Thursday, June 13, 2024
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Never on a Sunday

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By Paul Lyngdoh

IN case the above caption reads like a verdict on the current debate between the MTDF on the one hand and its bête-noire, some Church organizations and a host of NGOs on the other , let me hasten to clarify that it actually is the title of a song sung by Connie Francis (amongst others) and was popular on Shillong’s airwaves as an old favourite till the 1980s. Its rather banal lyrics go like this:

Oh you can kiss me on a Monday, a Monday ,a Monday is very very good/ Or you can kiss me on a Tuesday, a Tuesday, a Tuesday in fact I wish you would/ Or you can kiss me on a Wednesday, a Thursday, a Friday and Saturday is best/ But never, never on a Sunday, a Sunday, a Sunday cause that’s my day of rest.

And so on. If any meaning can be surmised from this “silly love song” (incidentally, it won the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1960), it is that spending a particular day in a particular manner is an individual choice. Hard as I tried to empathise with the viewpoint that Sunday is considered sacred amongst Christians and organizing events like the Autumn Festival on it would amount to sacrilege and is a slur on a Christian state, I simply could not. To begin with, even the reference to Meghalaya as a “Christian state” itself is misleading. True, Meghalaya is predominantly Christian, but that only means it is a Christian-dominated or Christian-majority state. Certainly not a Christian state. Because if one extends that flawed logic, India would be a Hindu state and not a secular state that the Constitution proclaims it is. But if we interpret the word ‘Christian’ as an adjective, it is entirely up to us to evaluate whether Meghalaya as a state is a reflection of Christian ethos, beliefs and precepts. A very open-ended question!

Does celebrating, partying or in general having fun on a Sunday make one less Christian and, by implication, does refraining oneself from such activities make one more Christian? Sheer humbug , I must say. It is bred out of a misplaced sense of religiosity,a sense of superior morality unleashed by self-righteousness and a need to wear one’s faith on one’s sleeves. Is this exhibitionist tendency a Christian feature? One need only recall Christ’s admonition to the Pharisees on the question of the Sabbath (Luke 13: 10-17) for a proper Christian perspective.

Why have we become so intolerant and orthodox in our viewpoint as evident from reactions to the MTDF event? If at the kernel of the debate is one’s freedom of choice, I see no hint of an imposition in the MTDF’s programme. And if that choice is to be tempered by one’s value system, it is all the more reason to leave it to an individual to decide for himself to if participating in a particular event would reduce, enhance or have no impact on his stature as a Christian! There is no need to issue diktats, guidelines or a code of conduct. I am amazed to know that in certain denominations even repairing a leaking roof on a Sunday is still considered sinful! My only worry is that all this grandiose display of religionism is a sub-conscious camouflage for our depleting reserves of humanity, fairness and love which is at the root of Christianity, Sunday or no Sunday. And Arnold Toynbee’s assessment of Gandhi comes to mind:” He was more than Christian; he was Christ-like”. How many of us can stand up to that litmus test?

One Trick Pony

My biggest grouse against the MTDF is that it has turned into a one-trick pony surfacing each year just to hold the Autumn festival only to go into a limbo once the “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness” gives way to winter. Its Street Angels have long taken flight from the streets of Shillong, reportedly because only one member was willing to put his money where his mouth was. Nor has the Forum come up with any action plan or vision statement on sustaining tourism as a livelihood option for people in the state. Many can not forget how last year’s grand finale (which was, incidentally, a Sunday, when generally the traffic cops become sleeping angels) resulted in a chaotic, massive traffic gridlock simply because there was no coordination with the Ri Bhoi District administration. Nobody caught in such jams would ever wish to visit Meghalaya ever again. Most importantly, the MTDF needs to be seen as a team wedded to a long-term vision rather than a bunch of businessmen who stand to profit financially by putting up annual jamborees.

A Matter of Faith ?

The Shillong Times editorial on Diwali, the festival of lights, turning more and more into a deadly potion of noise and air-poisoning could not have been more perspicacious and eye-opening. I was at a iing iap briew (a house in mourning of the dead) some days back, witnessing, meanwhile, the brilliant display of lights outside which, unfortunately, was drowned out by the high-decibel madness. The deceased was a Christian woman who would, in all probability, have been alive but for the fact that her denomination taught her to “walk by faith” and not to seek recourse to medical intervention of any kind. I wondered if the first Missionaries to set foot on our hills were the first to challenge God’s law by opening hospitals and dispensaries. I returned home and glanced through the day’s papers reporting the resurgence of witchcraft and myriad superstitions and violent mob reactions- the Nongshohnoh phenomenon- and was troubled by the thought that the twin agenda of education and the Gospel which brought the missionaries to the hills in the first place seem more and more like a mirage.

Joie De Vivre

THE healing touch to all the turbulent thoughts came courtesy the Shillong Chamber Choir whose musical fiesta was a veritable treat for one’s senses. The masala-packed offering had enough to satiate anyone’s appetite- right from the accomplished connoisseur of Classical music to the untrained , but keen listener. The performance was enough to add to one’s joie de vivre and discard all thoughts that diminish one’s capacity to regard life as a feast worth partaking from. Way to go, SCC!

Candle in the Wind

THE sad demise of Bah Stephan Leong, 52, is a reminder of how insignificant and”how fragile we are” in the vast scheme of the universe. Bah Stephan had single-handedly placed Meghalaya on the world’s karate map and the success stories of Damang, Linza and Banshan- amongst others- is an indelible testimony of his triumph. We had reason to expect more from him. But destiny had other plans and the state has been robbed of one of its finest proponents of sports. The irony of it all is that Bah Stephan was in love with life, with Martial Arts and with the young sportspersons he surrounded himself with. And it happened during a week marked by several cases of suicides in the city. They were people to whom life had become too cumbersome and unbearable a burden.

Bah Stephan has died, but only corporeally. He will continue to dwell in the hearts of all those who were fortunate to have known him and have been enriched immensely by that association.

Parting Shot

NEIGRIHMS received a shot in the arm (or perhaps arms?) when it witnessed a VVIP visit last Sunday. The occasion was the visit of our Honourable Home Minister, HDR Lyngdoh, who was at the hospital to look up some patients from his constituency. (Yes, in a state where even SDOs flash the VIP beacon lights atop their cars, the HM would certainly qualify as a VVIP). I was at one of the wards when I heard excited voices and witnessed a platoon of well-armed policemen scurrying and hurrying from ward to ward after jumping from white Gypsies in scenes reminiscent of Sonia Gandhi’s visit to the Institute. The visit certainly added life and colour to the sedate atmosphere of NEIGRIMS. Two, I am sure it did help spice up conversations between patients and their visitors who would normally remain awkwardly silent once the routine inquiry about the former’s health status is over. Three, it certainly would have reassured all and sundry about the presence and reach of the state, specially when cops look like an endangered species on our highways. Four, the canteen owner must have made a killing by serving food to such a large retinue with even larger appetites. NEIGRIHMS awaits your next visit with bated breath, Mr. VVIP!

(Poet, short story writer and song writer, Paul Lyngdoh is also the MLA of Jaiaw and former minister, Meghalaya. He can be reached at paullyng @gmail.com)

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