Life in some hill villages

Lunminthang Haokip
1. GOD BLESSED MANIPUR WITH HILLS: North East India was blessed with many hill tracts. The valley’s fertile expanse of the picturesque State of Manipur is surrounded with fence-like ranges of green hills that come out beautifully in photo-shoots or movie scenes. Out of the hilltop ridges, streams and rivulets and rivers flow to meander down and seek water’s own level at the mini-ocean fresh-water lake we call Loktak. If one follows the up-stream courses of the rivers of the State, on the foot-hills, gentle slopes and on hilltops, thousands of big, medium-size and small villages exist.
2. CHURCH-SPIRES SPROUT: Thanks to the Missionaries of the early decades of the 20th Century, the hill settlements are adorned with cross-topped spires of Church buildings which are visible from long distances even though thick foliage renders the houses ‘half hidden from the eye,’ like Wordsworth’s Lucy. The pioneer soul-winners, apart from sowing the Gospel seed of love, peace and salvation, brought about western touches to hill-men’s dressing, housing, singing and thinking.  It’s to the credit of the humble zeal-fired Western soul-hunters that the back-block hitherto paddy-stock-contented simpletons of yore were geared up to thirst for academic learning. If Christ-like meekness could not take roots in our psyche, today, I think, it was because the first converts did not allow the well-meaning Evangelists to sufficiently deal with the age-old pre-Christianity ‘fleshly nature’ oldies wanted to have been left untouched.
3. EXODUS OF VILLAGE ELITE: Many of the hill villages are big, well connected, electrified and blessed with diversified jobbers who defy odds and rectify the inherited setbacks of isolation to glorify their respective areas. Yet, a time comes when they have to seriously think about their children’s educational future, as superior breeding confers superior finery, and the compulsions attached to one’s job-place. So, much though the rural ambience beckons the emotional attachments of the upwardly ambitious, the country-elite, sooner or later, have to shift base to the more happening towns and cities. That leaves the villages of their origin to the mercy of the less-educated lot, who though, nurse a desire to follow suit, are fated to stay back and create smaller ripples around the ‘shallow waters.’ Nevertheless, the annual visit of the non-resident locals, mostly during Christmas time, is usually welcomed with open arms and Psalms.
 4. THE PULL OF URBAN PERKS: State capitals are bound to have much better facilities, privileges and opportunities than the District Head quarters. That’s how governance ought to be. And DHQs have Block HQs reporting to them. The habitations in closer proximity to the hierarchical Centres of public affairs management get easier and faster access to news and views about employment, deployment and fulfilment of other wishes of life. It’s not as if the man who stations at a badly connected remote village doesn’t have dreams. He has, but approaching key persons or pursuing things is at odds and tiresome, if not a taxing ordeal. To reach the BHQ, for him, takes a sweating trudge for a day or two through a dirt-track that demands single-file walk on foot. Therefore, he can’t be blamed if he migrates to a neighbourhood where his dreams appear more achievable. This factor accounts for the alarming desertion of far-flung habitations.
 5. LACK OF SPIRITUAL FEEDING: A Theological aspirant from the hilly interiors initially cultivates a sincere desire to get trained with a view to return to his parent Church with spiritual muscles and tussle to give strength to the ‘weak’ Church members who supported him in prayer. But once he gets a degree, the ‘pedigreed’ probationer who wants to fly free to serve the smaller folds, gets his wings clipped by decrees from above. In the name of Church administration, like super-cool school-boys, the good ones in Biblical teaching, club together in urban head offices. Soon, officialdom blunts the sharp edge of the initial zeal in a trained ‘wannabe Shepherd;’ and the scattered sheep and the lambs, most of the time, are left in the hands of unskilled local Elders. Devoid of meaty spiritual feeding, the starved sheep-folds unfold for themselves sad tales of murmuring, bickering and disobeying the Word. The casualty, at the end of the day, is the survival of revival and spiritual growth, stunted.
 6. HITCHES IN WISHES: Learning begins in schools. A parent might have been denied the privilege of being taught in an upmarket school he sought to have been grounded in, but could not, due to the economics of the family he was brought up in. Still, the hope of a dad is that his children get better education than he did, so that the gen-next of his household equals his ‘betters’ and square old scores he suffered in matters of social equation. A small-town dweller aims for a bigger-town institute of learning for the more brilliant among his offspring, and the village-saddled mother too thinks ditto. But such is the way of the world that expected clinching of deals to fetch the required amount of money for schooling expenses, often, get ditched by unexpected hitches. Eclipsed by a slip between the cup and the lip, a saddened dad, with a heavy heart, reluctantly makes do with the less-preferred private school in his back-block locality.
 7. LESS LEARNING TOOK PLACE: Accidents of history had rendered many hill families homeless, and almost hearth-less. Displaced victims of fate had to somehow stay loose somewhere where plots of land were offered free of cost. Struggle for subsistence with a pittance of income, to quote Mulk Raj Anand, “made their days dark, and their nights pitch-dark,” Yet, the love of the poorest father and mother for their kids is ‘rich enough’ to dig out ways and means to toil harder to somehow get their young ones admitted in a nearby primary school. When sources of cash ran dry, piglets were used to secure admission, and puppies offered in lieu of monthly fees. Teachers of such classes of students, on their part, were college drop-out Ph.Ds (Passed Higher Secondary with Difficulty) who harbour a grudge of a streak of discontentment with their own state of affairs as their parents could not afford to make them study to their hearts’ content. Under such pathetic conditions, although semblance of classes took place, less learning had to take place.
8. RIGHTEOUSNESS EXALTS THE UPRIGHT: : Human nature being what it is, systems of the world are not likely to change overnight with the balance of favour tilting heavily towards the less fortunate. Level playing field will never be laid out to all players because the field where we play is not level. But the Word of God says in Hebrews 12:13, “Make level paths for your feet,’ so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed.” When the people of Israel exited from Egyptian slavery, their forward movement was blocked by the Red Sea, and the strong Army of Pharaoh were hot on their heels. The multitude of God’s people who saw great miracles in Egypt felt hopelessly driven against the wall and blamed it on Moses. At that critical juncture, God gave a promise to Moses in Exodus 14;14: “The LORD shall fight for you, and ye shall hold your peace.” The power of the Almighty parted the waters and Moses and Co walked on dry land to safety.
9. SEEK HIS KINGDOM FIRST: Why did God take up cudgels for Moses? Because, in spells of weakness, in all lowliness, Moses “sought first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” and all he and his people needed were offered on a silver platter in the form of heavenly manna that fed them in the wilderness. “Then the LORD said to Moses, I will rain down bread from heaven for you (Exodus 16:4).” Seeking His kingdom means moving a no confidence motion on our own ‘wisdom’ and being compliant to total reliance on the diktats of His Word. Pricking problems will continue to hassle our beleaguered unsettled places of stay. Problems will hold sway in this crazy mess between two poles as long as we don’t stand on the Lord’s side and go humble to be bless-able. That done, our fabled troubles will fritter away like bubbles.
10. GOD’S RIGHTEOUSNESS: Moses measured up to God’s desired righteousness when, in the face of ‘wild worship of the golden calf’ by the tribes of Israel for whom he brought the Ten Commandments, took a firm stand of unflinching Faith in the living God, “Then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, Who is on the LORD’s side? Let him come unto me. And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together unto him (Exodus 32:26).” The Levites took sides in the right direction and played ball, to become “the men of the match.”