebus.Let no such man be trusted.—William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice

Why let the moment slip away? I asked myself. That's when a visiting member of Tears Ministry, founded by Rev. Lang Do Khup belted out the song “Suahtakna la sa ning” to the congregation in EBC Church, Delhi. That was one of my favorite numbers from the Agape’s, the gospel music band from Myanmar. And that prompted me to peel off my 2-mega-pixel camera phone and capture the moment. That was an absolute moment of nostalgia.
The music cassettes released in packets of about 10 songs at every interval came through the porous Indo-Burmese borders like Moreh and Henglep in Manipur, on both sides of which their fans live.

Such were the times when contraband tape-recorder virtually replaced Philips radios brought in by army men, as a status symbol. Since the Agape’s were the sole music band that I knew of then, I believed that the popularity of contraband tape-recorders during the same time (also smuggled from Burma) was a case of down stream effect (as a consequence of the popularity of the Agape's).
For the sons of the not-so-rich fathers, the love of music exercised a peculiar kind of swing. A friend of my brother's had a black and white picture of the Agapes affixed in a corner of an almirah that stood facing their living room. I fixed long glances at the band of guitar slung, longhaired guys in the act of performing a concert I'd never seen in real life.As much as I heard and enjoyed the Agape music by sitting in the verandah of or walking past the house of some government servant families, I had the urge to have another look at the picture. The irony is that the household with the still photo of the music band was not in possession of a tape-recorder. Every time I saw the picture, I used to feel that I heard their music that had lingered on in my memory. Again whenever I listen to the music I saw the picture in my mind's eye. I decided that my brother's friend, who was relatively well off than my family, really need to have a tape recorder. In the meanwhile I appreciated the muted photo that was ruthlessly blurred by the refractive designs of the glass panel.
I fell in love with the song, "Huih aw hong nung in" by the Agapes when a cousin burrowed a walkman and other peripherals like sound box and an Exide battery from some of his friends from Lamka, the district headquarters. The words mean "Oh wind, blow in my direction" I was overwhelmed with emotion because of the tune plus the words. Since a moving wind is indispensable in flying a kite, I was able to identify with the song that invokes the wind. It requires wind to fly a kite. Someone had to lift up the kite and some one had to pull the line. But when there is no wind blowing about, it's no use pulling the line. You have to run, and perhaps stumble over the checks in the paddy field or even run onto some marshy corner of the field. We used to whistle to entice the wind. May be it's due to the effect of the whistle or may be out of sheer coincidence, the wind really blew sometimes. Due to lack of sufficient chance to intently listen to, and being unable to understand the song other than words 'huih aw hong nung in', I used to inquire from my friends about the import of the song. My enquiries that used to spark off hot debates over what the song really must have been about, led us to no substantial conclusion. As such I just assumed the song to be Agape's expression of deep devotion to the favorite past time of ‘kite flying’. And an ardent flyer of kites myself, I felt emotional with the sound of the song.
One fine day while I was admiring the picture of the Agape’s, my brother's friend came chattering and making noises. As much as I felt disgusted with the noise, I wished that he opened the almirah so that I might see the picture clearly. Instead he bent down and kissed a corner of the glass panel and he exclaimed, 'Surely, this lovely lady loves me, you know there’s something about me that senses'. And when I returned to the glass panel, I spotted the picture of a young lady. Then his sister, who was weaving handloom, questioned the wisdom of worshipping someone who didn't care what happened to 'poor and jobless guys like you'. Suddenly I was awakened to the fact that it would be a long time before my brother's friend could purchase a tape recorder and I knew that I had to contend with the tape recorders available elsewhere.
It was during the early 1980s that I got a break. A neighbor of ours vacated their house in favor of a just married off daughter. The makpa- sungkhum (a term used to refer to husbands who subscribed to in-laws’ ways and sways) had a stereo tape-recorder. The house with the tape-recorder was swarmed with youngsters, some playing cards, some chitchatting, and some even drinking at some corners. I used to wait for my favorite music band being played by the DJs in the house, which wore a semblance of a club hall.
One night when most peers left the club I hadn't heard any track from the Agape's. May be the house-in charge had had enough of Agape's. He played western rockers like the BoneyM, ABBAs the lyrics of which even himself didn’t understand.
It’s true that even I understood very little of the Agape's lyrics. At least I could say for sure that the writer of, 'Huih aw hong nung in' wants the wind to blow. And this newly married man, who lived on the bounty of his in-laws, sure knew very little English. And still he played songs sung in English. It's shame on him to ignore the fact that a good neighbor of his mother-in-law’s was waiting for his favorite number!

A young lad, the sole (uninvited) guest apart from me gambling on the music had lucked out when the makpa sungkhum switched over from the rocking westerns to a series of Hind film songs from All India Radio, Guwahati. As for me I had to admit bad luck and walk out with the music of a song that shoved me out all the way from where I was seated though the door, the flights of steps and through the gate - 'Aajare, ajare o mere dil bari aja, dil ki pyase bhujhajha, o ajare ooo noorie, noorie'.
I missed out on the company of my friends and still not hear the Agape's? So I made up my mind. Closing the gate carefully, I picked up a stone, hurled it on to the direction of the tin roof house that sheltered the newly married couple, and I sped off into the darkness.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Peace

Is it prosperity that comes with peace?
Or is it prosperity that succeeds peace?
Peace by itself is a state of mind,
It is positive peace which yields prosperity,
But I call negative a peace,
That's idyllic ond lazy,
But it's said that man is productive,
If subjected to peace between intervals,
Of work related stress.
Supposing that I am a rich man's progeny,
What else would I have done,
But lazing around in idyllic locales,
My soul to find peace,
Perhaps I'd spend a fortune in adventures.
As I study the pages of history,
I was told that Alexander had to cry.
Why? Because there was a stage,
Where he had no more worlds to conqueror.
Now coming back to the issue,
Of not having money to splurge,
I .. .. don't have much to spare,
Beyond the frugal elements of life,
Like food, clothing and shelter,
Naturally I have a wish,
Say atleast a five figure bank balance,
At any one point in time,
First I have to find me some work,
And put in some extra labour,
In ten years I may save enough,
And the next ten years, another strategy,
And in a life time chances are that,
Very few income earners like me,
Would be reaching an Alexander-like situation,
And not cry like he did, in any case,
Which, I suppose, is a positive state of being,
Even if it falls short of being a peaceful state,
So all workers of the world, SMILE!

Monday, August 25, 2008

From RX100 to R15


The usefullness of the Yamahas RX 100 and other Japanese bikes of the early 1980s, were restricted within the four walls of the 100cc vacuum. As such youngsters who dreamt of roaring past 4-wheelers safely and in style, ended up marveling the antics of the Rajdoot 350, the Indian version of Yamahas RD 350.
The Rajdoot 350, which at a price of about Rs. 26,000/- and a poor mileage, failed to strike commercial success, was however awe-inspiring. As a matter of fact Rajdoot 350 had enjoyed a cult status in India with owners clubs and organized rides being held even after the production was stopped in 1990.
For nine years the thirst for speed remained unquenched which, of course allow the Indian households to enjoy an epoch of relative peace. That peace, however, was not destined to last long; taking cue from the infatuation of young India with the Rajdoot 350, Hero Honda Motors Ltd (HHML) had been working non-stop to throw in the bait.
During the early part of 1999 it so happen that every Indian household turned into hot spots of rebellion with unprecedented intensity. The demand: Hero Honda CBZ, the 150 cc bike, the budget: Rs. 55,000/-. Soon the CBZs dominance of Indian roads with a mileage of about 45 kmph, changed the status quo.
The people in Bajaj Motors had had sleepless nights over the absence of an appropriate make in their stable to take on the CBZ. Even erstwhile models that had propelled the Company to great heights like the Kawasaki Caliber, had lost popularity. The same disquiet dampened the chambers of TVS Motors. Even LML Motors, so far known for the scooters they had been selling, was harboring the hope of cornering a portion of the market for 150cc bikes. The proverbial Pandoras Box had burst open.
Bajaj and TVS could wait as late as 2000, whence the two bike makers launched their respective impoverished (by today’s standards) 150cc bikes viz Pulsar and Fiero respectively, priced slightly lower than the CBZ. TVS Motors soon followed this up with the Fiero F1 and then the Apache, which put the company in good stead since 2005.
Similarly LML Motors came up with its Graptor, which had a minimal presence in the roads, and Beamer, remembered best for the ad film of an empty road, a speed camera, the approaching sound of a motorcycle and the whizzing past of an invisible bike. Incidentally, no Beamer has so far been visible on the roads.
Apart from the prominent warlords in the 150cc category, major players have been diversifying their products of engine displacements below 150cc, which are the actual major earners of income. The HHMLs, for example, has supplemented their 100cc Splendour, the worlds largest selling motorcycle, with other models like the Dawn, the Passion, the Glamour and even in the 150cc category they offer two options to customers viz, Ambition and Achiever. Similarly Bajaj, TVS and LML Motors also have devised their respective strategies to woo customers. All this while Yamaha Motors had not asserted its presence as intensely. Naturally the silence was taken as a sign of weakness. There were, however, die-hard fans of Yamaha, who waited with half expectation and half disappointment.
Human wants are unlimited. In a diverse country like India, capacity to pay for something one fancy is also diverse. While the large mass of the income earners, who have mentally just overcome a pious allegiance towards the idea of a multi utility scooter-with-pouches-front-and-rear, were still contented with the performance of the 100 cc bikes, there were also deep pockets ready and able to pay more for a bike that has potential to fire their imagination. Pawan Munjal, the MD of HHML, knew exactly what he wanted when his company launched the 223cc engine motorcycle, the Karizma, with a price tag of Rs. 79,000/-.
Bajaj Motors, on its part, chose to take the upgrading path. Thus the hot seller Pulsar had to undergo multiple surgeries for enhancement of design, technology and engine displacement. And the model is now available in 150cc, 180cc, 200cc and 220cc variants. It’s the latest variant, the Pulsar 220 DTS-Fi (short for Digital Twin Spark- Fuel Injection) that threatens the territory of Karizma. At times one is tempted to believe that the Pulsar 220 has all the trappings of being a landmark bike what the CBZ did some years ago. But that’s an expectation. And the time of launch of the Pulsar 220 is unfortunate. An old warhorse had been in obscurity for too long.
The Yamaha Motors Company, in April 2008, unveiled the YZF R15, which, though equipped with an engine displacement of just 149.8cc, can dash off to a maximum speed of 145 Kph, way ahead of the 126 Kph mark achieved with the 223cc Karizma. Also, somethings about the R15 are different than the existing bikes; the bike’s engine has a cylinder made of die-cast aluminium-silicon alloy, which means advantages of lightweight and efficient heat dissipation and is equipped with forged pistons and six-speed gearbox. The R15 also gets disc brakes with tubeless tyres front and rear. At a maximum retail price of Rs. 97,425/- only, the fancy bike cannot be dismissed as a status symbol of the ultra-rich. Today a good number of Indian middle class families are habitual spenders of holidays at exotic locales and for them Rs. 1,00,000/- comes well within affordable range. And for sons of the wealthy, who worship bikes, a feeling of superiority will come only at prices ranging from Rs. 15,00,000/- to Rs 50,00,000/- the cost of imported Ducati bikes. For the rest of the bike lovers a masterpiece of Yamaha motors is on offer at less than Rs. 1,00,000/-.
Ladies and Gentlemen, here is introducing the R-One-Five !

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Different Facets of Lamka

In a town that was so fashion conscious, it’s not very pleasant emerging from the outskirts sweated and sullen. I remember having to walk on foot to sell some quantities of yam to Zenhang Bazar. I had gone through tumultuous times fetching LPG cylinder from Lamka. Sometimes you have to fight your way through the wilderness of bus conductors, which entailed some delays and, of course, a visit to the police outpost. These are not uncommon when you live in the outskirts of Lamka. Nor did every resident of Lamka, who felt better off than us, feel pampered; even they had to walk on foot throughout the length and breath of the town. Unless they have the money to pay the auto rickshaw drivers.
The situation has not improved much. But a short visit to the town has made me believe that the Lamka of today is different than that of yesterday.
Public transport between Lamka and Imphal has been made more inclusive than what happened in the past. Jeeps carrying passengers between Lamka and Tollen Village or even through Kangvai, has been pressed (or did it happen spontaneously?) into service. Some of the Jeep Operators can even be negotiated into entering nearby villages on payment of extra cash, something unimaginable ten years ago when conductors of Imphal-Lamka line buses, eyeing only for long distance passengers, considered us a menace to their business.
And inside Lamka, townbus service has covered the entire populated areas like Tuibuong, NewLamka, Mualkawi, Pearsonmun, Bungmual, Chiengkon, etc. Thus someone who has no vehicle of his/her own can now rely on small and swift town buses. Besides, going to Saikot is now made easy with the introduction of enlarged auto rickshaws that shuttle between Rengkai and Saikot, perhaps even beyond that point, I don't know.
Therefore, in spite of the rusts and the dusts that covers the once glamorous Lamka, function has has gradually taken precedence over form.
A question arises as to why now and not then? Is there something behind the scene that has been working at cross purposes. Preparing the ground for the D-Day? Another D-Day? A different strategy?
During my college days the atmosphere of Lamka and the ramparts was charged with hatred and all around there was 'tension', an English word every illeterate knew.
Even as tension was building up slowly but surely, no one seemed willing to take serious note of the turn of events beyond issuing diktats in terms of do's and don'ts. The fact that the devil was right at the doorstep was proved beyond doubt, yet people from the corridors of power told the helpless citizens that 'groups of armed men had been watching over them'. On such and such nights. At other times some young men carrying worn out M-16s paid visits to satellite villages, had sumptuous meals. And then left with their guns. I wondered whether propoganda rumours were all that had been manufactured for defence of the vulnerable. Another day gone by, with news about kidnappings and murders. Innocents died one by one. And when the ultimate struck, some people dismissed the victims as 'that community of gamblers'. Ironically it was they themselves, who had to stand face to face with the devil, the very next moment. A musical tract by Ana Johnson in the West some years later, aptly describes the situation that prevailed then, and is apparently returning in greater proportion now, in a place the artist doesn't know, and may never know in her lifetime unless one of the perpetrators of the imminent threat, introduces it to her:

"We Are"
See the devil on the doorstep now (my oh my)
Telling everybody oh just how to live their lives
Sliding down the information highway
Buying in just like a bunch of fools
Time is ticking and we can't go back (my oh my)
What about the world today
What about the place that we call home
We’ve never been so many
And we've never been so alone
[Chorus]
You keep watching from your picket fence
You keep talking but it makes no sense
You say we're not responsible
But we are, we are
You wash your hands and come out clean
Fail to recognise the enemies within
You say we're not responsible
But we are, we are, we are, we are
One step forward making two steps back (my oh my)
Riding piggy on the bad boys back for life
Lining up for the grand illusion
No answers for no questions asked
Lining up for the execution
Without knowing why
[Chorus]
It’s all about power then
Take control
Breaking the rule
Breaking the soul
They suck us dry till there’s nothing left
My oh my, my oh my
What about the world today
What about the place that we call home
We' ve never been so many
And we've never been so alone.... So alone
[Chorus]
It’s all about power then (we are)
Take control (we are)
Breaking the rule (we are, we are)
Breaking the soul (we are)
They suck us dry till there’s nothing left (we are, we are)
My oh my, my oh my
We areWe are (its all )
We areWe are, we are (take control)
We areWe are
It’s all about power
Then take control
click here to watch the music video:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9jQEnt8aJ84






















The Green Green Grass of Home

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Monday, June 2, 2008

Moonlight Ministry

videoEven at the moment of their inferiority over angels, human beings have the rare privilege of being ordained to rule the world. As a result Lucifer ( known previously as ‘The Morning Star’), had a mighty grumble. And the favourite messenger of God gave up allegiance to his master, that left the entire universe shaken. God was broken hearted. But the rebel had left - to rule the world. And he still rules the world.

That is a story of God's love for human beings. A reason that makes personal failures, lack of talent, being discarded by fellow human beings, being unsuccessful in once's quests and even living on a paltry sum of money, seem trivial to human beings who have a full understanding of the Love of God.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Meat Shop Boy

Visiting a meat shop at noon is a privilege in certain ways, especially if the temperature is roasting; the shop is empty and you don’t have to stand in queue. The only distraction, call it entertainment depending on your taste, you can possibly discern on such occasions, being the sequence of Hindi film songs relayed through FM Radio, or the flapping of custom manufactured ceiling fan fitted to suite the 8x16x10 feet space, chances are that you can put the lean-period-in-charge of the shop, into humor.
Prices are rising, the Government seem to do nothing more than, or just about the same thing a common man is doing - speculating. “Inflation is a …. phenomenon.. expected to come down by… rise and fall by some margins is a natural….The economy is experiencing …the previous Government…”, etc. etc. and the person on whose office the fate of millions of poor people hangs precarious, would repeat the standard concluding line – “The Government is doing whatever it can to…” . The next thing he would do is to drown slew of questions in the widening gulf between him, who can’t wait to disappear and the waiting media.
I used to wonder as to whether rustic retailers like in a meat shop have any idea on why there is price rise. The last time I bought chicken meat, I had to pay Rupees 80/- for one kilogram. That was hardly one month back.
On May 15, 2008, I had to visit a meat shop again. The sun brightly burning overhead showed no mercy and it took me some seconds for my eyes to get accustomed to the relatively darker room of the shop. I had expected a rise in price of commodities chicken including. But I was somehow surprised when the boy quoted Rupees 120/- (or is it Rupees 140/-). In the absence of other customers, I tried to engage the boy in humor. While he was packing the commodity I started asking as to why prices of meat increased. He showed no interest as he said, ‘kimat bhargaya sahaab (prices have increased)’ which was not even answering my question, only repeating the fact I have presented. I decided that it would be interesting to grill him into making some comments, based on his observation.
I drew his attention as he handed over the meat in black polythene bag.
‘Dekho’ I held out Rupees 120/- with my left had as I lift the packet. Obediently he cast a glance at the currency notes I gave him, and as he literally received the notes. As I continued with my typical unrefined Hindi, ‘aapne kaha ki kimat bhargaya, hena (right)?’, he became aware of my approaches.
‘Han ji’
Instead of leaving the shop, I continued my conversation, ‘Koi idea hai ki yeh kimat bhara kyon he (any idea as to why this happen)?’. At this he started to smile, but I could sense that he pricked his brain for a more responsible and dignified answer. But he failed to come up with an answer.
‘Arre Sahab! chordo yaar (just leave it man)! wo lok supply karta haina (you know those people who supply chickens)-’, and I interrupted him mid way ‘haha bataiye ki woh lok kya karta hai (what do they do)?’
He released ripples of laughter carelessly as he said, ‘wolok zyada leta hai(they charge more) bahahash (that’s all)’
‘Toh (so)?’ I still tried to extract a final punch.
‘Toh hum bhi leta hai zyada (and we also take more) or kya (what else)’
‘Wah! Wah! kya bat hai (Bravo! you done it)’

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The Sting of Thiahte: Bad Weather

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Worship service starts after evening meal, which can be anytime between 4 pm and 6 pm depending on the convenience of the janitor. First he would toll the Church bell, then open the church doors, illuminate the Church and then dust off the furniture swiftly. We used to soak our tiny hands with a kind of highly inflammable spirit used by the janitor and then kindle it from the flame of the paraffin lamp that stood on the table.

It was one of such nights while we were basking around the petromax lantern that I was summoned by Thiahte from outside.

Being summoned by Thiahte gave me a sense of importance. I didn't have the  slightest suspicion of evil designs against me as I headed towards the exit door.

As I stepped out into the darkness something hammered me at the right eye. I was blinded for a moment. Sparks seemed to fly off my eyeballs and my skull rang like the church bell.

“How dare you call me a weakling?” said Thiahte. I was flung sideways and was shocked to know that it was him who hit me unawares. But who called him a weakling? And when? It’s silly that I was understood to have called him a weakling. I was too confused and ashamed that I could neither cry or say a word properly. 

I had plans to attend the ensuing worship service with complete decorum. I used to harbor hopes of being assigned the part of scripture reading and prayer in worship services. Lungkhap had been entrusted with the job multiple times. Joni Joni had bagged the role for that night. Papen was endowed with the job over and over again. It was the same in the case of all others too. I never performed the ritual reading out of more or less memorized Bible verses and praying in such worship services. People used to say that a bit of training in this regard while being in Sunday school is essential to transform a child into a successful adult. Such an opportunity seldom came my way. Yet it was my consistent endeavor to conduct myself in a Godly manner.

In prayer fellowships, which is not as formal and eventful as worship services in the Church, I had earned such favor with so much of effort and restraint. I was ninety percent satisfied with my performance. Should I get a chance in the Church service, I could have perfected the art. However the embarrassing ambush of Thiahte shattered my dream. I went away and disappeared quietly. I thought over and over again as to why on earth should God sustain Thiahte and his tribe.

Thiahte is my senior by about four years. He was not so tall. But his clenched, oversized fists made for a chilling sight. Moreover, his attitude towards me was terrorizing. Even in times of peace, he talked of destroying opponent’s eyeballs. The irony was that in real tests of physical fitness like football games where my name always figured in the first line up, his tribe could not make much impression on the bosses. I thought I could finish these people in a fair fight. Still I was scared of him.

One Saturday it happened that by some reason Mangpi, who also disliked Thiahte, proposed, “Why don’t we thrash this evil creature” In such matters as taking revenge, I am in no way capable of roping in any one, leave alone the likes of Mangpi, who was no doubt cool enough not to embroil in people’s war. I thought the time had finally come. I was misty eyed as I replied, “What else can we do with evil things such as Thiahte”.
However before we could lay a hand on him, Thiahte had a bully on his side. More surprising was the fact that the bully was even angrier than him!

That evening just before sunset I was walking with Mangpi towards his Pute’s (the house of his maternal uncle) when Thiahte and the bully accosted us.

“Mangpi do you think that I forgot what you said about me?” the bully challenged.

My heart was beating fast. Mangpi’s lips curled up and before he could respond to the challenge, he snorted the choking substances inside his nose a couple of times. Then he roared back furiously, “Bang kon chia eita?".What the hell did you say that I said about you?.

“Do you think that I forgot being labeled a rascal by you?” said the bully.

The bully was from a poor family. The family seldom had enough grain to last for the year. So it was very obvious that he was called a rascal by people, let alone Mangpi. He was dumbfounded.

“Do you think my family lives on your bounty that you insulted me like that?” he continued. Before the confused Mangpi could respond, Thiahte, who had been standing by triumphantly, concluded the challenge, ”If you two really challenge us, why don't you meet up with us tonight”.

The bully was the de facto champion. Even Somu who lorded over the fraternity of football lovers, had never seriously challenged him. In spite of being extremely foolish, the bully was physically tough. Mangpi, as far as I knew, had not experienced combats of the nature I used to encounter, nor had he suffered physical assaults of any kind from big boys. He was simply shocked and upset over the way things turned out. I was sure he wouldn't have any idea about the chances on both sides in the event of a fight being held. I was at a loss as to how on earth Mangpi would tackle the bully. On the other hand, the thought of my handling Thiahte single-handed was taking toll of my erstwhile confidence. We were completely demoralized.   If we fail to show up, that could be history. I could imagine how boastful Thiahte would be thenceforth.

Wordlessly we resumed walking towards Mangpi’s Pute’s. It's hard to make eye contact. The sound of our footsteps seemed to convey our anxiety. Till that time the idea of being defeated had not crossed my mind. But now with the bully on the other side, winning seemed to be a distant dream.

My friend was the gem of his family. He was the only begotten son, studious, and he had a promising future. If something happened to him that would haunt me for the rest of my life. I might or I might not come up in life. But I was sure he would, provided that the normal flow of his life is not upset by any accident, or other disappointments. And I honestly wanted a good future for him. At least him.

Even though he was senior to me, he might not be more capable of tackling the likes of that bully. On the one hand he was physically not so supple. On the other hand the bully was rock hard. Mangpi had seldom played games of any kind while the bully was a regular kicker. Ball or no ball the bully would try and kick around, would miss the ball. Yet undaunted he would strike the leg or shin of someone close by. He would even kick their thigh and butt or even deliver punches, which normally happens when someone had the audacity to point out his faults or when someone had the agility to avert his gladiatorial encounters or dared to feint him away. Even walls or stones had to sanely bear with stray kicks from the leg that missed the ball.

I thought that if Mangpi fell or got hit in a certain way he might get injured to degrees beyond any extent of imagination. Suddenly I felt the need to talk. It’s difficult. But that was the moment of truth between my friend and me.

“H h how do you feel about us?” my throat was dry and I was choking through the words. Yet knowing that I didn’t have a choice, I continued, “Can we beat them oh o or shall we?”

I was short tempered and always involved in fights. People enjoyed watching me fight against someone slightly bigger and more tough than me. It was their hobby setting me against my seniors. Sometimes I became the butt of joke, sometimes the hero. Because I either got beaten or I beat up somebody who was a wee bit too huge than me. So I was in the limelight always. On the other hand the life of Mangpi was all of drudgery. He went to Lamka, study hard performed well, and came down to spend weekends and holidays in the village, where everyone was so equal and he so different.

Even though Mangpi looked desperate in his random search for words, he was emboldening and put his nerve into shape as he interrupted me, “Do you think that I would ever be scared of such rascals?”.

That was the first time I heard him actually use such words as 'rascal'.  The words fit well into that psychological vacuum. We could go ahead. I shook off the fear of Mangpi being hurt.

Even as I rose from dinner that evening I became restless. Would it be possible that I take on the bully instead? I asked myself. The problem is that I wanted to take on Thiahte. Even if I agreed to take on the bully, it was Mangpi that he challenged. It had to be Mangpi, who was more bulky than me, against the bully and me against Thiahte. As a matter of fact, I might volunteer myself to face the bully, but I had just no chance to beat him. I thought that if I could swiftly floor my own opponent, I could come to Mangpi’s help.  But something in me couldn’t believe such a possibility. My heart raced beyond normal pace. I hoped that God would help us against, at least, people who told lies and stole out during prayers.

Though we spread no word about the ensuing fight, people came to me and got the rumor confirmed. I felt uncomfortable. Mangpi’s elder sister, Zamnu used to mingle with other girls in the village. An incorrigible girl, she refused to study in English medium schools located in Lamka, the district Headquarters. Most of the time she was seen in the village. So she might be in the village at that moment. Girls always talk. I was apprehensive of our plan going haywire. If his parents heard about it I might be branded a bad company straight away. Dinner for them was as late as the boss’s arrival from office. I had to see whether Mangpi's parents got wind of our schedule. Some boys were already trailing me from a distance.

As I stood by the outer walls of Mangpi’s kitchen, I heard the clatter of some utensils through the bamboo walls. My presence scared away some livestock. Then I heard the sound of footsteps. Hoping that Mangpi might see me, I climbed upon the stone slabs leading to the kitchen door. Just as I bent down trying to gaze through a hole, I sensed an aroma of fried curry. Then as I turned around I saw Mangpi, who was observing me from hardly an arms length across the door, with a smile. Inquisitively he drew closer towards me. Then I whispered to him, “They know”. Thereupon, he looked worried, leaned over his shoulder towards where his parents were. His mother was dishing out extra rice to his father who was broadly smiling. At such a time there was no guarantee for Mangpi’s father being as sober as he used to be in the morning. Apart from the three of them there was no one else in the house.

So I was rest assured that his parents had not got wind of the rumour.

Mangpi waved me to wait as he disappeared inside.

When he re-emerged from the door, it was clear that he really made up his mind; he was wearing a shoe instead of a slipper. I felt more motivated. The two of us walked straight towards the public well, which was situated in the heart of the village. More boys were milling in just like vultures. That was truly resentful. Debates over who had better chance of winning commenced.

Thiahte used to batter me in the past. But this time, I had the friend I was so proud of to stand by me. However, Mangpi was a totally different one from the common run of boys in the village. He had no track record worth mentioning in the field of combat. Therefore, we had little chance of winning based on the previous records. It’s simply hatred that fuelled us. We might win or we might lose. One thing was, however, certain; enthusiastic fans would be watching. And they started betting.

Darkness seemed to descend a wee bit too soon. News came that Thiahte and the bully were drumming up support in Pamveng (yonder) locality. There upon I threw a brief glance at Mangpi and registered his typical grimace. In spite of me being the worst victim of Thiahte’s sting, even Mangpi, who is a philanthropist at heart, had every reason to detest him.  Thiahte’s eldest brother, of whom the family was so proud, used to loot Mangpi’s house. Besides he used to indulge in drunken brawls suspending the peace in the village every now and then. On occasions when he would be pitted against another guy, people would try to stop him. He would be surprisingly stubborn. As much as the number of people trying to stop him. His parents either remained silent or spoke in support of him. In fact his family members hailed him as a hero.

Fortunately, with the passage of time, women and children learnt to bear with such incidents by remarking that it’s the sound of an empty pot. Later the family migrated to a village in the hill side.

At around 7pm, the congregation in the Church rose with the hymn “Kuate Hihiam? (Who Are These?)”. Obviously the Speaker was about to take his time. Every beat of the drum heightened disquiet in me. Mangpi and I held each other’s hand always. Amidst the bustle of opportunist observers I could guess who were Thiahte and the bully. The rest of the boys were gleefully murmuring, and I didn't know, nor did I tried to figure out who was who. The memory of Thiahte’s surprise attack in the Church was still afresh in my mind. I couldn't help but get jittery. Thiahte, on the other hand, seemed solidly confident. He bent his head forward and followed me with his gaze. His clenched fists were hanging on his sides, slightly closed in front, that gave him the look of Rocky Balboa in wall posters.

Meanwhile, a passerby, smelling rat, inquired about the matter briefly. The bully was insisting that it was no big deal, just friends on a meeting.

I thought about Mangpi's father and I thought about Mangpi. The only two males in his family. I had two brothers, he had none. Crazy things like street fights are a bad things worth avoiding. Still I had a feeling that for good or for bad his mother welcomed his association with people in the village. She might even be proud of her son getting physical sometimes. As long as there is no fatal injury.

I used to fight with people. But I knew how not inflict too much harm. Whether the bully and Thiahte would have such a sensitivity I couldn't say, only hope. I said something in my mind. May be God heard it. May be not. My mind was very busy.

The passerby left. There after the other party commenced their fight. My attention was slightly distracted. In that split second, I was smashed on the eye. That was the same point and style I was hit in front of the Church. Flashes of light emanating from my eyes seemed to linger on and on and on. I didn't even know the outcome of the other match.

Wherever I was- in the Church, at home or in school, I saw nothing but the face of Thiahte. Nor could I pay attention on any constructive issue for a considerable period of time. 'This can't be final, I need another chance' I thought.

The next showdown also took place at night. I was party to a lively company under the auspices of Tingtangh. Thiahte always clung by Tingtangh's neck. Mangpi was not available in the village during weekdays. There was no one in the confluence, who I could count on as much as if Mangpi had been around. Because if someone was friendly to me, he was not quite as hostile to Thiahte. Indeed Thiahte was a public relations buff; he could rope in anyone to his side without much effort and sacrifice. So he was having the capability to sideline me, which he used to do delightfully.

Apart from being the best fight in his batch, Tingtangh had a charisma that enticed people to him. Thiahte must have felt secured. He manufactured his typical discriminatory grudge once over again. It appeared that he felt my touch amidst the playful scuffle wherein boys were jostling around Tingtangh.

Every one brushed against every one. Certainly I might have touched him too. He hollered at me, “How dare you push me? Do you want a beating?” I was somehow physically agitated due to the pushing and brushing act amidst which I was marooned. My happiness turned sour too soon. I was broken hearted. A group of ladies who passed along giggled by as one of them crackled a witty remark- “Has the Power gone out of you when someone touches you?”. Yet no one present there understood the Biblical significance of the statement made by the lady.

Under the shadow of darkness someone pinched me from behind and whispered, “Come on finish him. Lian I’m sure you can do it” Even I was thinking likewise. I was only demoralized by the play of Thiahte’s stratagem on my psyche.

I tried hard to believe what I heard. Inspite of Mangpi being out of bounds I had a motivator, who was as friendly to Tingtangh as Thiahte was. Besides a super star like Tingtangh might not take sides. Once he remains neutral, no one would take sides either. I thought the situation was not so bad. May be a God sent opportunity. I recalled how I tried to pray to God and failed. I used to take it for granted that may be God knew my inexpressible grief without my having to do a thing. I recalled how this boy even on other occasions, took particular offence of me, how he made fun of me, took the names of my mother and my sisters. I felt a shot of fury down my spine, as my motivator continued, “Isn’t this humiliating. Can he really beat you up? Come on Lian! This is the right opportunity to shut this big mouth forever” The others started to withdraw, waiting for my response. So I made up my mind, moved one step ahead and announced my decision, “Beat me up if you can”

Not everyone got the words clearly, but they understood the meaning of my response. They had stood in a horse shoe formation around me. And Thiahte was in front of me. Alone. He was backed against a hedge fencing.

He tried hard to carry on the image of a champion. As I closed in on him, he lifted his right leg to kick me. Immediately I took a short jump backwards. Taking advantage of the moment, he lunged forward and swung the same old fist that struck my eye many times in the past.
The previous encounters were one sided. In front of the Church, I was unprepared when I bumped upon his packed punch. I the group fight I was distracted when he struck me. I was unprepared and the strikes were unbalanced. Not this time. Perhaps the previous encounters had adapted my impulse. His tactic of ‘one first hit at opponent’s eyeball’ failed to click this time. As he struggled against me tooth and nail, I found myself catching hold of his hair and pushing him down waist level. He bent down under pressure of my left hand, frantically groping for a grip at my legs. Meanwhile I landed an awkward punch on the back of his inclined torso. He snarled and growled with utmost fierceness. Pressing his head into my waist he shoved the whole weight of his body against me. As I slipped backwards my right knee dropped on the ground, which prevented my body from further sliding backwards. The spectators were hissing encouraging words, ‘come on striiiike’.

Till that moment I was dying to strike only at the face I hate so much.  Somehow I was convinced that unless I hit now I might never get a better angle. It was not so hard to push his head further downwards knee level. As he punted, he kept on barking at me. Still I continued pounding his back because I was physically agitated at that point of time that no words had effect on me.  As I delivered thee rapid strikes, his breath turned heavy. While I struggled to adjust my position, some spectators shouted, ‘Come on harder,right now!’

The last three blows seemed to deflate his over-bloated ego. He cried out with the whole breath he had been holding back. And immediately I unbuckled my grip and let go of his head. Slowly he rose with shame and the sound of his moaning came full volume. I heard someone say, “No it’s not him who is weeping. See for yourself. It's Thiahte” Another one said furiously with a suppressed tone, “Serve him right, no?”

As I turned around, I saw multitudes of heads silhouetted against the ray of light projected through the curtain less Church door.  My mother used to tell me to attend the Church, because according to her rustic understanding, 'there are bad things outside of the Church'. Amidst the rapturous delight of the spectators, Thiahte whimpered on and kept talking all along. He chided the onlookers for not stopping minors like us, me and him, from fighting (sic).