finally. been planning to move for a while, but things needed to fall in they have. will continue this blog/site @ the new site works better as a blog+portfolio. all the content from bottlebroke has been moved to feddabonn, and updates will only be there.

on the upside, the new site is much easier to browse through, and content doesn't belong to google or depend on their servers. it is much lighter design wise, and can be user optimised for low-light or low-power conditions. there are also no irritating word verifications when typing in comments.

there is a mobile friendly version @ too. the site automatically detects a mobile browser, and auto redirects to the mobile site. a link at the bottom of the feed allows you to go to the 'main' site if you want to. still a work in progress, and a ways to go.

on the downside, those of you who use RSS readers would need to point them now to am hoping i won't lose readers in the switchover!

there is still some formatting work to be done, and i'll keep at it. hope to see improvements, especially with the mobile site. will also update a links section very soon. all feedback is very welcome.

thanks to geordee, who is seeing to the server space/domain rego stuff; and blind dayze who did the logo, the favicon, and tweaked the free template i got from tech designs. thanks too to the people who have made wordpress such a brilliant software to use, and who have managed to keep it free.

thanks most of all to you people who read and comment on the posts. you make this whole effort worthwhile. again, would love to hear your feedback!



google (the one they missed)

naked and in love

while i know i've posted a couple of songs here, i don't think i've ever flogged 'naked and in love'. so here goes.

'naked and in love' (also NAIL) is three of us, reuben, sanga and me, who used to write together in our university years. we had no way to record then, though we did dream of doing so someday. then i left shillong, and never really went back. in 2008, a little before leaving for aotearoa NZ, dee and i made a quick trip to shillong. in the time it took us to get there,  roob had pushed hard enough that we'd got a name for the project, and decided to record. while we did manage to make it to the studio for some of it, most songs were recorded squashed up in roob's bedroom, between infinite cups of red tea and qwai. 

and this is the result. 

'zama left today'  was the only song written (together) during that intense one week, the others are all from back in the day. feedback, as always, is welcome. 

where is the sea

the sky is cold

nibbling at my edges
the earth is hard
chewing at my feet

where is the sea
all soft
and warm
and final

where is the sea
all soft
and warm?


one part sunshine
two parts sea


my brother's eater

cutting labels

so we sit
and throw our tantrums
crying like spoiled children;
for justice.

while the mai-baap* government
plods steadily on
grand as a sunset
and inevitable
as death.

My sister and I can't have been very old when we started cutting the labels off our jeans. While it may seem like teenage defiance, I have graduated to cutting (visible) labels off my shirts, and recently, a new pair of shoes. We liked the quality of the denim, but damned if we were going to wear someone else's name on our butts. In the years since I left Shillong, I have been mistaken for South American, Malaysian, Indonesian, and more recently Samoan, Tongan, Fijian and South African. In the light of the recent actions of the Indian government with relation to the Bhopal Gas tragedy and the fiasco of the court passing judgement, the war on tribal land for bauxite and coal, and now the repulsive Civil Nuclear Liability Bill...I am almost glad I do not wear my Indian identity on my face.

Bhopal is the classic story of corporate cost-cutting gone wrong, though it has only really gone wrong for the people who were and are being affected by the terrible gas leaks of 2-3 December, 1984. Warren Anderson is free to enjoy his millions, safe in the knowledge that neither the Indian nor the american governments have the balls to go after him. And with Dow Chemicals taking over the assets (but *not the responsibilities) of Union Carbide the shareholders were taken care of too. I, for one, would have been stunned if the courts had actually made anything more than a token effort at justice, seeing how the CBI has been trying to get poor Anderson off the hook for years, and how it was the Indian Government that let the bastard leave the country in the first place, after they had arrested him for manslaughter.

And then comes the Civil Nuclear Liability Bill. As if it were not enough to demonstrate that large American Corporations would have no real trouble from our police or judiciary, the government (by the people, of the people, for the people) has decided that this might as well be made law. The insurability of an American Corporation, you see, is SO much more important than putting in realistic controls to make sure they are not over-burdened with financial claims should the equipment screw up. Capitalist exploitation at its beautiful best, the profits without the responsibility.

I have little understanding of politics, much less of economics. However it doesn't take a degree in biology to realise you are being raped; by the same government (by the people, of the people, for the people) that is supposed to protect you. I wish the stranglehold of corporates and national governments over our lives was as easily removed as the labels from our clothes. But here we stand, in the curious position of a person sold into slavery, not knowing whom to hate more- the bastards that sold you, or the bastards that bought.

NB: Cut a label...sign the petition against this bill.

*mai-baap=father-mother, a role many see the government as playing, particulary in the imperialistic scheme of things.

thinking aloud@read raw

we went, at a friend’s suggestion, to a theatre event called Read raw. i know little about theatre, and have gone to half a dozen plays in my life, most of which i enjoyed. Read raw was definitely a ‘different’ experience though, and one that’s really got me thinking.

the format is simple enough- a play’s script *read to an audience, not acted. from what i understood, the actors have the freedom to decide whether they would like to do a bit of ‘acting’ instead of just reading the plays aloud. while it is a ‘public’ event, open to anyone, the audience is small- last night must have had about 30 people. there is no ‘stage’ as such, just some empty space at the front of the room, and no mics. the play is read/performed, and the playwright and director and actors have a bit of a conversation with the audience.

i really enjoyed this format for two reasons. for one, this further breaks down the dividing wall between the writer and the audience, with many comments from the audience being on the lines of ‘you should have done it *this way’, or even ‘i don’t think that character/event was believable’. encouraged by the playwright, these comments acted as feedback, and i had a very strong sense that some of the comments were being incorporated into how the play would be staged next time. it was like watching a play half-written or half-rehearsed, and being able to actually contribute to the continued making of it.

the second reason i really liked this format was the simplicity and cost effectiveness. there were no sound systems or expensive setups. it was held in the foyer of a theatre building, but i imagine any largish room would do, as long as the actors can be heard. it was free for the audience, and i think this event has some funding, though it seems possible to do something similar without the funding too.

the plays were well worth a watch, and though we didn’t participate vocally in the discussion, it gave us much talk material for later. and while i do not feel ‘qualified’ to critique the plays, the discussions were an interesting insight to how people think, particularly how we ask questions.

it seems a pity to me that we seem to need to constantly compare the world of the play to our ‘expectations’ of life and our surroundings. for instance, there was some discussion about whether a manic-depressive would behave the way one of the actors did, a comment about a doctor’s assertiveness etc. i personally feel that the internal logic to the piece is primary, and not so much whether it conforms to ‘reality’ as we think we know it.

there was also this odd need to label, and therefore pin down the ‘what’ of something. while the playwright in one play had written in some behaviours for a character, the actor needed to label it ‘manic-depressive’ to understand and so to communicate the character. another instance was a discussion about whether the play should be a farce or a comedy. while i do understand (and appreciate) the value of labels as indicators and as comprehensible and therefore communicative symbols, i’m not sure either of these helped (me at least) in any way.

all in all a thoroughly enjoyable evening, thanks to everyone involved!

of late i've been doing a lot more reading-watching, all of which was made possible by my new-found and much-loved job at onehunga community library. here are some of my favourites:

black like me ~ set in the 50s, this is the journal of john griffin, a white man who turns his skin temporarilly black so that he can travel in the southern states of the US as a "negro". with a very engaging writing style, he brings home the horror of what it meant to be a black person in a white dominated world. interestingly, he also documents the irony of how he feels almost completely alienated from his 'white' self while in his black skin, while not adressing the questions that raises. a fascinating read, and one that raises questions not just about race issues, but even about our own identities and how that is linked to the visual images we have of ourselves and our world. the title is taken from a langston hughes poem.

embroideries ~ from marjane satrapi, authour of persepolis, this graphic novel is a
lot more personal, reducing the volume of the politics from the loud protests of persepolis to a low background (but definitely there) hum. a quieter tale/tell all around, it is 'women talking', in an iranian context. while i loved persepolis 1 and 2, i must say i like this better somehow, maybe because there are more perspectives available, only one of which is (obviously) the authour's. the artwork is also much less dramatic, and seems more focused on facial expressions than the icon-ish images (i loved) in persepolis. the (general) direction of the discussion: bastard men.

ten canoes ~ if you do watch this, be prepared for a pace of story telling that is
more 'grandfather around the fire' than 'bourne identity'. it is a story within a story, set in australia before white people came. i loved the story telling style in this- unhurried, but not lazy or uncertain. it also subtly seems to defy our (science inflicted?) need to differentiate real from not real, while at the same time illustrating the dangers of acting on an incomplete understanding of the facts. this is also the first time i have seen on-screen nudity without any sexual undertones.
the cave of the yellow dog ~ set in mongolia, this is another quiet story, about a little girl who finds a dog and wants to keep it, but who is not allowed to. shot in documentary style, the camera is quite unobtrusive, and manages to pull the whole story through without any obvious acting. while i have an affection for visuals of the mongolian landscape, this movie uses the landscape without it degenerating into a tourism department advert. all of it seems 'authentic' somehow, though honestly, i have little basis for comparison. but authentic or not, this is a well told story, again in no blockbuster style, but with a lot of warmth and some quiet humour.

protest graffiti mexico: oaxaca~ this book is a collection of the graffiti on the walls that accompanied the protests in oxaca, mexico, against the government of ulises ruiz ortiz. the protests started from the regular ritual of teacher's protests, but grew into something bigger. there is no deliberate distinction drawn between 'art' graffiti and 'tagging', and seems to function as a record of how people felt/feel. a lot of the work was done by street artist group arte jaguar. there are timelines and essays to give the context of the protests, though the images are (mostly) left open to interpretation. 

i guess one of the things that ties all of these together for me is, to steal a title, the 'ways of seeing' each of these represent. at a time when the capitalists, the socialists and the religious are constantly telling us how we are all 'essentially the same', it is fascinating to see so many different perspectives, from so many different points in time. i cannot but cheer for wade davis' eloquent plea for a 'cultural diversity' that is as important as an ecological one.interestingly, 'authenticity' and 'identity' are also a questions that have dogged all of these works.

i'll leave you to draw your own connections though!

damn your flag

hanging in nooses
all shot to hell

damn your flag.
damn damn damn
your flag.

under a tree

under a tree at midnight
we watch the pedestrian lights
chatter madly to themselves

it is autumn now
and dawn is farther away
than it used to be

o wind
if autumn comes
can winter be far behind?

dear john

fire on the mountain
run boys run
fire on the mountain
run boys run

it smells
like kerosene
a little singed
around the edges
but tinged with exhiliration
and seasoned with a healthy dose
of sea salt.

who was to know, then
of dear john?
or maybe we did;
and maybe
in this fire-play
(and in his water-play)

we briefly stand
before the darkness
that makes memories of us all;

dear john.

fire on the mountain
run boys run
fire on the mountain
run boys run

RIP John. I will always remember you as the person who taught me to canter. And always thankful.

fire mountain

the lie of Authority

a recipie


3 small stuffed toys, preferably from McDonald's, but Disney will do
1 noose, pre-prepared
1 sachet of ketchup, from any fast food joint
1 knife, sharp
1 pre-dawn darkness, with streetlight attachment to work by


Prepare the noose beforehand. Hang each toy by the neck till dead, 15 minutes, or till you get bored whichever is sooner. Bring the body down from the noose,and lay down on chosen workspace. Find the main stitch (usually the back or the belly) and proceed to cut open. start with the back/belly, open up the legs, then end with the head/jaw. Appropriately add ketchup (or not) as desired. Remove stuffing and keep aside. Repeat for all the three. Mix in remaining ketchup with skin or stuffing, according to taste. Sell the results on eBay/trademe, as preferred. Donate all money raised to Ronald McDonald House Charities or the Walt Disney Company Foundation.

Why did I do this? (Pick one)

a. To highlight the hypocritical bloodthirst of a civilisation that eats meat but shrinks from knowing how and where that meat comes from
b. To resist a worldview swamped by the cute and purveyors of the cute
c. As a pathetic attempt at registering some sort of pseudo-symbolic protest against how corporations such as McDonalds and Disney are taking over this planet, particularly our food and our imagination
d. Because I am a really twisted bastard
e. As a cheap stunt to increase my blog hits
f. All of the above
g. None of the above

for the cicadas

what then, are the sounds
of this city?

is it the gentle tap-tap-tap of a million keyboards
(writing shakespeare, no doubt)
or the deep bass rumble of the chimneys
in a thousand asian takeaways?

maybe the laughter that stumbles drunkenly out of the cafés
to swing, stagger and CRASH!
at our (suitably) jandal-ed feet
or the plainitive wail of a car alarm
being industriously ignored?

what then, are the sounds
of this city?

for the cicadas, at least here,
are dead.

[with thanks to taonga puoro, by brian flintoff]

naked, and unashamed

of vaka, schools and spray cans

The Ports of Auckland have been responsible for managing my weekends of late, what with Round the Bays a coupla weeks ago, and the Onehunga Festival last Saturday. I thoroughly enjoyed both, though, and I’m not complaining at all. In between the excellent Jamaican jerk pork with festival and the very nice performance by Unknown Peace, the highlights were the three conversations I had.
The first was with Ian Calhaem, who was at the festival with a traditional Pukapukan ‘vaka-ama’, an outrigger canoe. The traditional carving knowledge represented in this vaka was dying out, till the canoe carving festivals that started in 2007(?) in Rarotonga, and in which Ian was involved. Considered a huge success, this carving festival is becoming an annual event, giving new life to traditional knowledge forms. The particular vaka Ian had brought was used in Pukapuka for fishing and general cargo. One part I found rather amazing were the stitches that join the wood together. These are completely watertight, and are made so by a combination of fine carving skills, and various applications of ash and whale oil. While this particular one had no sails, there are larger ones that do.
While I am no luddite, I think it is a pity that we lose so much of traditional (often oral) knowledge in our headlong full-pelt scramble for modernity. It is good that the Ian Calhaems of the world remind us of what we could well lose if we are not careful.
Ian would, with the support of a master carver from Ngati Whatua (the local Maori tribe), like to have a similar carving festival in Auckland. This would be open for people to participate in, and a brilliant way to revive interest in this knowledge. What is currently missing is a log (or multiple logs) to carve the waka from. I understand his particular interest is in reviving knowledge of Maori river and lagoon canoes. He says even pine would do- anyone with a log or two to spare?
The second conversation was with Simon Hertnon, who is part of a group of people trying to prevent the Auckland City Council from uprooting Monte Cecilia school for an extension to a park. What got me thinking (and rather riled) was when he spoke of how a Councillor said that the new addition would make Monte Cecilia park the “jewel in the crown that is Auckland’s parks”. I, for one, have had quite enough of jewels and crowns. While I understand that there is something to be said for running a city like one would a business, and am a fan of more public spaces, I think it is ridiculous to treat communities as if they were billboards to attract investment.
The third conversation was again for proposed changes, though of a much more appealing nature. Glen Armstrong, who owns/operates the Onehunga and Ellerslie branches of the House of Travel was asking for petitions to be signed in favour of more street art/murals in the Onehanga community. “More art and less tagging” seemed to be his catchline. His own store in Onehanga had a mural on the (outside) wall, featuring the work of K-road based artists Cut Collective. While I could not take a look at his store, I have seen a few of the collective's pieces around town, and really love what they do.
While the art world seems to have come to terms with spray can painting as art, I am not sure if our communities are quite as welcoming yet. I was glad to see that he had four pages of signatures by about half way through the festival. If you are part of the Onehunga community, do pass this on- it would be good to see an entire community business district covered in murals! Honestly, isn't is about time we brought art *out of the museums and art galleries onto the streets?
So then, POAL, what have you got planned next?

translation: cheraw and the mizo

This was written as a piece meant to generate discussion on the forum, and not as an article, which explains the almost bullet-point style. I will try and keep up with the responses and add any further information I can find. The context is the intense discussion surrounding the Guinness record made by Mizoram (and here) in a bamboo dance called the Cheraw, elements of which we share with other south east Asian cultures.

The original piece here, and the author's blog here.

Particular thanks also to zozem and peer gynt, without whose help I would have been unable to complete this translation.

                     Cheraw and the Mizo


I’m not going to speak of whether we have or have not made a Guinness World Record in a bamboo dance. I think we have said all we wanted to. As for me, I want to know how Cheraw became our tribe’s dance, and since when this has become part of our culture and lifestyle. I’ll say what I know of it, you can then add what you know. I think the people at might profit more from this discussion than from discussions about bamboo-dances and World Records.

I have not heard of the Cheraw being danced at the Chapchar Kut. Somewhat like the Sawlakia, this was one of the dances of the Pawi before we came west (from Burma). Though I don’t have documented proof of this, I’m going to tell you what I’ve heard. I have not heard a clear explanation of how the word ‘Cheraw’ came to be used. It has many names. As far as I know, in the Pawi language, ‘Cheraw’ means ‘to move oneself around’. I have also heard this (dance) called “Hreichhun Zai”, “Ramkhat lak” and “Ngam lam”. It is also said that it was popularly called “Cheural Lam” before we crossed the Tiau river (between Burma and Mizoram), and that those that came west called it Cheraw.

Our Pawi siblings don’t use the term ‘Kan’ (cross) when referring to dancing Cheraw, they use ‘Tlawh’ (kick). I have also never heard of Cheraw being danced at the Chapchar Kut. The reason they dance this today seems to be as part of a show of our culture. Cheraw (known as Ngam Lam) was danced at the time of Buhza Aih* and Mim Kut.**

It seems the Pawi call Buhza Aih ‘Hrangza Tlawh’. You cannot throw a Buhza feast/Aih just because you’re already wealthy– you should have been blessed with a Buhza harvest consecutively for 10 years for you to be able to throw a feast. My father told me “In your grandfather’s Buhza Aih year of 1956, they definitely danced the Cheraw. They sang Cheraw songs, though men did not sing.”

Mim Kut was observed in Thitin month (August). Cheraw was also danced so that the spirit of a mother who dies in childbirth could pass peacefully.

Nowadays many different ways (steps) of dancing the Cheraw have emerged. Each place has its own way of dancing the Cheraw. Bualpui lam and Buhza Aih Lam seem to be among the more popular ones (steps). Apparently the dance steps that the Arts & Culture department has introduced is a conglomerate of steps taken from various areas, arranged in the most pleasing way. Pu Tlangrema from Hnahlan seems to have had a lot to do with these standardised steps.

* Buhza Aih/Ai: A feast given by a family for the whole village when they have been blessed with a surplus harvest. Buhza would have come from the fact that to have/throw such a feast, you should have reaped more than a 100 sacks of paddy, which is usually far more than the family can eat/keep/manage. This is a time of feasting for the whole village, with meat and zu (rice-beer).
   Literally, Buh phur Za = 100 sack loads of rice grain 
   1 Buh phur = approx. 3 tins of buh hum (paddy)
   1 Tin of of buh fai = 6-7 kg

** A festival that follows the (mim/vaimim) maize harvest, usually around September. Part of the celebration involved force feeding one another with eggs and other food in the graveyard. 

translations: intro

As part of an expression of my obsession with Access, I am trying to translate articles/pieces from a popular Mizo website called mi(sual).com into English.
Why translation? For two reasons.

One, there are quite a few people like me brought up on the fringes of
or outside Zo culture. Some of us barely know the language, but still wish to be a part of our culture and claim our heritage. Others know the language, but are slow readers and much more fluent in English. Still others are not the most interested because of the language acting as a barrier in getting to know Zo culture better. Most importantly, then, these translations are for ‘us’.

Second, much of the writing (in English) about the Zo tribes has been
by others, from the early British missionaries and colonialists to more contemporary journalists in Indian papers like The Telegraph and Tehelka. While I would not deny the immense good these writings have done (the missionaries gave us writing) I believe we should also represent ourselves. While many bloggers are already doing this, my particular concern is with the opinions, ideas and information in the Mizo language and therefore not accessible to the larger world.

Having said that, the choice of articles to translate is fairly arbitrary, and are influenced by my personal interests (culture, art etc.), length of the piece (my own Mizo skills are minimal) and the time I have available. I would welcome more help with translating more pieces, maybe eventually in the form of a Wiki. Please also feel free to correct my translation where you feel it is inadequate.

Disclaimer: I do not necessarily agree (or disagree) with the opinions
of those I try to translate, though I find the piece interesting. As far as possible, I will edit only to illustrate/explain what the author is talking about. This may mean there is a stiffness of language I apologise in advance for; the fault is with me, not the author.


            “Heta tangin...saw saw a lang
             Sawta tangin...hei hi a lang”

   - Early Zo poem

Translated, “From here...that can be seen. From there...this can be seen”.

Story of my life.

Some of my earliest memories of Shillong involve wanting to come to New Zealand. I do not know why, as this was in the days before we had a TV, and definitely much much before we had the Internet. I knew little of Maori, and even less about the stunning landscape. One association I made with New Zealand was the tins that Apu had, that used to hold milk powder, but now held sugar, bought monthly in 5 kg bags from the Army rations stores. Turned out that these were from Australia. Over the years, bits and pieces I heard about this land fascinated me, from the news piece about bungy jumping, or watching the Maori haka, even finding out that Sir Ed Hillary was from here. In the years I lived with Apu, he spoke once or twice about wanting to go to New Zealand. Then there was the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior in Auckland, and the subsequent banning of all nuclear armed/powered vessels from New Zealand waters.

Interestingly enough, it was that last one that brought us here. When talk of studying/seeing the world came up, I had suggested Aotearoa New Zealand, but Dee thought it too far from home and family. One day though she saw a documentary on the banning of nuclear armed/powered vessels, and came home and told me we would be moving to Aotearoa New Zealand after all.

And what an adventure of the mind this has been. Scraping a little under the surface of Maori art, I’ve got more insight into my own tribal culture(s) than I’d have thought possible. I’ve been introduced to the whole world of Visual Culture, and think I may have finally found something that can keep me interested long enough to be able to get a degree in it. I’m dreaming of a chance to study the Visual Cultures of North East India in detail, particularly the Zo puan.

The fantastic libraries and the work with the RDA and a Special School have thrown up questions of access I had never thought of before. While I may not be able to contribute brilliantly to the world, surely I can help by helping provide access for people who might? I think back of the chap from Bihar who built a pirate radio station. He was obviously much smarter than the bureaucrats who shut him down. What could better access do to those of us impaired by a disabling society? I dream now of starting, not so much a library, but something that does what a library does- provide access.

The Lord of the Rings connections here are leading me down the trails of Myth and the creation of myths. First there was Tolkien and his Middle-Earth, created on the basis of Old English and Norse myths. Then were the movies based on the Lord of the Rings that have become as famous as the books, if not more. And now is another extension of that mythology being created- movie set tourism. Tourists are not visiting Matamata, they are visiting Hobitton. Not the Rangitata valley (Maori), or even Mount Sunday (European), but Edoras. And I cannot help but wonder: What myths have we lost? What myths are we creating?

And so it is, this far from home, that is what I see clearer. Just as this is what I saw when I was there.

Heta tangin...saw saw a lang
Sawta tanging...hei hi a lang


Chhumleivak was tired. They had been wandering for what felt like forever, uphill and downhill and overhill and underhill- in fact any combination of hills and wandering you could think of. Done. And they was tired.

They had swarmed through forests of bamboo and been poked, pricked and prodded in every way imaginable. They had slid and slithered on the shiny bamboo leaves that were strewn on the ground. They pushed through dark dank caves that were full of the smells of wet earth and old old secrets, to come out very near the same place they had gone in. Trudged up over the bumpy boulders and the rough fallen branches that were brought down by last year’s rains and down through a desolate grove of banana trees left all dusty and greenless by the Sumos that drove in a great almighty hurry on the road to Lunglei. The best, of course, was when they went over a river and woh could feel the cold-ish ticklish slightly zing-zing underneath. Sort of like the feeling you get when you sit on that rock in Wah-ka-dait and put your feet in the rapids, just MORE everything because a river has a lot more water in it than the streams we have here.

Now you probably guessed already, but Chhumleivak are one of what you call 'clouds'. All clouds are the same, they just take turns at doing different jobs. Which reminds me, it is your turn at feeding the chicken this week. Anyway, they take turns at being in the sky, when they are called Chhumvanraang or Chhumtuipai (or Chhumtuipailo) and a dozen other names you wouldn't remember anyway so I'm not going to tell you, and when they are on the ground they are called Chhumleivak.

Chhumleivak, like I was saying, was tired. It was nearing the end of their season, and the excitement at getting a turn on the ground was fading. They longed to be back in the sky, being pushed along by Tohmon (the wind) or basking in the warm lap of Ka Sngi(the sun). And as you know very well, when you have been walking through the hills and you get tired, it becomes very hard to concentrate on where you are going. And just like that, just because they were so tired, Chhumleivak began to break apart. What had started as a large strong brooding mass began to show cracks. They started to get thinner, and some bits began to straggle. That’s right, when you are in the hills, it is not a good idea to straggle at all! And just as they were passing a little village that was heroically holding on to a hillside, it happened. One of the bits of Chhumleivak accidentally wandered into an open window!

Now Dhobi-ka-Kutta (this was before he went to Secunderabad and became a big star) kinda-sorta-accidentally-deliberately was in the same village at the time. He was kinda-sorta passing through, but kinda-sorta looking for something to eat, and maybe even a warm place to sleep. And the smell of fresh pork-smoked-on-a-charcoal-fire was enough to make him kinda-sorta want to stay. It was an easy hunt. A nonchalant keep-to-the-shadows walk that brought him up close, a slow on-the-belly-creep-up behind the woman washing dishes outside and a mad dash to grab a mouthful and run run run! The run itself was punctuated by a muffled yelp as a well-aimed stone warned him not to try that trick again. But the pork, with a bit of leftover rice that was kept by a backdoor for pig feed made a great meal, and now he wanted a nap. And for some strange reason I cannot account for, he decided to go into a house, crawl under a bed and get some well deserved rest.

Chhumleivak was scared. This place smelt different from all the places woh* had been so far. It smelt warm and closed up, but not like the damp warmth of the caves. It felt hard, but not like the hard of the rocks in the streams or the packed earth in that large flat place. It tasted like the trees, but was too smooth to be them. Woh felt wohs way around, moving towards a strange sound, like one Tohmon would make, but quieter, somehow.

And Chhumleivak (the rest of them) was angry. They had regrouped on the other side of the village and found that a bit of them was missing! This had never happened before! Missing! And almost end of season, just as they were getting ready to become Chhumtuipai! How? Where? Now if you’ve watched clouds, which I know you have, you know that they can get together very very quickly. Just while you’re not looking, the sunshine will fade, the trees stop whispering and giggling, and the almost dry washing has a very real chance of getting another rinse. And that is what happened. Chhumleivak told the Chhumvanrang, who quickly got everybody together. Some went to go wake old Thunder (fast asleep as usual) while others went to call Chhumtuipai. Tohmon got involved as only Tohmon can, blowing this way and that, into every cave and through every tree. Chhumtuipai let go their load of rainwater, hoping to flush the missing Chhumleivak out. Even Kong Sngi lent a hand, shining as hard as possible everywhere that wasn’t covered by Chhumtuipai. And Tohmon. Whoosh here and whoosh there, blowing so hard that the lost Chhumleivak would have been blown to bits if woh were actually in the way! What a to-do there was! Even old Thunder (late as usual) bellowing away, telling everyone (who already knew) that Chhumleivak was missing! What a to-do I say.

I don’t know what Dhobi-ka-Kutta was dreaming about, but dreaming he was. But there was something on the edges of his dream, something kinda-sorta wet, but not in an unpleasant way, kinda-sorta cold but not sharp. And he could feel that kinda-sorta wet-cold something on his nose. He twitched once, he twitched twice, then he opened his eyes. Now I must tell you this, I rather admire Dhobi-ka-Kutta’s nerves. It is a rather startling thing to wake from a nice after breakfast nap because there is a wet-cold on your nose, and to open your eyes and find yourself face to face with a bit of Chhumleivak! It’s not funny, I tell you. You’d probably die of fright if it happened to you! But Dhobi-ka-Kutta (with his nerves of steel) wasn’t frightened at all. He just sniffed once at Chhumleivak, and cocked his head in surprise. Now THIS was something you didn’t see every day! Not that there was very much to see, mind you, just a little wispy-cloudy sorta thing under a bed in a room. And there definitely wasn’t a wispy-cloudy sorta thing there when Dhobi-ka-Kutta went to sleep!

And what was that ruckus outside?

Grumble grumble grumble BOOM went old Thunder. Grumble BOOM! Dhobi-ka-Kutta wondered what old Thunder was on about. Never the most articulate at best, old Thunder could be quite hard to understand when woken from a nap. And since he seemed in no danger from the wispy-cloudy thing, he sat down again to try and understand what old Thunder was saying. Aaah, thought Dhobi-ka-Kutta, as he finally made the connection between the great excitement outside and the cloudy-wispy thingy he had just met. So he stood back up, took a nice long stretch (as you should always do after a nap), reached under his super-cape into his super-utility belt and pulled out a super nudge-o-matic. Heh heh no, he didn’t. I just made that up to see if you were awake.

Anyway, he knew that he needed to help. The cloudy-wispy thing didn’t look like it could be lifted by the scruff of the neck (what neck) and marched out. And it didn’t seem to react when he called to it either. Aaah, he thought again as he hit on an idea. And very very gently, Dhobi-ka-Kutta started nudging Chhumleivak with his nose. Nudge he went, nudge nudge out from under the bed. Nudge he went, nudge nudge towards the window. Nudge he went, nudge nudge up towards the window sill. Till finally one bounce, two bounce and OUT the window went Chhumleivak. Free! Home! Yay!

Things quietened down pretty fast after that. Dhobi-ka-Kutta managed to sneak out without too much trouble, and old Thunder went back to sleep. Kong Sngi had to work extra hard to make sure the laundry dried, and Chhumtupai went back to wherever it is they hang out when it is not raining. Chhumleivak became Chuumvanrang (change in plan) the next season, and had a nice long break before they took a turn on the ground again.

And so it is, before you close your windows at night, you should always look under the bed, just in case there is a little bit of Chhumleivak hiding there. How will you know if there is? Well, just like Dhobi-ka-Kutta, you’ll feel something kinda-sorta wet-cold on your nose!

*I have been told by very reliable sources that 'woh' is the correct singular pronoun for sunsets, lightning and clouds. Apparently they do not have genders as we know it, and so 'woh' is the only correct (and more importantly polite) descriptor. I am yet to be told if this pronoun also fits others. In a group, they can be reffered to as ‘they’. 

thanks @ for the beginnings of this story!


goodbye blue sky

a mizo culture map

"Mizoram has the most variegated hilly terrain in the eastern part of India. The hills are steep (avg. height 1000 metres) and separated by rivers which flow either to the north or south creating deep gorges between the hill ranges. The highest peak in Mizoram is the Phawngpui (Blue Mountain) with a height of 2210 metres." (from Wikipedia)

I've been working on a mental map of mizo(-ram, -ness) for a while now. The idea was to make a visual representation of what it meant to be Mizo. The first part was easy- I sent out a mail to the Mizos I know, asking them for the top-of-the-mind associations they made with Mizoram/Mizo identity. A little harder was getting responses, thanks a heap to those of you that did. The hardest part was translating the variety (wow!) of data I got into a comprehensible visual. 

I knew that I wanted to represent it as hills (obviously) and was playing with various adaptations of contour maps, but couldn't come up with anything that made sense. I'd almost abandoned hope of ever getting anywhere when it suddenly struck me last night that I was looking at the whole thing from the wrong angle. A pre-occupation with maps had me thinking contours, so looking *down from above. A much more natural position is to look at it from the side! And what better way to do that than in a graph!

Here are the results, then. I have clubbed a few things together, such as grouping all the various vegetable names under Mizo Chawhmeh, Synod and Church under Church etc. The results are fairly interesting. The top five mentions are:

1. Mizo chawhmeh. Chawhmeh literally means eaten with rice, the staple, and refers to various herbs, vegetables and fermented things we like to eat)

2. Church. This is not surprising, considering how much of Mizo social life is centered around the church and church-related activities.

3. Things. Ok, ok, this is hardly a coherent label. Under this, though I have grouped items of material culture that are familiar to most Mizos, like ar-bawm (a woven box where chicken are kept), chem (a machete-type knife) and em (a basket used to carry things).

4. Vawksa (pork). There were so many mentions of this it deserved it's own category. Of 10 responses, 8 were for vawksa-rep(smoked) and 2 for vawksa-chhum boiled). We are obviously a culture obsessed with food, eh?

5. The 5th place is tied between funerals, puan and singing.
  • Funerals: Not surprising either, considering how the community gets together in times of bereavement, and give the bereaved family tremendous support.
  • Puan: Mizo garment, like a sarong, still very popular with the women, though the men have sadly abandoned it in daily life. The puan is the most obvious element of Mizo visual culture. While there are traditional and festive designs, contemporary weavers have come out with new designs and these change with the change in fads and fashions.
  • Singing: Mizos love to sing. We sing when we are happy and when we are sad, and most often as a group. There are all-night sings held most commonly when some one had died or in the weeks preceding Christmas. 
Surprises: I expected the YMA to be a lot more in people's consciousness than it is. It comes a distant #10. The most interesting response was "stale fish from Silchar". 

Please remember, NONE of this is REMOTELY scientific. This is an art project, not an anthropological one. My subjectivity is probably showing, right from the people I asked (most live outside Mizoram) to the way I grouped data. This is also a rather shallow approach to understanding culture, and I hope this is treated as an *entry point to introspection/exploration rather than a result of it.

I got the hills I wanted, though, and am happy!

EDIT: I didn't mean the lines of text under the 'hills' to be read. For me, they signify the rivers/streams of Mizoram. On hindsight, they also look like a mirror image in water. I'll leave you to your own interpretation though!

marty's whales/waitangi day musings

streetlights crumple
against a bright(ish)
auckland morning.

deep down in the silence
marty's whales are sounding
treaties made
treaties broken
the big(ish)
party on
at orakei

but i've turned
my back on the sea
my face to the hills-
this hill
littered with buildings
that snap at your heels
and leer as you pass...

and deep down in the silence,
marty's whales are sounding.

[NOTE:links for context- marty, whales, treaties, orakei, this hill]

Watching Hine

Watching was a lightning bolt. Not a very impressive one, to be sure, and unlikely to ever reach the sky-splitting-cloud-smacking-treetop-crackling power of some of the other lightning bolts in the herd. But Watching was happy. Because late at noon, when no one was around, and the moisture was just right, woh (yes yes, lightning bolts have the same genders as sunsets) could sometimes light up the sky just about enough for one to see the stars blink. And that, as Nilanjana proceeded to tell me, happened after woh met Wheelchair Rocket, a.k.a Speedling, a.k.a Hine.

Now Hine wasn’t quite like the other kids at school, and spent most of his time in a wheelchair. (Why, you ask? Well...why do you have brown eyes? And black hair? Yep! The same sorta thing!) But Hine did, like all of us, sometimes feel very alone. And when he did, he would wait to get home, roll his chair out onto the deck, between the chives and the watering can, lean back and look up at the sky. That was his favourite place in all the world, that bit of sky between the squat white building on the right and the lanky crane on the left. It was a beautiful patch, sometimes a deep clear blue, sometimes softly fringed by wisps of cloud, and sometimes a solid pale grey with darker patches that looked like rain. And that was just in the day. At night, the patch would be lit up, with the yellow lights from the streets and the buildings making it fuzzy around the edges. But no matter how much light there was, there was always, right at the centre, a deep dark black sky. And sometimes, there were stars. When he wasn’t feeling alone, though, Hine was Speedling, a.k.a Wheelchair Rocket, the fastest wheelchair in the world. (Just between you and me, he wasn’t there just quite yet, but had every chance of being someday!)

It was a Saturday afternoon in summer that Hine first met Watching. It had been a bright clear morning, and Hine could barely drag himself away from the spotless sheet of blue above him. It had suddenly turned a menacing black though, and rained as if it was practicing to be a waterfall like the one Africa that they showed on TV last week. The thunder rumbled and roared, almost sounding like the volcanoes had woken up again, and there were crrraaaaaacccccck!s that tore across the sky. Hine knew how to judge the distance of a storm by counting the time between the flash and crash of lightning, and these were oh-boy-oh-boy close, with barely a second between them! Flash-Crack they would go. And rumble rumble. Flaaashh-Crack! While Hine had the good sense (unlike some people I know, but we won’t name names just here, ey? We all know who I am talking about anyway) not to be out in the storm, but watched the whole thing from the window-doors. Like most storms, this didn’t last long, and soon began to blow away, and the flash-cracks became further apart as the lightning bolt herd began to drift on. And that is when Hine Speedling met Watching the lightning bolt.

Watching had, as usual, been skulking around the back of the herd, behind the big strong sky-Splitters, the always-cheerful Cracklers and a little to the left of the fizzies (officially called the Illuminators), who seemed to always take themselves so seriously. Woh was safe there, and could play little games, testing wohs moves. The fizzies dutifully ignored woh as they went about their business, and woh was too far behind to be seen by the Splitters and the Cracklers. Now I don’t know (and neither does Nilanjana, smartie pants) why Hine and Watching connected so well. Maybe it was their ing names. Maybe it was right place right time. Maybe anything-you tell me why you so good friends with that grubby bad tempered cat of yours, ey? Anyway Hine caught Watching right in the middle of a to the left-to the right-somersault-spread-glow that woh’d been practicing for a while. It wasn’t perfect yet, but was meant as a sort of off-beat to the fizzies, just as they were reaching the end of their zzt zzt zzt cycle glow. It was barely noticeable, and so the fizzies didn’t mind too much. I think Hine only saw it because Watching chose just that patch of sky to do it in, and as we know, Hine knew that patch of sky very very well.

Now all friendships, even good ones, take a while to grow. Just like planting carrots, really. First, of course, you gotta *like carrots. Then you get good potting mix, plant the carrots, water them, and make sure no pesky little kids come dig them up too early. All good friendships are like that too. So Watching and Hine liked each other. That was a start.

Now something you need to know about lightning herds is that just because you don’t always see and hear them doesn’t mean that they aren’t there. Just like the stars, but we’ll talk about that later. Each herd of lightning has an area to take care of, you see, and go past that area most days. I don’t know who decides the areas, maybe you could go ask Tawhiri sometime. Most days we don’t see them passing because there’s plenty of light in the sky from the sun, not dark like on a stormy day. The sky-Splitters and the Cracklers are only in top form about once a month, and the fizzies only did their thing when the others had done theirs.

But Hine knew to look, now, and often saw Watching going by at the back of the herd, practicing now this move, and now that. Watching also grew to look forward to seeing Hine solemnly sitting there, looking up at woh and smiling, especially when woh did the left-right-somersault-glow thing. This was turning into Watching’s signature move, and woh practiced harder and harder, and got better and better! It was beginning to get rather obvious when woh was doing it, and some of the fizzies were a little disapproving. They weren’t sure it was the proper thing to do, but it didn’t quite seem ‘wrong’ either, so they tut-tuted, but left woh alone.

It was about summer the next year when it happened. Watching had been getting stronger and stronger (though Hine was getting weaker). The sky started to darken one day as the big heavy clouds began to roll in. There was a steady wind, and people at home rushed to take their washing in, while people at work realised their nicely-dry-by-now clothes were going to get very very wet. Boom-boom-boom went the thunder, drumming up expectation. Whooooo went the wind. Boom-boom went the thunder again. And whooooosh went the wind. Then Craaaaaack! went the first of the lightning. Cr-cr-cr-cr-aaaaacK! Of course Hine was there to watch. He saw the Splitters try to out-split each other, while the Cracklers merrily did their bit. There hadn’t been a storm in a while, and the happy herd were making the most of it. And as quickly as it came, the herd began to move on. There were the fizzies now, cleaning up after the rest, the occasional soft glow around the edges as they worked. But hey! What was that? What was that glow? There again! And there! It was Watching! Woh had gotten so much better by now! Was that the stars? Did woh actually manage to glow enough to show the stars? Woooow! thought Hine. Woooow.

Hine died soon after that performance by Watching. He’d been getting weaker and weaker, and was finding it hard to hang on. One day he accidentally-deliberately forgot to take his medicine, and went on to his next big adventure in the sky. Before he went he told Nilanjana, and Nilanjana told me, so I know. The lightning herd still goes by, though, and Watching is still getting better and better. And some days, deep at noon, if you know where to look, woh’ll light up the sky just about enough for one to see the stars blink. I think woh sometimes misses Hine. I sure know I do. 

long rope



long rope-
now brown,
now red.

markets vs. culture

We stopped and watched a street musical performance today, by a chap playing the various Andean pipes in time to recorded music. Dressed in ‘red-indian’ outfits, with the feathers and the beads, one person played the pipes, while the other sold CDs of the same music. The Andean flutes played well are a treat to hear, and a must listen for anyone interested in softer music. There was no doubt, he played well. Among other pieces, he played Chiquitita, the old ABBA classic, and El Condor Pasa, a tune made famous by Simon and Garfunkel.

The performance tore my heart.

On the one hand (and this is going to be a post of many hands) the cultural observer in me laughs at the irony of a ‘native’ peddling music that is an indigenisation of an Americanised pop culture version of indigenous music. El Condor Pasa was popularised by Simon and Garfunkel, but was composed by Peruvian composer Daniel Alomia Robles. The version playing today, however, sounded (the guitar plucking) very much like the S and G song. The cultural observer in me also smirks a little unkindly at the use of the ‘feathers-and-beads’ artifice to attract tourist attention and make sales.

On the other hand, here are two young (?) men making honest money from tourists and ‘westerners’ who can well afford it. While there is artifice, it is not dishonest, and the artifice is no worse than the mildest advertisements we see on TV every day. In the best traditions of movie making, these two men were giving people what they wanted to see, and there is nothing wrong in that, is there? They are also being entrepreneurial, and avoiding dependence on taxpayer funded social security, if there is such where they come from. The artist in me knows how hard it is to make anything like a living from my art, and when I work for a corporation, am I not guilty of the same artifice, if not worse?

On yet another hand, it hurts me, as a tribal myself, that we are reduced to peddling our culture on the streets to make ends meet. While I understand very well the attraction of feathers and skulls (having a decent collection myself), I find their use in promoting some sort of ‘tribal’ exotica pathetic, if not downright offensive. Are cultures something to be so easily peddled on the street? I feel quite the same when I see young boys dressed as Krishna-avatar begging on the streets of Bengaluru. Interestingly, though the Zo are a very musical group, the khuang (drum) of tradition is still only used in church, maintaining, somehow its sacred quality, and is yet to be used in the production of commercial music.

Then again (that’s the fourth hand in case you’re counting) is it very different when the North East Indian tribes put on our costumes and ‘perform’ our dances on stage for fat-ass dignitaries to gawk at? However, as an urbanite who has grown up away from my tribal homeland, I would hardly even be aware of these aspects of my culture if it were not for these performances I am deigning to scorn! Aren't such performances keeping elements of our cultures alive?

I’ll stop at five hands- you probably get the idea by now. While I understand and promote the idea that culture is not static, it does concern me that the marketplace is increasingly imposing on cultural expression, and may one day soon completely take over. Aren’t there some things that should be kept sacred?

Maybe there is hope, though. On the way home, we saw another irony- three scruffy teenagers practicing their skateboard skills in the office building of a large insurance corporation. Hopefully, as the markets take over our cultures, we will continue to find points of resistance, and develop new cultural expressions that challenge their dominance!

What do you think?

another bottlebroke lamp

interestingly enoAdd Imageugh, the green-ness of the green bottlebroke lamps seems emphasised by white (warm) light! am glad, because the white lights, though a higher initial investment, seem to save a good bit of electricity. this is the same lamp i'd used on the bottlebroke tree- we had to abandon the wooden parts when moving to auckland. sigh.