Halloween party ideas 2015

[By DAVID KEIVOM, for INPUI-News&Info]

Socrates would have been pleased as a peach to know that I began a journey to discovering myself on Oct 15, 2008 when I set off with my parents from Delhi and happily headed towards the golden-green hills of my home state Manipur. (The old man Socrates after all was forever harping about knowing oneself, possibly even stressing "identity" and "raison d'etre", so I imagine him giving much approval from deep in his grave.)

My recent departure from Asha Bhawan, the Christian drug rehabilitation ministry where I completed an intensive 24x7, 6 year tour of duty, is followed by a month of Rest & Recreation at home which leaves me feeling lethargic. So with grateful, open arms and not unlike a trigger-happy soldier eager for action, I welcome the opportunity for a trip that is church-related and thankfully generously-funded, which allows us all to fly, and also treat ourselves to some airport coffee along the way.

There is that palpable sensation even before we pack and board the flight that this journey is no accident; indeed, a strong sense that it is in fact God's plan to actively take me into His scheme of things once again; therefore, my fervent prayer is for a sensitive spirit to be able to see Him working, and perhaps to receive new instructions (battle plans) and words of knowledge.

My mother still thinks she is a sprightly olympic gymnast and refuses to be helped. But she is no longer 15 years young now and walks laboriously slow with the upper half of her torso bent horizontally. So naturally my other fervent prayer is for the grace to sanely manage her through customs. I must admit mother has a penchant for making all our travels hassle-rich and highly eventful. (To say she has an anointing would be fair too).

You can rest assured there will be not less than a full dozen bits and pieces of baggage to help her lug, loose ends of clothing to trip on, and sharp objects on her person to set off alarm bells. And always, always a recurring feature, what has become mother's trademark: the misplaced boarding pass. Plenty of excitement for a decade but it happens everytime we set off to travel. (For some reason, my prayer for a smooth, easy journey have been unanswered. Only God knows why.)

The Landing: Without a flight snag the Jet Airways ride lands at the small airport in Manipur's capital Imphal and we step out of the plane to be greeted by clear skies and cool weather, surrounded by low-lying mountains stretching along the horizon on all sides: beautiful and breath-taking sights. To make things count I take a deep breath and fill my lungs full of pure oxygen, glad to be away from the Delhi smog.

We are off in a moment with our legion pieces of luggage, courtesy my mother. Coincidentally, it’s a Black Day declared by the valley-based insurgents and the city wears a deserted and abandoned look. For protection we follow a lead jeep full of armed soldiers. This serves as a reminder of the state of security in the northeast. On the highway every few kilometers, we notice what has become for this land an ubiquitous sight: armored vehicles and well-armed soldiers keeping vigil.

I've been a frequent flyer to many parts of the world, but visiting Manipur, my own state, always leaves me feeling specially refreshed and I immediately scold myself for not visiting every six months. Back home everything is different: the "welcomes" are sincere, packed with all the warmth and sincerity reserved for long lost friends. (There might be the odd backslapper so be careful you don’t choke.)

Everyone you meet will want to shake your hand. And believe me the people are fond of shaking heartily so it pays to have strong hands to survive the ordeal of being squeezed by, say, 300 pairs of hands. Due to the harshness of the land and our tribal love for manual labor (for example, clearing forests or tilling fields) most hands will be rugged, cracked, with skin peeling off like from a sunburnt face.

There are also countless invitations you will invariably have to attend, one dimension of holidays that leaves me feeling specially bloated. I can't help but feel honored going to some of the modest homes where they lay out all the trappings: a welcome fit for kings, the entire family standing in a file in their front porch to squeeze my “poor” hands; sometimes folks will not join in the festivities but instead, out of a sense of servitude, will wait on guests hand and foot. It can be quite humbling.

Mealtime is without a doubt the main event of a social outing. You have to quickly catch on that one is expected to be a big eater, and if I’m not mistaken, it is considered rude to take only three helpings and leave the table in less than 45 minutes. Otherwise someone is liable to announce, as if you have a terminal illness: oh, you’ve full so easily. Though I don’t have the stomach of a jumbo jet, I enjoy being invited and eating as much as I can because it makes the hosts satisfied. This is the part of our custom I cherish so affectionately.

Imphal & Auntie: As we drive down Imphal’s streets, I’m surprised to note that the city seems on its way to being changed for the better, albeit at a much slower pace compared to other State capitals. New buildings and flyovers have come up here and there. The city looks whitewashed and the conjested roads appear bigger as no public transport ply because of the bandh. Manipur is known as a land of bandh. Here any Tom, Dick and Harry declares state-wide bandh at the drop of a hat. But life goes on somehow at its own pace.

My aunt Pi Veli is all of 76 years young. When we reach her house in Chekon to spend the night she is at the door to welcome us and shakes my hand like she’s been wrestling all her life: so firmly I almost let out a whimper. After her husband died five years ago, Pi Vel, who defies old age has been managing affairs at home like a staff drill sergeant. Very much on top of things, she directs us to our rooms, organises the 4 course meal, all the while gripping her mobile to tend to important-sounding calls. And she does it all so gracefully without ever breaking into a sweat or missing a beat. (Quite unlike my mother who is ready to have a nervous breakdown if she has to sit down and answer the phone simultaneously.)

When it’s time to retire for the night, auntie spends several minutes setting up the mosquito net in the living room so I can sleep soundly. Not a single mosquito entered the net and I was able to sleep soundly on my first night in Manipur, most probably snoring high octaves. I was grateful auntie tucked me in, making me feel for a moment like I was her little boy. I remove all my heroes from their pedestals and give Pi Veli the honor she deserves. I have a new heroine.

Churachandpur Bound: Life starts early in this part of the land and cocks crow even before light begins to appear at around 4 a.m. When I wake up its already half past six which by some early-birds is considered late and lazy. As I sip my very sweet cup of tea, I enjoy the fresh morning air and overhear the familiar sound of many neighboring homes conversing in Hmar, my mother tongue. I rejoice.

Pu Edwin, the executive secretary of the Reformed Presbyterian Church, North East India (RPCNEI) arrives to take us to Churachandpur. After a hearty morning meal, we head off to our destination less than 2 hours away. The turbo-charged, black Scorpio he drives is the perfect machine for the journey but patches of the highway are badly in need of repairs. Quite often we are rudely roused from a comfortable ride and tossed up and down dangerously. By order of my mother, midway we halt briefly in Moirang for a very important purchase: kangpuok. My parents tell me the sweetened corn balls taste better here. I wholeheartedly agree once my mouth is full of the sticky treat even though I’m not a complete connoisseur of the northeast snack.

Creature Comfort-Shock: On reaching CCPur we settle into our first base camp in Khawmawi, a Hmar settlement on the town outskirts to stay with a close relative, my first cousin H.T Vela, a Senior Lecturer who lives alone with his wife in a spacious house they have built and beautified with their own hands.

In a matter of 24 hours, I realize I have been thrust into another world far removed from the fast-paced, late night metropolitan rhythm of New Delhi, and the changes are quite noticeable.

Life and electricity winds up early in these parts. Streets are dark and devoid of movement after the sun goes down at 5 pm. Over the decades, several winds have blown over this town, the second largest in Manipur. There has been spiritual revival, civil war, and the deadly wave of drug addiction which has left its deep mark, sending thousands of youth to an early grave, and it now appears AIDS is not leaving without inflicting a heavy toll. Presently the atmosphere in this volatile town is said to be safe but everyone takes precautions, avoiding unnecessary trouble by restricting excursions after sunset.

I note that the Manipur state electricity board maintains a good track record of not supplying power. Therefore, a thriving inverter and battery market is the only recourse for residents with the means. Devoid of streetlights the roads are pitch-dark at night and to keep from tripping over a rock or falling into an uncovered manhole, most folks travel armed with those simple, rechargeable torch lights mass-produced and sold cheaply by our brothers in China. I remind myself to invest in one before I land up in hospital.

At night it is deemed wise to be ready to retire before the inverter drains itself dry, which is a frequent occurrence, with electricity often unavailable the entire day to recharge exhausted batteries. I soon find myself switching to local timings, and slip into bed by 9 pm, waking up wide-eyed and fresh by 3 in the morning. I really have entered another time zone.

The first week in town is hectic attending invitations from near and dear . My plan to shed some weight and maintain my routine of weekly fasting are thrown out of the window due to these social obligations. Very quickly and frighteningly I manage to become heavy in a few days from the delicacies served at meal times: pork/beef/chicken/duck hmepok, chilly paste, meat curries, vegetables fresh from the garden and the Manipur rice which has a rich, wholesome flavor.

Everyday we are busy from dawn to dusk. Holidays mean putting aside privacy. House calls begin early and soon there is much sound of chattering as family and old friends start descending on us from 6 am onwards, a constant stream of visitors that never ceases till we leave for our engagements. I am hard-pressed to have my morning devotions and quiet time but by the grace of God, and lots of concentration, I manage to read and pray.

Saidan & Family Trees: Our trip to Saidan, just beyond Khawmawi, takes us over the Tuithrapui, a river that meanders along the narrow road. The swirling, muddy water below had always frightened me as a child; now it appears quite innocuous, shallow and tame. We drive past fields of rice paddies where harvest keeps the workers busy. Entering Saidan village we cross the bridge, once made from strands of steel rope. Thankfully, the bridge has now been replaced by something stronger in concrete and steel. Our small car makes it across without anything untoward.

Once we arrive at my uncle Pa Lura’s house, it is instantly recognizable by its somewhat charming, dilapidated state, just as I remembered it 20 years ago. My uncle and auntie have had a fruitful marriage to say the least (they have 5 sons all happily married and absolutely no daughters) and they survive in this corner of the town, flanked by the empty spaces of rich forest land and big hills, managing their rice fields.

I am surprised that nearly 50 are gathered for the morning meal, the whole lot descendents of Pa Lura and his wife, both still looking quite strong and capable of more child-bearing if egged on. They have both retained that timeless, aged look which some folks in Manipur seem to carry well. It’s a blessing to behold three generations all healthy and strong (with grandchildren enough to open a small playschool) standing before me. In my mind I imagine Pa Lura to be the biblical figure Abraham who had descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky.

The process of snapping for posterity the families one after another takes more than a few minutes: the proud parents, the sons, sons with wives, sons with respective families, etc. The gathering on this occasion is too important to miss and I also realize that every time we record data, it serves to document history and allow generations 100 years later to know something of our lives.

The concept of tracing my own family tree has been on my mind ever since I watched the epic TV series “Roots” based on the bestseller by Alex Hailey. Journeying back in time to the jungles of Africa, the author, an African-American, is able to discover the origins of his ancestors and chart his family tree from the time of the slave trade in America, shedding light on more than a century of history.

Comparatively, the Hmar tribe possess scanty records that trace our origins or family lineage. The best minds in society can only recall a few generations of Hmar history. Anything beyond belongs to the realm of uncertain: the scent gets cold and history ends. I often think how wonderful it would be to be able to go in search of my own roots, deep into China, Tibet and the Far East. A search somewhat in the league of the quest for the Holy Grail.

Being Hmar I feel no sense of attachment to the land or my people, something I want to change on this trip. My predicament perhaps has to do with my family and I having lived out of India for nearly 30 years, and except for holidays, and the odd social engagment I have had no contact with my brothers and sisters for long stretches. In fact, even conversing in my mother tongue is somewhat of a struggle after being in raised in an English-speaking environment from childhood. It an area I have never gotten to be familiar with several years. All those villages The thingthlang area deep south in the jungles of Manipur (and not Churachandpur) is the true land of my fathers and forefathers. It was in these villages that dot the southern landscape that Hmars first settled and dwelled, received the good news of the gospel and grew as a vibrant community, eventually by his divine hand being blessed enough to migrate to the big cities and beyond. And I am quite eager to make my way through the settlements.

O hills of my father's and forefather's I fear for you
That thy purity of virgin's worth might be forever ruined
The world heading towards your hills makes me fear
That what made you so unique and fair, the quietness
Of your quiet life might be forever torn to shreds
In the coming onslaught, the ensuing waves;

O hills of my fathers and forefathers I fear for you:
That you'll flee from ideals
Rest assured always beneath your Father's grace
Distanced from the air that wishes to disgrace;

O hills of my fathers and forefathers I fear for you:
Know that thine hills were formed by His Mighty hand
And only in Him does your true salvation lie
It's not in the strength of man that we advance
But by His Spirit, seeking His Face.

[Editor's Note: Pu David Keivom's sojourn to self discovery is truthful as he pays tribute to some of the notable Hmar cultures, like the heartfelt 'welcomes' we still have for families and relatives herein in India]

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