Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Someone's music, someone else's noise

One purpose of folk songs that I was told by my Aunty goes like this; it is from a story. There was once a man who realized that he has not been good to his wife. But it’s not in our Naga nature to express apology or affection easily and openly. So, he composed a folk song which says, “One cannot change one’s ugly looks, but one can certainly change one’s bad character”, He changed and since then, he remained loving and caring to his wife. Folk songs are a medium of communicating things which cannot be expressed in normal conversations. My critic of the music remains (Ah, its repetitiveness) but I’m able to appreciate it better after hearing that story. There may be people who think that everyone likes Kenny Rogers (I know one such guy). If there's anyone who doesn't, he/she ought to love Rogers. When I was in Patkai, the vocational students used to organise Christmas concerts. But even if they sing difficult songs and classical music of the highest quality, very few would show up to attend the shows. When a band shows up which sings popular gospel or secular songs, it’s always houseful. Now, someone may blame the musical shallowness and the ignorance of the crowd. But will that be a wise thing to do? There seems to be frictions between traditional and western music, and popular vs. ‘serious’ music. The churches in Nagaland are trying hard to promote indigenous music. Western secular music is thought by many to be a tradition destroyer, of low morality and a rebellion breeder. Instead of imitating the west, therefore, we should bring out songs that are authentic to our culture and tradition. However, this does not go down well with the young ones who are totally hooked to western music and reinforced by the powerful media gimmicks. Some people try to reconcile the two through fusion music. In my personal opinion, it wouldn’t be good to make a big fuss about the argument between western and traditional. We will always look for what we love to listen and will produce what we would like to listen. Traditional music when created well will attract people to it. We don’t love all that is western anyway. Also we can produce very good music which belongs to the western genre without the guilt of imitation. A time may come when the west would borrow our tune. Now between popular and ‘serious’ music; by ‘serious’ music, I refer to the music ‘literates’ and I didn’t say popular vs. classical because the ‘serious’ musicians/music lovers are not confined to classical music. If I have to generalize, the ‘serious’ music people look at popular music as cheap and shallow while the pop music people look at the former as ‘boring’. Music appreciation is a very subjective matter and there is no authoritative judge to decide the case which is better than the other. Appreciation deepens and matures with knowledge but it would be unreasonable to try to educate the masses to ‘read and write’ music. For a farmer who returns home from a day’s work and turns on the radio, the local songs serve the purpose of his entertainment. This brings us to the purpose of music. If I remember correctly, Ronald Pen talks of three levels of listening (though they are not tightly compartmentalized levels). An example of the first level is going to a concert and simply enjoying the show. The second level is where the listener appreciates the technical aspects of songs like the melody, chord progression, harmony, keys, flats and sharps etc. The third level is where the music inspires and transforms the listener. Music can be used for meaningful purposes at all levels: relaxation to the farmer after work, stimulating creativity in the composer, and bringing people to surrender their lives to God. This life transforming capability of even (technically) ‘imperfect music’ has to be acknowledged. Also we should develop our skills, so that we present our best for God’s glory. Be it folk or western, there are certainly lots of cheap music which I jokingly argue with my sister can be composed in one hour without shedding a sweat. In all cases we should respect and provide space to thrive, music that we have no ears for. For Eastern Mirror newspaper column BLOGSPEAK

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Starting Out

In writing, anything is possible. As a writer, you can finish off the hero in the middle of your story by throwing him into a cave of one and a half eyed monsters. You can create a fantasy world like Narnia, make people laugh and cry at the same time, or transform a society forever.
My love for writing began when my dad asked us (me, my brother, and sister) to write an essay every day. Though I always have the passion, I had this fear, ‘what if I’m the only one who enjoys my writings?’ I had bad experiences when I was a co-editor of a newsletter of college students’ fellowship in Imphal. Thank God I did not stop. Writing also became an escapade and a compensation for not being able to speak well. In a NCF-Delhi camp, I shared my testimony starting with, “even as I am going to speak, I have written it down”. This is not the story of an accomplished writer but an amateur whose effort is starting to pay off; many thanks to the Eastern Mirror for this breakthrough.
There seems to be a kind of freedom without responsibility. I could write nonsense in my blog, speak my mind and edit myself later and not be charged for what I feel. I was responsible to nobody. But to write for a newspaper weekly; how do I speak sense and for how long before my well run dry?
This nagging anxiety notwithstanding, I believe I have something to say. The kind of freedom without responsibility that I have mentioned is the concept many of us have of freedom, ‘freedom from’- freedom from bondage, freedom from fear, etc. This is the negative aspect. Os Guinness says that however, there is also a positive side of freedom, ‘freedom for’. Free for what? The answer would be: free to do what is right, free to do what needs to be done. It is freedom that comes with responsibility. How our society is and will be is our responsibility. How then do we use our freedom (here, of speech) to shape our society? Looking at the state we are in, I think there are a lot of things that need to be ‘put to rights’ (a phrase New Testament Scholar NT Wright often uses to describe new creation in Christ). I take up this columnist job as a mission, a minor one within the wider Mission of God of gathering all things, things in heaven and earth under the lordship of Jesus Christ, as we pray, ‘thy Kingdom com ON EARTH as it is in heaven’.
Areas of my interest are Christian Theology, Health Care, Music, Science and Religion, and genreless rambles on love and life. These topics will feature often in this space. I end here for now with a customised disclaimer:
A disclaimer to think about, but not to be taken seriously:
In a time when there is crackdown on plagiarism and copyright violations are increasingly seen as serious offences, it becomes difficult for a guy like to me to say anything at all. What I have learnt is mostly from others and original thoughts are minuscule. So here I stand and give credit to the One who is the giver of all knowledge to mankind, and a big thanks to all those people who passed it on to me. Now, don't accuse me of plagiary or copyright violation.
For Eastern Mirror newspaper column BLOGSPEAK

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The changing meaning of health

It is a good thing that Nagas are increasingly becoming aware of their health. Some of the people are very well informed, now that a lot of health information is just a click away and many newspapers reserve certain space everyday for health news and tips. Diagnostic and treatment facilities are getting more sophisticated each year. Disease patterns are also changing over the years. Tuberculosis is not the dreaded killer disease anymore, Small Pox is wiped out from the world and even Nagaland has achieved and maintained the elimination rate of Leprosy. These infectious diseases are giving way to non-communicable diseases like cardio-vascular diseases and cancers. With the antibiotics revolution, many of the infectious diseases have become treatable while non-communicable are on the rise, largely because of change of lifestyle, diet, and change in the physical and social environment.

However, this disease changing trend is not clearly demarcated, not least in Nagaland. The world has vitnessed the emergence/resurgence of infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis B, and the fear of influenza (H1N1, SARS) pandemic is looming. Malaria has made a comeback after optimism of its eradication in the late 1960s and 70s. These infectious diseases are much harder to treat, coupled with the antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria now abounding. In Nagaland, two different scenarios emerge. At one end, we have people who suffer and die from easily treatable or preventable diseases (usually poor people in the villages) while at the other, we see increasing non-communicable diseases which are usually associated with affluence. Also, the scenarios are complicated by the fact that infectious disease like HIV/AIDS is spreading fast in the rural areas where awareness level is low, and non-communicable diseases like peptic ulcer and neck cancers are increasing in the villages.

There is also an emerging phenomenon in Nagaland and it will only increase in the future. As Nagas love to imitate others, especially the west, in dressing, food habits, etc. so also, Nagas are becoming obsessed about health like the people especially of the west. As mentioned in the beginning that mountains of health information are available in the internet and newspapers, people have become obsessed about their health. A very simple example is: when anyone gets a cold, he/she will simply eat a cold tablet as though it is a sweet, without medical prescription and unnecessarily. Over the counter drugs are the most abused drugs because they are freely available and are seemingly harmless in the short run. Actually, they are not. Misuse of antibiotics has resulted in multi-drug resistance where a person does not respond anymore to a host of antibiotics.

In the wider aspect, this obsession is reflected in the churches’ teachings about health and wellbeing, often heard in the ‘prosperity gospel’. The promise of complete physical and spiritual wellbeing is being preached which in reality is elusive in this world of Sin and death. People long for these things and unrealistic expectations in turn probably do more harm than good to one’s health. This is not a blanket cover criticizing the entire ministry of spiritual healing, as physical healings do occur occasionally to the surprise of medical experts.

In a time when physical beauty is being prized above all, cosmetic surgery is an extremely profitable business. People shell out any amount of money for creams that make one look younger than one’s age. Men also resort to all measures and regimes to keep their body in enviable condition. Though not wrong to keep one’s body healthy and beautiful, this health obsession has a philosophical basis which is sickening. It is also unhealthy for one’s mental health as it causes mental stress and anxiety. A lot of cardio-vascular diseases are due to the stressful lives that competitive modern people live. Many fall victims to false miracle therapies that claim to cure all illnesses. This whole concept of obsession for one’s health is known as ‘medicalization of health’.

Now, these all calls into question, ‘What is Health’? The definition of health is muddled by the fact that diseases are now defined from the molecular level to the societal level. Defining health as ‘absence of disease’ is not correct anymore as a so called ‘healthy’ person may have genetic defects which are not expressed externally. In other words, would you call someone ‘unhealthy’ who suffers no bodily discomfort but simply has a defective gene, or would you call someone ‘healthy’ when all medical investigations detect no disease but the person doesn’t feel well? Health therefore is also a very subjective matter. Whatever may be the medical condition, a person or a society may be feeling just fine and accept certain conditions be it sickness or death as a part of life while in some other, a single case of the same condition may be a cause for alarm. In medieval Europe when Tuberculosis was so rampant and there was no medicine for its cure, the disease even became a symbol of fashion. Those who cough blood and have thin physique as a result of Consumption (former name of TB) were considered ‘sexy’.

To date, the most widely used definition of Health is the one given by the WHO. WHO defines Health as ‘a state of complete physical, mental, and social wellbeing; and not mere an absence of disease or infirmity’. Its criticism is that Health cannot be defined as a ‘state’. No person by this definition can be qualified to be labeled ‘healthy’ as no one can achieve that ‘state’ where she/he has complete physical, mental and social wellbeing. This definition however, sets a standard (an ideal state) that each strives to achieve. Rather than being a ‘state’, K Park says that health is a dynamic concept where a person continually adjust to the ‘changing demands of living and of the changing meanings we give to life. It helps people live well, work well and enjoy themselves’.

The WHO health definition captures well the different dimensions of health. When we talk of health, we commonly mean physical wellbeing. Mental wellbeing is not properly understood and social dimension is neglected. WHO definition teaches that health is not just absence of disease, and treatment not simply tablets, injections or going under the surgical knife. All the three are equally important and are inter-related and interdependent. A classic example of this is the dictum, ‘poverty causes ill health; ill health causes poverty’.

With Dr. Keneinguzo Zumu, for Touphema Students' Union magazine