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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Chp 99. Christmas in Mizoram

I hope all of you had a Merry Christmas. Love and prayers to all of you.

Mizoram is probably one of the most memorable places to be during Christmas. Preparation starts a month early, with each locality decorating their area and Churches, followed by a hectic last-week shopping frenzy and all the tailors of Mizoram toiling their ass out on stitching more than a hundred new suits a day.

I took a couple of snaps of some of the decorations on the streets (I plead guilty to being an amateur photographer!)

Christmas eve included the usual Church service and caroling. Later in the night, my sisters and I placed the Christmas gifts for our two nieces (age 4 and 9) on the “thlang-ra”, a large traditional plate used as a substitute for the westernized version of Christmas stockings meant for Santa’s gifts.

This is a pic of my two nieces (and friend) on the morn of Christmas day, as they tore open the presents from “Santa”.

Here is me infront of our Christmas tree, dressed in my brand new Christmas suit. Hehe. I didn’t notice that my tie was knotted too short in the front and I went to Church like that! Lolz. Well what can I say, I’m an old-timer. *silly grin*

The next day after Christmas, we had the grand feast. This takes place at every locality in Mizoram every year. The day starts at 6 am, where everyone gathers at the feast location to prepare for the feast. The various work is divided, like some group cut the veggies, peeled the potatoes, sliced the meat, constructed the dining area and wash basins, cooked the rice etc etc. It's entirely a voluntary group thingie: That’s what you gotta love about a close knitted society like ours. This is known as “fatu”, which literally means, preparation for the feast.

Close friends, (Dr!)Rintluanga, Valpuia and Muansanga coming for the “fatu”.

With my other closest friends, Sanga & Tluanga (the twins), Mapuia and me waiting for the rest of our gang to arrive at Matea’a place so that we could all go “fatu-ing” together.

Below are some of the snaps taken during the “fatu”.

Veggie section ::

Now comes the meat section! After all, you won’t find any other community that loves meat as much as we do. Pork is our favorite. In Mizoram, pigs are bred with the utmost care on specialized farms, fed with the best food possible, inorder to get the most scrumptious and tastiest yummy meat. Sluuurrp! [Warning: Explicit content. Not meant for the faint hearted or timorous la-di-da metropolitan. ]

In the evening, when all the food is finally ready, the feast starts. People take turns at the counters, serving the others, only to be replaced by those who finish eating. And meanwhile, groups of 16-18 years old guys roam around the locality as designated “security” because this is one occasion when nobody’s at home anywhere.

Feastings like this pull everyone closer and closer. There is no such thing as a class divide or social status difference; all are equal. Man you gotta love Mizoram for that.

And all over our locality, the KTP, Kristian Thalai Pawl, roughly translated into the “Christian Youth Wing”, has put up posters everywhere.

“Let’s spend Christmas and New Year merrily without alcohol and drugs”.

“Jesus does not want you to celebrate his birthday with alcohol and drugs”.
“Let us all spend Christmas and New Year with Jesus.”.

And last but not the least, this is what my “Santa” got me from UK. Authentic Arsenal jersey, Official 2007 Arsenal Calendar and an original Arsenal muffler. Wooohooo!!!

Once again, season’s greetings everyone! Peace.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Chp 98. Alcohol: Knowing the enemy

The Christian World is broadly divided into two camps: those who say drinking is a sin and those who say it isn’t. But both sides agree that being drunk is indeed a sin. In a way this reminds me of my friends Valerie and Nunpuii arguing over which football team is better: Holland or The Netherlands.

There are various verses from the Bible [Source] that encourage people to stay away from alcohol: Leviticus 10:9; Numbers 6:3; Deuteronomy 14:26; 29:6; Judges 13:4,7,14; 1 Samuel 1:15; Proverbs 20:1; 31:4,6; Isaiah 5:11,22; 24:9; 28:7; 29:9; 56:12; Micah 2:11 and Luke 1:15, while verses that prohibit Christians from getting drunk are: Ephesians 5:18; Proverbs 23:29-35; 1 Corinthians 6:12 and 2 Peter 2:19 to name a few.

Drinking alcohol in itself may or may not be a sin, but it sure does open the big glistering gate of sin, beckoning us to step inside with every additional drink that we imbibe. And before we can say hic, we’ve already done something that we regret.

Deputy-speaker (at AGAPE Gospel camp) Malsawma gave a very good sermon on the topic “Sin”. Translated to English:
Two guys were walking by the riverside when they saw something floating down the river. It looked like a blanket that somebody must have discarded from upstream. First guy jumped into the water thinking it was his lucky day. But as he swam against the rapids and grabbed the “blanket”, it turned out to be a big brown unconscious bear that fell into the river. The bear regained consciousness and shocked to find itself in that situation, grabbed back the first guy.

Second guy from the riverbank shouted to his friend in the water, “Is it a blanket?”

The first guy replied, “Hell no! It's a big fat ugly bear and it’s still alive!”

Second guy, “Then why are you still holding it? Let go of it!!!!”

First guy screamed back, “I’m not grabbing it any longer. The stupid bear is grabbing me!”

And with that, both bear and man disappeared beneath the strong current never to be seen again.
The above anecdote makes you contemplate a lot, doesn’t it? In a way that’s what you and I go through during our short life here on Earth. We grab hold of a sinful life and when we realize it is wrong and try to let go of it, it is already too late; that sinful life has already taken control of us.

Mizoram, one of the only two States in India to enforce the Liquor Total Prohibition Act (MLTP), has been criticized vehemently by the Anti-MLTP lobby, verbally expressing their heart-felt displeasure on the involvement of the Church when it comes to Politics. Some even go to the extent of saying that Jesus himself turned water into wine; so drinking is not a sin. In defense to this statement, I’ve seen Pro-Prohibition Act supporters claim that the wine mentioned in the Bible need not be fermented and that it is just grape juice. And the debate goes on and on and on.

For once, let us stop moving in an endless circle and try to accept that the wine mentioned in the Bible is indeed wine, fermented wine, the type that gives you a tingle sensation, that makes your head spin around after a couple of drinks, that stains your favorite business shirt, that gives you a terrible hangover, that makes you a dad or a mom nine months later…

So, Jesus and his disciples drank wine, alcoholic wine. Fine. In the midst of all the debates and discussions, most of us fail to discuss one very important point. Did the Bible ever mention anything like,
Jesus and his disciples drank wine, ordered a second jar of wine, got another jar free because it was happy-hours, Paul and Philip challenged each other on who could “bottoms-up” an entire jar first, Peter started stripping and dancing on the table, John started bitching about his ex-girlfriend of a fisher-woman, Simon grabbed the fiddle and started DJ’ing, while the remaining disciples roamed around the street beating up anybody that crossed their path.
I’ve read many well-written articles by intellect Mizos at various Mizo websites/forums displaying their discontent on the MLTP Act. One can literally feel the passion and anger while going through such articles. Although I admire such profound compositions, I do find most of the articles only revolving around the issue of whether drinking is a sin or not, and no discussions made on the person who is actually drunk.

Some of you may not even remember clearly how life was like before the Prohibition days (1995). I certainly do. After all, I live directly opposite one of the most popular and infamous bars in Aizawl: Sertawk Bar. Those days, there weren’t that many other concrete buildings next to ours in our locality. Hence, everyday around 10-20 strangers, most of them drunk, would knock/bang on our door asking us for money because “they wanted to drink more but suddenly realized they were out of cash and we looked rich enough to pay for their drinks”. My three sisters and I could not step out of our house after sunset because of all the drunks loitering outside our house and fighting/puking everywhere. Relatives and friends dreaded to pay us a visit. It was definitely not the childhood memory any father would want his son to have.

Prohibition changed all that. No more persistent broke drunks. No more fear of what’s lurking right outside our very own door. No more bolting of doors and rechecking of all the latches on the windows at night. We could finally sleep in peace. Ofcourse it is no secret that Sertawk Bar still “manufactures” illicit arrack after the MLTP Act came into force, but the number of drunkards making a public nuisance outside our house has tremendously reduced.

I know in this era of democracy and secularism, some might even feel that Prohibition stands in the way of development or modernism, while some may call it a talibanization of Mizoram and terming it as a gross denial of basic freedom and prerogative of the common man. I completely empathize with such sentiments, but, as someone once said, “your right to freedom ends at the beginning of your neighbor’s right”, can the Anti-MLTP lobby assure that the person who’s drunk is not going to pick up a fight with innocent bystanders, run over children with his car, beat up his wife when he reaches home, abuse anyone within his reach and end up ruining his career and family?

Face it, we Mizos are a hot blooded lot. Other people under the influence of alcohol usually misbehave too, but most of us seem to take that extra mile when it comes to drunken follies. I’m speaking purely out of experience as a heavy drinker for the past 6-7 years. Medical experts proved that drinking a glass of wine a day rejuvenates the body and assuming that drinking a bit of alcohol is not a sin, let us just try to picture a Mizoram with no Prohibition Act. Do you genuinely believe that our children and grown-ups of today are going to spend an evening at the local tavern gulping down just one glass of wine/rum/whisky?

Seriously, how many of us consume alcohol because the doctor said a glass a day can make you live till 90? Is that why we drink 5-6 glasses a day hoping we can live till 300? I used to drink a bottle of Old Monk a day during my extreme days, but I sure as hell didn’t drink it for the “health benefits”; I drank purely just to get drunk, so that I could enjoy the dizziness, the way everything became so seemingly clear and at the same time surreal, the way it made me feel like I am Casanova reincarnated and the way all the not so attractive women around me (pardon me for saying that) suddenly started looking like Victoria Secret models…

We may be the most unified tribe in the North-east, but sadly most of us like to do things in excess, be it the amount of tobacco we consume, the way we dress, the accessories we buy, the music we listen etc. It's in our blood to do that. And speaking in that wavelength, what makes anyone think that we are not going to drink in excess given the opportunity?

Even when I was on the verge of becoming an alcoholic back in Bangalore, I’ve always been in support of the Prohibition Act. That is the reason why I never showed up for the Bangalore MSA debate where I was supposed to participate [Topic: MLTP Act] because I felt it would be hypocritical of me to voice my support for the Prohibition Act while I was getting drunk every night. All my closest friends (regular drinking buddies) who know me well will vouch that I’ve never voiced my displeasure at the Prohibition Act even once (Had to add that line incase some of you might think I am saying all this because of my Camp experience). But now I don’t feel any hesitation to speak my mind openly anymore.

Among many of the online articles that I have read, one such prominent Mizo writer even boldly claimed to be inspired by the Holy Spirit as he spoke out against the Prohibition Act and criticized the Church’s policy, while preposterously blaming Prohibition as the sole cause of the Great American Depression! Questioning the Church is one thing and resorting to gaudy rhetoric is another, but to mock the Holy Spirit is pure blasphemy of the highest order [Mathew 12:32 “Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come”]. Pray do tell me, if such men are leading the Anti-Prohibition movement, don’t you think you might be better off not following blindly like lambs lead to slaughter?

People say the Prohibition Act failed because of the numerous illegal breweries still existing. I boldly say Prohibition is a success. At the micro level it may look like it failed because one can still acquire illegal booze, but from a broader perspective, it certainly did not fail. Because of Prohibition, the common man now has to shell out more money to buy one decent bottle of liquor when he could have afforded 4 bottles if there was no Prohibition. Because of Prohibition, our streets are cleaner and safer now. Because of Prohibition, more families are having a peaceful and quiet dinner together. Because of Prohibition, people who drink are labeled as pariahs by the society, hence putting more pressure on them to quit drinking. And yes, because of Prohibition, many of our drinkers are atleast getting some (healthy) physical exercise because of the difficulties in obtaining alcohol

In conclusion to this article, I think the most important issue is not to haggle fruitlessly over whether drinking is a sin or not but rather focusing on your true inner self and honestly asking yourself this important question: Do you really think that if Prohibition is lifted, the condition of the lives of our youth is going to improve? That the majority of people are going to drink without getting drunk? Remember, the enemy is within all of us, regardless of whether we are thieves or pastors. And that monster within us will rear it’s ugly head out the moment we start losing control of ourselves, making it easier and smoother for us to fight / gravel / provoke / slur / gossip / cheat / break promises / flirt / indulge in casual sex or be unfaithful / break marriages / utter obscenities / envy / loathe / steal / etc. Sure you may still be able to walk straight or remember where you live, but you are no longer your usual normal self; you are now under the power of alcohol. And that my friend, is indeed a sin, indisputably.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Chp 97. Sunday School

Today is a big day for all the Presbyterians in Mizoram, the largest denomination in this almost 100% Christian State of India. For today is the MSSU examination.

MSSU stands for the Mizoram Sunday School Union. In Mizoram, every locality has a Presbyterian “Kohhran” that consists of the Church, the Church elders, pastor, Church members etc. (Some localities have split into 2-3 separate Kohhran due to its voluminous size in population but are still unified as one single locality when it comes to VC, YMA etc.)

In Mizoram, Sunday School literally means that; a School on Sunday. Each Presbyterian Kohhran is divided into 7 departments: Beginners, Primary, Junior, Intermediate, Sacrament, Senior and Puitling (adult) according to their age group in the ascending order. Only the Puitling category sits in the main Church during Sunday School while the rest go to a separate location like a recreation hall or a school. Each group is further divided into sections and is headed by a qualified Sunday School teacher appointed by the Kohhran council (unsalaried ofcourse) except on special occasions when the respective department’s leader takes over the entire proceeding.

There is even a roll-call every Sunday, where the registered Church goer with maximum attendance are awarded at the end of the year by the community. Now that the end of the year is approaching, it is also time for the annual examination.

I was up last night till around 10pm helping my two nieces revise for this exam because the rest of my family’s busy studying too. I don’t have to give the exam because I am not registered in the Church due to the fact that I stay outside Mizoram most of the time.

It’s quite funny to see people of all ages sitting in silence in different corners of the room and mugging up for this exam and going through all the lessons that they were taught this past one year. And the kind of questions each group is asked differs and is compiled according to their respective IQ level.

For example, my 10 years old niece who is in the Junior department, has questions like
  • What was the name of Josiah’s father?
  • What is the meaning of the name “Gideon”?
  • What was the name of Naomi’s husband?
  • What’s inside the Ark of the Covenant?
  • Who was the first martyr?
  • Who was the first missionary to reach Mizoram?
  • What is the meaning of Pentecost?
  • Who were the seven elders chosen by the apostles?
  • What was the name of the city that banished Paul?
  • At whose house did Jesus stay at the city of Jericho?
My 5 years old niece on the other hand has to prepare only for an oral examination. Beginners and Primary department exams are oral, Junior dept members can choose between oral and written, and Intermediate dept onwards it is strictly a written exam. Some of the Q&A she has to learn are:
  • Who gave names to the animals and birds?
  • Where did Adam and Eve live?
  • What was the name of Moses’ father?
  • What was the name of Jesus’ mother?
  • Who tried to kill baby Jesus?
  • Where did Joseph and Mary flee after Jesus was born?
The syllabus of the puitling (adult) department for this year is the entire gospel according to Luke. And trust me, the questions aren’t easy at all! I struggled through the first few questions I came across so I stopped after that. Let’s see how many you know
  • What was the name of John the Baptist’s father?
  • Who was the son of Levi?
  • What was the name of the town where Jesus healed the Centurion’s servant?
  • Explain the significance of the places Korazin and Bethsaida.
  • What was the name of the wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod’s household?
  • Where did Jesus heal the ten lepers?
  • What was the name of the village where Jesus appeared to Simon/Cleopas after his crucifixion?
  • Explain the relationship status between Herod and Pilate before/after the crucifixion.

Pssttt! Stop googling! I can see you!

Nobody can flunk this exam . But those who score first divisions and honors (distinction) are awarded (Bible, cooking vessel etc). Sunday School in Mizoram is something that I completely missed out because I’ve stayed in a boarding school outside Mizoram since 3rd standard.

The invigilators for this exam come from adjoining Kohhrans and likewise, elders from our Kohhran go to other Kohhrans to conduct this exam. The entire procedure is very systematic.

In a way, this shows that nobody is too old for school. We keep on learning as long as we live, and learning from the Bible rejuvenates the spirit within us each and every passing day.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Chp 96. "AGAPE" Gospel Rehab Camp

“Hnehna chu Lalpa ta a ni.”

Translation: Through God, anything can be conquered.

When I landed back here in Mizoram two weeks ago, my parents wanted me to go to a Camp (spiritual rehab). I always used to consider myself to be a “good enough” Christian: someone who goes to Church on Sundays, sleeps during the Sermon most of the time but concentrates seriously during prayers, breaking many of the laws inscribed in the Holy Bible but at the same time never blaspheming the Word of God, proud to tell my other non-Christian friends about my faith but at the end of the day getting totally wasted together over a bottle of rum or a joint of cigga-wee and trying to convince myself that God understands what my flesh wants so He won’t note this down on His Book.

Just going through some of my past few posts on my blog will echo what I have stated above. Ah the folly of ignorance! How can anyone call themselves a Christian when they choose to follow/practice only what they desire and knowingly ignore the rest?
1 Samuel 15
1Samuel said to Saul, “I am the one the Lord sent to anoint you king over his people Israel; so listen now to the message from the Lord”.
3 “Now go attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare anyone”.
7Then Saul attacked the Amalekites all the way from Havilah to Shur, to the east of Eygpt.
9But Saul and the army spared king Agag and the best of the sheep and cattle, the fat calves and the lambs – everything that was good. These they were unwilling to destroy completely, but everything that was despised and weak they totally destroyed.
10Then the word of the Lord came to Samuel: 11 “I am grieved that I have made Saul king because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions.”
13When Samuel reached him, Saul said, “The Lord bless you! I have carried out the Lord’s instructions.”
14But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?”
Saul thought he obeyed the Lord’s command when infact all he did was obey a part of it. That would be the same as disobeying His command. Suppose you were told to peel four baskets of potatoes, and you end up peeling only two; Eventually it means you did not peel four baskets of potatoes, regardless of whether you peeled two or three baskets. Many of us are like that: We think we are all leading the life of a good Christian when we do only a part of what we’re actually supposed to do.

Eventually in the end, David took over the throne of Israel from Saul.
1 Chronicles 10 13Saul died because he was unfaithful to the Lord; he did not keep the word of the Lord and even consulted a medium for guidance, 14and did not inquire of the Lord. So the Lord put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David son of Jesse.
I underwent 5 days of camping at “AGAPE”, Durtlang, under Evangelist Zairemmawia and his group of amazing counselors last week. At first I was a bit hesitant to go to the Camp, because a part of me didn’t want to change. Ofcourse rehab does not necessarily mean you have to change if you don’t want to, but I was thinking more in the lines of “what if I change?” I was afraid to let go of my current lifestyle. I prefer materialism to spiritualism. I like reading and taking part in various discussions because of a strange thirst for knowledge and have an open view/opinion on almost anything from Islam to creationism to racial issues to relationships. I was wondering how some of my so-claimed “unbiased opinions” and “rational thinking” would be affected if I suddenly change. I was also afraid I might turn into a zealot, or worse: one of those people who are more devoted than you are and hence throw around their “Holier than thou” attitude around you. I really hated those people.

How am I feeling right now? Honestly speaking, I’ve never felt this relieved in my entire life. Now I know why so many of my friends who’ve been to camp and who know me well pester me incessantly to go to the camp. When we experience something so great, we like to share it with our loved and dear ones. During my party days, whenever I check out a new discotheque and it turned out to be amazing, I always text message all my closest friends to make sure they go to that place too. In a way, that feeling is similar to this, except that the former comes genuinely from inside while the latter lasts only till the next morning, unless it is accompanied by a head throbbing hangover.

Well so am I a "born-again"? No, but my idea of what a “born again” feels like was completely misguided. Born again does not mean all immoral desires and temptations from Satan will suddenly disappear just like that. All those temptations will ofcourse still be there; but you’ll now have more Power to resist it. Having the desire to revert to your old self is only a way of reminding you that you are only human, just like the rest of us. Born again does not necessarily mean you’ll suddenly start dancing wildly in Churches consumed by the Holy Spirit and start talking in languages nobody on Earth understands. It also does not mean you can suddenly start healing the sick with your hand and prayers, or quit your studies or job to become a missionary in a Country where Christians are persecuted.

Born again is about seeing the light that you’ve been seeing all your life, but this time without using any filters or lenses. Born again is about being face to face with God without the surrounding environment bothering you, and not about wondering what clothes to wear to Church or whether your friends will ridicule you for standing up and clapping your hands when people are singing the hymns. Born again is about realizing how short the Church sermon suddenly seemed and wishing it could go on for atleast another extra hour or two.

Born again is about expressing your true passion during prayers by standing up, raising your hand and shouting out praises to Him rather than asking stupid questions like “whether we can lie down and pray before we go to sleep as long as the urges came from within”. If such urges genuinely came from within, you will definitely not be lying down and praying. Imagine you just won the lottery or India beat Brazil in the Football World Cup Finals: would you casually lie down and nonchalantly remark “yay”?

There are so many other things I want to say but will astutely refrain from talking about it now due to space constraint. Right now, I’ve never felt this much joy and completeness within me in my entire life. During my peniel, I asked the good Lord to give me the wisdom and sapience to write about Him and make me His instrument. Sure this means I will be losing a lot of my regular visitors to my blog, but if my writings can bring Home even one lost sheep, that is far more worthy than leading a thousand sheep away from Home.

This new era will also mean a lot of people will be challenging what I’m saying by quoting different verses from the Bible / scientific propositions and postulates / our Mizo culture and tradition / rationality / different Christian beliefs etc. Let me put it down straight: I may not have the answer you require; you’ll just have to experience what I’m experiencing in order to find all your answers.

Halleluiah. Hnehna chu Lalpa ta a ni.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Chp 95. Mizoram, My Mizoram!

The first few rays of the pristine radiant sun-light
Simmers into my room, like a passionate penetration.
I open my sleepy eyes and smile with subdued might
For I am now back, in the Land of abysmal devotion.

Ah Mizoram! Sweet Mizoram! Resplendent Mizoram.
Nowhere else is the sky so blue nor the hills so green.
The mist covered mountains and many a hillside farm
Entwined together to carve out a Home so serene.

I rise from bed and walk outside my tiny room,
Staring at the scenic beauty and inhaling the aura.
Such picturesque exquisiteness dispels all gloom
T’is far more exotic than Paradise or Shangri-la.

Idyllic silhouettes, Nature’s creation at its best,
A natural wonder personified many times over.
Especially after a brief rain, leaving you breathless;
A concoction of tranquility and serenity shower.

Mizoram, my Mizoram, land of the gallant Zo braves,
With Tlawmngaihna everywhere and nothing to fear.
Here’s where I was born, and here will lay my grave,
Nothing is more honorable than to be buried here.

Now the sun is visible over the looming Durtlang
Its rays permeating through the air so lucid.
Lighting up my little room perched on Chaltlang
Still, everything around me is calm and placid.

Morning birds flutter together in uniformed flocks
Chirping their way through the diaphanous mist.
Until they can find their home in a distant hillock
Only to be disturbed once again and flight persist.

As I admire the beauty that cannot be described
I realize why I am back here narrating this story.
The captivating sceneries need to be inscribed,
So that others too can bask in Mizoram’s glory.