Monday, September 4, 2017

Tell Me Again How All Men Are Equal - Jake Hruaixela Khiangte

Tell me again how all men are equal.
When I don't see the rich man's son
get his share of guilt and war,
and the poor man's son is gone.
When barrels of water are wasted
while the tongues of some are parched,
when piles of food are thrown out
while some die starved and dry.
When religion dictates who's right
and who's wrong based on beliefs,
and who's to be saved
and who's to suffer for an eternity.
When the goodness of the heart
goes unrewarded while vile acts
receive notice and praise.
Tell me again how all men are equal
and let me laugh at your delusions
as I struggle to keep alive
while you wallow in your wealth.

This is the second time JHK's poetry has been featured here. I love how this one begins - grabs your attention in the way that you'd normally expect a nice old-fashioned story to follow. But no, it breaks into a angry spiel about all that's wrong with the world - an explosion that's still highly lyrical, if you could describe it thus.

Way to go, our very own angry young man!

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Identity and other poems - Malsawmi Jacob


My voice may sound a bit strange
seem to be singing off-key
as I go for minor modes,
not being majoritarian

My tribe you dub “subaltern” –
we call ourselves highlanders –
live on sharp rugged hills
Our voice buried many years
is now beginning to rise

We’re rich in tales and legends
stored in our collective-conscious
but have little written history
since the only manuscript we had
on leather scroll, was kept unguarded
and stolen away.

Nevertheless, we are part of
universal brotherhood;
the sky and earth are ours
as well as yours. 


Pi Hmuaki*

They couldn’t stand your prophetic voice
that spoke against their misdeeds
as night after night you sang your songs
in your lonely hut
Your gong music enchanted them
melody drove them wild
but the lyrics did the mischief –
the lyrics pierced their hearts.

The heroes loved their exploits
heads and loots won in raids
killing was the way to live
to attain the honoured place in pialral [1]

You derided their philosophy
wouldn’t sing their eulogy
after a successful raid,
tried to stop them dating lasi [2]
told them to choose tlangsam [3] over kangthai [4]

Their annoyance grew day by day,
decided to silence you altogether
Shut you out from golden sunlight
wind and call of chuk-chu-ri-kur [5].

Your gong still rings under the earth
Bong! Bong!
A disturbance in tyrants’ ears.

* The first known Mizo poet. She was buried alive supposedly for going on composing songs.
[1] The place where the spirits of dead people were believed to go. ‘Heroes’ who had slain many enemies and animals were supposed to receive a special treatment there.
[2] Wood nymphs who helped men they fell in love with to shoot many animals.
[3] A plant used for healing wounds.
[4] Nettle
[5] Spotted dove


The Songster’s Lament

On blue mountain the songster sits
guitar strings all broken
the song becomes a tuneless chant:

“When guns sounded in our land
bombs shouted
fire screamed
cicadas stopped singing

homes went up in flame
hearths were razed
the sacred profaned
music fell silent

laughter turned to shrieks
dreams to nightmare
wild wolves prowled 
fear stalked every street
songs curdled
frozen by night.

I’m waiting, waiting.

Will the great bear turn around*
over our bamboo hills?"

* signifies the coming of dawn


Malsawmi Jacob
is among our foremost Mizo writers in English and her work has been featured on the blog a number of times over the years.  These poems are from her recently published book of poetry titled Four Gardens and Other Poems available on The collection is divided into seven thematic sections and the three pieces selected here are from the section entitled Roots, dealing with her ethnic identity and cultural origins.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

National Anthem - Lalsangliani Ralte

I don’t remember the first time 
I heard the national anthem
nor the first time I learnt to sing
“Jana Gana Mana”at the top of my voice.
It must have been in one of the schools I went to
for my formal education, for mark sheets, for certificates,
for documents I have now learnt to laminate
(to avoid tear and wear)
because I know they are as important, if not more,
as the beat of my heart during job interviews.

“…. Adhināyaka jaya hē, Bhārata-Bhāgya-Vidhātā
Pañjāba Sindha Gujarāta Marāṭhā, Drāviḍa Utkala Baṅga
Vindhya Himācala Yamunā Gaṅgā, Ucchala Jaladhi Taraṅga
Tava śubha nāmē jāgē, Tava śubha āśiṣa māgē,
Gāhē tava jayagāthā….”

I don’t keep count
of the number of times I have sung the national anthem
duly standing in attention
but it can’t be less than the number of anniversaries
India has celebrated its Independence day.
Yet my tongue refuses to caress the words of the anthem
with ease and eloquence
and fumbles, instead, through the lines
like my fingers did
the first time they learnt to type on a computer keyboard.

You see, every word in the national anthem
is a challenge to my tribal tongue
that is more used to a slightly altered version
of the English alphabet than it is
to the Devanagari script.
It must be of no surprise to you then
that the meanings of the words, and the lines
are as evasive to me,
as the colours of the rainbow are
to my colour blind eyes.

So when you get confused about my identity
and where I am from, the God I worship,
the way I dress, the way I look and behave,
and the lores that lure me,
remember that I am just as confused
for I am alleging my loyalty to a country
through an anthem
that has to be explained to me
for me to understand
what it means.

“….Jana-Gaṇa-Maṅgala-Dāyaka jaya hē, Bhārata-Bhāgya-Vidhātā,
Jaya hē, jaya hē, jaya hē, jaya jaya jaya jaya hē.”

Lalsangliani Ralte speaks for every Mizo, and possibly every Northeast Indian, in this poem about linguistic and socio-cultural differences, while at the same time affirming allegiance and loyalty to the mother country.  I have deliberately chosen to post this on the 71st anniversary of India's Independence Day.

Thank you, Sangliani, for being our voice.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

What's in a Name, Anyway & The Exchange - Somte Ralte

What's in a Name, Anyway?

"You, of all people should have used
The correct spelling of your name."
And you could only smile, wryly
For phone conversations can only last thus long.

Venflon stuck to my vein,
Tears flowed endless on our cheeks
As he told me the story of how he was called to be
As I recounted mine, in that Emmanuel Hospital so many years ago.

He said, "Sometimes the Lord speaks
To His chosen people,
And gives them insight
So that names have meanings for His calling."

I bear the name, the blessing of God
For of the many names brought forth
Great-uncle thought befitting of me
Not just to be his namesake,
But because my parents waited
Five long years to have a child.

But why I chose to be "Somte"
Replacing our native "aw" for "o"
Is a different story
Which began, when as a teenager
All you wanted was to fit in among
Peers who were prone to dismiss you.

But being in a culture so diverse
And languages so different
Your name was prone to misspelling
"Sawmi" as "Swami"-
And each syllable of your name
Pronounced to bear different meanings:
"Laal" for the color red
"Maal" for an article, but has sexual connotations
"Swami" for addressing the yogi or the husband.

And to say, "Hi, I'm Somte," seems to be
Easier, even though still different
From saying, "Hi, I'm Chanda/ Meena/Neetu"
Rather than saying, "Hi, I'm Lalmalsawmi."

Much easier, or so I thought, to type
Somte Ralte
In my Orkut and Fb accounts,
Though some friends still search to find
Lalamswamte Raltei.

Then, and maybe till now, I have never
Felt the need to assert my cultural identity
Through the correct spelling of my name
Or one without.

For I believe, despite the "aw" or "o"
Or the feminine indicator "i" behind the name
I still am a Mizo, and proud to be so
My only fear is I would not live upto my name.


The Exchange

What seemed to be just another night
At Grandpa's village in the early '67
Turned out to be a night unforgettable.

As the small family of three laid down to rest
Came a knock on the door:
"Is Zokhuma at home?"

"Aw, so here am I.
I'm lying in with my little infant son.
Let me come out from the bedroom."

From the outside,
Came the appalled voice:
"Zokhum, is that you, old friend?"

In the darkness of the night
Two old friends re-united
With Imphal memories that bound them together.

Two old friends:
One, a soon-to-be Govt. teacher
One, a serving commandant of the Front.

"My dear friend, if you are the only Zokhuma of the village
I have been ordered to take you away,
For we have heard that you are to serve the Indian Govt. soon.

"But let me talk to my boss
Maybe you could later arrange
To rent a house on the outskirts."

"That is a favor
I cannot grant.
You have disallowed setting up schools here.

"But the Indian Govt. is doing so.
And on the outskirts
Will be no proper houses to rent."

So the two friends parted once more.
This time,
With precious tokens and secrets to keep.

An old friend keeping his friend's life
And the exchange of
A waterproof wristwatch and a non-waterproof one.

This is the third time Somte Ralte's poetry has been featured here. Being a member of a very active choral group keeps her busy but fortunately not so much as to stop her from coming up with beautifully diverse poems like these - one dealing with the bewildering intricacies (for non-Mizos) that are Mizo names, and the other with the traumatic rambuai years of the mid-60s that continue to gradually be explored in Mizo writings in English.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Evenings in Calcutta - Ben Zongte

Evenings in Calcutta were a number of things,
They were mostly conversations, the kind that always linger.

Evenings in Calcutta were honest,
They didn't betray you with pleasantries; they were
as they always were, loud and humid.

Evenings in Calcutta were addictive, an equilibrium
of peace and chaos. They were the colour of a
perfectly-made chai, skimmed with pale brown

Evenings in Calcutta were glasses of wine,
the deepest red,
and the most sparkly white.

Evenings in Calcutta were life's lessons
of truthfulness and acceptance,
that one's anticipation of a breeze would only be

Ben Zongte is from Lunglei, Mizoram, and presently studying creative writing at the Aurobindo Centre for Arts and Communication in Delhi. He describes himself as a retrophiliac who is drawn to melancholy in people and literature, and seeks comfort in poetry.