Posts Tagged ‘india’

Today I am supposed to be a real Malayali. Malayali is the linguistic title for the residents of Kerala, the southernmost state of India, a tourist hotspot with the assumed name of “God’s own country” (that name, I suspect is an exparte decision), a haven of monsoon forests where you can ride on the swings of heavy raindrops constituting an ethereal thread . It’s the national festival day today: the Onam day. (When I mean national read it as provincial because India itself is a conglomeration of a wide variety of ethnic and linguistic groups well within their geographical confines.  For me it’s a great incidence that India never have had the ill fate of falling on a military government for its upkeep. Our sister land in the immediate west is not so blessed that way.)  A quick google can reveal the exuberance of this remarkable festival to you:  all its colours, noise, folk performance and of course the flyers announcing you what you would probably miss if you miss Onam. In flesh and blood this translates as an amplification of all the inconveniences that a typical Malayali experience in his hometown every single day: conveyance, logistics, and rash drivers honking and raging like a musty tusker bull. Oldies, kids and those with kneejerks wait for a gap to relay them to the other side of the road. As you know, pedestrian crossing is a myth in this part of the world. Special outlets to sell the Onam paraphernalia mushroom up. Shopping carts loaded with greens, tubers, vermicelli, flakes, rice chips, garments, banana leaves to serve the food (not to mention the laminated paper variants if one is not too keen on going for the tongue edge of the banana leaves that tradition stipulates). There used to be a lot of folk games and village jamboree surrounding Onam yesteryears. But no more in that freestyle way, perhaps a local organisation would hold a fete or two with least spontaneity. Nevertheless they will hog the social media with all the mighty displays of their exploits, the paramount of which is the laying of the flower carpet, an intricate floral pattern made of flowers (or if you are cash-strung, stained sawdust or salt crystals would do). Of late so much attention is made to produce complicated and assymetric patterns that the simplicity of what was originally a space in one’s front yard bedecked with flowers which were available in the homestead and fields is entirely compromised. Instead they go for looks that kill, shipping flowers all the way from Bangalore or Tamilnadu just to pamper the irresistible ego of Kerala.

Kerala is a really wet country (more…)


Kiran Nagarkar, and Indian novelist and social commentator was comenting on the “extras” (persons having non-descript roles) in a movie. “Extras” in a movie are a metaphor of the majority of mankind. Skyscrapers in metropolises come with readymade slums. Hereafter the differences will be that of those who have water and those who do not.

My experiences on the dearth of water are twofold. Living in Kerala, one of the places in the world that receives the heaviest rainfalls in the form of monsoons. Ironically, a mountain across, the neighbouring state of Tamilnadu has vast stretches of arid land but excels manifold than Kerala in agriculture. A prominent daily in Malayalam(Kerala) was running a feature on how Kerala is heading to desertification. We never tap the rain let alone protect our rivers. We palster the ground so that not a drop of water seeps down. Our aesthetic and homemaking sensitivities have been driven to such foolish extremes. For instance, as a rule we think that a garden is beautiful when it is filled with concrete artifacts rather than the whims of natural settings. The following snapshots reveal the quest for water boring deep into the earth, a few hundred metres, to draw water. The sight of water gushing is so invigorating but I fear how long the water will hold on.

vehicle1  suction  font gushing

As I was spending few months in Arunachal Pradesh, I could rather understand how grim a situation is the dearth of water. The indigenous people used long poles of bamboo as water ducts, drawing water from springs deep in the forests. The too dry up and once again they venture into dense jungles to locate a new spring. The thirst never ends. water channel 2

water channel chinkoiwater duct

water duct 2











A student of mine wrote in his answer sheets that a river is beneficial as it carries away the domestic waste. Major rivers in India are polluted and has dangerous content of coliform bacteria making it non potable. The rivers bear the blunt of the efflux of man-made wastes as this loo over a natural brook shows. Mind it, it is one of the best arrangements that could be made in that part of the world to serve one’s lavatorial needs. The people here harbor a great distrust for the water sources that pass through inhabited areas. This is a luxury they can hardly afford in urban settlements where you have to go for any available water no matter where the hell it came from.


1351932061323There are still milky strings of water cascading down the hills, luring us into a near future when they will simply disappear.cascade3

The De-Classic

Speaking of the rich artistic traditions of India, any Indian should be rather puffed up by pride. There are two streams of classical music in India with their divergent schools, viz. Carnatic and Hindustani. The former has moorings in South India and the latter has strong Persian influences and was immortalized by the court-musicians of the Mughal emperors. Elaborate ramifications of music have made any attempt to study classical music a herculean task and many do not have the calling. It calls for a quasi ascetic pursuit of the discipline.  Similarly, the Indian classical dances are Bharathanatyam, Kuchipudi, Mohiniyattam, Odissi and Kathak. There are many more dance forms which require elaborate erudition and systematic practice.

The rise of classical art forms are strongly linked to a culture of leisure. The discipline that leads to erudition and aesthetic sharpening basically springs from the fact that you have enough time and means to pursue your taste. In a land where the majority are underprivileged and ahs minimal exposure to the comforts of life , there can only be a spontaneous expression of the élan and not a systematic exposition. Nowadays, the interest for folklore are on the rise. Kudos to those who dare to see.

This occurred strongly to me as I was watching my friends of Veo ( an interior hill country of Arunachal Pradesh in India, the foothills of Himalayas, where the various hill tribe Nyishi inhabits) rehearsing a welcome dance. The dance steps all looked the same to me, but not without a definitive charm. They had nuances which I was not able to appreciate. These ladies were home after a backbreaking day of hauling sacks of grain from their fields to their granaries uphill, which indeed was after long spells of harvesting when they bend over with scythes. They lacked everything which could appeal to a Classical afficianados. I wonder how the steps exactly followed the lead, something very remarkable in what I thought to be an impromptu situation. Perhaps music is too rooted in their veins.

If you are more interested, this is a sampling of the bihu celebration by the Nocte tribe of Arunachal Pradesh

I stepped on a man. Though painful to recall it is one of the first steps toward Arunachal that I made. It happened in one of the air-conditioned cars of the longest-running train in India. No intruders were expected but there were plenty of them if by intrusion one means travelling without a valid ticket. Those were the times of the Exodus, when North-Easterners were fleeing South in fear of life. The fat and receding eyelids always gives a pensive air to the mongoloid face, and a morbid fear can only add to it. The train was unusually packed, many times the capacity, with terror-stricken brethren from the North-East. Elsewhere in India, their physique betrays them as someone very distinct from being Indian, bordering on a Chinese ethos- a classical situation of stranger-danger. Very often men are like herds, each one strong in one’s own turf, feeding on mutual distrust. Geographical and ethical demarcations are too deep-rooted in our collective psyche.
An assortment of military and paramilitary troops is present all over the north-eastern hill states. The staccato of rifles resound in the valleys. When one hears that one can tell it apart from a poacher’s gunshot and the next best thing is to run for cover. In those districts inhabited by the Naga tribes bordering Myanmar, insurgency and counter-insurgency operations are the order of the day. These ops include indiscriminate firing and what falls out can equally indiscriminately be termed as casualties of war. It was only the other day that a village was set on fire after a showdown with portable missile launchers by two secessionist parties. Living in the districts bordering China can knock you by the drone of fighter jets doing routine sorties or reconnaissance missions. If you are more on the romantic side, then you can cherish the sight of a white Himalayan crest gleaming hundreds of miles away, a sight which you can get from Lamdeng village on the way to the friary in Veo. Nevertheless do not fail to remember that you are in the theatre of the Himalayan Blunder and there are still menaces lingering. Once a bunch of students admitted that they would fall for China in the wake of an invasion. Perhaps a jest but not a good one. Given that the youth fashion themselves around a blind imitation of the Far-Eastern culture there is practically much to worry for the Indian mind. Arunachal is so remote, culturally and physically. Harping on the maps from the Imperial period, China claims entire Arunachal as theirs. In a frantic bid to expand their soft power, China deeply infiltrates the cultural milieu of Arunachal. This is palpable even from a cursory glance at the social shifts, attitude to religion and disproportionate consumerism. When in Arunachal we are in a land being torn apart on various grounds with nobody to properly tend her wounds. Arunachal is the epitome of a neglected and exploited lot.
The inhospitable terrain of Arunachal poses logistical nightmares which the airborne top brass fails to notice. The Border Roads Organisation is doing a remarkable job but it is cripple in its own rights too. It is difficult to imagine the strenuous course and time involved in daily conveyance. The indigenous people are accustomed to this pedestrian way of life in a degree par excellence. One will be awestruck by the sheer weight they carry as a routine, uphill and downhill, a course along which hauling sole body itself can be a suffocating business. Believe me; I have seen even undernourished kids carrying bags heavier than themselves. I should be even more reminded of this when I walk with my luggage on comfortable and ergonomically designed bags down the aisles of a neatly paved railway platform. The people are adept at the art of finding the shortest (at the cost of comfort) routes to the destination (even if that involves the breaching of a perimeter fence!) but this luxury is not possible in laying roads. By way of example, if one boards a vehicle to the new friary in Veo from the nearest town of Seppa and another prefers to make it on foot then the latter would reach far ahead in time. The musculature of the indigenous people has to be a supporting factor because they frolic in the hills like yearling sheep and are built to survive. Our equipments and predispositions can become severely limited when met with conventional wisdom. The sheer distances to be travelled on backbreaking roads is one of the major difficulties in life here, that too constantly attended by deep ravines on any one of the sides. Disaster can come swooping down like an eagle. Well, this is a bother only if the road is open for travel. Torrents and landslides can block the roads at leisure and leave the lands locked, a state of natural siege, choking the arterial supply chains. This becomes critical at the face of medical emergencies or time-sensitive situations. There is no electricity 24X7 (if at all there is electricity), ergo no stable communication facilities but they hardly notice because there are more important things in life. Even as I watch the brothers coming back from a ground zero, an ascent of few miles, after desperately waiting for hours to capture a weak cell phone signal and to make an urgent call, I can hear the raucous cry of ravens flying away in the early dusk from the hills to roost as if drawing my attention to the memory of a raven that brought unsolicited chunks of meat to Elijah in the wilderness of Judea. Remarkably, when power supply resumes after long bouts of outage, the people welcome it with a salutation “Jai Jesu”(Hail Jesus.)
Life in the villages is very close-knit and dictated by tribal norms.. Arunachal is blessed with beautiful people, scenic places, cascades, virgin forests, brooks and birdsongs. The prominent tribes are Nyishi, Apatani, Adi and Tagin claiming their lineage from the patriarch Abo Tani and on the eastern side the Naga tribes of Nocte, Wancho and Tangsa. The Tani family of tribes derive their titles from the name of their original villages but among the Naga tribes a different convention is followed. In tribal life there are different levels of allegiance and one’s title can become the highest determinant. Title is the strongest signal of fraternity. Intermingling of titles can be found in urban settlements but a village always has a predominant title. Cognomens are integral part of existence in this part of the world and it can very often become a matter of life and death, especially in the case of a vendetta. The tribal norms honour the Lex talionis. Villages are perched on hilltops and some are so far flung that one has to walk on foot for a day to get there. The missionaries here are accustomed to such arduous journeys in the gospel tours. People live in large bamboo houses standing on stilts. There can be many homes within a house but each with its own fireplace. The fireplace is central to their lives; it is the centre of familiarity and hospitality and has two separate decks on top to facilitate curing and smoking of foodstuff. The villagers keep poultry, pigs, and cattle but typically not leashed. The animals move about like domesticated wild ones. The most instructive part about living in a tribal village is that it helps us to shed the lavatorial and gastronomic inhibitions (i.e., food and its turnouts.) The day in a village begins very early because dawn sets in early and so too the dusk. People are involved in hunting, gathering, scorched-earth cultivation (jhum) and wet cultivation in the fields. Rice is the staple diet and they seldom milk cattle and consume it. One cannot say that the diet is rich in nutrients. Toil and the deficiency of nutrients make the people look prematurely aged. Bamboo is ubiquitous, versatile and indispensable. Cured shoots of bamboo is an important delicacy. The village experience is one of the best things that happened in our lives. One of the villages was 600 years old and like any other villages had a history of bloodshed and internecine wars and a myth of origin. Reminiscent of an animistic past many of the villages still treasure certain monoliths which they consider sacrosanct. Geologists are unearthing rare meteoritic rocks from many districts. The villages have always known them but as clubs and warheads of demons plunged down from a celestial arena. The tribal make their utensils and artefacts out of stone, wood, gourds and bamboo. Each tribe has its unique and distinct design of daggers, knives and swords. They are necessary for survival in the wild and to work on bamboo and wood but can also become vicious as rising instances of violence and murder in townships tell us. Carrying these blades in intricately designed sheaths of bamboo is a symbol of honour.
Arunachal is predominantly Christian but the traditional religion of nature worship, Dyoni Polo, is considerably rooted. The societies still preserve the traditional festivals but with improvisations to humour the Christian faith. As a matter of fact, Protestantism is deep-rooted in the societies and it appeals more to their upbringing. Baptist and the wide array of Revival Churches with their charismatic praise and worship, dance and music are more palatable to the indigenous population. It would serve good for the Catholic Church to indulge in introspection at this juncture and examine how we fail to hit the mark. As we were opening the new friary in Veo, people were more interested to know when a school would be opened. Nothing rides higher than their tribal sentiments. There are lot of people who are sceptical about the transformations Christianity has wrought in these communities. They accuse Christians of destroying the traditions and robbing them of the pristine innocence and community bonds. Proliferation of Protestantism is a correlate of the rampant consumerism in these societies. For them, Catholicism is full of incomprehensible doctrines and time-consuming rituals. Given that the missionaries are non-indigenous and are not adept in the tribal language and customs, people prefer lay leaders as spiritual advisors and this reeks of dormant anti-clericalism with New Age churches stoking the fire. The people do not fully appreciate the value of sacramental life. At least for this generation adherence to any creed is a matter of convenience. Ironically, this anomaly has come to a church community which suffered persecutions to preserve the incipient faith.
In the light of above observations, residential schools can become strong instruments of evangelization by shaping the young minds. Education and healthcare are the keys to evangelization in Arunachal Pradesh. Her body and mind is scarred by the extremely demanding lifestyle she finds herself in.
When you raise the Sacred Host and communicate it with the words “Body of Christ,” a look at the weathered and tattered hands and faces of the people cannot but reveal to you the Body of Christ staring at you with an unquenchable thirst.