A tribute to Margaret Anne Shishak

BORN AND BROUGHT UP in the United States, besides relinquishing the lucrative job of teaching piano, music theory and music appreciation in the prestigious Houghton College, Buffalo, New York, for Margaret Anne (nee Kautz) Shishak leaving America and coming to the jungle of Patkai infested by insects and mosquitoes, could never have been an easy decision. 

As her husband Revd Dr Tuisem A Shishak put it, the “mission to serve the Lord together” had always led them through. In retrospect, after having served the Nagas as the Director of Music, Patkai Christian College (Autonomous), Nagaland, India, since 1974 till her last breath on May 27, 2022, the dividends of the “vision” have reached far and wide.

Personally, my interaction with Madam Margaret came into a close proximity because of my weakness in prepositions – which I call my Achilles’ heel of English grammar – during my service as an English teacher in Patkai Christian Academy (PCA), Changraphung, Shangshak, Manipur. In her beautiful, delicate handwritings, Madam Margaret taught me the difference prepositions could make if suffixed with verbs – e.g. give in, give up, give into etc.

Her intelligence and meticulous professionalism were extraordinary! My service in PCA involved an editing job for the annual magazine, and she was the Script Editor of the editorial team. Her editing was simply remarkable. Despite her struggle with senility and depression, her tenacity to syntactical and spelling accuracy, coherence of contents, and stoic, patient approach to correcting my (or our) hao English charmed me to the core. Besides, her keen, minute observation of punctuation error, which we normally take it for granted, surprised me to a great deal. She was very, very particular about her editing job. She really meant her business.

It was not easy for me to handle the job of teaching English in front or in the presence of a native speaker. To make the matter worse, I happened to be the first teacher who taught English in a CISCE school in Manipur! And, you know, the standard of curriculum of English subject of the Council of Indian School Certificate Examination, a colonial legacy, the standard is relatively quite high and demanding.

A hobby of mine that led me to her at another occasion was music. As an M.Mus. of University of Michigan, USA, and having taught and performed at various renowned international institutions and stages (as her CV states), today, I wonder how she must have felt at my typical hao-style of playing guitar whenever I was leading the ‘praise and worship’ sessions during chapel services at PCA! In one of the chapel interactions with students and teachers – which she normally did whenever she visited PCA – she noted the common mistakes that we had been committing in singing church hymns. One mind-boggling thing she mentioned was the difference between “good mistake” and “bad mistake” in music! It was bogglesome for me because I never ever knew there could be something like “good mistake”, but I kept thinking about it for years to come. With that “good mistake” notion in my mind, I once approached her for some music lessons. We had a wonderful time on the breezy terrace of their residence at Changraphung. Today I can play a few classical guitar notes.

Also read: GNF mourns demise of Margaret Shishak

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Another enriching experience with Madam Margaret was the spoken English classes during assembly at chapel hall. Intonation, accent, and phrasal verbs were some of the lessons which really helped all PCA teachers and students. Her simplicity, humility and gentleness did do away all my apprehensions, and rather instilled in me the desire to know more about English language.

The journey of Patkai Christian College (Autonomous) from “jungle college” in 1973 to the Nagaland’s first Christian liberal arts college, the first in the North-East to be granted autonomy by the University Grant Commission in 2005, and establishment of its sister institutions like Patkai School, Nagaland; Patkai Christian Academy, Shangshak, Manipur; and Margaret Shishak School of Music (MSSM), PCC, is long but legendary. Thousands have been blessed, and many thousands will be blessed in the years to come. I could only wonder at the marvelous works the Lord has done through Revd Dr Tuisem A Shishak and his wife Margaret Shishak, who followed a Naga faithfully from America to the “jungle” to cultivate a “vision”.

Now that she has gone to be with the Lord, I am more than convinced that she had “fought the good fight . . . finished the race . . . and kept the faith”. (2 Timothy 4:7). Pascal Mercier, in his Night Train to Lisbon, rightly said, “We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away.” The rich musical legacy Margaret has left behind will go on to reverberate beyond the walls of Margaret Shishak School of Music; transformation of church music in Nagaland and Manipur (the only that I know) tells it all. I can still hear the mellifluous music of a keyboard chiming with the hymn, Great is Thy Faithfulness in the chapel hall of Patkai Christian Academy.

The music in my heart I bore,

Long after it was heard no more. (William Wordsworth, The Solitary Reaper)

If I were asked to describe Madam Margaret in a sentence, I would say, “She was a gentle lady who lovingly taught me the meaning of good and bad mistakes”. May her soul rest in peace!

Ningchihan K Hungyo. Former Assistant Teacher, Patkai Christian Academy
(Executive Editor, Ukhrul Times)

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