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
pollution.

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
disheartening.




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.



Monday, March 20, 2017

My Resting Bitch Face - Lydia Ralte

My scowl and
my piercing eyes are my weapons of choice
My clenched mouth,
my uninviting brows,
They are armour against the world,
armour in a world of catcalls and whistles
of uninvited appreciation of my body, my breasts, my legs
in their professional business skirt,
because a skirt is still a skirt,
and it has always carried a symbol,
a thought of a golden triangle between feminine legs, a thought of inferiority.
A stigma, an insult that a son passes to his son,
Professional or otherwise, a skirt is still a skirt.
And an uninviting ugly face becomes a weapon, a haven.
Against uninvited wandering eyes that talk to your chest and ass, instead of searching for your soul in your eyes.


Lydia Ralte describes herself as a "weirdly fun person. Proud Feminist. Awkward friend and loyal daughter." She recently completed her M.Phil. in English literature from Mizoram University, and was awarded an O for her thesis, and will probably go on to do her Ph.D. She has been writing poetry for several years.


Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Road - Sarah Aineh

The road’s bumpy. And somehow, it seems like it doesn't really lead anywhere. There are plants all around but they look like they could be poison ivy or some such poisonous plant…they look anything but inviting. And plants are supposed to give some feeling of peace…or even perhaps normalcy. Because they live - they’re living things. But these plants don’t seem to breathe. In fact, they’re somewhat sinister, almost as if they’re telling you to get out of there.

If you know you have to go somewhere, what do you do? You go. Even if the road’s bumpy and the plants aren't friendly. And it doesn't seem as if it leads to anywhere. A speck or a dot is all that can be seen. It’s a lot bigger, of course, but from where you’re standing the truth is its just a speck. You could keep telling yourself it’s a mere speck and return to familiarity. Or ‘home’ as everyone likes to call it. You could go home.

Home. A safe haven. But you left it behind. You left it behind knowing full well that you were… well, leaving it behind.

You could go ahead instead. After all, you left home for it.

For that speck. The plants seem to be saying, “No matter how close you get, it's not gonna get any bigger.”

How many rules did you break to get in that damn forest? You broke the law. You went against convention. You chose your own path. You picked up your belongings and said goodbye to the life that others who hardly know you etched out for you. You watched your friends drown in the black sea, and even though they said, “Come on in, the water’s great,” you said, “No, I can’t swim.” They can’t really swim either but they try every day to convince themselves that they can. Because the other fish keep telling them they can. And maybe one day they will swim. One day they’ll swim as well as the other fish and they’ll look just like the other fish. One day you won’t be able to tell the difference. You decided then that you’d rather be you.

Your friends didn’t succeed in stopping you. So no plant is gonna stop you now. The road itself seems to be saying stop too. It’s the bumpiest road one has ever been. Every stone trips you. Some stones don’t but they still seem to want to. You realize these stones aren’t so different from the plants. They too seem to jeer at you, their intentions are definitely not good.

Stones were always present. Even when you were small, pebbles would get in your shoe and they’d hurt your feet. Then as you got bigger the stones got bigger too. Yet they still made their way inside your shoe. You knew then that wherever you went stones would always follow.

Sometimes you wouldn’t mind too much if a stone hurt you because you kinda had the feeling you must have done something to deserve it. But most of the time they wounded you for no reason. They wounded you because you strayed away from the main stream. Because you were alone when you shouldn’t be. Because you refused to swim. So you decided to leave. To get away from stones. Even though you knew there’d be bigger stones where you went.

And even though the stones hurt you and the plants continue to insult you, you’re grateful that you’ve come here. You’re grateful for what the magician told you.

He was loved by everybody, for reasons of their own. Some loved him because he gave them food, some because of his healing potions that saved their lives, some simply loved him because of the security they felt when he was around. Some even loved him because they thought they were supposed to love him. In fact, a majority loved him for that last reason.

You loved him secretly. Others would brag that they loved him the most. Sometimes they’d hold competitions to see who loved him the most. You didn’t want to be a part of it. So if anyone asked if you loved him, you’d say “No.”

But he gave you a gift. A secret gift. He said “You’re special, so im giving you this” And he handed you an instrument. “But I don’t know how to play it,” you argued. Then he looked straight into your eyes, right when you thought you didn’t have eyes worth looking into. And he said, “Yes you do. You can play it better than anyone. And one day everyone will want to hear you play it.” You believed him beyond a shadow of doubt. Then you tried to play it and something beautiful came out of it, you rushed to play it for the people you knew. But they couldn’t hear a thing. You couldn’t understand how it was that only you could hear it.        

So you asked the magician why this was. He said “You haven’t been to the Secret Garden.” He turned to leave. “I want to go there!” you shouted. He smiled and said, “Then go.”

 And even though you didn’t think you’d ever find the way to this place, somehow you did. An unattractive road not tread on by many. And yet it was the road you had to take to reach your destination.

Your destination.



Sarah Aineh (Lalrinkimi)  grew up in Pune, Maharashtra and  is presently based at Khawzawl district in Mizoram as an MPS (Mizoram Police Service) officer. She describes herself as an amateur singer, poet, and air guitarist, as well as a lover of the road and the sea. She is also one of only a handful of Mizo creative writers who have published works in English. In 2014, her first novel Jo's Journal was published by Notion Press, which was recently followed up, in February 2017, with her second, Zeb and the Girl.  Both are available on Amazon.


Saturday, February 11, 2017

Why I Write (and other poems) - Jake Hruaixela Khiangte

Why I Write

Why do you write?
they asked me once,
though absurd the premise
and childish maybe
I gave an answer nobly.

Why, you ask?
Do you ask the sky
why it's blue?
Or the winds
why it blows reinless?

It's because it is
the way it's meant,
and that too I must
write my own laments
like anyone should.

So I answer you now,
of the question you raised;
Why do I write?
I write because I must,
because I must.

~~~




Death

Death came knocking at my door
garbed in black from head to toe.
He dragged his frame across the floor
and whispered to me, "I am no foe."

I cowered, my back against the wall,
as my final moments passed me by
I heard the others and their call,
and dared to ask my waiter why.

He showed me things I saw before,
From baby steps to love's first kiss,
to hedonistic practices, and much more
I wished the ethereal keeper to miss.

"Come now, there is nothing here
that may alter your given fate,
There is no harm - nothing to fear,
only to rest and only to wait."

"Wait, for the love of the Virgin,
wait," I gasped as I fought him back.
He showed his face; a perpetual grin -
a visage of grey in a sea of black.

He proceeded to stare into my soul,
and I saw therein the ultimate flaw -
He was merciful, yet he is foul
to the living and to life's flow.

"I am a necessity, endless and kind,"
a cold voice spoke as the day proceeded,
"You fear me and it makes you blind
to the little things like deeds and misdeeds."

"I bring no suffering, I bring you peace,
yet you fail again and time again
to understand that there is peace
after one's last sun and one's last rain."

"No more of the petty wars you fought,
no more of the disease that eat away
your heart at  every waking thought;
No more lonely nights, no more day."

"Only rest, my son, only rest  -
For you are tired, you have endured.
Let it go now, it's for the best,
You are now free, you are now cured."

I got up and walked  to him,
a pale man he was - from head to toe,
Death smiled as if on a whim
and whispered again, "I am no foe."

~~~


Dream

She is lost.
Lost in the deep pool
of his eyes
that shine like beacons
on a starry night.

He found her.
She found him.
Like two vortexes that meet
and disperse
they found each other.

Now we watch.
And we wait.
For them to fail again
like all mortals who dream

eventually do.

 ~~~



Jake Hruaixela Khiangte has a postgraduate degree in Zoology from Mizoram University, and is presently preparing for his combined service exams. He says he became interested in poetry "by luck" in high school when he came across Kipling's If  and read it through ten times for his viva the next day. Sadly, he couldn't recite it the following day so the teacher made him write it out ten times. That got him hooked on poetry, and he's been writing ever since.