I grew up in a beautiful hill town in Northeast India called Shillong. I remember the clean air, the quiet neighbourhoods, the rose gardens in many lawns, the wild fruits from nearby woods and the ubiquitous sparrows that are nowhere to be found today. Even though I belong to the indigenous community of the place, a people known as the Khasi, culturally distinct from mainland Indian communities, our town back then, as well as now, was a multicultural melting pot with people from all over the northeastern region and the rest of India living there. Even so, I cannot describe our multicultural coexistence as harmonious, whether then or now. Rather it has been an uneasy one.
It was in 1979, therefore, when the first major ethnic riot hit our city streets. I was nine then and I was delighted for two reasons: one, because school closed for the year which gifted us a prolonged and unexpected holiday; and two, my people were winning the ethnic war. Although seeds of anti-local feelings had been sown for years in my childhood and preadolescent mind, it was in 1979 when I took full ownership of them, justified the hatred and gave approval to the violence.
I recently wrote a poem From 79 to Corona where I share my feelings and thoughts about the journey that my home city, my people, my land, has been on since that year of bloodshed, through the following decades marked by student movements, political upheavals, a short-lived but brutal insurgency, periodic ethnic riots and our superficial Christianity to name a few, to the way our shamed-based society recently stigmatised the first family that contracted the coronavirus, probably leaving them deeply wounded for a very long time. Lines from the poem include the following:
… That year,
with winter fast approaching with no sign
of school reopening, I learnt the vocabulary
of hate and placed my preadolescent signature
on a certificate that declared my neighbour
and friend, Abhijit, his family, had become
While I grew up xenophobic, in the summer of 1995 I unexpectedly had an encounter with Jesus that drastically changed my life and the way I viewed the world around me. While it certainly was a profound spiritual experience that produced an inner joy that I had not known before as well as a deep comprehension that I had received forgiveness of my sins and salvation of my soul, it also gave birth to a strange but powerful love for people of other cultures including those defined as our enemies. That love that was growing inside of me was both emotional and intellectual. As my personal relationship with Jesus developed, a new paradigm began to emerge: I started to recognise the intrinsic value of every human being. I began to experience a shift from my tribalistic worldview to a one that embraced people of all ethnic backgrounds, celebrating their cultural diversity and recognising the image of God, though fractured, in each one of them.
It has been a journey of learning and unlearning, of embracing and letting go. I plan to share stories of racial reconciliation from my journey in future blog posts, about how relational healing occurs through the practices of mutual confession of wrong and reciprocal forgiving. For now, please click on the link to the poem ( https://poeticlogik.wordpress.com/2020/04/19/79-to-corona/) and feel free to send a feedback if you would like to.
Photo credit: Nijwam Swargiary @ https://unsplash.com/photos/MgT63LKcfHQ
Photo description: Shillong city taxis