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.


  1. Thought provoking poems. Insightful and belended with nostalgic rememberings.

  2. Nothing much really lies in a name. You wouldn't have been a different person than what you are, had you been known by any other name.
    I do see now why you are 'Somte' and not 'Lalmalsawmi', which again doesn't matter.
    It takes me to school days.