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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Chp 384. Of Christmas, Farms & Rehabilitation

It’s Christmas time again, the season of joy & happiness. Many of my friends at our site have already started the annual misualdotcommer charity. Money contributed by our visitors goes to various orphanages in Mizoram.

Maybe it’s because of this that I can’t help thinking about a very special place for me in Mizoram – a charity-run drugs & alcohol rehabilitation centre called Grace Home.

Three months ago, I took a one month vacation and went home to Mizoram. Apart from spending time with my dad, family and friends, dad told me to visit our “farm/ranch” at least once before I went back to Mumbai.

We have a peaceful sprawling farm outside the city, at a place called Neihbawih, Sihphir. It’s located on the top of a mountain, right adjacent to Mizoram Chief Minister Pu Lal Thanhawla’s farm.

Once upon a time when we were just kids, it was indeed a thriving farm. Mom and dad both worked hard running it, as they also had their respective official work to manage. At any point in time, we used to have at least more than 10 farmhands staying at the place. We had around 20-30 cows, 10-15 pigs, lots of hens/chickens, and grew all sorts of vegetables like squashes, cabbages, beans etc. Dad also built a very cozy farmhouse, making it the perfect weekend getaway.

I remember spending every weekend at the farm when I was little. Of course that meant no Nintendo video games (electricity was very bad at such an isolated place back then), but I really enjoyed spending time with the farmhands and playing with the animals.

On Saturdays, we would slaughter a pig from our pigsty, and then a butcher would come and chop it into pieces, which we would sell to merchants at the local Saturday morning meat market in Aizawl. They in turn would sell them to the common man at a little higher cost. Likewise, we did the same with our vegetables too. Hence, Saturday used to be a very busy day for our family back then. Busy but fun.

Milk was the only thing we sold every day and not just on Saturdays. Every day, our “milk van”, a Tata 407, would leave the city at 4 in the morning to collect milk from our farm. And I usually went with the driver. [I once saw a man who committed suicide hanging from a tree in Sihphir during one such morning routine. We (the driver and I) were the first to notice the corpse, as dawn was just about to break then, and we had to find the local YMA leader’s house to inform him about the “situation”. A very traumatic experience for me indeed.]

I don’t exactly remember how much milk we used to bring back every day then, but I think there were at least around 10 big milk cans involved. I even learnt how to milk the cows there. And on our way back to Aizawl, we would give a lift to some of the milkmaids who were also going to Aizawl to sell their milk. I was very young then, and shy. But I kinda understood everything. I’m sure our lucky driver definitely “got some” for regularly giving them free lifts almost every day (unless my mom or dad happened to travel with us) as many of them were really pretty, friendly and charming. Come to think of it, I really don’t remember our driver ever stopping the vehicle and giving a lift to a milkman! It was always the fair maidens! Lolz, the dirty rascal!

Once we reached home, the adults quickly did the measurements and divisions etc etc, and then our servants moved out to deliver the milk to our “customers” who stayed a bit farther away from our house, while I did the honors of delivering to those who stayed close by. I used to earn 1 rupee for every delivery I made! I really enjoyed those moments.

But then, like most dreams, our farm unfortunately hit rock-bottom. As the years passed, mom and dad were both busy with their official work and my sisters and I went home to Mizoram just once or twice a year (summer and winter vacations). It was also getting increasingly difficult to find trustworthy farmhands as there were many incidents of them siphoning off the profit into their own pockets, selling our vegetables and piglets behind our back.

Eventually, we got rid of all the cows, and for a long time, it was functioning with just two farmhands looking after 2-3 pigs, a few chickens and vegetables. The bare necessities indeed.

And then, the transformation.

Around 10 years ago, one of my cousins met dad with a suggestion – Since our family’s hardly doing anything with the farm, could dad rent the place to him (for free) to start a rehabilitation centre for drug-addicts and alcoholics?

Dad said yes. And Grace Home was born.

What is different about Grace Home is that, it’s not an NGO or official rehab centre run by the government or a private firm. It’s also not affiliated to any particular denomination. It is financed by different people from Khatla locality, people from different walks of life who got together and decided to do something good for the community.

Another distinguishing fact about this place is that it’s one of the few de-addiction centres where only people who volunteer are allowed to stay. Unlike many other de-addiction centres, you cannot forcefully put somebody there for “treatment”. It has to be a decision made by the addict himself. And yes, only males are allowed.

Hence, the people there are those genuinely trying to reform themselves, and are extremely nice and friendly. Most of the current camp counselors are former addicts who were once admitted there as patients!

They tore down our old cowshed and built a Church there. Beneath the Church, they built a dormitory where they all stayed together. Around 3 years ago, the entire Church burnt down due to faulty electrical wiring, engulfing the entire building along with most of their belongings. However, they rebuilt the Church and were all back on their feet in no time with help from the public and their Khatla sponsors.

They are mostly self sufficient, growing their own vegetables on the fertile land where we once used to grow our vegetables, and they even breed a few pigs and hens of their own. They also receive rice and clothes through charity donations. Apart from that, they also make domestic products like wooden TV cabinets, chairs, desks etc which through the help of various Church organizations, they’re able to sell to other people.

All in all, it’s like a brotherhood, and people who are “cured” of their addiction need not necessarily leave the place and can continue staying there supporting and looking after the others (but that means they cannot leave the compound and have to abide by all the existing rules). In fact, a lot of them had been disowned by their family during their addiction days, and Grace Home was the only solace they could find. Hence, Grace Home became their new family. Such was the bonding between each of them.

Even though I visit the place only once a year whenever I go home, many of them remember me. I’ve even played a good game of volleyball and cricket (yes, cricket! Don’t laugh at me, lolz) with them. There used to be a TT table too, but unfortunately, that is all worn out now, eaten away by time and termites.

The “rent” may be free, but they’re doing an excellent job looking after our farm, like clearing the occasional weeds and overgrown creepers, repairing the fences etc, making sure our farm doesn’t turn into a ghost farm. It was a bit awkward at first, considering how shy I am, but I really love spending time with them, listening to their stories and their point of view on certain issues like politics, sports, the opposite sex etc. and where they see themselves in the future.

If you’re into the spirit of sharing and giving, and have some surplus money you’d wanna give away to charity but don’t know where :) feel free to contact me and I can get the camp director’s number for you.

Below is a video I took at the far end of our farm… the particular area is really quiet, peaceful, misty, and a bit eerie if you’re alone (like one of those “you can scream all you want, nobody will hear you for miles” movie punch-lines), especially when one of the counselors started talking about how one of the inmates claimed to have spotted a lassi-pitar at that very same spot! Of course the only reassuring fact was that I was able to convince myself the guy who “saw” the spirit was probably going through a withdrawal symptom… :P

Here’s the short video clip. I’ve also clubbed this clip with another video clip I took just when we entered Durtlang Leitan on our way back.

And here are some pics I took that day. Click on them to enlarge.

On our way to Neihbawih, stopping briefly at Sihphir to buy snacks for the inmates. The giant white cross perching on the distant hill is so beautiful.

The path leading from the main road to our farm at the top of the mountain was so under maintained that it was no longer possible to drive up there. So we had to leave our Bolero at the base of the mountain and hike all the way up to the top. I lost 20 kgs I think :)

Our unoccupied farmhouse. I took some pics inside too but since there was no electricity, the pics didn’t come out well. What you see right outside our farmhouse is actually a (deserted and ruined) swimming pool. Man, those were some memorable times we used to have.

Below is one of our farm sheds, now almost about to fall apart. There’s nothing inside now. I still remember how scared I used to be of this particular farm shed, and how my evil sisters would walk with me till here after dark and then suddenly run away, making me run after them at the speed of light, crying.

Here are some of the rehab inmates crafting a beautiful polished TV cabinet from scratch. Like I mentioned before, this is one of the many ways they make their living.

Here is the new Church they built after the previous one burnt down. The view from the Church is breathtaking.

At a neighboring hill, a cell phone tower had been installed. During my days, we didn’t even have electricity here. Sometimes the owners of the neighboring farms would hire the rehab inmates to clear their land of weed or construct vine-supports for their squash plantations. Another good way to earn their livelihood.

And ending it with a few other pics in and around our farm.

Peace out. And advanced Merry Christmas, if I don’t get to update my blog again before the big day.


Alejendro said...

1st :-P

aisha said...

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ur blog is really nice and interesting, You have maintain it so beautifully that I truly like & enjoy it.Really a great post.I liked it and i will share it with others too.

Mizohican said...


Zaia said...

Thui hle na a ngaihnawm e. Grace Home tobul ka lo hre ngai re re hlei nem.. rilru a hneh khawp mai, i post chuan.

min said...

the place is exactly like nepal! lovely place and i liked the screaming part, would love to do that one day hmm... enjoyed going thru the pix and video, great song there btw ozzy rocks. Merry Christmas!

mangbuhril said...

good reading...let me quote this "some of the milkmaids who were also going to Aizawl to sell their milk"...
what am in thinking ....haha

Mizohican said...

@ Zaia: Pu Zai, hei hi chu Grace Home tobul a nilo maithei. Ka hriat sualloh chuan Grace Home kha chu hmundangah a awm thina, kan huan ah an rawn insawn lut mai zawk a ni in ka hria.

Mizohican said...

@ min: Thanx min. Are you by any chance the owner of the wordpress blog ? :)

Because the other day I saw an incoming traffic to my blog from your WP blog and I noticed you blogrolled me (thanx) and as I was going through your interesting blog, I realized you're from Nepal. That is you, right? :)

Mizohican said...

@ mangbuhril: Hahahaa why am I not surprised you noticed that particular part? :D

I tried to put that milk sentence down as eloquently as possible :D

Zaia said...

"Dad said yes. And Grace Home was born"

Tobulah ka lo ngaih phah hmiah mai asin :)

Mizohican said...

haha... nia... "Grace Home was born at our farm" te lo tih zawk tur a nih hi... Grace Home hmasa ber pawh a ni maithei... ka hre tawhlo :)

min said...

mizohican ... yes that is me hehe and thank u for finding my blog errr interesting? Happy Holidays :)

mnowluck said...

Essay chu ka lo chhiar zo ta ve phot a.. nakin deuh a ka lo comment mai ang :P

H.Vangchhia said...

A ngaihnawmin mit a tlai hle mai. In farm vel chu tui a that chuan enkawl zui avan chakawm vele.

Martin said...

Hey, I've been sneaking into your blog for quite some time now! Let me know how I can make a contribution! Thanks and keep writing!

Nepram said...

Great work. God bless you and your family for doing such noble cause. Will surely come to Mizoram and visit Grace Home whenever I get time.

Merry Christmas to you too :)

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daniel said...

Good work. Wish more people who have the means would come forward with such projects.

meluhan said...

Commendable effort. This is what Christmas is about. not the carols. not the gifts. not the dances. not the parties.

Mizohican said...

Thank you for all your wishes, guys. I hope you all had a memorable Christmas too.

@ Martin: Thanx for the offer, bro. I'll definitely keep you posted in case any window opens up. You have a very interesting blog, and I can see how you ended up reading my blog too :D

sheldon said...

It was 26th Dec and I was sitting beside a Hospital bed feeling all gloomy and nothing to do. But reading this post gives me a feeling of joy. What a sacrifice you and your family made for the needy, giving a valuable farmland like that was real great.

You must've consumed lot of milk those days!!!