1st L. Keivom Memorial Day

L Keivom Memorial LECTURE

“...Every man is born as many men and dies as a single one…” 
- Martin Heideggar 

By David L. Keivom

L. Keivom passed away peacefully in his sleep at a Delhi hospital in the winter of 2021 after a brief battle with cancer. He was 82 years old. His wife of over 50 years, Dari Keivom, had departed just a year before. The ancients might say they are both united now and have become one with the universe. 

I miss them often and on some lonely pensive nights when I’m in solitary company, I do think of myself as orphaned too soon. 

You see, in the biblical account of the prodigal son, the errant main character does return, much to the joy of his father. In my case, once in my late teens and ready for university, I left home never to return to the family as I knew them from childhood days. 

Return I did but as if a war veteran, shell-shocked, in a “once bitten, twice shy” kind of state. Then I embarked towards my calling, into service in a Christian organization that reached out to the afflicted and downtrodden. Those long years in the “Ministry of Eternal Affairs” he really felt I was wasting my time. But kept calm.

“Get a degree in theology. All your colleagues will supersede you but at least you’ll have a degree.”

Eventually I did and quietly he must have rejoiced. After marriage, my wife and I found ourselves posted to the Philippines which we have called home since 2014. Just when I thought I’d settle into life beside my father getting to know him as he got frailer, Covid-19 and its aftermath arose. Fate then took a cruel turn and separated us forever. I lamented in my obituary speech last winter that L. Keivom is not really my father.

“Ka pieng hma deuin, in ta. 
Sinin, Sanin, Hrilin, thruoiin. 
Hmar nauhai, A sakhuo dittak in nih, 
In laia inlawi zie.”

I had long before reconciled myself to my fate, the fate of anyone in a relationship with a public servant, celebrity, local folk hero, a famous person. They are often “present” but never really “there”. Now a bonafide “Adult Pu”, I sense not so much that I lost a father but that a tribe gained a leader who made full use of his craft to lead them to a vision of the Promised Land. A Zo self-identity. Zoram Khawvel. Dreams coming true. 

A Pherzawl Beginning 

L. Keivom began writing and dreaming early. Sadly his father was taken away by an ailment before the two could bond.

“My father died a believer (Ringtu niin a thi) 
but before he could learn ABC, which the old folks then called 
‘white man’s magic’.” - L. Keivom. 

Aged 10, upon successfully completing Lower Primary School as the topper, his family was so enthralled by this achievement a feast was held at home inviting the entire village. A shy, nervous speaker then enchanted the attendees with a recited piece of English from his text books. At 13 my father wrote his first song and a few years later, his first article on a topic praising the alphabet (Roman Script), so enamored was he of its worth. 

(Unconsciously, he admits, the inspiration for his award winning book “Zoram Khawvel - I” came from his early schooling days in Pherzawl when students from Mizoram, Cachar, Tripura and the southern regions of Manipur converged each speaking different Zo dialects, co-existing harmoniously.) 

“A form of ‘Pan-Zoism’ was born in me in this atmosphere which  ultimately crystallized forty years later.” - L. Keivom 

Eventually what crystallized, “Zoram Khawvel - I”, written in his mid 40s was well-received and Keivom won Book of the Year in 1991, a nod from the Mizo Academy of Letters. All this from a guy who needed 2 failed attempts at matriculation to finally graduate from DM College in 1963. 

“Rêl lu hmu loa B.A. tling sartifiket” is the title he earned, 
as till then he had never seen a train in his life, said Keivom. 

Visionaries can emerge from any environment and remote village. In a biblical teaching, Nathaniel enquires: can anything good come out of Nazareth? Likewise, if doubt exists as to whether anything good can come out of a “Pherzawl”, the answer is to point to fellows like L. Keivom and the rest of his breed. John Adams, the 2nd President of the United States, alluded to how the work of the pioneers, the “forefathers” of society pave the wave for the next generation, and lighten our load. 

“I must study politics and war, that our sons may have liberty to 
study mathematics and philosophy. Our sons ought to study 
mathematics and philosophy… in order to give their 
children a right to study painting, poetry, music .” 
- John Adams, 2nd President of the United States 

Indeed, much is owed to the bravehearts from the Baby boomer generation, the likes of my father and his peers, and those older, those from yesterday who labored well to become captains of industry in politics, civil service, medicine, business and other such notable career paths. They paved the way for us Gen Xers and Millennials and Generation Zs. 

So today, more than ever, we Zo people have the luxury to paint, dance, write and sing, act, rap, model, dream, and soar, ever examining newer ways to self-aspiration than was possible just 100 years ago.

The Keivom I Got to Know 

In spirit, the Keivom I knew was Moses, saved by grace from life in the hinterlands of Manipur and transported into the upper echelons of civil service. And like Moses, seeing his people from afar enslaved, from his diplomatic ivory tower and long into retirement, Keivom’s lifelong quest and plea to God through his work was: Set my people free. Set my people free. His earthly delivery without forceps or nurses on July 15, 1939 inside a ramshackle bamboo hut in Pherzawl, Manipur, was very much an ordinary tribal birth. No magi from the east or supernovas appeared. And so none among the 100 families around could predict the boy would grow up to become figuratively a cultural, linguistic, literary, and spiritual Moses of his clan. A scribe destined to cause the rise and falling of much “thought” and “creative” output. 

“Family responsibility was never on my shoulder. 
I loved freedom of thought and reasoning and 
I had been lucky 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.” 
- L. Keivom 

Whether at work or play, L. Keivom imbibed Martin Heidegger's world view, that we are “Beings” who exist with “Others” and have finite “time”, and that in a day and a lifetime each second must be used well, effectively and magnificently. 

He was a type of Paul, journeying center to center 
to establish the kingdom of God in his own unique 
Zoram Khawvel way. He was a type of Elijah, ready
to confront Ba’al worshippers even if it meant rubbing
Kings and Queens the wrong way. 

He was an Abraham, who fathered many sons and daughters, who will one day be as numerous as the stars in the sky. 
Certainly Keivom was not from the line of Aaron, he was not church clergy, nor ordained, nor officially trained in Bible translation. But believing he was a royal priesthood, a priest in the line of Melchizedek, made righteous by the blood of Christ, he embarked on translating the most holy of scriptures, the Holy Bible into a new Hmar. 
Perhaps that is how we shall be indebted to him for generations. 

Keivom survived long, showing us that the pen is 
mightier than the sword, that being gentle as a
dove and wise as a serpent is key to success. 

If “Keivom” is a template, today we each start with our own blank canvas blessed with endless possibilities to make meaning of his Zoram Khawvel philosophy, his love of culture and pursuit of self-identity. 

He was in life a bonafide “bon vivant”. 

I dedicated a poem to him while studying divinity at Serampore College. This same poem was presented as a gift to His Grace Rowan Williams, theologian and former Archbishop of Canterbury who visited our historic institution. I believe the Archbishop has a David Keivom poem proudly hanging on his walls. 

To a Young Man on His 70th Birthday 

May it be said that yours 
Was a life well-lived 
One day when you’re in heaven. 

May it be said by all men and women 
That you truly gave your life 
For their betterment 
And not for gain. 

May it echo like a refrain 
That you dealt with 
Circumstances with a firm hand 
That you beat the odds - 
You overcame. 

Trust that you’ll never be forgotten 
That you were ahead of your time, 
To glorify Him in the ages to come, 
Defying the sands of time. 

May it be said that yours 
Was a life well-lived 
One day when you’re in heaven. 

Bible Translator 

By 2002 when he retired from active duty in the Indian Foreign Service, L. Keivom had been in service for 35 years. He was already a seasoned career diplomat, an effective administrator and capable statesman. 

If entirely bogged down administratively during his tenure as a diplomat and publishing even then, his life got busier after retirement. 

The best was saved for last. 

He confessed to the need for a Hmar Bible devoid of being “shamelessly copied where translation committees ride roughshod over any element of correct grammatical rules leading to misleading sermons.” 

His intense labor paid off and the new Hmar Baibul known popularly as “Delhi Version” was partially released in 2004, then fully translated in 2007. The 2nd Edition, painstakingly edited (and slimmer too) was published in 2015. 

“Baibul (Hmar) popularly known as Delhi Version is perhaps
the only Bible version on earth in which all the lines of 
every Psalm are set in equal syllable.” - L. Keivom 

To commemorate the 1st year of L. Keivom’s passing, a Delhi Version 3rd Edition is being released in December, 2022. 

(He wished for the Baibul to continue being published by his surviving family members and this latest Edition has solely been their undertaking and is self-funded.) 

The 3rd Edition will be distributed free of cost, stating on the inside cover: This Bible is not to be sold. 

Ironically, in interviews L. Keivom speaks of his initial faith in himself. 

“My ultimate ambition at that time was to pass Matriculation 
and become a teacher in our Middle School. 
My second ambition was to visit Imphal 
at least once before I died.” - L. Keivom 

What Weighed Heavily 

Upon revisiting his old home town Pherzawl, unlike in the famous Tom Jones song “Green Grass of Home” (“The old hometown looks the same…And there to meet me is my mama and papa…Down the road I look and there runs Mary…Hair of gold and lips like cherries...It's good to touch the green, green grass of home”), the Pherzawl that greets him is decrepit and in partial ruins. 

“The deserted old village site was now covered with 
thorny bushes and groundsels and the graveyard at 
the outskirt of the northern gateway where the 
tombstones of Pu Bulhmang, founder chief and his wife, 
was in a state of total neglect and disrepair.” - L. Keivom

In one of his last articles published June 2021 titled “Ka Lungkham Ruk”, L. Keivom thinks out loud. 

“Kei ka lungkham ve chuh, thu le hla tienga 
voi le chang la hre mumal lo ka mihai hi an nih.
Poisa hlutnaa inkhi thei lo, ka laibrari dam hi 
iengtin am hung hmang trangkai thei ding?” - L. Keivom 

While most parents fear their children’s lot should an untimely demise occur, my father’s chief worry was different. Would people make use of the priceless books in his library? In other words, would people bother to read, learn and write? 

The younger L. Keivom’s childhood heroes were the likes of Pu Thianlam Vaiphei, aspiring to possess the same degree of English “grammar” proficiency as the famed educationalist. The older L. Keivom stressed the importance of making full use of available Zo writings whose sole purpose is to prevent our community from becoming a “lost generation”. 

“If thought corrupts language,
language can also corrupt thought” 
- George Orwell 

Mizo Academy of Letters Award 2022 

Not all hope is lost. 

In an event to be held in Aizawl, the Mizo Academy of Letters (MAL) will posthumously confer upon my father their Academy Award 2022, in honor of his work. It is a recognition handed out every three years, a gesture that would make L. Keivom proud. 

German philosopher Martin Heiddegar wrote: “Every man is born as many men and dies as a single one.” 

Dying to self at every stage of his life, shaped through destiny to emerge into many forms of man then dying as a “single one”, what memory of L. Keivom are we left with in the end? 

In a biblical account Jewish leaders sent priests and Levites to ask John the Baptist, “Who are you?” 

The Messiah? Elijah? 

John then confessed that he was “the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’” 

“Every man is born as many men and dies as a single one.” 
- Martin Heideggar 

Perhaps that’s how I will remember my father, L. Keivom the best. As being the voice of one calling out in the desert, leading me to the Promised Land of my own Zo self-identity. And in “learning” to read his tri-lingual works, at last I find many facets of him there. And begin to dream his vision too.

Post a Comment

Powered by Blogger.