Thursday, 8 April 2021

Review of Wild Hearts by Somte Ralte

 

WILD HEARTS

 

Somte Ralte

BlueRose Publishers (October 2019)

Soft Cover Rs. 149/- (78 pp)

ISBN 978-93-5347-782-0

 

Wild Hearts, a collection of 47 poems, takes us into the recesses of Somte Ralte’s mind as she explores the multifaceted world of a young girl growing up in Northeast India. Using language that is simple and “near to the real language” used in everyday life, she addresses issues that have bearings on the lives of youths desiring and struggling to add meanings to their lives. This collection is deeply rooted in the poet’s own experiences as she talks about religion, romance, friendship, society, mental health and herself. The first poem in the book, dedicated to the city of “eternal romance”, is a reminder of how places and lived experiences shape people and their worldviews. That Somte Ralte pays affectionate homage to the city that was home to her for almost a decade during her school and college days is no surprise as she compares it to a “fairy godmother” -

I am so much of you

Made by your caresses

Moulded by your touch

Softened by your sights.

It becomes rather apparent, as we turn the pages of this collection, that Somte Ralte feels deeply and is acutely aware of what transpires around her; she finds inspiration in what might be considered trivial and in   significant by some. She finds beauty in places where it is least expected, and solace in inconvenient spaces. And yet, where the rest flock to for redemption, she finds faults as is discernable in her poems like “Back, to Back”. For someone born into a community where Christianity is as much a way of life as it is a faith, to suggest that the church and its members may not be doing enough to follow in the footsteps of the “Master” demands courage and conviction. Somte Ralte seems to lack neither as she muses –

But pulpit -thumpings and gospel dances

Have not illuminated nor

Mended hearts that seek merely

acceptance and not judgments.

This poem echoes her fears that the gospel would be used as an instrument for exclusion – of the unlovable, the outcasts, the have-nots and the weary. Though in some of her writings she comes across as optimistic and even playful in her perception of the world, it is evident that she has questions that weigh heavily on her. Her poem “In This Part of Heaven” asks –

We talk unending, of education –

Its illumination and broadening of young minds

But why is it, my love

That they can’t stand an illuminated mind?

She takes no pain to conceal her frustration at the perceived lack of willingness to explore beyond restrictive conventions and traditional ideals. Perhaps it is because she realises how lonesome the world is, for those who find themselves on the periphery of the society, voiceless and unheard, that she tries to reach out to them through her art. Many of her poems are ripe with the intention to uplift and empower as she encourages the silenced to speak up and tell their stories. She promises to listen and stay, for as long as it takes. The poet seems to take on the role of a shoulder to cry on for her readers, as she constantly positions herself among those whose lives had been “broken and torn” but also “mended and repaired”. The importance of self love and self acceptance, and the cruciality of taking care of one’s mental health is a recurring theme in her poems.

Somte Ralte also explores the burdens that come with belonging to a minority community in a country with diverse cultures. In her poem “What’s in a Name Anyway?”, she explains why she chose to be “Somte” as a teenager studying outside her home state –

All you wanted was to fit in among

Peers who were prone to dismiss you.

....

Your name was prone to misspelling

“Sawmi” as “Swami” –

And each syllable of your name

Pronounced to bear different meanings:

“Laal” for the colour red

“Maal” for an article, but has sexual connotations

“Swami” for addressing the yogi or the husband.

Several of Somte Ralte’s poems are confessional; she bares her heart out and exposes herself as a hopeless romantic. Words, once they are uttered, hold special places in her heart and she cherishes them as much as she values memories of past relationships and encounters with people she keeps close to her heart. For her, perfection is easy to find. All her cares and worries vanish when she is in the company of people she adores, regardless of where they are –

It was perfect, just you and i

With no care in the world

There was that look in your eyes

That something only i could see

But alas, perfect afternoons do not always last! Like the “flighting sunset’, times spent with loved ones come to an end all too soon. But the poet remains hopeful that she will be remembered the same way she remembers –

...brevity does not

Necessarily curtail longevity;

And I hope from now on, in every sunset

You will have me in your heart.

To read Somte Ralte’s poems is to discover her and her idiosyncratic passion for life. Her poems usher us through varied moods and emotions. As her readers, we share her victories and happiness as well as her loss and her pain as she actively engages with us in her colloquial tone.  She writes the same way she chooses to live, refusing to be dictated by rules and duties. Her verses and her spirit are free – unabashed, unhindered, unafraid. She creates her own world wherein she resists normative expectations –

But I am a free spirit,

Too large to contain in a casket

Too heavy to carry by a calculative heart

Too light to weigh on a prejudiced scale.

 

Thursday, 25 March 2021

 ONE DAY



one day I will be ready to love a man

wholly and without any fear

and when that day comes

I will love him hard

like it doesn’t matter

where the sun rises

or sets at the end of the day

 

when that day comes

I will make sure that he knows

there is no one else

and that I will always be there

on his good days

and more importantly

on his bad days

 

when that day comes

I will look into his eyes

and hold him tight

and tell him I love him

more than I love sunsets

and that I long for him

more than the promises of the horizon

 


when that day comes

I will not try to be strong on my own

I will allow myself to be vulnerable

and cry when my heart is heavy

I will let him hold my hand

while my scars

and my bruises heal

 

when that day comes

I will remind myself everyday

that to truly love a man

is to love his Creator

more than anything else

for without Him, I am nothing

and I would not want to be nothing

for the man I love wholly and without any fear








Monday, 30 March 2020

I Don't Love You



How have you been?
Have you been eating proper meals?
Regularly?

How is your family?
Do you call them?

Do you get enough sleep?
Have you any need?
Is anything troubling you?
Do you laugh out loud?

Do you still immerse yourself
in words and ideas?
Do you still dream of saving the world
from delirious men who can’t seem to have enough
of power and wealth?
Do you still care?
For the poor?
For the voiceless?


Have you found somebody?
Is there anyone staying awake till 2.30 am
listening to stories
from your childhood?
Is there anyone with a heart beating wildly
with pride and passion
as you speak of your desires
to bring a change in this world
where the oppressed remain oppressed
up to their very last breath?

Do you remember how it feels to hold my hands in yours?
Do you remember how quick the sun would set
when we stole hours from our real lives?

I stay awake
every night
asking these questions to you
over and over again
in my head
as I wipe stubborn tears
that insist on making their presence felt.

I don’t love you,
but I pray for you.

I don’t love you,
but please be safe.




Safety - Jacqueline Zote


safety
ˈseɪfti/
noun
the condition of being protected from or unlikely to cause danger, risk, or injury.

You go home to your apartment inside a gated community,
Where you're greeted by the smiling faces of your family. 
You enjoy a hearty meal and head off to bed.
You are safe.
When you have to go out, you sit in the comfort of an AC car,
Either driven around by a private chauffer or by an Uber driver,
You get where you need to go.
You are safe.
She spends her days in the scorching heat,
Hot asphalt leaving blisters on her bare feet,
Begging strange faces for spare change and leftover food or anything they can spare.
But why does that matter?
You are safe.
She waits with bated breath for her husband to come home.
"I hope he's not drunk tonight"
Because the alcohol that enters his system 
Seems to leave bloody bruises and bluish marks on her body.
It's only a matter of time before he deals her a fatal blow.
But divorce is out of the question.
Her mother will swear to starve herself,
And her father...
How could he bear to look at the face of a daughter that has brought dishonor to the family?!
So the beatings she will choose as the 'honor' of her entire family rests on the broken bones of her shoulder.
But why does that matter?
You are safe.
She can hear the thumping of her heart as her swollen eyes struggle to look at the faces of the men who stole her away.
It is so loud she can't even hear what they say.
As she draws her final breath, she finally understands...
They were deciding whose hands should enwrap her tiny throat.
She laughs to herself because it was meaningless -
Each hand would be equally vicious anyway.
But why does that matter?
You are safe.
She can feel hot tears brimming her eyes.
They fall and leave smudges as they mix with the ink on her final letter.
One last time she rereads the messages on her phone...
"Kill yourself, sl*t!" 
"You're disgusting. Everyone in the city has seen your p***y."
She doesn't understand...
How can people be so hateful?
She doesn't understand...
Her only crime was in trusting the wrong man.
Now she will finally free herself from a world that has been nothing but cruel to her.
But why does that matter?
You are safe.
It doesn't matter to you that 'safety' in this world is nuanced.
And it doesn't matter to you 
That the danger your sisters encounter isn't necessarily physical harm,
And it isn't necessarily a threat posed by demented strangers they meet on the road.
Are they safe from their husbands?
Are they safe from their parents?
Are they safe from their neighbors and friends?
Are they safe from men who claim to love them?
Are they safe from hunger and exposure to the elements?
Are they safe from emotional blackmail?
Are they safe from mental abuse?
If your answer is 'yes', 
I would ask you this...
What does 'safety' mean to you?
Because you would know best, wouldn't you?
After all, you are safe...
Aren't you?



Bombs for the Children - Jacqueline Zote

I wonder if...
The MNF uprising had happened 
At a time of social media 
And the masses as ignorant and intolerant as they are divided
By religion, by caste, by language, by culture
By invisible borders between states and communities.
Will the Mizos be portrayed as the Kashmiris are today?
Will we be known as terrorists and murderers?
When all we ever wanted was for our people to be fed
While our rice and crops were devoured by rodents
And there was not enough food in any household
While our people had to live on meagre tubers
Often going to bed with an empty stomach
And our rulers ignored our plight
Request after request rejected 
When words and official papers failed to feed our children
And our voices could only be heard through violence 
When we asked for food, they sent men with guns instead.
Will they talk about how the men of the households got executed
While our women were raped by men in uniforms
(Uniforms that we are now obligated to respect)?
Will they talk about all the women who  chose to hang from the ceiling 
Rather than live with the shame of giving birth to their rapist's child?
Will they talk about how they drove us out of our homes
And burnt down entire villages?
Will they talk about the bomb that was dropped in the middle of Aizawl, 
In a territory inhabited by civilians
Or will they keep pretending it was food?
Tell me, who can eat a bomb and find nourishment?
Will they talk about all the people who died just because they were fighting to feed their families in the midst of a famine?
In my uncle's letter to my father
There was talk of a journal 
Flinging mud at the Mizos' reputation,
Covering a single side of the story
Without any mention of the atrocities we faced
And why we even took up arms in the first place
No. None of these matter
To "leaders" whose power lies in dividing us
It did not matter then...
Why should it matter today?



White-necked evil - Jacqueline Zote

How many mouths have been silenced for fear of losing their tongue?
Not a word uttered and not a finger lifted
While crosses burn their skin and clergy collars strangle their necks.
The brave fighter who stood up now lies defeated,
Labeled a fool and a liar, a scarlet letter branded across her forehead.
Her name becomes a mockery, her face an object of spite.
Evil stands on a pedestal, the altar is his shield. 
They cloak him in perfection, blinded by the white of his neck.
Justice has no place when cowards and blind men hold the gavel.
If this is what they do in heaven, then heaven is no place for me.


Birthright - Jacqueline Zote

Our birthright is now an instrument -
The carrot at the end of the stick.
Having a choice means we're insolent
Witches with cats and bags full of tricks.

They - 
The men on the carriages we pull -
They make threats to strip us of our blood
If we dare run astray from our paths.

As though in their hands lies the power,
As though they were our masters...
Nay, our owners,
As though our birthrights were tangible.

Let them huff and puff and strip us bare,
Perhaps force our feet to walk in shame,
Let our bodies rot in Chapel Square.
They may take away the lands we claim,

Still our birthright would remain -
Maybe not on paper or in ink,
But in the blood that surges through our veins.
Burn our souls and bury our bodies,
You will not erase our Mizo-ness.


Not if - Jacqueline

Not if you've felt the leer of the stranger watching you from the mirror as you rubbed lotion on your prepubescent thighs after a bath when you were 12...

Not if you've seen the lustful eyes of your 6th grade Physics teacher, who'd repeatedly call you "ka star" and then went on to marry another student right after she dropped out of 10th grade...

Not if you've felt the boys in 5th grade "playfully" grabbing your budding breasts and your privates and those of the other girls "for fun"...

Not if you've listened to the stories of the people who've opened up to you or heard the ones told in whispers and hushes as if the girl should've had something to be ashamed of...

It is not shocking, nor is it out of place
It does not surprise us, though it horrifies us
It is all around you, if you only choose to look 
You can hear the silent cries, if you only choose to listen
Not just when it's little girls crying out for help.


Friday, 10 January 2020

From 2012 to 2013

I stumbled, and blundered; but also found my way through 2012. Interestingly, I started off the year 2012 alone. The night of 31st December 2011, I had gone to the Church of Epiphany with two dear friends William and Bhasker, and came back to where I rented a house after the night service was over around 10pm. They dropped me off to my place and left soon after. Then my landlady, with her daughter and her daughter’s fiance, invited me over for a late dinner. After dinner I watched a Star Plus Award show with them for a while, and left a little before the clock struck midnight, before the clock struck 2012. After a few New Year calls  and messages, I went to sleep.

Many changes in my life happened during the year 2012. I gave my final BA Exams and graduated at the beginning of the year, and therefore had to leave a place which had been my home for three challenging years. It was sad for me to leave Tezpur, a small but beautiful town where I had made many good friends. In the three years that I was there, I had grown to love and understand its people. I had a little difficulty adjusting to its ways at first, but once I got the hang of it, the place became as much of a home for me as Aizawl, my home city is. I loved the different churches that I used to go to, and the people I met in those churches. I loved having the freedom to be a part of all of them. I loved that I did not have to belong to just one denomination. All the churches that are built on Christ Jesus will be united, one day. 

A college student at the beginning of the year, I became a University student by August as I sought admission at Mizoram University. I was wholly excited about the University and the classes and teachers, and of course my class-mates to be. It was strange at first; to go from being the over-smart, confident and bossy final-year student at college to being the new and meek fresher at MZU. It also took me a while to get comfortable with my new teachers, and there were times, many times I missed my college teachers with whom I had a very relationship with me being a good student (LOL) and their being really really cool teachers. It was strange for me to sit in a class room without my two friends Priyanka and Sandeep by my side. It was strange not to be cracking jokes with Priyanka during classes as we often did at College, and to not be walking back home after classes with Sandeep all the while talking about just so many things. However, after a few weeks, I learnt to love and enjoy the classes of my new University teachers; and as I got to know my new class-mates better, I found they were really cool people. We now totally enjoy each other’s company and tend to laugh really hard and loud when we are together.

Besides my academic life, another ‘tremendous’ change which happened to me was my starting to live with my family again after three ‘glorious’ years of living independently (not financially, of course). During my college days, I was responsible for myself alone and did not have many rules to follow, except at the beginning when I lived in a hostel, and had not yet rented a home of my own. I got up when I wanted in the morning (usually very late), ate whatever I felt like eating (mostly junk food) and went out with friends as and when I liked. It was a good life, if I am to be honest. But, now I am back with my family, and life certainly is different; more household chores, and a proper time for almost everything, but I have to admit life is good this way too. 

During my college days, I was an active member of the Tezpur Inter Collegiate Evangelical Union. The other members had become my good friends, my family. We would have fellowships every Sunday afternoon. In spite of many difficulties, the faithfulness and loyalty of the members made those gatherings possible. We would share our testimonies, study the Bible, sing and pray together. Besides our weekly fellowships, we would have various other programmes together, and with the blessings of God, we always managed to get done whatever projects we set for ourselves. We were all just young people, mostly Higher Secondary and College students, but we were united by the same faith, by a love for the same God, and we loved each other as Christian brothers and sisters. It was an amazing experience, to have a family where members spoke in different languages, were of different backgrounds, followed different customs and traditions; but we share a hope that one day, we will all be together again where there will be no more sad farewells with our Jesus, the Christ by our side. 
 “In the sweet, by and by,
 We shall meet on that beautiful shore.”

Now, I am a part of the MZU EGF (Evangelical Graduate Fellowship) Prayer Cell, and though I miss the EU days, the EGF Prayer Cell has now become an important part of my life, and the weekly prayer meets every Wednesday after classes are the most precious one-hours of my life. Much like our EU Fellowships, we share testimonies and messages, sing and pray together in our meets. With the first semester over, I hope to be able to be a part of the Prayer Cell in the next three semesters to come as well.

Many other less significant changes have occurred; I made many mistakes, perhaps did a few things right as well, cried on a few occasions but also laughed a great deal, said goodbyes to some people but also welcomed many new people in my life. All in all, it was a good year, and the most important of all, my relationship with Jesus has remained intact. Now with 2013 beginning, I know it will be a good year if only I keep my eyes and heart on Jesus, and live as a Christian ought to, as best as I can. I will have my bad days, days I am a lesser Christian, perhaps; but I will also have my good days, days I can be a better Christian. I only have to learn to take it one day at a time, and count my blessings.

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

A tribute to the teachers of my department


It was in 2012 that I first got admission into the department of English as a student of the MA programme. God has been kind to me and the place has been my second home ever since, as an MA student, as a research scholar, as a guest teacher and then as a project fellow. I think everybody here will be able to imagine how huge a role the department has played in my life in the last seven years.

All of us gathered here today know our teachers well; they have different personalities, different methods of teaching and different approaches towards different situations in the classrooms. And needless to say, we have all benefitted from each teacher. I believe their different approaches have enriched our lives as human beings and as academics. Where one teacher might have a weakness, another teacher will make up for it. And like that, together, they make an amazing wholesome team. Whether it is Pi Maggie imparting precious knowledge to us with a passion and confidence that is unparalleled, or Pu Baral challenging us to take our intellectual exercise to a whole new level through his lectures, or MLP ma’am being the epitome of sincerity and efficiency and as my best friend Lydia puts it “the most efficient human being ever”, or Miss KC’s soothing collectedness that can calm even the most stressed of souls, or Miss Laltei’s eloquence and expertise as she explores the varied realms of literature, or Dhanajit Sir’s apparent enthusiasm to help us discover magic through words or Miss Kristina’s fresh and unconventional approach towards education and life itself, all our teachers are uniquely the best of teachers.

Now, you may wonder why I have not mentioned Pi Adiki, that is because I have been for saving her for the last and not at all because she is the least. Today, in 2019, more people are talking about the importance of mental health. But Pi Adiki did just that way back in 2012, when tremendous importance was not yet placed on a person’s mental well being. I remember vividly, as though it were yesterday, Pi Adiki telling us to take care of our mental health and that there should be no stigma attached to mental illness. Back then, we were not used to listening to anybody talk about such matters in such a way, and to this day, I remain grateful to Pi Adiki for telling us just what we needed as a group of young adults who still have so much to go through in life. And so, it is with all the confidence that I have ever felt that I proudly assert that all of us who have had the privilege to sit in the classrooms of our teachers are truly blessed.

Growing up in the Mizo community where the church and the YMA are dominant forces, I seldom saw women leaders in the public life. That we have had just about six women MLA in the last 47 years since Mizoram became a Union Territory strengthens the perception that women are usually not seen actively participating as leaders in public. But when I joined as a student in the department, I realised that women can be just as smart as men, and just as capable as leaders. But then I also realised that most of our teachers come from progressive families that did not try to clip the wings of their womenfolk. Alas! Not all women can say that of their families. But today, things are better and more and more women are pursuing their dreams and ambitions, and making significant contributions to the Mizo community.  And I believe our teachers are pioneers who have paved the way for us younger Mizo women.

With the world continuously moving towards creating more spaces and platforms for the sidelined and marginalised members of the world community, our teachers too have not failed in teaching us to be proud of our roots, our cultures and traditions and in doing that, they have given us the gift of pride, pride in our history and culture and that is something nobody can ever take away from us without our will. Through the critical perspectives they have lent us through their lectures, they have also taught us not to just accept things at face value. Whether it has to do with our culture or society or even the way we practise our belief system, our teachers have taught us that it is alright to question the status quo and engage in discourses and debates, and yes, even if we are women.

To conclude this little tribute, I wish to acknowledge God’s grace  and wisdom in placing me in the hands of people who have so much knowledge and wisdom to share. I know that it is not just my life that has been touched, but also the lives of many others as well. Thank you and God bless you.

Friday, 18 October 2019

My Dream Wedding


I don’t know if I’ll marry or not; God is yet to reveal His plan for the rest of my life. I may never marry and that is fine with me but as a woman approaching her thirties, I have thought about marriage and wedding days and what I believe would make a wedding celebration most beautiful for me.

I believe the most important thing for me would be authenticity in the way the wedding celebration is to be conducted. First and foremost, I would not want to spend more money than my family and I can afford to on an event that is not sustainable. I don’t come from a rich family; we have always lived on a budget and we seldom splurge on unnecessary luxuries. That is the life I know. So, I think it would be unauthentic of me and my roots if we focus too heavily on areas where a big budget is required.

Secondly, I desire to marry in a puanchei or any other puan that has been weaved in my homeland. Our local weavers are extremely skilled and it would be a privilege to be married in one of their creations. As somebody who believes in promoting local artisans and small businesses, I would also be playing a small minor role in doing that on one of the most important days of my life.

Thirdly, I would rather do without a make-up artist on my wedding day. This is not because I have something against make-up. In fact, I use at least one item of make-up every day. And I believe that when make-up artists enhance the beauty of their clients, it is a work of art that deserves respect and recognition. But when it comes to me, I’d really prefer to work on my look on my own. This is not because I am a make-up expert but because I do not want to hide or disguise the blemishes on my skin or the imperfections of my physical appearance. I learnt early on in life that physical beauty is not to be my greatest attribute. No man is going to fall in love with me just because of the way I look. I am not saying this with rue or discontentment in the way God has created me, but with an accepting heart. So if I am to marry, I hope the man I marry and his family will accept me just as I am, flawed in and out, even on the wedding day.

I normally am not very fond of big crowds, so I must admit I am not a very big fan of going to weddings. It also helps that I do not have too many friends. So I don’t really expect a huge crowd at my wedding. I don’t think it is the number of people, or gifts, or the feast, or flowers (though I love flowers) or any other material thing that make a wedding beautiful.  That two people would want to commit to each other for their whole lives and that two families would approve of and bless their desire to commit is in itself already beautiful, and nothing short of a miracle. So, for me to have the people I love and care about as witnesses of my promise would be enough for me. I really do not need a big crowd.

Now, having said all these, it takes two parties for a wedding to happen. And I am fully aware that everything cannot /will probably not work out as I desire. Several people are involved in the process and it is usually the elders in the family who make decisions. Besides, it would not be fair on the man I am to marry if I make crucial decisions all on my own. So, ...

Tuesday, 8 October 2019

She wore a yellow dress that flattered her figure
Her smile was real and gorgeous
Everybody she walked pass took a second glance
Just to make sure she was real.


She could have been a beauty queen
Her looks could have earned her crores
Surely she knows that
She must have heard a hundred times how beautiful she was.


But that wasn't enough for her
She wanted more, worked hard for it.
All her spare time went into it
The one compliment that would really mean something to her.


She walked into the small dark room
Greeted the old man sitting there
He sounded pleased to have her by his side
She was here, she would take care of his needs.


He couldn't see for he was blind but he could hear
Her encouragements, her soft voice
He could feel the love she had for everybody
There at the nursing home.


Today, he told her
That he thought she was the most beautiful woman ever
He couldn't see her with his eyes
But she had a beauty he could feel.


She finally got what she wanted
Somebody who really saw her.


Note : I wrote this several years ago, and in retrospection, I think I could have portrayed the "old man" who was blind more positively by not emphasizing just on his blindness and supposed helplessness.