Tuesday, December 11, 2012

what the fa-la-la-la-la

So I was indulging in an occasional dollop of pulp and kitsch when an item unexpectedly got me tsk-tsk-ing! The show aired clips from a Christmas pageant in the Netherlands. It couldn’t be news-worthy I thought, 'cause how unique and headline-grabbing could a holiday pageant be especially during this season. But then I realized why.
(Image credit:http://www.bpp.org.uk/blackpete.html)

According to Dutch traditions, Santa has a Grinch-like sidekick Zwarte Piet (“Black Pete”) who does Santa’s bidding to separate the good children from the bad children. Those black-faced cast members in the picture above are the Dutch version of Santa's elves. With annual stagings of cultural particularities, Santa and his Black Petes are now an indelible part of Dutch Christmas celebrations. Apparently, the Dutch have and continue to celebrate Christmas this way without so much as batting an eyelid. And why shouldn't they?   

For one, what is the Netherlands now has moved beyond the world of Zwarte Piet then. If the current Dutch football team is a thumbnail image of Dutch society, its racial diversity is unmistakable. Given this diversity, racially charged caricatures would only be counter intuitive or even culturally self-implosive. For the racially-conscious minded, Black Pete conjures up images of the fabled minstrel Jim Crow whose name has become synonymous with the sordid race-relations in the United States of the not-so-distant past. 
(Image credit: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part3/3h489b.html)

Meanwhile, on the flip-side of culturally insensitive Christmas themes:
(Image credit:http://www.cagle.com/2004/12/rick-mckees-cartoon-for-12272004/)

Krismas Chibai vek u le!

Monday, December 10, 2012

a gift exchange

When I last wrote about T.H. Lewin, it was by way of his copy of Alexander Mackenzie’s History of the Relations… . Epigraphs and highlights etched on the book's crumbling pages revealed a more than perfunctory acquaintance between the two. But there had to be more to their rapport. And then it made more sense.

Mackenzie’s second wife was Mabel Elliot. Mabel was the daughter of Margaret Elliot who, after being widowed, married Lewin. In other words, Lewin was Mackenzie’s step father-in-law. However, Mackenzie and Mabel married only in 1893, much after the publication of History of the Relations, a copy of which he gave to his future step father-in-law. So was presenting the book a strategic foothold for courtship or was it Lewin’s raw swag that inured an aspiring bureaucrat to a possible step-father-in-law?

Back to my Christmas theme! It was Christmas in 1915. Lewin was in a somber and reflective mood quite common for those in the twilight of their lives. The days of adventure and risk taking that had defined his illustrious career were now long gone. Slowed down by age and illness, Lewin labored to get to his desk. Given the rush of memories, he thought a photograph of himself would be appropriate enough. He even slipped in some money to go along with the photograph. Sealing the envelope, he turned it over to scribble the recipient’s address, “Herbert Lorrain, Lungleh, Lushai Hills, India.”

Lorrain had written to Lewin about Dari, the woman who had, according to hearsay, taken Lewin the furthest he could to go native. Dari had fallen on hard times. Abandoned, aged, and now widowed, she had tried, without expecting too much, to reach out to her one-time confidante. Lewin’s special gift that Christmas in 1915 was for Dari.

Back in the Lushai Hills Dari came to Lorrain with a special gift of her own for Lorrain to send to Lewin. It was a carefully woven cloth that would have made up for by significance what it lacked in finesse. From this side of the past, we could read her gift as a zawlpuan or pawndum with all its ominous significance. Whatever Dari’s intent, one can intuit the longing affection woven into each warp and weft of that simple cloth.

Away from Parkhurst, their family home, Lewin passed away two months later while being treated in London. He never got to see that packet that had arrived, meanwhile, in the Parkhurst mailbox. Dari, like most Other-s, might have received a photograph poignant enough to evoke a rush of memories. But like most Other-s, her end of the story is missing and we might never know. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

a thanksgiving to remember - II

Oh, there was another aspect of our thanksgiving break that I needed to put out because of the lasting impression it had on us. One leg of our journey was by train and although this leg was an afterthought it turned out to be the most serendipitous experience over our ten day break.

There is something grounded and organic about a train journey.The vistas get extended. You get to stretch your legs. If you want to break away from a book, there's always people to chat up with.

We were at the lounge waiting to proceed to our train when a group of Amish folks pulled up right behind us in queue. One had to consciously look away just to avoid objectivizing their difference--wouldn’t you also stare at Amish folks even merely for the sartorial spectacle they present, an unintentional spectacle though! Or, hey,  aren’t they being intentionally different? Half-hiding our curious stare, we proceeded to board out train.

With our train ride settling to a steady rhythm, we decided to get something to eat from the lounge car. Tray in hand we went to the upper lounge, sat in the booth on one side of the aisle, and proceeded to eat.

The woman behind us was audibly exasperated. “How does this thing work? I have read the manual but can’t seem to get it going.”

I turned around to see an elderly woman with a portable DVD player on the table. Although the manual was opened in her hand, she had frustratingly failed to fire up her device.

“Do you know how these things work?” she asked the two men on the adjacent table. These men were two from the Amish folks we had met in the lounge. I kinda smiled because Amish are known to shun anything electronic, even electricity itself.

One of the Amish men answered, “Sure, I could have a look.” It took me by surprise. “Hmm,” I thought to myself, “this is interesting.” But then I spied on his portable Playstation device and thought he might, despite what was common knowledge about the Amish, be quite at home with a DVD player.

I gathered I wouldn’t need to intervene and turned back to eating. I heard the woman thank the Amish men and proceed to watch her movie. It was then that I heard her exclaim in a way that caught me by surprise. “Aha, the FBI is going to fine me $250,000 if I reproduce or distribute this movie!”

Amish men helping a woman with her electronic device, a woman oblivious of the statutory warning prior to any DVD run, while widely-known Luddites palmed an electronic device rather effortlessly…oh the irony!

We were done with our eating and turned around to the Amish men asking if they would like to join us. They seemed more interested to chat with us than our invite was meant to be. Anyway we got talking with, as they introduced themselves, to Elam and his younger brother Eli.

Elam and Eli were travelling to California with their sister who had a severe case of Lupus. A doctor across the Californian border in Mexico was working on a stem-cell and traditional medicine hybrid therapy. Their sister had been there previously and responded well to this hybrid therapy.

Eli looked a lot more advanced than the 15 years he said was his age. His calloused hands revealed more labor than I could ever muster over my lifetime. An already seasoned farm hand at his dairy, he worked on another produce farm through the week. Concerned, I asked if he went to school. He answered that he attended a school which ran only a few hours in a day. “What I need to know, anyway, I learn it on the farm,” he added. And he did. He started throwing out all these names for different strands of corn, their market prices, and how seasonal changes could affect both. I just listened.

Elam butted in. He told us that Amish folks shun four things: television, electricity, telephone, and motorized automobiles. Having spied on his Playstation, I tongue-in-cheek-ed, “What about you, do you shun them too?” Elam smoothly moved into a negotiatory position, “I am in between.” Elam, he told us, was a welder by trade. He used electricity sparingly for his trade. 

With regard to relations with the wider society, Amish folks did business selling organic produce and hand crafted items. Banks however were a no-no; if necessary, they transacted through their own cooperative financial institutions. Life was defined by sustenance not luxury, and communal rather than individual in texture. As Elam and Eli went on about the Amish way of life, I couldn’t help exoticize their world as that idyllic alternative to this hyper-digitized and debt driven world.

I was getting a sense of why Amish folks stay within themselves. Elam explained, “I used to apprentice with someone in the city but all he cared was about profits,” adding that, “he did not care about us workers.” Out of curiosity, I asked to clarify who this man was. Elam replied with a googly, “He was like you people, English!”

In one reflexive sleight of hand, Elam had turned the table on us. I was now English, someone I did not recognize, an Other to myself. Elam and Eli had told us their story, a story that I was interested in because I knew it would be an exotic indulgence, so Other for us modern selves. But in that telling of their story, I realized by instability of the very categories with which I imagined my self.

We exchanged our goodbyes with Elam and Eli. I wanted to invite them to visit us when they were done with their sister’s treatment. But then I realized the only possibility of us meeting would be if I followed their path. My phone number would remain an inconsequent set of numbers scribbled on a piece of paper. 

Friday, November 30, 2012

a thanksgiving to remember - I

After much consideration and number crunching, my wife and I decided to journey out east over this Thanksgiving week.

Our first stop was Chicago to attend the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature. Members of these academic guilds get together annually to exchange notes, forge new research terrain, network for future collaborations, and interview for teaching positions. At any given time, there were about fifty concurrent sessions. Add to this the thousands of attendees crisscrossing the convention center’s three buildings to attend the session of their choosing—one cannot but liken the scene to that of a high-falutin meat market.

Choosing which session to attend had to be very calculated; which is exactly what got me to sit in on a session on “Exploring Embodiment in Sacred Asian Spaces.” The Chair of the search committee for a position I applied to was presenting a paper and I thought I needed to grovel at his feet! I threw out two questions, waxed philosophical about Zorba the Buddha (his reference to Osho/Rajneesh), and caught up with him on the escalator hoping to score a few extra points. My shameless ingratiating gestures had to be cut short only because my panel was about to start within the next ten minutes. I have no idea if the call for interview will come.

For the nerds, I had never really grappled with social theory and sociological theory minutiae. At another panel, the group set up clear demarcations between the two. Social theory is innately European in provenance heavily dependent on the French. Foucault, Lacan, Derrida, and so on are prime exemplars of social theory betraying very specific cultural and intellectual formations. Sociological theory, on the other hand, is very grounded and earthy theory. The idea was not that the two theories were mutually exclusive but that, in their application to the study of religion, one needs to spell out their differences in the interest of methodological considerations.

Chicago was rather different in that being in the heart of the downtown area a rather new experience for us. Suburban life has the tendency to habituate you to a quieter and lazier pace. So it was rather jarring to be woken up by the noise of a jack-hammer and other heavy machinery.

Even the sidewalks were a lot denser, the crosswalks more jammed, and the urban noise so much louder. Buses and trains were more frequent (and more convenient) but also more crowded.

From Chicago, we headed toward Washington DC to spend Thanksgiving with a friend. No names will be dropped but he is quite popular in the online world of the Mizos. In fact, we butted heads on a couple of times as our positions on various issues were extremely different. Anyhoo, our host and his family couldn’t have been more ideal: the welcome so warming, delectable home-cooked food, the libations flowing (!), and the formalities to a minimum. If one has or were to visit the DC-Maryland area, you’ll have an estimate about the number of Mizos living in the area and the pressure hanging over to have to try and visit as many, if not each, of the families. Our host's daughter became a very close friend; my wife and I continue to long fondly for her. Our Thanksgiving was a welcome change from the traditional turkey fare. Baby ribs and fried quail are definitely way better than the sopoforic tryptophan-laced and bland turkey! Thanks H, T, and J. 
O, there's something about us folks that we tend to know too much about each other but also use that to diss each other very subtly. I will not elaborate further but am always reminded of what my dad used to tell me: if you don't have anything nice to say about a person, just stay silent! But that's not the note i want to round off on.
Before I get back to size the hole that the last ten days made on my wallet, we are grateful for journey mercies and the friends and relatives who helped make our trip so difficult to want it to come to an end. Thank you, if you are reading this.  

Monday, October 8, 2012

Pastor Blesses Demon!

This might have been the headline were someone to report on our church service this past Sunday. I’m just hoping the inquisitorial pitchforks will be held at bay until you’ve read through this piece.

It was St. Francis (from the Assisian hood) Day, a day etched into the Episcopal calendar for “The Blessing of the Animals.” Our service was moved out onto the front lawn. We improvised with folding chairs in place of the fixed pews, and an upright piano instead of the grand pipe organ. And we had guests.

Our parishioners had brought their pets to church for the blessing. There were dogs of all sizes and breeds; the few cats seemed to have been there just even out the balance of power. One even brought her stuffed toy!

At one point in the liturgy, our priest went around to each parishioner with a pet, asked for the pet’s name, and then blessed the animal with a prayer that went something like: “[name of pet], the power of this blessing from Christ fill you with life, bind you to your human partners and lead you to praise your Creator.  Amen.”

And the prayers went on. 

The blessing was going on smoothly: no nippy Boston terriers like last time around, no hyperactive chihuahuahuhus, or intimidating iguanananas from two years ago. Oh, except for one: there was this one miniature Pinscher that yelped throughout the entire service. I think it was in heat; and what better place than in church to be all tingly, huh? He and her owner were sitting at a distance from the rest of the congregation, and for obvious reasons.

Toward the end of the round of blessings, the priest asked the owner for the name of her pet. Visibly gigglish, she replied, “Demon.” And so the priest proceeded with the blessing, “Demon, the power of this blessing from Christ fill you with life . . . .”

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

middle spaces

Recently, I withdrew half way through an interview for an adjunct teaching position. The institution had articles of faith that all applicants had to sign in on. I did just that while working through the online application process. However, when asked to articulate my beliefs, I must have come off as trying to push the proverbial camel through the needle's eye. Which is when I asked if I could step away. . . and maybe come back at a later time. It was a mutually curteous sign-off. Much to the dismay of my devout parents's wishes, I had not only walked-away from a teaching position but also shown my lack of faith commitments. Or was it?

It's a struggle. I seemed to have raised my hands and let things unfold without any concerted effort to bridge the issues that I grapple with. Social issues have gripped me like never before. I am serious about what I do as a learner. The standards I hold myself to must befit those of someone given the opportunity to think and be responsible not only for one's self but also for others. And yet, when it comes to articulate all these concerns, I find myself short of words.

Which brings me to a blog post by Dan Haseltine, lead vocalist for Jars of Clay. I have never been a fan of their music; I only listened along when their breakout hit "Flood" hit the airwaves back in the late 1990s. In a recent post, Dan wrote these words:

I fear these recordings may get dismissed because Jars of Clay has a fairly entrenched brand conception. People outside of the general church community may not seek this record out.  And since the themes of the record are very far from evangelical Christianity, the church community will most likely not embrace this record.  Which, on one hand, is a relief.  I am pretty weary from years of pretending to be more of something than I am.  I am tired of carrying evangelical expectations on my shoulders.  I have never been so sure of my faith that I was able to find a true home in the church communities where we played most of our shows.  Our particular style of writing and the perspective that we have written from has not been an easy fit into an artistic community that has such a massive agenda and only a single idea of how that agenda gets accomplished. I don’t fit there. I may have at one point. I did grow up as a youth group kid wearing a t-shirt with a picture of Jesus on it. I did drive a car with a “Christian” bumper sticker on it. And at one point, I was sure of who God was, and how God operated.  But I am not that way now. And so it is impossible to write from that old version of myself. I am in the middle space.

That middle space! To be the scorn of those on either side. Dan attempts to arrogate his own creative space and does it, I think, quite well. But I am mindful of those that are in my circle and their apprehensions about middle spaces. Yup, the struggle of being in the west and trying to be non-west. Which is why I have found my alterity, for now and with whatever bit it might afford, in the Episcopal Church. If you read up the church positions on social issues and political engagement, you will get a sense of my location. I want to be integral to the those things that I hold as life-affirming and -enriching and yet be seriously mindful of the concerns, as different as they might be, of my family.

Faith, or whatever form of commitment that transcends you, is hard to nail down. If it is not a problematic issue, it is very likely that one has not given it serious thought and simple moseyed along with the flow. But even if one were to engage it, what space might one have access to or be able to create for oneself? Would it be just the spaces offered by organized religion or in rejection of that organization. . . or some middle space where one has room to negotiate? Or could there be spaces of responsible alterity?

I'm jotting these lines while sitting in a discussion on Levi-Strauss's Savage Mind and the force of the alterity he displayed, especially in light of Lucien Levy-Bruhl's Primitive Mind. When propped against the dominant frame of anthopology around his time, Levi-Strauss's valorization of the bricoleur as a handle to undercut the historicization of primitiveness is something I caught on for the first time. To paraphrase, if Levy-Bruhl was saying that there were these non-European peoples "out there" who did funny things, Levi-Strauss was saying that there are no "primitives"; that we all think as savage minds. The mechanics/logics of these savage minds are what we now refer to as structuralism. Heavily indebted to Saussurean semiotics, structuralism however has been the focus of many critiques. . . especially on this side of all the post- and de- positions doing the rounds in the academy. But to get back to the larger point, I thought  Levi-Strauss's gravitas in articulating alterity was worth noting.

Monday, August 27, 2012

leafing through


Here's book that tells a story quite differently, especially for the bibliophile with an angle for the early British-Lushai dispensation. A year after Alexander Mackenzie published his History of the Relations of the Government with the Hill-Tribes of the North-East Frontier of Bengal in 1884, he sent a copy of the book to his friend Thomas Lewin. By this time, Lewin was already waltzing through retired life on the Parkhurst lawns in England. Among his post-retirement activities, Lewin was putting together the last few details for his upcoming memoir, Fly on a Wheel.*
Back in the day, you didnt just scribble your name on the book. If your estate had any standing of repute, you emblazoned your possesion with your family crest. Lewin's family crest had the motto "Dieu scait tout." The choice of French, or even Latin, to phrase a family's motto came with the subtext of education and hence some standing above the inarticulate rabble. On this side of modernity, the internet is a great leveller. Run "Dieu scait tout" through a google translate/search and you'll get something like an acknowledgement of an all-knowing God; one can also feign mastery of those bourgy romance languages!

Leafing through the pages, age and the passage of time are palpable. Thin cracks line the inner spine where the binding glue has dessicated to crusty patterns. Similarly, the pages are so brittle that even an inadvertent slight will result in a crumble rather than a tear.

An extra sheet before the title page has weathered to an aged ochre. On it, Mackenzie inscribed a note to the recipient.
It reads, "To Tom Lewin, With ...(illegible), Best wishes". Mackenzie repeats the epigraph on the title page with the words "Thos. H. Lewin from the author. 1885."

Both epigraphs have very similar handwriting styles. The way they loop their L-s is hard to miss. I have no way of telling whose it is; only that the first autograph would most probably by Mackenzie. If Lewin was writing those words to himself . . . um . . . loser!

It's also interesting how the few notations in pencil (or a graphite) are near references to Lewin. On second thoughts, let me insist: every reference to Lewin in the book is marked by vertical lines flushed left and/or right. For instance:

Kinda self-indulgent if these underscorings were by Lewin himself. Again, I can not be sure unless we carbon-date the graphite, and then link the results to Lewin's pencil. But if it were so, it seems to fit in with the story of Lewin. As an aspiring officer, moving through the ranks from the Company Army to the Queen's battalion, he thought he had outshined himself, if not his peers, in the consolidation of the British empire's territories, especially in the Chittaging Hill Tracts. And yet he seemed to have been jilted by the very establishment that, he felt, owed much to his effiency and tact. To have himself acknowledged, by name, and in an extensive manner, in one of the most definitive of compendiums on British designs in the northeast might have been a nod to his very private gripe. And hence, those penciled notations . . . just in case you missed the reference! Lewin got to vent his gripe in Fly on Wheel, which came out the next year . . . but that's a whole other story.

* According to the National Archives, Fly on a Wheel was published in 1884. A copy of the first edition came out in 1885.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

chick'n pick'n

Since reading Vandana Shiva’s Monocultures of the Mind, that thing we eat called food has never been a simplistic and natural response to hunger. Critical documentaries such as Food Inc. have highlighted the disastrous and predatory effects when multinational corporations, food production, and biotechnology intersect. While these implications registered at a rather cerebral level, it was the recent newsfeeds about Chick-fil-A that brought home the concerns at a very palpable level.

This is not a sequence of “facts,” just a sequence of how the issue unfolded. Chick-fil-A is a fast-food chain in the United States serving a rather generic chicken-based fare. It could evade the radar under the reams of press coverage about fast-food chains such as McDonalds at the London Olympicsm, and so on. But in an interview on the Ken Coleman Show in mid-July, among many of the responses by Chick-fil-A CEO, Dan Cathy, he was quoted saying,"I think we are inviting God's judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say, 'We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage,'" Cathy said. "I pray God's mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about." When confronted about his company's stand for traditional family values, his glib answer "Well, guilty as charged" might have been more charged than he bargained for.

At first glance, the quote could skim along as innocuous. But LGBTQ supporters and activists picked up on the quote’s loaded inference. In a related story, Equality Matters, an activist website for LGBT (the website omits the Q) equality, published findings that Chick-fil-A had dumped millions of dollars over the last nine years into groups that were interpreted as professedly anti-homosexual. Major media networks across the United States jumped on Cathy’s statement, and its implications for the polarizing issue of traditional family sensibilities. Blog sites were abuzz with visitors lining themselves into two opposing camps on the issue.

( Robyn Beck / AFP/Getty Images / August 1, 2012 )
Only to stoke the fire, mayors of cities such as New York and Chicago spoke out publicly against Chick-fil-A’s alleged homophobic inclinations; some cities issued "not welcome" messages to Chik-fil-A. Activists picketed Chick-fil-A outlets; each picketing receiving extensive coverage in the news media.

Rather than just sit back and soak up the media focus, conservatives gloved up. Former Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee declared August 1 as “Chick-fil-A appreciation day” and encouraged people visit Chick-fil-A outlets across the country in support of the embattled CEO. As responses to Huckabee’s appeal on his facebook page hinted, supporters came out in droves to make a clear statement about their support for the CEO’s stand on traditional family values.

We are yet to see the long-term effects of the ruffled feathers (no pun intended) in the Chick-fil-A kerfuffle. Questions remain unanswered. Until such a closure is achieveddoubtful thoughwhat remains unmistakable are the deeply polarizing culture wars that get hyperrealized by the political discourses in these parts. That the presidential elections are only a few months away does not help bridge these polarized sensibilities. It was a CEO’s statement on a personal issue. Chick-fil-A has a clear record with regard to company policies; no employee has been disfavored on grounds of sexual orientation. As much as LGBTQ folks have the right to express their opinions, so too the CEO on an issue that he obviously espouses.

While one might be inclined to dismiss the issues relating to LGBTQ equality, it might help to put things in perspective. As an extremely litigious society, much of what/how things are done in the United States require legal sanctions. For instance, to claim dependents when filing taxes, dependency is determined by filiation or marriage. Claims to visitation rights in hospitals are also determined by similar factors. But when the legal system normalizes marriage as the union between one man and one woman, cohabiting LGBTQ folks are left out from the equation, and denied rights accorded to heterosexual unions. Which is why sexual orientation becomes a civil rights issue.

But to link up with where I started: Chick-fil-A reported record sales on August 1 without specifying a figure on what they raked in. While supporters made a cultural and political statement by buying Chick-fil-A's fare, what must not be missed out is that Chick-fil-A is also a corporate entity with bottomline figures to square up at every financial quarter. One need only stare down the rabbit-hole and follow through into how food is more than just something edible.  

As the story unfolds, reports came in of an outlet in Torrance, California, being vandalized. Conservatives are peeved at the unmistakable intolerance.

Also as a response to Huckabee's successful "Chick-fil-A appreciation day", gay rights activists have called for a "National Same-Sex Kiss Day" where same-sex couples kiss in front of Chick-fil-A outlets and keep a photo or video record of their kiss.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

ball pet lai in

Hman ni a football kan pet chu a hah thlak khawp mai. Tumahin goal an pet lut lawk thei lova. Korean pa Jae-an min veng hneh bawk nen tlan hlek in ka hma lawk an a rawn ding leh hulh zel a. Ball a han lum chhuah khan va receive tur in ka tlan phei a. Jae-a chuan min zui zel a. Ball an rawn theh luh chiah khan Jae a chuan ka hnung atangin ka ban pahnih a rawn man bet a. Chet ka tum pawn ka ke chauh ka ti che thei a.

Ball lah chu ka hma lawk ah a rawn lum phei a. Ka hnung atangin min man bet tlat si. Ka ban dinglam kha eng tin emaw ni in ka la chhuak a, ka thei tawp in Jae a pum ah ka va hnek a. Jae a lah, a han au chhuah chiah chuan a aw chu a nu phian a. Chutah chuan ka harh ve ta chiah.

Ka mumang a thil thleng vangin ka nupui ka lo hnek hrep a! Amah lah chu na a ti lutuk in a rum a. A tap maithei. Ka khawngaih bawk nen, ka nuih a za deuh bawk si...zia lo thei hle mai!!

Monday, May 7, 2012


Here's video from a recent presentation  I made on the topic of visual constructions of Lushai. It has a runtime of a wee bit more than 1hr but includes the presentation and the Q&A. Also, visual slides interspersed through the video will help keep you up on what's being said. So if you have the time to indulge, do leave me your comments and questions.

Monday, April 23, 2012

for the next time you string an idea

There's nothing original about this post. I shamelessly rip this off a friend's post of another's post. But I had to. Especially if one is concerned with the standards of discourse we engage in, these pointers are a gold mine. And by discourse, it could be with any form of stringing ideas together including: politics, academic, writing, discussions, and so on.

The website is http://www.yourlogicalfallacyis.com/poster

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

thinking queerly

At a recent conference I attended, what eventually got me to shell out the registration fee—begrudgingly, nonetheless—was the broad range of panel presentations. A session entitled Zombies, Vampires, and Exorcisms / Religion and American Music had presentations on "The Value of Human Life When Dealing with Zombies”, “Bob Dylan: An American Tragedian”, “Stryper: Rock and Roll Evangelists”, and “The Problem of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way”: A Process of Becoming within Queer Identities”. While most of these titles were seemingly superfluous or not-quite-relevant for my Mizo self-identification and –location, some afterthoughts do linger.

My wife, a regular visitor to Mizo sites on the web, flagged a Misual post for me. While I labored through the text, I was really surprised at the candidness with which the issue of “gayism” (ouch!) was broached.

On a recent visit to Aizawl, I had met with some probationary pastors and had the chance to catch up on stuff. As we updated each other on what had happened since we last met, we got down to some issues they faced or could face as ministers in the church. I suggested that alternate gender and sexual issues would be something they’d have to grapple with. While the usual doctrinal lines laced with biblical anchors were flung, I countered, rather ad hominem, how they’d react if it was their child expressing these alternate ways of being. They came back: my views were because I was exposed to a different culture. I did not deny that but tried to impress on them that irrespective of where one was located, the issue of alternate lifestyles would persist. Hence one would have to engage them on lines other than facile condemnation.

Back to the conference. The presentation on “The Problem of Lady Gaga’s ‘Born This Way’” was rather eye-opening for me. Lady Gaga had recently aligned herself with the LGTB community and her song “Born This Way” was touted as a popular endorsement of this alignment. However, the queer community took umbrage at the anthemic chorus which gave the idea that queerness was a biological fact.  
I’m beautiful in my way
‘Cause God makes no mistakes
I’m on the right track baby
I was born this way
Don’t hide yourself in regret
Just love yourself and you’re set
I’m on the right track baby
I was born this way
Queer folk, I learned, were claiming their choice for legitimacy. It was an exercise of personal choice that they identified as queer. So was the queer community rescinding a popular endorsement? Apparently, Gaga’s line was responding to an earlier heteronormative argument that queerness was wrong because no one is born queer. Remember the whole quest for the “gay gene” and for proof that homosexuality occurred naturally. The current theme seems to have moved on from this earlier argument from nature to an exercise of individual will. Or to paraphrase, Gaga seemed a little dated.

My thinkacane comes from dabbling in American pop culture. I do not believe American culture is the global template that all else should fall in line with. However, I cannot help think back to the badminton games we played in some hall near Aizawl. A rather effeminate guy would strut his racquet effortlessly; often times making me crisscross the court till I was drained of my energy. In between games, he’d hold hands with another friend; an occasional laughter breaking their subdued chatter. I remember myself just uneasily trying to ignore them. It’s been over six years since I last saw him. And as I walked home from the conference, I wondered if he was around still playing badminton, eking some sense of affirmation from among companions he might have found, hummed Gaga's tune at some point in self-validation, and just making sense of life as I was doing mine.

Friday, February 10, 2012


Go West! That proverbial clause with so much promise rings almost Siren-like in its allure. Anthemized by the Pet Shop Boys in the 1990s, the notion of spatial or even ideological relocation opening up possibilities still lures fawning aspirants. Many have cashed in on the promises; many still hold on to the hope it alludes to.

I had posted earlier about healthcare here in the US and how complicated the letters of the law are. For a simple mind as I am, healthcare here is an expensive necessity. Presidential hopefuls have to lay out their plans regarding healthcare, any plan, if they seriously want to consider being elected. Pharmaceutical companies and insurance providers have their hands firmly in the kitty. Lobbyists and lawmakers wrangle over the finer points of multi-volume proposals for change. As an end user, make it ‘bottom feeder’, most of all of it makes no sense to me. I just pay my monthly insurance fee. I pay about $1,500 a year for the most basic health plan; it sucks that I haven’t used any of it.

My wife comes into the equation. For her insurance, we would have to shell out double of what I pay just for her. All lot of caveats kick-in: age (child bearing or not); pre-condition; lifestyle (smoker or not), and so on. Each factor bumps up the fees a notch higher. With all these fine-prints, we decided it would be cheaper to travel back to India and take care of our health needs.

But when crunch becomes crrrunnch, we had to apply for whatever was possible. A local non-profit providing health services gratis had been constantly denying us enrollment for the last 15 months. This week, and to our pleasant surprise, they asked for our papers to enroll. Besides ID and the other details to establish qualification for the free services, we had to submit my pay stub or tax records. The good news is that my wife qualified. We will be meeting with the doctor this coming week.

However, the free services meant visitations with only a general practitioner. If it were to be a specialist—gynecologist, and the other –ists—we would have to qualify for Medical or some other provision for lower income folks.

One outcome of these developments was that, in officialese, my wife and I register within the Federal Poverty Line! Something like the BPL in India. I am aware that the symptoms of FPL and BPL cannot be compared. While FPLs still drive cars, eat well, and are enrolled in graduate schools; BPLs face far more dire situations.

Although not critical enough to induce a mid-life crisis, it sobers one to register at the bottom of the so-called 99% of current Occupy demographics. Kinda reminds me of my advisor who, at a very informal setting, broached the issue of academia being a risk-taking. If one referred to the millions entrepreneurs made, and that was what one desired; in my advisor’s words, “maybe we’re in the wrong business!”

While the risk-taking has been worth it, even a nibble of that elusive pie could be o so ssoooweet.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

winding up for year ahead

The trees and lights in our place have been shelved to be remounted only after the mandatory eleven-month quarantine in some dark corner of the garage. Resolutions have been made and broken even before one is done with the first week of some delusional ascetic impulse. Why not! That cheesecake came with my name on it.

Christmas was surreal. Much like the observances I grew up with, we had a very Mizo-style krismas with arsa sawhchiar to round-off our urlawk zan. Friends from a distant past were in town to join our festivities; very warm reminders that as Californian as we wannabe, we’re still Mizo deep down, albeit of a BMA or DMWA extract (if these acronyms make any sense)!. The only dampener was a nagging flu I caught on the 23rd evening. I am still nursing traces of the cough that refuses to ease up. While I’m sure the krismas and new year’s celebrations were memorable, my congestion muddled much of my recollections such much so that the last two weeks register as a vague white-out.

We were able to catch up with the latest cinema over the holidays. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows picked up where the 2009 edition left off. The screenplay took liberties to embellish Conan Doyle’s ambivalent end in “The Final Problem” and weave a very engaging adventure for a slick and ninja-footed Holmes. If the ambiguity of the fall off Reichenbach Falls intrigues you, try Jamyang Norbu’s The Mandala of Sherlock Holmes. The second movie on our list was The Adventures of Tintin. Having grown up on the illustrated comics, I think the cgi-d format did justice to what we had come to identify as the person and world of Tintin; can't wait for Red Rackham's Treasure. On its fourth outing, MI: Ghost Protocol might have been over-hyped especially as BMW, cashing in on their product placement, milked the run up to the premiere with a barrage of MI clips adorning a BMW narrative. The movie itself was engaging in fits and starts. Paula Patton was hhhhot! Some of the less glitzy fare included Stalingrad (1993)-deeply engaging and reflective, and The Debt (2010)-highly provocative and suggests the slippages of modern myth-making.

The Christmas tableau in my previous post was in the news. This time because two of the slides—the ones depicting gay couples—were found face down. It could have been a strong wind or some discontent wielding his or her muscles to make a statement. Whatever the reason, perceptions of vandalism caught on fast. But in a moment of political art, the seemingly vandalized tableau was tagged with “choose love”. The cumulative effect was a dunk!

I didn’t realize how congested I was until one evening, my wife—also down with a flu—was craving pizzas. To finalize our order, the staff at our local pizzeria asked me for my name. The receipt was then pasted on a box into which our order would be placed. Fifteen minutes later, we picked our order and just to double-check, I read the receipt on the box. The order was for a “Kiba”!!

Much peace to you this new year.