Monday, December 14, 2020

How Merry Will This Christmas Be?


Outlook India (Click here)

As December punches the clock and the cold winds in the night kiss our cheeks, the arrival of Christmas season with its profound memories is impossible to not notice; it is in the air. Amid the euphoric feeling, one cannot turn a blind eye to the prevailing reality which questions the mind ‘how merry will Christmas 2020 be?’

'How are we going to celebrate Christmas this year?' I'd asked my better half, sounding a bit worried. Our wedding anniversary and birthdays in 2020 had all fallen in the lockdown period and my already celebration-deprived calendar reflects nothing to cheer for, except Christmas. I guess the case is not exclusive to me.

When there have been months of lockdown and the restrictive unlock process is a work-in-progress, the odds of finding a person with an unaffected plan is highly improbable. Nevertheless, December has been a sliver of hope that helps many to accept missed-celebrations with a consolation that, ‘at least we have Christmas.’

'We will worship the Lord and give thanks to him on Christmas Day,' replied my wife nonchalantly. She added that one's spiritual health should not be affected by physical health. While I am in complete agreement with the aforementioned 'spiritual health', I could not help but remind her that I need to dance and sing merrily in a group, which is obviously not guaranteed as of now. To that, she replied by reminding me of how many festivals like Eid, Diwali, Durga Puja, etc. have been affected and requested me to accept the 'new normal' as many other people from different faiths did.

Post-Christianity, for the tribal in general and my community— Kuki, in particular— Christmas is considered the biggest festival among all the cultural, social, and religious festivals. The celebration includes, after the worship services, an interesting item called 'Lengkhom' which translates as 'get-together'. This get-together mostly involves singing lenkhom-laa (get-together hymns and choruses) and dancing in lam-kol (Group dance). One of the song goes as: ‘Aw lunglhai sel in naosen leng penni hin, kipah in sao te cham leh lung olna’, which loosely translates as 'be gracious on this birthday of the King; let us sing with joy for peace and tranquillity’.

There are many such Christmas songs, the meaning of which underscores how the celebration is rightfully valued. Surely, the once fun-loving community, who then engaged in Chon, Kut and Som-len, etc. has now discontinued most of its traditional merry-making activities and Christmas is, therefore, one such occasion every household, rich or poor, and every individual whether from the village or the city looks up to with different hopes and excitement.

Personally, I have countless memories attached to Christmas. Even now, the advent of Christmas month brings an unexplainable joy in my heart. In days gone by, January to November was considered a “waiting phase” and the arrival of December month would be greeted with oodles of zest. We’d sing our hearts out in Christmas carols, so much so, that our throats, hurt by the extreme singing, would take days to recover. Tea sipped with straws in between the songs during “Lengkhom” (Get-together) had the taste better than the best beverage in the best restaurant. The atmosphere, the laughs, funs and bonhomie were blissful, to say the least. The only spoiler was the ticking clock that didn’t have the emotional consideration and seemed to run at the speed of lightning. How we then wished the clock to stand still! We literally had a merry Christmas. We celebrated in the best possible way we could, to make us happy.

The pandemic in 2020 has catastrophic consequences, but it is the determination to sail through the storms, the hope to have better times again that keeps at least our minds safe from being infected by the Virus. And with the possibility of a Christmas celebration in 2020 without 'Lengkhom' looming large now, it appears what most people had hoped for is to vanish in thin air.

However, this is not to project the stakes to an artificial high and thereby vouch for the celebration perhaps even to the extent of ignoring all guidelines and health directives. The intent is to highlight what the celebration of Christmas really meant to many people like me. Still, all that matters is the undeniable truth that we are faced with something all too different and tough—both mentally and physically. Irrespective of how well-intended is our endeavour, we cannot take the luxury of risking our health and that of others. The commitment will take more than normal talks of accepting the new normal. To understand what we might have to lose to gain our health, which transcends everything. Unthinkable as it may sound and appear, we will have to imagine Christmas without mass gatherings.

On the bright side, vaccines will soon be within reach of the common men, and ignoring the conspiracy surrounding the news that the Virus' second wave is a scam manufactured to boost the sales of vaccines, we have reasons to be optimistic about the days to come. But, till those doses reach us, we will be far better off concentrating on covering our faces in masks than coveting masses to face.

'All these years, you have celebrated Christmas just the way you wanted. Now, should there be any eventuality that Christmas is not celebrated in Church with the masses, why not take that as an opportunity to reach out to Him and seek His happiness; after all, it is His Birthday and a silent fellowship with Him on a silent night is a precious opportunity nobody can lockdown,' said the mother of my two children as we end the discussion that unlocks my realm of thoughts to a new outlook.

I realised it is not the masses that are important in Christmas but Christ and the mass (a service in His memory) that deserve our priority and it is not a big deal to mask our face, as long as we do not mask our hearts. Merry Christmas 2020 to all!

This Christmas, do not let COVID-19 dampen your spirits


December has been a hope that helps many to accept missed-celebrations with a consolation that, at least we have Christmas

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Chavang Kut: A Beautiful Festival Of Peace And Unity

Chavang Kut: A Beautiful Festival Of Peace And Unity
A thadou-Kuki couple kids in traditional attires

The onset of autumn heralds the arrival of a much-awaited festival- Chavang Kut for the Chin-Kuki-Mizo community (CHIKIM) of Northeast India. Kut, as a festival has different types -- while it is the most prominent Kut in Manipur, Chapchar Kut is widely celebrated in Mizoram and Mim Kut in Nagaland (among the CHIKIMs). Chapchar Kut is celebrated in March/April to mark the completion of jhum cultivation. Mim Kut, which is a post-harvest festival of “mim” (Maize) crop is celebrated in January. Another post-harvest festival is Pawl Kut, which is widely celebrated in Mizoram during the month of December.

Celebrated on the November 1 every year, Chavang Kut is a post-harvest festival of the CHIKIM community and is one of the biggest festivals in Manipur. There is neither any hard and fast rule nor any written set of practices meant to be followed, as in how to celebrate Kut. But cultural dances of the various tribes of CHIKIMs and traditional-dress display remains the core theme of the festival. In the earlier days, people drank rice beer, danced in "Lamkol" and sang "Lakoila/Pu-la Pa-la". Festivals in those days were exuberant in their own special ways which involved activities that engaged the young and old alike. While the younger ones would compete in games like “Kangchoi” (Spinning Top), the male adults would fight for the coveted “strongest man of the village/area” title. A major part of those rituals is continued for the present generation to remember their roots and to retain and promote their traditional and cultural values. However, to fine-tune to the changing times and to accommodate women's participation as well as to acknowledge the message of women empowerment, present-day celebrations of Chavang Kut have added features such as the Miss Kut contest.

 Concerns have been raised by a few people on Chavang Kut celebration and the inclusion of beauty contest ---- Miss Kut in particular ---- with the allegation that the particular event being held at night attracts only the evil elements of the society and as such the contest should be discontinued. This issue could very well be resolved by scheduling the programmes during day and an additional day may be added, if needed. Another argument raised by critics of “Miss Kut” is the alleged over-importance accorded to the beauty contest, which according to them has diluted the festival of its true connotation- to celebrate one’s culture and tradition. This is similar to the allegation made by a few people on cricket being the reason for the degradation of other games in India and eventually the nation’s poor performance in the Olympics. Unlike in sports where different games are played on different grounds, Chavang Kut programmes are held in one location. As a result, a person interested only in beauty contests, western music, and dances will still have to necessarily witness other cultural items displayed during the event; the intention of propagating traditional values among the participants is thus achieved. Also, important is to ponder over the fact that- if competition among men in the earlier days for the strongest man title was generally acceptable, why is the competition of women today for the ‘most beautiful' be a concern for anyone.

 Kut is the celebration of a beautiful and culturally rich festival. It should be celebrated with true intent and spirit: Let traditional attires be celebrated. Let folk songs and dances be celebrated. And why not celebrate the beauty of our sisters and daughters? It is a generally accepted opinion that there exists a tremendous scope for improvement; various exciting traditional items (E.g. Games) could be included and competitions may be held with lucrative prizes arranged for the winners. Similarly, the event could be used for showcasing talents and to promote the best talents for their participation in higher platforms. The point is ----- one should be open to discussions and changes, keeping the core theme of the festival intact though. But that should neither be interpreted nor construed as a license to spearhead a crusade for the withdrawal of Miss Kut contest. The intent is in fact the opposite. Why? Firstly, it is only beautiful to celebrate beauty. Secondly, believe it or not, it is the USP of the festival. I for one feel immensely proud in picking up a newspaper with front page image of Miss Kut beauty pageants and I do not find that erotic or uncultured. It is only beautiful!

 While many are busy trying to globalize their festivals, some people are still intoxicated by primordial thoughts of banning beauty in the guise of preserving culture. The true concern rather should be to invest the minds and thoughts in the initiative of adding more meaningful and exciting items (both traditional and contemporary) to the events. It is worth remembering that festivals, among many things, are one of the biggest factors that could play a major role in knitting the torn fabrics of peace and communal harmony in the state and region. While there might be, as different communities, conflicting interests on many issues, one cannot deny the fact about a small yet significant presence of a practice wherein a few people belonging to the Meitei community attend Kut and Christmas, and the Kukis and Manipur Nagas participate in “Thabal Chongba” during Yaoshang. It is all too pleasing to imagine a situation when, the festivals at least the cultural ones if not the religious festivals, integrate different cultures of different communities- A bamboo dance of the Chin Kuki Mizo community being performed on Lui NgaiNi ( One of the biggest festivals of Manipur Nagas), a Zeliangrong beauty participating in Miss Kut contest, and Thang Ta Dance being performed in Chavang Kut andGaan-Ngai. "Chingmee-Tammee amatani" (People from the Hills and Valley are but one) should not just be a slogan found in occasional write-ups; it should be practiced. There are various ways of practicing it; the festivals, which have so far remained as one of the very few reasons for people of different ethnicities to come together, could be further improvised to serve as a significant tool to spread the message of Love, Peace and Unity in Diversity in the state, region and beyond.

 Chavang Kut Chibai to all! Li-Li-Li Ho-Ho-Ho

(T S Haokip is a freelance writer and author of the book 'Hilly Dreams')

Militancy woes resurface

  The Statesman Churachandpur, a district in   Manipur became  a  central  topic  of  discussion  overnight  on  the  1 3th November, so muc...

Popular Posts