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Eminent Hmar Mizo litterateur and retired Indian Foreign Service officer Pu L. KEIVOM turns 70 today, i.e July 15. (Profile coming soon) On this occasion Pu KEIVOM opens up his life to INPUI's admin Pu LALMALSAWM SUNGTE by talking about his love life, family and works.

"We all fall in love and also fall out of love..."

Excerpts from the interview:
Lalmalsawm: LMS
L Keivom: Keivom

LMS: Now that you have turned 70, how do you feel?

KEIVOM: I feel great and lucky, something like standing on Mt. Everest.

LMS: What do people say to you when they meet you for the first time?
KEIVOM: They extend greetings to me in their respective cultural norms.

LMS: In 1994, when you were in Male down with sickness, you escaped death. How do you feel at that moment?
KEIVOM: Life and death are inevitable partners. We are born to live, live to die and die to live. If you get up in the morning alive, you get up on the side of life. If not, death has taken over you to start another life. Normally, I think about how to live constructively and when the time comes, die profitably for the next life.

LMS: When and how did you decide to join the Indian Foreign Service?
KEIVOM: It was never my original plan to join government service. But changing circumstances and equations led me to sit for competitive exams. I got Indian Revenue Service at the first attempt which I joined in 1967. The only service that really atracted me then and now was the foreign service for two basic reasons. One, it would help me in advancing my interest in the pursuit of knowledge and truth. Two, it would enable me to carry on my writings and thereby continue to help in building up our literature. When I got both IAS/IFS there was a strong family as well as community pressure to join the IAS. But I didn't flinch an inch from my resolve and I never regret my decision to this day.

LMS: Why don't you return to Manipur after your retirement?
KEIVOM: Manipur is a beautiful land inhabited by our loved ones. But it is no longer a place worth returning or living. There is no peace, no freedom except the freedom of the gun and the wicked, no electricity, no good library or bookstores, no incentives for knowledge, no human dignity and virtually no access to the blessings of IT. Here in New Delhi, I work normally 12-16 hours daily on my computers, but in Churachandpur I cannot do the same as there is no regular supply of electricity. In Delhi, apart from telephones (landline & mobiles) I have 24 hours internet connection including Skype through which I can reach the world anywhere including my children in New Zealand, United Kingdom and the USA at any time. What I normally do in one hour in Delhi, it takes a day or even week in Churachandpur.

LMS: If I were to divide your life into two periods: before and after retirement. What's the difference between the two?
KEIVOM: The difference between life while in service and after retirement to me is very little. While in service I had to do my duty according to terms and rules determined by the employer for which I got paid and enjoyed certain facilities and powers that went along with my status and responsibilities. But power or status I had enjoyed belonged to the government I served. I never considered these as a part of myself and therefore it never went into my head. If it did, it would be foolish on my part. I had seen government servants who had the problem of adjusting after retirement for the simple reason that they mistakenly thought power or status and the attached aura they enjoyed while in service belonged to them. Luckily, I never face this problem. I am the same Keivom now as I was while in service when they addressed me as "Your Excellency". That 'Excellency' did not belong to Keivom, it belonged to his official status. I am now free to pursue my interests at my own time and volition.

LMS: I came to know from someone that neither of your parents attended college…
KEIVOM: My parents never learnt the magic A B C. My father died unlettered three months after I came. He was the one who named me in the fashion of benediction. But he was a poet and a craftsman specialising in cane and bamboo works. My mother died at the ripe age of 84, two years after I joined IFS. She told me once that if she were born again, the first thing she would like to do would be to learn how to read and write.

LMS: How was your family life before and after your marriage?
KEIVOM: Being the youngest amongst thirteen siblings and growing up fatherless, I was the pampered child of the family. Ours was a joint family with 14 members on an average till we moved to Saidan/Khawmawi in 1956. Family responsibility was never on my shoulder. I love freedom of thought and reasoning and I had been lucky all through to have elder brothers who understood me and allowed me to grow in my own space freely. This enabled me to engage myself in creative pursuits from a very young age.

I got married in my final year of College in 1963 without giving much thought into it. It was a time when my innate creative urges exploded in many songs, short stories and essays. As I got married, I came face to face with the reality of life. I had to look after a family and at the same time had to make a career. Teachership was a stepping stone but not my goal. I had to go for post-graduate studies and then seek out a niche. I found out that to build a career after getting married required at least, if not more, double effort and determination. I have been lucky to have a partner who is as determined as me to face any challenge or odds to achieve the goal we set before us. We struggled hard with our hearts and souls together. We always thank God for enabling us to reach our goal. In the process, I stopped composing songs for seven long years.

LMS: People say that you were "betrayed/let down" in love at one point of your life. That must be very disheartening.
KEIVOM: I am glad you have asked this question. Many rumours had been afloat in our little gossip world regarding my love life. Some stories I came to know about me were either non-exist or highly inflated. They were spun straight out of a figment of somebody's imagination. I love hearing these stories. They are truly interesting. I wish they were mine.

Like everyone else, in life's journey, I also met someone with whom I fell in love. This is the most natural experience one could have in life. We all fall in love and also fall out of love. I have been a lucky one in that I have never been betrayed or let down. I have never known a girlfriend with whom I had to separate because of quarrel or fighting. I value and respect those souls then and now and have never spoken ill words against them. They were a part of my life, a good chapter that I always cherish to remember and reminisce.

LMS: Some people say that, taking up Hmar Baibul, Delhi version was "unnessary". Some even questioned your "faith in God" and your "lifestyle". What's your take on this?
KEIVOM: I overheard many comments about 'Baibul-Delhi Version'- some good, some positive, some ignorant, some negative, some damaging and some purely Satanic. This phenomena of negative reaction to any attempt on new translation of the Bible is a global phenomena and ours is not an aberration. The reasons for these objections concerned basically textual departure and disagreement, semantic flaws, doctrinal differences, insistence on maintenance of status quo and ignorance in various forms and shapes. I believe that we sadly fall in the last category in full measure. The problem with us is that we don't know or even want to know how ignorant we all are. We are afraid of being exposed which any new correct translation cannot avoid doing so.

Let us face the facts. Anyone who has read BSI or BFW version of the Hmar Bible and did not feel the need for a fresh translation has either not applied his/her mind or his/her knowledge of Hmar is seriously lacking. Apart from many wrong translations, basically 80 per cent of the Hmar construction in these two versions is gramatically flawed, rendering the meaning unclear or incomprehensible. It is an insult to God's word. Should we persist in doing so? Will God be glorified by our continued insults? Delhi Version attempts to do what God wants us to do.

As for personal comments on me, I would like to say only this much: that I had to undertake this challenging task of translating the Bible not because of any favourable moral, spiritual, theological and intellectual standing. I have to undertake this humbling task because of the grace of God who made me realised in no uncertain terms that it was He who trained me from childhood to do this task and that I could make no excuse from this commission. It's between me and God. Let anybody say anything on this. It does not bother me at all. I know whom I believe and trust.

LMS: As a student you not only read your subjects, but were working on your novels which you later published, how did you do that?
KEIVOM: Well, it's a question of time management and your level of interest. If you have extra-curricular interests and you are committed enough to do it, you set your priorities in order and you will always find time for it.

LMS: What is your personal favorite among the books you have published so far?
KEIVOM: This is one question many people asked me but I have no answer. I normally write on a subject I have passion for. Every sentence I write is a part of me inside out. When you read my writing, there you will find me and have interaction with me.

But my most important work so far is the Bible translation: Baibul (Hmar)-Delhi Version. I consider it as one of the best translations that the world has. It is modern but still very close to the original which is difficult but possible. Each line in every Psalm has equal syllables, perhaps the first of its kind on earth. Wrong translations and the profusion of flawed construction of Hmar that smeared almost every page in the older Hmar versions have been set right. In the process, we have redeemed Hmar language from dying of corruption through the Bible and also God’s word from mistranslations. Our main targets are the younger generation who have lost interest in reading Bible in their mother tongue because of the flawed translation and the language construction which are twisted and difficult to comprehend.

Responses we have received from the younger generation are very encouraging. We have also noted that those who read DV have improved their writings in Hmar. In fact, DV is not meant for the self-esteem Pharasees who, under any circumstances, would stick to the old versions which had become their badge of honour for too long. Anyone who wants to prove the truth of my assertions may put Delhi Version and the other versions together and compare them sentence by sentence, word by word and comma by comma.

While saying these, I do not claim that DV is perfect. Far from it. It is our first attempt. The translation, editing and publishing was done, all in six years for which I worked 12-16 hours daily. H.K. Kawllienthang ably assisted me in editing and proof reading. There are lots of rooms for improvement and we have already started the work of revision from the day the first copy was rolled out. One must understand that Bible translation work in any language is an endless process till the coming of the Kingdom and the establishment of the New Earth and the New Heaven.

LMS: What was it like to be called by some "the author of hopeless love stories" before you came out with the thought provoking 'Zoram Khawvel' series?
KEIVOM: I have not heard of this "author of hopeless love stories". My first publication in Mizo-Lusei was Zoram Khawvel-1 for which I got 'Book of the Year' award. Later, two of my short stories- Lalnunnem ka ngai em che & Riengpui appeared in 'Bawktlang Thawnthu' and they were one of the most read and highly acclaimed short stories in Mizoram.

LMS: Have you ever regret authoring novels based on 'tlangram love stories' like Zangkhaw Bungbu, etc, and composing some of the evergreen love songs?
KEIVOM: Not at all. I am glad that I wrote 'Zangkhaw Bungbu' which saw the light after 25 years. I also wrote some novels during that time but are yet to be published. I still cherish the love songs I wrote those days as they are a true reflection of real life drama everyone plays in life. In addition they have become an important element in providing our cultural needs, enriching our literature, consoling fornlorn souls.

LMS: Some peachers and pastors often make a jibe at some of the love songs you have composed. What could be the reason behind this?
KEIVOM: First, when some preachers run out of sermon, they have a tendency to tell anecdotes or give critical comments to attract the runaway attention of their captured audience. Second, some preachers audaciously misuse pulpit to attack people they thought have the courage of conviction to tell unpleasant truth about them.

People who have not had the experience of writing love songs should refrain from commenting on any aspect of life they did not know or experience. They should not be allowed even to read Songs of Solomon until they attain certain level of understanding about life. I am proud of the love songs I had written as Solomon would have for his love songs. I know that my songs will outlive all its jibers. They have already become our national treasure.

LMS: Do you think the Gospel is against love songs (khawtlang hla)?
KEIVOM: God is love. Why should love song be against God? But we must remember one thing. There are as many love songs which are dirty even to the carnal mind as there are also hymns which are culturally far too stretched and theogically unsound and misleading, especially the hymns the younger generation love to sing these days. We must accept the good and throw away the dirty ones.

LMS: What's the difference between writing novels and preaching?
KEIVOM: The main aim is basically the same: to put ideas, views and messages across the readers and listeners. But the style is different. Writing novel has wider freedom and audience than preaching.

LMS: What is your take on the quality of writing among Hmar writers these days?
KEIVOM: Very poor. The point is that we have virtually no book writing at all to measure the quality of writing in Hmar. I am not sure whether we even have the so-called ‘Hmar writers’ as you have mentioned. Whatever writings we come across are from annual magazines which appeared sporadically. The monthly church magazines hardly contain readable material. I have not seen SAWRTUI for in years and HMARTHLIR is being revived. Zawllung cannot be found in Delhi. Our only daily publication HMASAWNNA THAR’s Hmar trong needs thorough improvement.

One thing we must remember is this: writing is the product of thought, a reflection of one’s thinking and language is only a medium of expression of our thought. One has to think first what to write and then how to write out these thoughts by reducing them into words and sentences. If you study our writings carefully, you will find out that most of us are too lazy to exercise our brain. We want to write but we have no patience to think and ponder over. We produce disjointed words and sentences which are incoherent to camouflage our emptiness and laziness. Very painful to read. No amount of flowery words can fill the emptiness and paucity of thoughts and ideas.

LMS: I hear that you enjoyed reading Sawrtui magazine. Do you foresee any good news for this magazines and other Hmar news magazines?
KEIVOM: I have not seen SAWRTUI for years now. The impression I got in the last copy I saw was that it’s tragically heading towards its grave. The fundamental problems of Hmar news magazines are (1) readability (2) hmarisation (3) poor circulation (4) mental lethargy. For a magazine to succeed, it should be readable and our magazines are not. Secondly, we should make our magazine in such way that people outside the Hmar community also would like to read. For this, one has to stop hmarising of any magazine or paper and make it inclusive. This will greatly improve its circulation and utility.

LMS: What could be the reasons for no new novels in Hmar language?
KEIVOM: Ours is creatively more or less a dead society. Even if there are potential writers, they will not be encouraged to pursue writing as a career as the market is too small and there is no economic incentives.

LMS: Most of the your short stories/novels I have read include struggle. Why is that?
KEIVOM: I have written so far only two novels, one published and the other unpublished. Others are short stories, some of them long enough to be taken as novels. Zangkhaw Bungbu is a moral novel containing a story of a boy born out of wedlock who struggles to change the inimical view held by the society against children born out of wedlock. The unpublished novel HMANGAINA RUONGPUON is story of unconsummated love set in Hmar Area and ended in D.M.College, Imphal.

LMS: What kind of stories are you concentrating on after your last novel?
KEIVOM: I have many social and religious issues on my mind but I don't have time to pursue novel writing for many years now.

LMS: Pu Rochunga Pudaite has said he wanted to be burried in Sielmat. Where would you like your body to rest when the final day comes?
KEIVOM: It does not matter to me where I will be buried. The only thing that matters to me is that I will be with my people after my death through my writings and translation works.

LMS: I wish you a happy and healthy-long life ahead. Thank you very much for your time.
KEIVOM: Many thanks.

Post a Comment

  1. Happy Birthday, Pu Muong.May you live up to a ripe age.

  2. Happy birthday Pu Keivom. Congratulation on reaching this milestone of three score years and ten. Many happy returns of the day.

    God bless
    L Tusing

  3. Happy Birthday to Pu Muong, Kum tamtak dam pei rawh.

  4. Dear Pu Muong,
    Happy Birthday!
    Many Many happy returns of the day!!!


  5. Lalchungsiem, tlangval@yahoo.co.inJuly 15, 2009 at 2:11 PM

    @ LMS, I question hai a interesting khawp el
    @ Keivom, I like your Quote "live constructively and when the time comes, die profitably for the next life"

  6. Very interesting. However, I still find it difficult to believe that Pu Keivom was never betrayed or cheated in love. Maybe it's my mind or the deep emotional link that developed in me about the earlier rumors about his life.

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