SYEDA HAMEED | 12 FEBRUARY, 2015
Choir group from TNT.
AIZAWL: In the beautiful Lushai Hills is nested Aizawl, capital of Mizoram, one of the least known of the North East states of India.
This is my third visit to this state. I came twice as Member Planning Commission to get firsthand experience of this state so that our planning reflects the aspirations of the people. My third visit is a personal visit and one of the most outstanding experiences in my 18 years of public life.
The uniqueness of this visit can be capsuled in three letters, TNT which stands for Thutak Nunpuitu Team, the Mizo words for ‘Practical example of Truth.’ This is where I went last night, 40 minutes drive from Aizawl on winding hilly roads.
Set within pristine forest and hills this place is at once a de-addiction centre (drug problem is rampant here as in some other North East states) a home for mentally challenged and an orphanage for children from the cradle to 16 years. Its popular name is Kalvari Hospital, which is the Mizo version of Calvary the place where Jesus was crucified. It connotes in the best Christian tradition, a Place for Healing. It caters to a total of 1022 residents (inmates) plus the staff, many of whom work as volunteers.
The one person behind this is Sangthankima, 6’2”, majestic human being. When we reached Zuangtui, he had just arrived from another centre in district Champhai after a 7 hours drive. For an hour, we walked around the campus, escorted by a young man named Malsawma (his name means ‘blessing’) who is head of the Orphanage section. We started with the kitchen where 6-7 quintals of rice is cooked every day. At several levels we saw neatly placed dorms, separate for boys and girls. We walked into another section part for alcoholics, drug addicts, mentally challenged; women and men had their own spaced. The various groups meet and interact but are lodged separately. The buildings are sprawling and airy with open spaces all around. There is none of the claustrophobia, rancidness and wretchedness one sees in such places all over India. In the dusk we saw boys playing volleyball, groups listening to talks about de-addiction, people sitting around log fires which had been lit in the quadrangles to create warmth on a cold February night.
Our last stop was the nursery where ‘mothers’ were looking after small kids, some as little as 12 months. A cutest little 2 year old was sack-jumping, much to the delight of the other little ones. The ‘mothers’ were young girls, volunteers who had grown up in this place and had returned to help out. The place was well lit and cheerful; none of the squalor one associates with charity crèches, anathalayas, yateemkhanas all over mainland India.
There were four of us. Besides me was Prof Mehra from Canada, Ruth who had worked with me in Planning Commission for ten years and Slyvie the feistiest woman, Chief Judicial Magistrate of Mizoram. All of us went into the Mission office to meet the founder of TNT, Dr. Sangthankima. I will always remember him by his nickname ‘Kima’ which was also the name of a Mizo boy, in school with my daughter and a wonderful musician.
Kima’s story reads like a piece from Bible. On the shelf I saw a beautiful picture of his grandparents clad in traditional Mizo dress. One family picture showed him as a handsome 14 year old with his parents and eight siblings. When he finished class 5, he became attracted to drugs and ran away from home. Gradually he found his life in pieces, shattered with drugs and alcohol abuse. Just as he touched the lowest ebb he found an inner voice. From somewhere came the will to haul himself out of the mire and help those who were in similar condition. He was big and strong but his body had wasted.
One day when he was sitting in a tea stall he saw a dog carrying a new born baby. In moments the baby could be torn up and devoured. Everyone was watching, no one moved. Kima got up from the bench, straightened up his 6’2” frame and removed the baby from the animal’s jaw. This is how his mission started. He began to work as wage labour in Champhai town and whatever small money he was able to make, he used it to rescue the abandoned, homeless and destitute. No one knew that 26 years later this class 6 dropout would be conferred an honorary doctorate by University of Kentucky, USA for his outstanding humanitarianism.
TNT moved from Champhai to Aizawl 25 years ago where one man donated a 14 bigha plot just outside the city. The ‘Mission’ as it was called began to grow. There was no government or any other source of funding, only faith has kept it alive for a quarter century. Men and women from all over kept arriving in steady streams – drugs abusers, alcoholics, sex workers, mentally ill. All rejects of society, regardless of religion were welcomed, none were turned away. 'We always find space when someone is in need' Malsawma said simply.
Everyday 1200 men and women, girls and boys, with healthy appetites, have to be fed 3 meals. Whenever there is shortage of food or water, from somewhere comes the succour. Malsawma, told us at one time there was no water, not a drop. Then as if with divine intervention, a spring was found in the boulders around the campus. As a believer this story made sense to me. But even for those who reject faith, the very fact of the sustainability of this project is nothing less than a miracle.
The day before my visit, the children from TNT had come to Raj Bhawan on the invitation of Governor Aziz Qureshi, who wanted to listen to the famous Mizo choir. 30 small girls and boys sang choir music, their bodies swinging to the melody. The Mizo words of one song were translated thus by Sylvie:
We have no mother, no father
But God always sends someone to look after us.
The Governor shook hands with each child and donated Rs. 50,000 from his personal fund. His guest, Prof. Mehra from Canada spontaneously donated Rs. 10,000. Both amounts were offered with love and humility.
At the end of our visit, we were waved off by Kima and his wife Lalthakimi and our escort Malsawma and his mentally challenged 15 year old daughter Kuri, who had clung to his hand throughout the visit. When we negotiated the steep stairs, up and down, he held my hand in his one hand and Kuri's in the other. I looked at the child, just turning into a woman. There was affection in her eyes but also blankness. The father and daughter’s bond was awesome. Her real name Hmangaihzuali means ‘to love more’. It epitomizes the spirit of this mission, this Kalvary Hospital, place of healing for rejects and ‘leftovers’ who are lovingly nurtured by a gentle giant. The country is proud of him, of his team, and all his networks. Here is a lesson to be learnt, and a miracle to be broadcast to the world.