Monday, May 13, 2019

The Cord of Life - Mafaa Hauhnar

Translated by Zualteii Poonte

“We are connected,
You and I,
By an invisible cord,
Not seen by the eye.”

The most powerful cord that holds my life together, the single strongest strand that binds life to mankind for me is literature. Often it is my only solace of refuge and rest.

Without it, I would be but a paper kite without a string, set adrift and wafted about by every breeze that blows, buffeted by unkind storms and eventually battered down.

When the silver cord that binds this body and soul (Ecclesiastes 12:6 ) is severed, I shall no longer be mortal. But the chain that binds my heart, with apologies to P.S. Chawngthu, is literature.

When the world becomes too much, and life turns ugly, when brutal waves bash me around, it is the anchor that keeps me holding on and saves me from drowning.

Riches and wealth, houses and lands, positions and privileges, power and authority – of these I have none. Like the popular song that goes, “It’s only words, and words are all I have,” my words and writings are about all that I have.

I am the kind that kicks shut opportunities opened by others. I spill more than I get into the pot, and knock down more than I get to prop up. I chop off more than I can even hope to pick up; fling away more than I can ever hope to gather.

“I am such a mess, even at my best” as the saying goes. At times that I try to shine I am frivolous, and even in my finest moments I am flippant.

That I am inept, ineffectual and incompetent I am all too aware, and need no one else to point it out. The knowledge of my own foibles and follies leave me downhearted and downcast, despondent and disconsolate. At such times when my spirits hit rock bottom, it is the rope of literature which hauls me back to sanity.

Certainly there are many points that my detractors can focus on to deprecate me. They are right when they say I am nothing and the truthfulness of it exacerbates the painful fact.

Much like the lines, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars/ but in ourselves, that we are underlings.” (William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act I, scene II), it is simply that I am so flawed. Nothing else is to blame. The only thing that I do have, my writings and poetry, I treasure deeply and will guard with my life. It is, after all, what bonds me to life.

You may know my face, perhaps you even see me often; but do you know the details of the ups and downs of my life?

Believing you know me inside out, will you be so quick to damn and condemn me?
You hear me laugh and often see me in a joyful mood, don’t you? But do you also see my tears?

When the clouds can no longer hold in the water they carry, rain falls. When the heart can no longer bear the pain within, tears fall.

Despite that, the pain I carry inside is not usually revealed in tears. Instead it is sometimes the cheerful facade I somehow project that reveals the deep sadness I feel within.

If you will accept me, take me for what I am, with all my faults. If you embrace me hoping to turn me into what you want me to be, then you are in for disappointment.

Because my weakness is often so strong, I can never really live up to your expectations or fulfil your ideals.

That I am a happy, jovial person, always laughing and keeping everyone around me in splits is how many see me, I am certain.  Perhaps even as gregarious and sociable, spreading laughter wherever I go, the life and soul of every gathering.

But I spend more time on my own, a lonely man, brooding over sad and vexing thoughts that bring me to tears and cause me sleepless nights. A man who prefers solitude to company, like a ship stranded far out at sea and gently rocked by sea waves.  As lonesome as a solitary sparrow drenched in the falling rain. A man who enjoys his own company and spends time at home on his own.

I am a lone wolf. As the poet I greatly admire Rudyard Kipling once wrote, “He travels the fastest who travels alone,” which is echoed in the popular Merle Haggard song, “For he who travels fastest goes alone.” Our forefathers used to advocate following in the path of the most number of footprints but I would rather set off on my own so I can concentrate on my life’s pathway.

Intoxicated with madness,
I am in love with my sadness.

In public view and with company, I may guffaw as loudly as one stoned on weed. But since early childhood I have always chosen to shun company for my own, playing quietly by myself. Engrossed in my own imagination, I talk often to myself. Wanting to engage in serious conversation with my heart, I crave quiet time. It seems to me that it is the weak and those lacking in self-confidence who need to be constantly surrounded by other people.

As different as my fingerprints are from everyone else’s, so is my character and I have no intention of changing just to impress or appease some; I am no chameleon. I do not aim to please everyone, I am not Lengzem magazine.

I do not change my traits to force myself on others so they will accept me.

This is who and what I am, take it or leave it. Just as I have never apologised for my diabetes, I have never apologised for my character.

I have a mind separate from yours, allow me to have opinions of my own.

Were you to attempt to understand my life, you would never succeed; I myself fail to understand it.   Walt Whitman’s lines

“Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)”
describes me exactly.

Sometimes I feel like a paper kite with broken string, cast on a tree branch by the wind and hanging there aimlessly.

Not just any kite but one with eye-catching colours and made of quality paper is what I would like to be though.

One that someone walking out in the wilds catches glimpse of and happily climbs up and takes home contentedly. Repairs with great care the spine, the spreader, the cross, the tail, and reconnects with a strong, sound string.

Perhaps you are that solitary walker who finds that paper kite.

It is my dearest wish that you and I remain thus connected, with I being your source of joy and happiness.

But when the day comes that you grow weary of playing with me, take me to a wide, open hilltop on a bright, sunny day and release me into a light, cheery breeze. That is when you will break off the connection between us.

Perhaps the kind breeze will lift me onto a nearby tree branch again – to be rescued once more by someone else.

Then he will lift me up and let out the line, and I will sail the skies and dance among the clouds.  And when he wishes, he will draw me back in, and taking a quick sniff of me, will exclaim, “Ah, a scent of heaven!”

Photo credit:  Mala Pachuau & Amtea Hauhnar, with special thanks to C. Lalawmpuia Vanchiau

Translator’s Note:  I am so pleased to finally bring out this memorial tribute in the form of a translation of this soul-baring Mafaa Hauhnar piece,  the introductory essay to his last anthology of prose writings Hringnun Hrualhrui (published March 2018). The book would earn him a posthumous Book of the Year (2018) award from the Mizo Academy of Letters four months after he passed away in the early hours of December the 30th 2018 due to complications from diabetes.  

I began working on this translation shortly after Mafaa’s death but had to shelf it temporarily due to work pressures. Despite buying the book at its launch last March, I somehow never quite read the introduction. When I eventually did though, it took my breath away especially the poignancy of the paper kite analogy: Mafaa the writer, the paper kite blown around by every current of air, then nestling forgotten in the branches of a tree only to bring immense pleasure to those who take time to spend time with him, soaring high above the skies and bringing back a taste of heaven as he does time and time again to his readers.

I really got to know Mafaa in early 2015 when I was asked to work on a translation of one of his writings for an anthology (Contemporary Short Stories from Mizoram - Sahitya Akademi). We connected on Facebook and I quickly realised he had a tremendously quick mind which often reminded me of a witches’ cauldron because it always seemed to be bubbling over with some interesting thing or the other! Since unlike other Mizo writers, he also wrote in English, he became a permanent fixture at our Mizo writing in English events such as HillTalk, and assorted seminars and workshops: he was always one of our own.  And despite his boisterous, laugh-a minute reputation, I found him to be thoughtful, well-read and respectful. It surprised me though when he talked about his love of solitude, no, his preference for solitude because he always struck me as such a people person.  In this essay, he touches on all that and in hindsight, I wish I had known how  vulnerable and sensitive he had been as a person.  Rest in gentle peace, my friend.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Mombati Sarkar & Nostalgia Spills Over - Ben Zongte

Like words from a stammering tongue,
Power keeps eluding us in the hills.
It slips away unannounced
and when it comes back,
as though a war hero has returned -
is met with bursts of applause
and the mothers’ resounding ‘hallelujah’
can be heard across the land.

Its absence brings talk of politics
And the angry menfolk have even
branded the government ‘Mombati Sarkar’
Some proclaim that they
are being forcefully cut off
because the government
is making up for losses
While others in defense
Shout, ‘It’s because of the rain!’

In some houses, the darkness
lends room for an eerie setting
to talk about encounters retold
of creatures pale and cold
that rode with lone riders
on their way back home.
And on this note, the storyteller
would send the youngest boy
scurrying reluctantly to fetch
a glass of water, though
none seemed thirsty at all.

Meanwhile in corners
mothers and grandmothers gather;
cradling infants frightened by the dark.
They hum hymns from Church
and talk softly of the impermanence of darkness,
and how it makes the stars appear brighter.
They pray to God and ask for light to be restored.

Then by strange consonance, or utter luck,
a star indeed appears victorious
to form a new government,
which sends the people asking,

If this could be the answer
‘Will the star restore their light?’ or
Have they been cursed with yet
another ‘Mombati Sarkar’?


Nostalgia spills over
this soul like a hedge
of pink bougainvillea
on a white picket fence
in spring.

Yet, amidst the billowing
and spring songs,
the warm reverie
and my gandmother's memory.
I still cannot make amends
with what time has done.