Saturday, December 22, 2007

Remembrances of Dad - M. Vanlalhumi

It is said that when you die
You go up in the sky
To become a star
If that be so
You must be the one I saw
That outshone the rest.

I thought you were winning
I thought you were going to get well again
Your weakness, I thought
Was because of your medication
I thought you were going to smile again
I thought you were going to talk again
I kept thinking that you would be
Stronger and better the next day
And I even slept quite well that night.
How wrong I was. I just didn't understand
I could never be more wrong
Cause the next day when I woke up
You were gone.
Never to smile again
Never to speak to me again
Never to advise or steer me
When I go wrong again.
You were gone
We didn't even say goodbye.
Gone, just gone -
Gone for ever.

M. Vanlalhumi is a high school teacher who writes poetry both in English and Mizo. Her poems are mostly expressions of highly emotional moments in her life; the two posted here being written for her father who passed away on Christmas day two years ago.

Picture: Sarah in her father's hand

Monday, December 17, 2007

Poems by Malsawmi Jacob

Power of Words

I’ll go for words,

Words are my forte.

Words stab and jab,

Heal, hurt,

Mask, unmask,

Paint pictures.






Undefined, inexpressible longings,

Fill you full of


Wishes, wishes

Want a fairy’s wand.


Holding Hands

When he was little

I used to hold

His small chubby hand in mine

To steady him

Now he won’t let me.

He’s a big boy

And walks tall

Without his mother’s help.

Some day, when he becomes a man,

And I grow old and feeble,


He’ll hold my hands to steady me.

May be then

We’ll walk hand in hand again.


Malsawmi Jacob writes poems both in English and Mizo. These are some of my personal favourites from Tinkim Dawn, a collection of Mizo and English Poems, published in 2003.

Picture: Abstract in oil and acrylic by Tanpuia, who owns an art gallery and also gives art classes at Canteen Kual, Aizawl. I thank him very much for freely allowing me to photograph his works.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Cowboy Jean Labelle - Khawlkungi

Translated by Margaret L Pachuau

Unlike many other children, Rinsanga never loitered about on the way to school, yet despite this, a particularly fascinating shop at the Bara Bazaar never failed to attract his attention. This store sold many things that were enticing to the young boy’s eyes and indeed it was hardly surprising for most of the ready made garments there sported foreign labels of myriad hues. Amongst these were several varieties of ready made trousers and the one that especially captured his attention bore the ‘Cowboy Jean’ label.

One day he started off for school a little earlier than he usually did, and on his way he stepped into the shop, and on doing so he discovered that there were various pairs of jeans that bore the ‘Cowboy Jean’ label and that they were just his size. The trousers were of various hues and the ones that he liked best were a dark blue pair…running the material through his fingers he discovered that they were very fine indeed. Hesitantly, he asked shopkeeper the price and he was told that the prices varied considerably, for some were genuine American jeans worth two hundred and fifty rupees, while at the same time there was another brand procured from abroad that cost a hundred and fifty rupees. This brand was dubbed “LABELLE”. Rinsanga ran his fingers down the material and discovered that it was just exquisite and then onwards he set his heart on owning a pair. He debated for a while and thought of the other boys at school who belonged to very rich families. There were boys whose parents were rich businessmen,and there were some boys whose parents were contractors and yet still others who worked as government servants. In fact all these boys sported a pair of cowboy jeans. A disheartened Rinsanga stepped out dejectedly from the shop, and pondered sadly,
“Even if I asked my father I know for sure that he has no money to spare, for the most that he has ever given me is fifty paise. Why, there are times when he hands over as little as ten paise …something worth as much as a hundred and fifty rupees is an impossible dream for me.”

Contemplating thus, Rinsanga reached school. At school his best friend was a boy called Lalhluna, and both their fathers worked in the same office and this accounted for the camaraderie between the two boys as well. As they were not as well off as the other boys, they would shirk the company of the other more well to do boys. On the day when they could sport casual dress in school, and he noticed that Lalhluna wore a pair of new jeans. Rinsanga was greatly astonished and asked him,
“How come you have a new pair of cowboy jeans? Where did you buy it? Did you get it from the market?”
“Yes, it is from the market”
“Is it “LABELLE”? Did you buy it for a hundred and fifty rupees?”
“Yes, it is indeed “LABELLE”, it was actually marked for a hundred and fifty rupees but we bought if for a hundred and forty five rupees.”
Rinsanga gazed at Lalhluna’s jeans and much to his relief he noted that they were not the pair he had set his heart on.
Lalhluna urged him,
“You must buy a pair too-even though it is expensive, the material is excellent and so it will last for quite a while.”
“I wish I could afford to buy a pair as well, but my father does not have the money.”
At this Lalhluna said,
“My father did not buy me this pair, my mother purchased it for me from the money she earns from her sewing”
Rinsanga brooded over this and thought
“I do not have a mother. And my father and I barely speak to one another”

Rinsanga continued to ponder about several things at school. Time passed swiftly and before long, the English period was over and their Mathematics teacher appeared. Lalhluna told Rinsanga,
“I did not do the sums that the teacher had asked us to do. Let me copy them from your book otherwise our teacher is sure to give me a sound beating”
Rinsanga knew that the teacher had often scolded Lalhluna.
“Why, the teacher and you seem to be making this bickering session a habit.”
Saying this he passed on his notebook to his friend, who began copying the work furiously.

Lalhluna was not as intelligent as Rinsanga and it was true that he was often chided for his slovenly ways but he really did not mind. Being the only boy amongst several sisters he was pampered and fussed over at home, and in fact very soon he was to embark upon a holiday. Thus he was a happy go lucky boy and the fact that he was not doing too well at school was of the least concern for him.

Rinsanga reflected, “The likes of Lalhluna hardly ever study, and they are not too intelligent either but his parents shower him with all that he wants. As for me no matter how hard I study there is no one to buy me anything at all. Hluna’s parents are planning to take him for a holiday and they really pamper fortunate he is…as for me I am so poor… and there are countless occassions when he has treated me to a cup of tea, I have never done the same for him…sometimes I feel that studying seems to be futile.”
His thoughts drifted thence and he was very dejected. In a short while, it was time for the exams and their results were declared after a week. Lalhluna had failed while Rinsanga secured the first position in class. The boy was very happy about this, for not only had he stood first in class but he realized that it was opportune time to request his father to buy him the much-coveted pair of jeans.

Rinsanga’s father worked in the transport department, and thus he was very busy and especially if there were buses that arrived late, he would reach home very late at night.Often he would arrive even after dark. As a result the father and son duo hardly ever had the opportunity to meet each other or talk to each other. After his mother’s death his grandmother had come to live with them, and both of them would stay together while his father went out for work. Rinsanga was thus not very attached to his father. Shortly after dinner when his father sat down in the living room to read the papers, Rinsanga approached him hesitantly, but very determined to ask him for a pair of jeans. He entered the living room, where his father sat with his nose buried behind a book. Trembling in sheer anticipation, Rinsanga approached his father and cleared his throat nervously. His father, with his nose still buried in the book asked
“What is it my son?”
“Father, our examination results have been declared.”
“Ah! is that so,did you do well?”
“I stood first in class.”
“Why then, you did very well indeed” adding quickly, “We must celebrate as soon as possible, if only I had the money to buy you something.”
Even a mere glance at his father’s worn countenance proved that he was hardworking and exhausted.
“Son, if I did have some money what would you want me to get you?”
“Father, as I have stood first in class could you please buy me a pair of “cowboy jeans”? All my friends in class wear them, and besides Hluna owns a pair too. There is hardly anyone in our school who does not own a pair of jeans.”
Suddenly he realized that he had spoken much more than he had intended to, and he fell silent for awhile.
His father queried, “How much are they?”
“They are very expensive, at a hundred and fifty a pair. Of course, there are some that cost two hundred and fifty rupees as well but the ones I want are called “LABELLE” and they cost a hundred and fifty rupees. They are a dark blue shade and the material is quite the very best so they last for years, why, I could even stay for three or four years without purchasing another pair of trousers.”
His father responded
“For a hundred and fifty rupees you could buy at least four or five pairs of trousers”
“But all my friends have these and I too would really like a pair”
His father contemplated in silence for a while. At length he said, “I really don’t have any money to buy you the jeans just as yet, but as soon as we receive our arrears I shall buy you a pair,”he promised.

Rinsanga asked excitedly, “Father, when will that be?”
“I really don’t know. Perhaps after two or three months for we have not been informed as yet.”
Rinsanga was greatly disheartened and without another word he left the room. As they were on holiday there was hardly anything to do. The next day, he sat down for breakfast with his grandmother and by then his father had long since left for work. In the afternoon he went out. A football match was about to take place at the playground at two in the afternoon and he wanted to watch the same. As it was still early, he ambled off as slowly as possible. In the distance he saw Lalmuana coming his way. Suddenly it dawned upon him that Lalmuana was wearing a pair of ‘Cowboy jeans’—the dark blue pair that he had so coveted. Gazing carefully he noticed that the back pocket also sported the word “LABELLE”, and he wondered as to how a vagabond like Lalmuana could own such a pair.
“Was it stolen?”he wondered
Lalmuana was a very wicked young boy, and he was infamous as a tobacco chewing, cigarette smoking young boy, who was often given to stealing. He had been expelled from school as well, and thus he had not even passed the fifth standard. Rinsanga’s father in fact did not allow him to talk to him.
Rinsanga mused, “Apart from the fact that he chews tobacco chewing and smokes cigarettes I have yet to catch him stealing anything but in spite of this, tales of his unruly conduct rent the air”
Lalmuana asked him,“Is school closed now? Are you going to the movies?”
Rinsanga said, “I am going to watch football.”
All this while he eyed Lalmuana’s jeans longingly, noticing too that they were the very same pair that he desired for himself.
“You have a fine pair of jeans, where did you get them from?” Rinsanga queried.
“I bought them myself,” Lalmuana declared, puffing away at his cigarette.
“Are they the ones from the Bara bazaar?”
“Yes indeed. These are “LABELLE” jeans.”
“I too long for a pair and my father will buy them for me as soon as he gets his arrears but right now there is no money to buy them. How could you afford to buy them? Are they not marked for a hundred and fifty rupees?”
“Sure they are for that very amount. I got them out of my own earnings, why don’t you get them on your own too? You’ll have to wait awhile if you wait for your father’s arrears. Try to earn some money while you are on hoilday.” Saying this he threw his cigarette on the ground.
“How can children like us earn such a huge amount?” Rinsanga asked.
Lalmuana replied nonchalantly “Oh come on! There are plenty of ways in which children can earn money… but for the likes of you who are only concerned with your studies it will be no easy task.” Saying this he took out a packet of tobacco from his pocket.
“Want some?” he offered Rinsanga.
“No thank you…tell me how did you get the money to buy jeans like these? Did you pick people’s pockets?” Rinsanga asked.
“Of course not,” Lalmuana defended vehemently.
At that Rinsanga queried, “Then did you steal anything?”
Lalmuana became very defensive, and he said,“I am not as bad as that!”
And as Rinsanga was still unable to comprehend he cast a few stealthy glances here and there and said in a conspiratorial manner,
“I know an easy way out but this isn’t something that I will readily disclose to other friends.”
There was no one else about, but Lalmuana acted as if he was afraid that someone might just appear suddenly.
Rinsanga said, “I didn’t know that there were easy ways to make money.”
“That is why I told you that one has to be very clever, the likes of you with your heads glued to your books will never be able to understand such things.”
Rinsanga was not too happy. “I am not as stupid as you think,”he defended while at the same time he was still a bit confused about what Lalmuana had said.

Lalmuana asked him, “Do you ever watch movies?”
“Never, my father says that schoolgoing children should not watch movies, thus he forbids me from doing so,” Rinsannga replied.
Lalmuana whistled plaintively, “That is the very reason why it will be difficult for you to understand. One has to watch the occasional movie at times.You see, it is easy to earn money especially when there is a good movie being screened.”

Rinsanga asked eagerly, “How is that so?”
Lalmuana explained,“Well, if a good movie is being screened then naturally every one wants to watch the movie, thus there is a great demand for the tickets, and there are times when it becomes virtually impossible to procure them. But it is a lot easier for children as we can scamper about in the midst of the others and purchase as much as we want.If we buy ten tickets we can sell them off for a higher amount. A ticket for 2.50/-rupees could be sold for 5/-rupees or more and we shall make an easy profit of twenty five rupees from ten tickets. And especially if the movie is a hit then we’ll easily get the required amount for a pair of Cowboy jeans.” And pausing, he added importantly, “All this is highly confidential.”

Rinsanga instantly queried, “Won’t the police make trouble for those who have procured the tickets in plenty? Won’t they arrest us if they find out?”
“The police are not a problem, they merely go around to check if there is trouble, they are least bothered about the sale of tickets,” Lalmuana replied with great confidence.
“Isn’t it rather dishonest?” Rinsanga prodded.
“Certainly not. We are merely purchasing it for those who want to watch a movie, and we are selling it at a slightly higher price to those who want to watch the movie. We aren’t conning anyone. Why, even in the market we purchase things at a much higher rate than the cost price. Even Cowboy jeans could sell for as low as ninety five rupees in Shillong. Everyone makes a calculated risk regarding the selling price and the profit margin. There is absolutely nothing criminal about it whatsoever,” Lalmuana proclaimed.

Lalmuana was older than Rinsanga and and he was much more cunning. Rinsanga contemplated seriously, and realized that there seemed to be no crime involved in the deal. Seeing Muana’s jeans only made him more eager to own a pair.
“Tomorrow at the Assam Rifles theatre, the film Sholay is being screened and it is a great movie. There will be a mad rush for the tickets. Why don’t you come? We’ll sell tickets in black then.” Lalmuana suggested.
“Did you say black? It doesn’t sound very honest," Rinsanga said in dismay.
Lalmuana replied,“Oh that was for the heck of it, besides you wanted a pair of Cowboy jeans and I wanted to help you, so it’s up to you.”
Rinsanga mused, “I’ll think about it” and soon both the boys parted company.

While watching the football match Rinsanga continued to ponder over the affair. The cinema hall was very close to the football field and as soon as the match was over he went towards the hall. At the entrance of the old canteen there were huge posters depicting the movies that were to be screened. As he continued gazing at the posters, the only thing that came to his mind was the manner in which he could get the tickets in black. In sheer anticipation he headed for home. Before he went to bed, he contemplated a long while, and at last he decided to follow Lalmuana’s advice.
He thought, “I shall be able to buy a pair of ‘Cowboy Jeans’ and the very fact that I shall be able to do so with money of my own will be truly wonderful. As soon as Lalhluna gets back I shall be able to treat him with the money I have saved… my… won’t he be surprised! And when he discovers that the money is actually mine, he will be green with envy,” and he went off to sleep happily.
As soon as he ate breakfast he rushed off to meet Lalmuana. Both of them were very early so they were yet unable to purchase tickets. As soon as he saw him Lalmuana said,
“Ah! so you have come? I thought you wouldn’t turn up.”
Rinsanga replied, “But I do not have any money to purchase the tickets.”
“Don’t let that worry you.You will soon have a lot of money, we’ll buy the tickets with my money and then we’ll split the profits in half. What are friends for? Come on, let's have some tea,”Lalhluna suggested.
And saying this they headed towards the tea stall. There were a group of policemen there, and Sanga began to feel frightened, he stuck close to Lalmuana.
“What are these policemen doing here?”he whispered.
Lalmuana replied, “They’ll do whatever they wish, anyone can enter a tea stall, perhaps they are here to drink tea,”he replied nonchalently. And sure enough the policemen did have some tea as well. After a long while the ticket counter opened and people began to appear from all sides. The policemen too got up swiftly and walked away. Lalmuana and Rinsanga too went out quickly and both of them slipped away amongst the crowd, and soon they purchased ten tickets each. Rinsanga pocketed ten tickets and at Lalmuana’s cue they both disappeared amidst the throngs of people. There were several other people who were in the queue to purchase tickets, and the crowd was jostling and pushing everywhere.
Suddenly, Lalmuana spied a young man with some money sticking out of his pocket, and he quickly grabbed the money, but the man had sensed his touch and he glanced back espying Lalmuana in the process. Lalmuana then walked towards Rinsanga.
“Here, let me sell the tickets”
And saying this he dug his hands in his pockets and as he did so he put in the three hundred rupee notes he had picked from the young man. He also put in five fifty rupee notes as well as four twenty rupee notes. He then grabbed all the tickets in his pocket and walked off insouciantly.
As he walked away the young man accosted him, “Wicked boy, why did you pick my pocket? No wonder you are seen here so often… go on, give me back my money quickly,” he yelled.
Nonchalantly Lalmuana said, “There were lots of other young boys next to you as well, why do you accuse only me? You may search my person and you’ll realize that apart from the tickets I have procured for my friends there isn’t anything else.”

Unaware of what was going on, Rinsanga stood next to them while the young man searched Lalmuana’s pockets. But there was nothing on his person, and upon hearing their heated argument a policeman on duty nearby hastened over, and at this Rinsanga thought,
“If it is a matter of theft, then I am free of blame.”
The police asked, “What seems to be the trouble here?”
“This young boy here has picked my pocket but I have searched his pockets and there seems to be nothing here. I wonder why? I could have sworn it was him.”
The policeman replied, “Well, young boys here are a real nuisance… Who on earth could it have been? We must check their school satchels for school boys often bunk school in order to watch the movies.”
A brief search revealed that it was Rinsanga’s satchel that held the stolen money.
“So it was you… and to think we nearly accused your friend here,” the policeman declared, and dragged him out.
“Follow us at once… you wicked boy, the likes of you ought to be punished. Why on earth do your parents allow you to watch the movies?”
Rinsanga was dragged about. “I did not take the money. I never ever steal and I do not watch movies either.You can ask my friend here,” he pleaded, but the police refused to pay any attention to him.
“Why don’t you speak up on my behalf? I really did not take it. You must have put in the money when you put your hand in my pocket,” he begged of Lalmuana.
Muana stuck out his tongue at him, “How would I know whether you took the money or not, now you must pay for your ways.”

A disheartened Rinsanga was taken to the police to the police station.
“Delinquents are a real problem especially as they are still too young to be kept in the lock up . We must decide upon their case when their families arrive but in the meantime in order to teach them a lesson we must at least keep them in the lock up,” the officer stated.

Several people watched them with great interest and Rinsanga was really embarrassed and he walked with his head bent low. On reaching the station the police threw him in the lock up and said, “Stay there for the time being and that will be the best option for you.Your family can bail you out for a sum of a hundred rupees…young thieves ought not to be treated lightly, if you carry on in this manner,in all probability you’ll be doing regular rounds of the jail very soon.”
Some policemen laughed at him and Rinsanga found all of this very humiliating. There was no way in which he could even plead his case.That morning he had left home without even eating properly and by then he was beginning to feel very hungry. No one gave him any food and there was no drinking water either. He stayed by himself the entire day and even as he thought of Lalmuana’s cunning crafty manner, he was angry with himself for having fallen prey to Lalmuana’s wiles. But repentance was not quite the answer then. His father had often told him not to befriend Lalmuana but he had disobeyed for want of a pair of jeans and now he had to endure this humiliation. His covetousness had led him to such a pass. “I did not realize that Lalmuana could be this wicked,”he thought to himself, helplessly.
The clock struck five, and still there was not a soul in sight. Rinsanga sat dejectedly by himself.

It so happened that on that very night, the local pastor had happened to hear about Rinsanga’s predicament as he went on his rounds visiting the sick. He was deeply grieved to hear that there were some families where children had been affected by estranged relationships .And on that particular day Rinsanga’s father was very late in returning from the office. He had received his arrears unexpectedly from the office and thus it had taken him a long time to get home. After the arrears had been distributed he had gone to the market and so eventually by the time he reached home it was dusk. When he reached home, he saw the warrant of arrest regarding his son and immediately, without uttering a word, he went out of the house. The police station was very far from his house and he managed to reach the police station by around seven o’clock only. Rinsanga pondered, “Whoever would bail me out of here? My father certainly will never have a hundred rupees… how dreadful it would be if I were to spend the rest of my life here.”
Suddenly a policeman opened the door, “Son, come out… you are free to go now.”
Rinsanga jumped out of the lock up wondering all the while.

“Whoever could have bailed me out?” He quickly glanced around and suddenly he saw his father. “He’ll probably threaten me with dire consequences,” he thought in trepidation.
Unable to move further forward, he waited in anticipation of his father. Words failed to describe the expression on his father’s countenance. It was impossible to discern his mood.
However, his father gently told him,
“Son, let’s go home… we still have a long way to go, let’s have tea and then we’ll proceed.”
Unable to respond Rinsanga quickly followed his father. They entered a tea stall and drank some tea in silence.The silence resonated as they both proceeded out of the shop. No words were uttered on the way as the duo walked home.As soon as they reached home, his grandmother laid the table for dinner and they ate hungrily. After the meal his father said,
“Son, you had better go to bed, as it is you’ve had a quite a day.”

Rinsanga went into his room quickly. It was quite dark and the lamp had not yet been lit. However he was not in a hurry to light the lamp because he felt that the darkness of the night blended well with the darkness of his soul. The happenings of the day flashed vividly in his mind’s eye and he felt deeply humiliated. He rejected the brightness of the lamp, preferring instead the great darkness for company. Pondering upon the ill effects of bad company he knew that his disobedience towards his father was indeed a great sin, and in a way he was astonished that his father had not given him a severe beating.
By then he realized that Lalmuana had secretly hidden the money in his pocket even as he took away the tickets. Deep in the recesses of his heart he was filled with intense hatred for Lalmuana. As he continued to contemplate he knew that his father, overworked and underpaid as he was, had been forced to shell out a hundred rupees which he could ill afford in order to bail him out. His thoughts were in turmoil and finally he whispered a little prayer,
“Dear God please help me to be an obedient boy .”
After the prayer he felt a bit lighthearted. Soon sleep overcame him and he slept fitfully until dawn.

He awoke at dawn and sat up quickly in bed. Suddenly,he spied a pair of folded trousers on the table by his bedside, the pocket was neatly inscribed with the words “LABELLE”. He thought it was all a dream… he rubbed his eyes but he realized that it was for real. Springing up from the bed he inspected it more closely and gradually it dawned upon him that it was not a dream. He soon realized his father had unexpectedly obtained his arrears and he had purchased it for him just as he had promised. He thought of the disgrace that he had brought his father. He then arose and went to his father’s room and knelt down at his feet.
“Father, forgive me for I have committed a grievous wrong.”
And saying thus, he pleaded for forgiveness. He confessed everything to his father, who listened very intently, lovingly stroking his hair all the while,
“Son, God will forgive you,” his father said at length.
Rinsanga was truly repentant about what he had done and he declared, “Father, from now on I shall always obey you.”
Saying this, he wept copiously at his father’s feet even as his father hugged him.
Just then, the pastor who had heard about Rinsanga’s escapade, entered the house. When he saw the father and son clasped in a warm embrace he was truly happy.
“Now that’s the way things should be… there should always exist a close bond between parents and children. Very often, most parents maintain an unwelcome distance in our relationship with our children and so they often have no affection for us whatsoever. This brings about regrets only.”
The three of them prayed together and later, Rinsanga went to his room, repenting all the while, even as he vowed to turn over a new leaf.
Khawlkungi is one of Mizoram's most prolific women writers, and is the recipient of several awards including the Padma Shri for Literature in 1987. She has written several plays including Zawlpala Thlan Tlangah, A Va Pawi Em and Monu Sual, as well as poems and short stories. She has also translated a number of English literary works into Mizo.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Weekend Journey - Malsawmi Jacob

It was a bright, windy Friday evening. The tops of trees on Wheeler Road in Bangalore were still sunlit, but the road itself was already in deep shade. Vehicles passed frequently, and several pedestrians hurried along. Zodini plod wearily on the pavement, having walked for a kilometre from the bus stop after a day’s work fifteen kilometres away.

But she forgot her tiredness when she saw the dwarf woman. She was heading towards her from the opposite direction. All the other dwarfs she had seen before were deformed people, like the ones in circuses. But this one was evidently a normal person, with an intelligent face; sari-clad, wavy hair tied in a pony tail, a lady’s handbag slung on one shoulder. She was about half a metre tall, middle aged and slightly plump. In short, except for her height she looked in every respect a normal woman. And nothing comical about her.

No one else seemed interested; they passed on with hardly a glance. But Zodini was fixed.

“Excuse me, madam, can we talk?” she stopped and asked. The dwarf woman looked up and smiled.

“My name is Zodini. You can call me Dini for short. I’m newish to Bangalore”, she continued.

“English gotilla”.

“So sorry, I haven’t learnt any Kannada. How I wish we could chat!”

Tak! A tiny young man in a red pointed cap, dressed in blue jeans and white kurta, stood before her by the side of the dwarf woman. He was only a few centimetres taller than her, had medium brown complexion and deep set eyes. He sported a moustache and goatee. “Good afternoon, ma’am. My mother doesn’t speak English. I’m Vit, glad to meet you”, he said in impeccable, Call Centre neutral accent.

Dini rubbed her eyes and then stared. “Have I gone mad or something?” she muttered.

The young man laughed. “No, Dini ma’am, you’re not mad. You must be used to seeing my mom, she likes walking this street. But you wouldn’t have seen me or the rest of the clan. Most of us prefer to stay invisible when inside the town. That’s why you’re surprised”, he said.

“Well, well, well, this is really interesting”.

“Would you like to visit our home and meet the rest of our people?”

“Where is it?”

“A bit far. We live in Jalahalli”.

“Hey! I work that side. I’ve just come back from there”.

“Funny. My mom works here, I’ve come to take her home. Come along”.

Dini hesitated. Then she remembered her friend Hlimi’s motto. “Why not!” she said. “How do we go, bus?”

“Oh, I forgot!” the young man said. “I thought we could go three on my bike. But you wouldn’t fit, you’re too big”.

“What to do then?”

“Would you mind ...... becoming small, that is, our size? And of course, we’ll have to travel invisible. That’s what we usually do”.

“I can’t make myself small or invisible. I can’t do magic and I’m not in a story book, you see”, replied Dini, half annoyed now.

“Leave that to me. Only if you agree, I’ll see to the rest. I just don’t want to be accused of black magic, abduction and such stuff, that’s all. I’ll change you only with your permission. Okay?”

“Okay. What the heck!” she said.

He passed a hand lightly over her eyes. She did not feel any different, but realized that Vit had become a little taller than her, and she was at level with his mother, who smiled pleasantly at her. “Come, my bike’s parked over there”, he said.

It was a bright yellow motorbike, modelled like a Yezdi. Vit kick started it, his mother clambered up on the backseat, and Dini climbed on behind her. It was rather a tight squeeze. Vit turned back and said “We’ll have to fly, please don’t get scared. We small people have to make up for our size with our speed, you know”.

“I like speeding”, Dini replied.

But she gasped when they actually rose up in the air. She hadn’t thought that Vit meant it literally when he said they were going to fly. He turned back and said, “By the way, if you’re carrying a mobile phone, will you please switch it off?” She fished it out of her bag and put it off with some difficulty, her elbow knocking against the elderly woman.

They flew along Davis road, then over Lingarajpuram bridge, following the road towards Hennur. “We fly along the road to avoid hitting against trees. And we take the same time to reach places as the big people do by going on the ground”, Vit explained.

They went on, flying just high enough not to touch the tops of buses and bulky loaded lorries. There were other small bikes flying too, some in opposite direction. Some riders smiled and waved. But no one on the road under them seemed to see or hear the low air traffic. At Hebbal flyover, they rose higher to keep above the vehicles up on the bridge. When they passed Bel circle, Dini remarked “Why, this is the very route I take for going to work”.

Finally they touched down on a wide green field surrounded by tall trees, dotted with pretty red tile roofed houses. It was a beautiful colony. She looked beyond from between the trees and commented in surprise “Hey, I work in that school over there, just across the fence. How come, I often look this way from there, but never notice the houses though I see the grass and trees”.

“Magic”, Vit replied.

They entered a single-storied house. A pretty woman greeted them. “This is my wife Vily”, Vit said. “Have Vik and Vish come back from school?” he asked her in English.

“Yeah, they’ve gone out to play”, Vily replied. “Will you all have tea now?”

Vit’s mother was talking to Vily in a very strange tongue that Dini had never heard. “I thought your mother tongue was Kannada”, she remarked.

“No, our mother tongue is Kdarv”, Vit replied. It’s one of the Dwarf languages spoken around here”.

“Dwarf language?” she asked, puzzled.

“Yes, we’re dwarfs, not humans, remember, though most of us have learnt human languages too. And we teach English in our schools, it comes useful. But among ourselves we speak Kdarv”.

“What do you mean, you’re not human? Aren’t you just a smaller variety of humans, like the Pigmies and such?”

“We’re not humans, and we feel insulted to be classed as humans”, Vit said with a smile. “We’re a separate group of creatures altogether. We do resemble humans, and we’ve lived among them for so long that we’ve learnt their languages and even taken some of their ways. But please do not call us humans. Some of our country cousins do that to tease us.”

“Who are your country cousins? Dwarfs from rural places?”

“No. Our cousins are other small people like elves, pixies, goblins, fairies.... Most of them are much smaller than us”.

“All those people are real? Aren’t they just story book stuff?”

“They’re as real as we dwarfs are real. But they hardly show themselves to humans. Scared of them”.


“If you ask me, humans are the scariest folk on earth. It’s only dwarfs who are willing to go near them. Imagine, for example, if you saw a fairy – a tiny, pretty, winged creature with two legs, what would you do? Most probably capture her and put her up for show. Or worse, do some cruel, so called scientific experiments on her.”

“But, don’t they all know magic, like you do?”

“Oh, yeah. Magic is the only defence we little people have. It’s only because of magic we’ve survived so far; otherwise, we’d’ve been wiped out by now. Even with magic, our numbers have dwindled while human population keeps multiplying. And except for the dwarfs, all the other races have been shrinking in size too, for ages”.

Vily brought tea and snacks. Two little boys came running in. “These are my sons, Vik and Vish. They’re twins”, Vit said. Dini smiled and tried to shake their hands, but they giggled and hid behind their mother. “They’re shy with strangers. But once they get to know you they’ll be freer than you like”, Vily said with a smile.

As they were having tea, Vit said, “Sorry, but I’ll have to leave for work soon. Please feel at home, my mother and Vily will look after you. And once Vik and Vish become friends with you.....”

“Where do you work?”

“In a Call Centre”.

“A human one?’

“No, dwarf. Actually, we had Call Centres long before humans. We’re an older race, you see, and far more advanced in some ways. Will you please stay for the next couple of days with us? I’m free Saturdays and Sundays. Do you have a family? Would they miss you?”

“I do have a family, but they won’t miss me. My husband’s away on tour, he’s away most of the time. My two sons are in college, they’re busy with their studies through the week and with their social life through the weekend. Even if they happen to notice my absence, they won’t mind it at all. And weekends are such lonely times for me. I’m most happy to stay, thank you”.

“Good then. I’ll get ready and go. We’ll get together and talk tomorrow evening”.

Once their father left, the two little boys started making friends with Dini. “What’s your name?” Vik asked.

“Dini. Can you say it?’

“Dini”, they both repeated.

“Are you Chinese? You look like Chinese”, Vish asked.

“Have you seen a Chinese?”

“Yes”, Vish said. “In the TV”, Vik said.

“I’m not Chinese, though my great great great grandfathers and grandmothers may have come from China. I’m from the hills of north east India, a state called Mizoram”, she replied.

“Please tell us a story”.

“Grandma always tells us stories but she’s tired now and gone to take rest”.

“What story do you want?”

“About your great great great great grandfathers and great great great great grandmothers”.

“My ancestors were farmers and hunters. They grew rice and vegetables in their fields, and hunted wild animals when they had time.”

“That’s not good”, Vik interrupted. “Our teachers tell us it’s not good to kill wild animals. They may get all finished if we keep killing them.”

“Right. But those days, there were more wild animals than hu – dwarfs or other people. And there were more jungles than towns. So may be it was okay to hunt. But, they were head hunters, too”.

“What’s that?”

“They cut off people’s heads and brought them home.”

Vish screamed. Vik got up and moved away.

“No, no, they don’t do it now. It was long long time ago”, Dini said quickly. “And I don’t kill anything except mosquitoes and roaches. I kill mosquitoes because they bite me, and roaches because they keep using my kitchen cupboard for their toilet.”

The boys laughed. “Mamma also kills roaches”, Vik said.

“Well, for my forefathers, hunting was a big thing. Being a great hunter was like being a great cricket star or a movie star now. All the men wanted to be good hunters.

“In one village, there was a young chief who had a most beautiful sister named Chawngtinleri. One day, the young chief went to the forest to hunt. Though he searched and waited all day, he couldn’t find any animal to shoot. He was very disappointed, and sat down on a rock, covering his face with his hands. After a while, he heard voices beside him and looked up. A group of wood fairies were standing before him.

One of them spoke. ‘You couldn’t find anything to hunt today because we hid all the animals. We wish to make a deal with you’, he said.

‘What do you want?’

‘We want your beautiful sister to be our queen. If you give her to us, you will be able to shoot as many animals as you wish’.

‘How dare you ask for my sister! She’s the only family member I have’

‘But you want to become a great hunter, don’t you?’

He thought for a while, and decided to give away his sister. So the wood fairies took Chawngtinleri away and made her their queen.

“The next time the chief came to the forest to hunt, Chawngtinleri came to him riding on a stag. She was followed by a procession of deer, wild boar and many other animals. ‘Shoot whatever you want, you who sold your sister for animals’, she told him. In this way, the young chief became a well known hunter. And Chawngtinleri too became famous as the queen of the wood fairies.”

“Nice story. Now, tell us a story about head hunting”, Vish said.

“Won’t you be scared?”

“Of course, we’ll be scared. It’s fun being scared”, Vik said.

“Okay. Once, there was a beautiful girl named Chhingpuii. She was in love with a brave young man named Kaptluanga, who was a very good hunter. But someone became jealous of him because of his hunting fame, and because the beauty of the village loved him. So they performed magic to make him ill. They made him swallow a comb in his dream. From then on, he kept coughing up blood. He became very weak. He couldn’t hunt or go out to meet Chhingpuii any more. At this time, their village and the neighbouring village had a fight. One morning, when Chhingpuii was going to the fields to work, men from the enemy village lying in ambush suddenly attacked and killed her. They cut off her head and took it. And they put it up on a bamboo pole in the village square. The people came together, drank rice beer, and sang and danced around it through the night. When Kaptluanga came to know about it, he shot himself dead with his gun”.

“Horrible”, Vish commented.

“Really horrible”, Dini replied. My people used to do such horrible things in olden days. But after they changed their religion, they became a little better. The new religion teaches that it’s wicked to murder people. But some don’t obey the teaching and are still following the old ways. Not by hunting heads, but by being cruel to others”.

Vily called them for dinner. After dinner and dishes, the two boys eagerly went off to bed. Their grandmother was going to tell them bedtime stories. Dini and Vily sat chatting.

“You have a lovely family”, Dini said.

“Thank you. I’m sure you have a nice family too. You’re a good story teller, your children must enjoy your stories a lot” Vily replied.

Dini’s face fell.

“I couldn’t tell stories to my children when they were small. I couldn’t spend time with them at all, I was always busy. Now they’re grown up, they have no time for me. I’m a lonely old mother”.

“Sorry to hear that”.

“Perhaps it’s what I deserve. I got back what I gave”, Dini said with a bitter laugh.

The next morning when Dini got up and came out of her room, Vily was already in the kitchen. She gave her strong hot coffee. As Dini sat sipping it, Vik and Vish walked into the kitchen. Putting their forefingers on their lips, they told her “Sh.... don’t make noise. Pappa’s asleep. He works all the night so he has to sleep now”.

Vily smiled and explained “They’re repeating what I keep telling them.”

The day passed pleasantly in cooking, baking, washing and chatting with Vily and the boys. Their grandmother also joined in the works and talks, with Vily interpreting. It was a lovely family time, doing homely things together. No one feeling tense, no one in a hurry. It seemed a perfect way to spend a weekend holiday. To Dini, it felt like an ideal experience, from somewhere deep in the past or in a dream. At the same time, a sense of longing, or nostalgia, she didn’t know what to call it, swept over her and tears gathered to her eyes.

“What’s the matter?” Vily asked with concern.

“Nothing. I’m so happy to be with your family like this. This is something we don’t get to do in our home”, she said.

“Such an ordinary time and....”

“Ordinary is beautiful” Dini said with emphasis.

Late in the afternoon, Vit got up and had his lunch in the kitchen. “I hope you haven’t been bored”, he said to Dini.

“Not at all. This is the best weekend I’ve had in a long time”, she replied.

“You can meet some of our neighbours, they’ll be glad to see you. You’re the first human to visit our town”, he told her.

He made some phone calls. And soon, several men, women and children came. The house filled with people. Some of the women brought food. It became an impromptu party. They asked Dini many questions, many of which she couldn’t answer. Like what was her suggestion on improving Bangalore infrastructure, what she thought would be the solution to the increasing environmental pollution, and her comment on the political situation. She was surprised by their knowledge and understanding of human social affairs. Many of them were better informed than she was.

The next day after breakfast, they set off to make a visit. Vily had packed a large amount of cooked food. Vik and Vish were quite excited. “We’re going to uncle Rem’s. He got a TV. We can watch cartoons, animals and lots of other programmes”, they told Dini.

“Vily and I have decided not to get a TV yet, since our children are still small. We’re trying to save them from addiction”, Vit explained.

They walked for about half an hour, went up a hillock and reached a white wooden gate through which they could see a small cottage made of red brick. A white haired elderly man and a shaggy black dog greeted them, and they entered the compound, hedged round with tall plants. The front was a wide stretch of green flat grass, on two sides were fruit trees, and a bit of vegetable garden peeped out from behind the house. The boys patted the dog, who licked them all over their faces.

They entered the house. The walls and ceiling were panelled with wood. The floor too was made of shiny dark wood, except for the cooking area, which was paved with baked earthen tiles. There were only two rooms and a bathroom inside. One room was sitting cum dining cum kitchen. The other was a bedroom. There were no chairs or sofas in the sitting area, but fat cushions were piled up against one wall. In the dining area, there was a round table and four round stools. In one corner of the sitting area stood a big TV on a wooden table.

They took the cushions, placed them where they wanted and sat down. Uncle Rem gave them fresh mango juice. When they finished, he asked the boys, “Alright, what now? TV or play?”

“TV” Vik said.

“Play first, then TV” Vish said.

They chatted, walked round the compound, and watched TV. And they had a picnic on the grass in the front. Then it was time to go back. And soon it was time for Dini to go home. She bid a rueful goodbye to the family. Vit dropped her home on his flying bike, and changed her back to her normal form.

It was already dark when she reached home. She put on the lights, drew the curtains, changed her clothes and started cooking. She didn’t know whether her children would be home for dinner, but she decided to cook any way. Another lonely evening. She waited and waited. She kept thinking of Vily’s family, and of Uncle Rem living all alone in his red brick cottage on the hillock. She thought that he was less lonely than she was, though supposed to be living with her family.

At last, about ten o’clock, her elder son, Joe, came home. “We went to Mysore from college on Friday”, he said. “I tried to inform you but your phone was off. We had a grand time.” Just then, Joy, the younger son also arrived. “Sorry Mamma. Last two nights I came home late. The lights were off so I thought you had slept and didn’t want to disturb you. You were not reachable when I tried to call.”

“I was also away last two nights”, she stated.

“Where?” Joe asked.

Before she could answer, Joe’s mobile phone rang. He moved out to talk.

“Where did you go?” Joy asked.

“I found a good place to spend the weekend.”

“Where’s that?”

Joy’s phone sang now. “Excuse me”, he said and walked out.


Malsawmi Jacob has written several poems and short stories, many of which have been published. She lives with her family outside Mizoram, and currently works with SPARROW.

Picture: The Walk to Paradise Garden 1946 by W Eugene Smith