Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Mindless Machine – Vanneihtluanga

Translated by Zualteii Poonte

To the fellow who was to buy me the scooter, I instructed, “Just leave it by the Zarkawt Zangena Petrol Pump in the evening and I’ll collect it after work.” I gave him the money for the scooter and then proceeded to spend the rest of the day feverishly anticipating it. As I got on the bus after work, I’d never been so impatient to get to Zarkawt.

Sitting in a corner of the bus, I mused on how my new scooter would dramatically change my life. With smug thoughts along the lines of, “All you town buses, from tomorrow, you and I shall forever be strangers as I zip zap past you on my scooter. As of this evening I bid you goodbye,” I finally reached Zarkawt.

It was parked by the road in a frontal sideways stance that seemed to give me a coquettish salute. Its body was smooth and sleek and gleamed so glossily, it looked good enough to attempt to smuggle into heaven. Since the build was low slung, I was pretty sure I’d have no problems riding it. But never having driven anything in my life, not even a cow, come to think of it, I needed someone to teach me and the young family friend I’d got to do just that soon arrived.

Completely certain that I could quickly learn to drive, I said breezily, “Just drive me up to the field, show me the controls and tell me the basics, and then you can leave. I’ll get home on my own.” My young friend started the engine and it whined to life with a sound that brought to mind a vicious bull dog pawing the ground as it psyched itself up for a humdinger of a fight. Itching to get onto that mindless machine and move it around as much as I wanted, I said impatiently, “Come on, drive me up there,” and jumped on up behind my friend and we roared up towards the field.

“Ka u, what you’re holding with your right hand is the accelerator, and what you have in your left hand is the clutch. When you turn the accelerator, release the clutch and that’ll move you forward,” was all the briefing I got. With supreme confidence I got onto the seat, released the clutch and twisted the accelerator for all it was worth.

Something went “Viiiing!” and I shot up in the air high enough to almost catch a whiff of heaven and dropped back to earth with a spine-arching crash in a muddy ditch blackened by CRP waste water.

My left shoulder hurt most. The rest of my body just felt numb. My young friend helped me to my feet and I got up shakily before quickly collapsing back onto the first suitable place to sit. He pushed the scooter over to where I sat, and we both breathlessly busied ourselves picking away torn bits of my skin.

When I looked at my scooter again, it was as if it had been suddenly stripped of all its glamour of just five minutes or so ago. It stood hulking beside me like some ungainly, crooked-legged duck. The front leg shield wobbled unsteadily, and the front wheel faced left while its eye impossibly faced right. The beautifully smooth surface of its breastplate was now pocked with ugly dents. My young friend tried to push it to life with his foot but it remained as stubbornly silent as a water snail. We finally gave up and made off to a workshop.

At the workshop, a wild-eyed young man attended to us. He was wearing a bedraggled fishing vest, the back of which bore the legend IRON MAIDEN and on top was a picture of a skull with a snake slithering out of one eye. He opened up my iron horse and began reeling off, “Plugs oily/ contact point busted/ petrol overflow/ current dead/ piston ring loose,” things I’d never heard before in my life. He was a remarkably closemouthed fellow, speaking neither English nor Hindi, his Mizo atrociously accented and yet he insisted, “I’m not Meitei¹.” I concluded he probably was indeed the Iron Maiden.

Being so late in the day, the expenses of everything simply doubled. After I had emptied out my pockets and handed him over all my money, he put his foot out to start up the engine and nothing happened. So Iron Maiden went off to get someone a little more auto-savvy who ran a practised eye on everything, checked the petrol tank and declared, “But there’s no petrol at all in here!” I didn’t have any more money for petrol so in that ramshackle workshop I left behind my treasure and my mind.

At home that night I fell into a state of the deepest despondency. I had given my machine a battering and still couldn’t drive, and even if I were to try again I was black and blue all over, and I didn’t even have any more money to buy petrol. I felt like some sub-species of humanity and even darkly suspected my own masculinity.

The next morning, with steely determination I bought off my machine, stored it in a safe place and after all my dreams of zipping off to work driving a beautiful, brand new scooter, reluctantly boarded a town bus once again. As I gazed out the window around me, it seemed like everyone else was driving scooters. They were carrying girls pillion without overbalancing, driving and smoking cigarettes without any hassles, waving a hand in friendly greeting when they passed a familiar face, and here I was, still riding on a bus even after I had got myself all battered and bruised trying to learn how to drive. I brooded disconsolately and worked myself up to a futile fury. Lying in bed that night I began to chalk out in theory the art of driving. Why couldn’t I drive I asked myself and came up with the answer that I hadn’t really practiced enough, and also, I was way too chicken to practise in public where it would be obvious to everyone that I couldn’t drive. Then I figured that my young friend had pretty much taught me the rudiments of moving forward, so early the next morning before anyone else was up, I would practise again slow and easy.

So very early on a quiet morning that was still dripping with winter dew, I stalked my scooter like a hunter stalking a bird of prey. At first even pushing the key into the ignition was a major hassle. I tried to move it manually but it was like trying to move a stubborn cat – when I tried to push it forward, it just wouldn’t budge and when I tried to push it back, it felt stiff and unyielding. It seemed excruciatingly heavy but eventually, somehow or the other I managed to push it onto the main road.

The neighbourhood was ominously silent as if in deep mourning for a saint who was about to pass away. Shattering the quiet with my engine as I kicked it to life was mortifying.

I tried to board the machine in the way that I remembered but it seemed that the faster I tried to get on, the faster I fell. I couldn’t even manage to pull up both legs. Disconsolately I sat on the ground and then it struck me that rather than control the machine, I first had to learn how to balance myself. So I pushed my machine uphill and without turning on the engine, managed to run down a fair distance. Then I pushed my machine uphill again and ran down again, and despite it being mid-winter, I was soon dripping with sweat.

As I was running downhill once again, I must have somehow accidentally knocked on a gear because my machine suddenly sprang to life. It threw me into such a panic I somehow turned on the accelerator and then I was flying furiously down the hill at a breakneck pace, shrieking gibberish in absolute fright. The idea of hitting the brakes never occurred to me as I attempted to stop my flight by dragging one foot on the ground. Not quite seated and not quite jumping off I just tried desperately to stop myself. At times my left hand jabbed in vain at the brake that was supposed to be controlled by my foot, the helmet on my head flew off and ended up dangling on the back of my neck, my forehead repeatedly clobbered the speedometer, and at every electric pole I sped past, I stuck an arm out hoping to wrap myself around it and prise myself off my machine. Eventually I was lucky enough to fall over. As I inspected my arms and the lower part of my body under the glow of the streetlight, there were only a few spots that weren’t covered in bruises.

It was hopeless trying to continue so I took off home, all battered and bruised. I was too ashamed to face my family so I sneaked into the bathroom and taking no chances that someone might sense something was wrong, through puffy lips, whistled as jauntily as I could, “Piangsual kan awm tawng lo’ng, Jerusalem tharah².” As I whistled in a gruff monotone, I tried to pull down my zipper to pee and found to my consternation that I couldn’t find the zipper. It turned out that not just my crotch area but the entire back and front seams of my pants had burst and split wide open. And a lone button from my shirt was perched on a nasty bruise on one knee.

The following morning, at 2 am I was on terra firma on all fours once again, grappling with my iron horse. But this time I was well prepared. Pretty sure that I’d hurt myself again, I had bandages, dettol and cottonwool tucked away in my pockets. I’d wanted to wear the kind of leg guards that cricket stars wore but afraid they might restrict my movements, decided against it. Nursing the notion somehow that if I could train as regularly as this, I could master my machine within three days I was totally upbeat and didn’t even feel much pain.

Once again I started training with the engine turned off. After I’d practised for a considerable time, a few early morning birds began to show up. A senior government official, out on a morning jog, saw me and calling out, “So you got yourself a new scooter?” came jogging right past me. “Yes,” I replied and promptly fell over. Not a smart move. I uprighted my horse, kickstarted it and got on again. I quickly caught up with the official. He’d obviously blamed himself for distracting me and afraid I’d fall a second time if he spoke to me again, firmly ignored me and quickly took off on a detour. But for some reason I kept running straight after him and though he yelled, “You’ll knock me down!” I did knock him down though not too painfully. All I could say was, “Ka pu, I didn’t do that on purpose. My mindless machine just kept chasing you.” To this day I have a feeling the man is still afraid of me.

That very morning I managed to drive from Chanmari to Bazar Bungkawn. It got me all keyed up and so buoyant I decided to repeat the feat. I’d easily managed to make a turn at Bungkawn the first time but the second time I couldn’t do it again, so much against my will, I kept running on ahead. At Zodin I accidentally dropped a sandal and when I tried to stop to pick it up, to my chagrin I found that I just couldn’t stop. I raced on, despairingly leaving my shoe behind. At Vanapa Hall I told myself, “Enough is enough!” and leaped off. Once I’d jumped down, my iron horse didn’t get any further and toppled over.

I manouvered around and had already clambered back on board when I had second thoughts. If I got to Zodin and couldn’t stop to collect my shoe again I knew I’d only get into another awful scrape. So I got off, walked to Zodin and picked up my shoe. Then I went back and made it home on my machine without any further hitch.

The next morning I learned to give traffic signals but every time, however hard I tried I could raise my arm only after I passed a traffic point. The few times I did manage to raise an arm in time I always crashed straight into the Traffic Point. It took me a long time learning to get it right.

After I’d trained for the third straight morning I was almost confident enough to say, “I can drive now.” As I washed my hands before lunch, I looked down at my sore, aching hands and realised that I‘d been gripping the handlebar so tightly my palms were all blistered. I also realised that riding my scooter left me feeling more exhausted than walking on foot. I’ve now since learned to drive much more relaxedly and don’t lose my balance anymore over little things like one-sided tobacco chewing.

I began to have more confidence in myself and confided to a friend from Ramhlun Veng about my new driving skills. He said, “In that case, why don’t you come over tomorrow morning? There’s something important I need to discuss with you.” “Alright,” I agreed, “and since you’re such a late riser, I’ll come and wake you up.” Next morning, I took off very early as usual. Just as I was starting to congratulate myself on driving quite well, heavily laden trucks bringing in supplies to Aizawl appeared in the opposite direction along the Ramhlun highway. They sounded their road clearing tootlers and flashed their sidelights and an assortment of other lights that I wasn’t familiar with. Not having even properly mastered the art of driving, signal lights left me baffled and when the lights flashed, I hadn’t the foggiest idea whether it meant they were going to stop or were asking me to stop. And it wasn’t just that I didn’t know what they meant: I felt the lights flashing on and off, and off and on were synchronized with the heavy pounding of my heart. I also had the awful feeling that I was going to somehow manage to run right in between the wheels of those huge, lumbering trucks. I steered frantically and though meaning to turn left as per traffic rules, was so flustered I found myself scuttling to the right. Then intending to sound my horn I accidentally flicked on the sidelight knob and as if I wasn’t agitated enough already, my scooter began a loud beep-beep-beep which distraught me even further, and in tandem to it, my heart began thumping wildly, “zualko-zualko-zualko³.”

At my mad scrambling all over the width of the highway, the two top-heavy trucks did not merely slow down. With great alacrity, they hurriedly pulled over to the side of the road and waited for me to drive by without voicing a single angry sound. I wanted to tell them a proper thank you for their forbearance but just as I drew level, as if I had just suddenly discovered how to drive, I went zooming off again. Not being able to stop when I wanted to stop and falling over when I wanted to run definitely had to be the most exasperating part.

I reached my friend’s house a lot earlier than I wanted. The outlines of the earth were not even quite visible and a light breeze was wafting gently when I neared the gate. I had just decided to stop there when I felt a sneeze coming on. Calling out, “U Kai…” I let out an enormous sneeze which made me accidentally yank on the accelerator and then I was careening madly towards the gate. I hit the gate with a deafening crash, the dog gave a sharp yelp, and I fell onto the front porch, planting my big behind firmly in a pot of the missus’ prized roses.

The door opened. I was busy picking thorns off my butt. It was hard to find something to say. “Driving scooters sting the butt” and other weak jokes seemed embarrassingly lame for jolting people awake so early in the morning.

Long after I thought I couldn’t possibly get into any more mishaps, one evening I took a sharp bend too sharply and despite steering as best as I could, realized I couldn’t control the machine and slammed into a prison van. A bevy of brown shirts came running out and I was certain they would arrest me. Their leader asked, “And just how did you manage to hit our van of all things?” Not knowing what to say, I smirked ingratiatingly, “Don’t you think I’m brave?” They asked for my licence and on looking at the photograph where I wore a necktie and seeing my name, asked incredulously, “You are Vanneihtluanga?” I said simply, “Yes,” at which they all burst out laughing, and never got around to arresting me.

I must admit that my escapades with my scooter became legendary and I was on the receiving end of a great deal of ribbing especially from the young fellows around my locality, the rascals. On one occasion they stuffed pieces of plastic down my exhaust pipe. Not suspecting a thing, I tried to kickstart but it wouldn’t budge. The young guys hanging around nearby kept straight faces and helpfully tried to help me kickstart. Then saying,” Maybe you need a running start,” got me mounted and at a time when the streets were crowded, pushed me all around Chandmari Point and its vicinity. Since it still wouldn’t start, they got more of their friends to join in and they all ran after me like a bitch in heat being chased in hot pursuit by a pack of males. In exaggeratedly loud tones, they said, “His scooter’s down so we’re helping him start up,” but since the exhaust pipe was firmly blocked and the engine couldn’t fire up, they told me, “Your scooter’s busted, we’ll take you to the workshop.” And adding, “When it gets like this, it always calls for a major engine overhaul,” they pushed me unhappily to the workshop. Once we got there and the mechanic started looking around, they couldn’t control themselves any longer and began laughing hysterically. I joined in, albeit somewhat forcedly.

Still, I’m not too embarrassed. I know a lot of guys in my neighbourhood as inept as myself. I know of one who got on a scooter and dragged his leg in a gutter longer than he wanted and limped for ages afterwards. I also know of another described as, “He tried to drive a scooter and couldn’t but was strong enough to carry it.” And all the way from Shillong, the king of radio, Pu Valtea consoled me, “Tluanga, don’t worry, I know someone who got into even worse scrapes than you.”

He said there was this Mizo guy in Madanriting with a new scooter who had no idea you could park the machine without propping it up against a wall. He could drive well but since he didn’t know how to park it upright, had more problems with parking than driving. For a long time he would park it leaning against someone’s wall. And when he went to Police Bazar, he’d first look around for a suitable wall and leave it there with a piece of rope and jam the legs with a large rock he always carried with him. When I compare myself to someone like that, sticking your tongue out as a traffic signal doesn’t seem all that bad.

Much after I could comfortably travel around the length of Aizawl, I once got down to thoroughly washing up my mindless machine. As I thoughtfully peered into the exhaust pipe, I could see something that looked like a piece of bone, jagged and rough looking, and which moved sluggishly when I shook the pipe. Thinking it was an important machine part, I tried reattaching it to the pipe and dropped it in the process. Picking it up carefully, I assiduously washed it in the bucket. Then as I scraped away at it, it grew smaller and smaller till it finally disappeared. Realising I’d been meticulously trying to clean a lump of mud, I stood up in a huff and glared at my scooter.

And my scooter seemed to eye me back slyly and say, ”Ka pu, you call me a mindless machine and ridicule me all the time but of all scooter owners, no one could possibly be as mindless as you. You ought to have first read up everything about me from your instruction manual!”

¹ Manipuri
² Literally “There’ll be no more handicapped in the new Jerusalem.” A line from a popular mid-80s gospel song
³ A bearer of bad news, particularly of death. In the past, whenever someone died, young men were sent to carry the news to various relatives living far or near. In more recent times, the telephone has replaced the human messengers.

Vanneihtluanga is a prolific contemporary writer, high-profile media personality and an iconic figure for many, particularly among the younger generation. This piece was written in 1986 and published as Khawl Thluak Nei Lo in his collection of autobiographical short stories, Keimah leh Keimah in 2002.
Readers will be delighted to learn that he has since graduated from scooters and now drives a beautiful, undented Alto car.

Zualteii (A.Hmangaihzuali) Poonte teaches English lit. at a college in Aizawl. Her only pretensions at creative writing were during childhood while under the influence of Enid Blyton and Lucy M. Montgomery, and any further literary aspirations effectively buried under the avalanche of a formal education in world class literature.

Translator’s note: My first attempt at translation, I picked this piece partly because it’s such a hilariously good read. One of the marks of good literature is that it deals with something universal which readers can relate to irrespective of culture or language. Humour knows no boundaries and Vanneihtluanga’s trademark gentle, self-deprecating humour, and in this case, delightfully entertaining account of his struggles at learning how to drive, just begged to be translated. I have tried to keep the language as colloquial as possible in keeping with the tone of the original. Pu Tluanga being one of our relatively few Mizo literateurs who write without overtly moralizing or admonitory intent, it was an enjoyable experience working on this. I only hope that I have done justice to the often quirkily witty idiomatic expressions and turns of phrases which characterize his highly individualistic style of writing.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Existentialism - Mark V. Vanlalrema

Better be dumped six feet under
Than proclaim, “life’s a series of sorrow”;
For if pessimism gains its power,
Conditions your every shot of arrow,
Yours is a life devoid of blood.

Narrow’s the road the wise men take,
No cakewalk; Life’s a struggle to the end;
For if optimism loses faith,
No lessons from history does it rant,
Ours is a life worth no giving.

Wasn’t today filled with gay?
Didn’t you say, with bright fervour, “Bring it on”?
For if nihilism drove home “nay”,
Concealed your garland with a scorn,
Yours is a life dearth of conscience.

I have toiled through thick and thin,
Done homework- Life’s a passage to eternity;
For when my patriotism glows my skin,
Award me wholesome for temerity,
Heaven’s my life playing harp.

Mark V.Vanlalrema is currently doing his MA in English at the Mizoram University. This poem appeared in the 2006 - 07 issue of the Pachhunga University College magazine.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Rez - Mona Zote


A boy & his gun : that’s an image will do

to sum up our times

to define the red lakes

and razor blade hills of our mind. Out here this place never changes, never will

we will keep choosing grey salt, bad roads,

some thin yellow flowers to grieve, alcohol over friendship

cash for peace, God’s grin of despair. If you think I’m starting to regret

sticking around and kicking at the tombstones

(if not pulling out the ak-47)

remember the water lilies will bind you back.

Trenchcoat todesengel bringing meaning to life thru death, thru

an intimate if facile study of pain

and those other mental stuff like drawing

pictures of war

people getting shot

houses pulled down

heads shorn

traditional law custom kultur

junkies runners bootleggers scum scum scum

We too have spent our brutal spring exacerbated

by a long tradition of self-enforced isolation,

continued into a cold-blooded summer (I feel


I fear


we said it wasn’t intentional

and the grasshopper susurrus of our blood tells us


you feel almost an ability to be worse than what you are

(Perhaps this explains why today in the middle of my room

a black hole soundlessly spins).

Look, kid, thank you for the demonstration

& don’t forget to take your angel home

even if you don’t feel like going back to school

& if they ask you about life on the reservation

if they say they want to hear about stilt houses

and the dry clack of rain on bamboo

and the preservation of tribal ways

give them a slaughter.


Let’s hear from you, Angel. Incredibly,

He spake: “Four a.m. I rose from

the silicon box, wings quivering triumphant

if bleary-eyed, knuckles cramped,

having gunned down Virtual Viktor the smiling Rooskie, my erstwhile

friend, piss-full of vodka as he went – like the young in one another’s arms

drowning among the waves. You remember

Star Trek via Doordarshan?

Do you remember? – Those Sunday ceremonies of mantraps

and armageddon now!, logic and adventure,

new worlds braver than the last, those tinpan ships from an

interstellar Nineveh: amok times, yes. Also aboriginal.

My shoes are Japanese

Christ, I can’t forget Yaqob, surefire bet in the pro wrestling ring –

man’s champ or scapegoat, who can tell? He got the better

of me in the end but I…

I nailed his dreams to the cold ground.

In the distance, the guitars of Byzantium wept.

No, don’t go there!

There be whales, cap’n, and pearls and eyes.

Thus let us venture to the noodle bar –”

The immortal game

“– Mister Nighttime, what say? Admit modernity in, sepia anime! Who

mourns for Adonis or Umrao Jaan? D’you remember what the children sang –

Your warriors are gone with Billy Bowlegs

and Billy Budd swings from the mast

O moments that have passed like tears in rain

Toke this: things have to be the way they are

because gods can’t remember, we angels do. In this

we are as mortal as you

though fiery we fell.

Swaraj: acid anthem in our veins.

But heart is truly Hindoostani

So many have fallen…these cinnamon groves. I swear…

I swear by the Wumpus, by Alphaman,

– the world’s become

one big reservation. I should know,

I’m the Angel. I’m

in charge. You feel

that tightening of the temples as at some

momentous corner-turn of history? This tale, I fear, has just

begun to unfurl. Don’t be afraid. Have a tsing pao – else, coffee?

Stay with me, boss. Stay.”

Screw it, let’s dance!

or do origami.


A mindless year of mindless action.

If the moon looks grey tonight, if you think she weeps,

it is because

you live on a reservation

If as you walked the houses rose on all sides threatening,

it is because

you live on a reservation

If the wind brings no news of love, if the villas are silent

and empty, it is because

you live on a reservation

The things you have to say, no one can say them for you

The places you have to go, no one can go there for you

The hills you have to burn, no one can burn them for you.


Another gem from my favourite Mizo writer in English, Mona Zote. She tells me that while she doesn't enjoy explaining her own writings (it would put the critics out of business being one reason she cites :P) she'd like it to be known that -

"'Rez' is short for 'reservation' as in those native American reservations you find in the US. It's how the Indians refer to these lands. There was a school shooting on one of them which never quite made the kind of international headlines that similar incidents at WASP-ish schools do."

Well, that's Mona for you, widely-read and well-informed, and there's something in the way she writes that makes you feel like she just pulls all her eclectic readings together and effortlessly whips up a poetic gem that's just astounding in its density of literary allusions very much in the same way that magicians just pluck things out of empty air or world-class chefs effortlessly whip up a breathtakingly fabulous meal. To an achievement like that, all that us ordinary mortals can say is Wow!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The Mizo Origin Myth

Translated by Cherrie Lalnunziri Chhangte

Eons ago, in time immemorial, a goddess named Khuazingnu created the earth. To make it cool and habitable, she created all sorts of vegetation, and to nurture these, she periodically opened the windows of heaven and poured water upon the earth. She created humans and other living beings to devour the foods and fruits produced by the plants. All living beings could talk and communicate with one another.
Time went by, and these living creatures reproduced and multiplied, co-existing harmoniously. They never harmed each other, and they were never in want of food. With the increase in population, beings of different natures and temperaments emerged, and they decided that they needed a ruler to protect them and rule over them. So, they chose one among them to be their king.
One night, after having had his supper, this king took a nap. It was the night of the full moon, and all creatures made merry dancing and singing, celebrating the moonlight. In the midst of their revelry, the moonlight suddenly began to fade and disappear even as they were looking on. The creatures became frantic with worry, and proceeded to make a loud commotion by banging on whatever object that could produce sound. After a while, the moon reappeared, and this made them very happy. In the meantime, the king had awoken at the tremendous noise that his subjects had made. In response to his query, the elders narrated what had transcribed. The king said, “Listen, while I was asleep, I dreamt that I had swallowed the moon; then, I heard a terrific noise, and I became scared, so I spat out the moon again with great difficulty.” The elders then noticed that the king’s mouth indeed had deep gashes and bloodstains at the sides, and they believed that the king had truly swallowed the moon.
Not long after, the king died, went to Heaven and was transformed into a Creature who could, and often did, swallow the moon. Once, he swallowed the moon for such a long time that the whole earth was plunged into darkness from morning till night. With total darkness enveloping the earth, there was complete chaos and nobody could do any work because they could not see anything. During this time, there were sudden transformations among the creatures of the earth; some humans became monkeys, while young boys and girls became birds. The village elders were transformed into a flock of birds, and the bravest hunter became a tiger, and so on. Their Creator, the goddess Khuazingnu, became anxious and sad that her creations were changed into lesser beings. Before they could all be transformed, she decided to put a couple from each human clan, as well as representatives of each animal species, into a deep pit, and sealed the pit with a huge rock called Chhinlung.
After four or five generations had been born, the goddess decided that enough living beings existed to sustain life on earth. She gingerly lifted the rock, Chhinlung. There was a loud buzz from within, and when she opened the covering fully, droves of humans emerged from behind the rock, like locusts. After many humans had emerged, the Ralte clan came out in a great multitude, noisier than the other clans, and full of arrogance. At this juncture, the goddess decided that there were enough people, and she closed the Chhinlung again.
While under the Rock, humans and sprites had cohabited freely, and produced offspring. Among these was an exceptionally strong and powerful man named Thlanrawkpa, born of a liaison between a human and a sprite. He became the king, and planned to host a great feast, later known as Thlanrawkpa Khuangchawi to show off his might and splendor. Unfortunately, he forgot to invite Sabereka, his father-in-law. Sabereka was furious, and caused a thunderstorm to rain for the entire night on the eve of the feast. The rain washed away all the earth of the village, leaving behind only the rocky layer underneath. It became impossible for the villagers to dig through the rocks to mount the pillar on which was hoisted the mithun’s head, a crucial part of the feast.
There was a fertile expanse of earth on the other side of a perilous body of water; the otter and the badger volunteered to make trips across the water to bring back the earth to their village. The earthworms volunteered to eat the earth once it had been transported so that it would be multiplied through their excreta. The legendary Chhurbura offered to beat the earth so that the level would remain even on the ground. In this way, all beings of the village cooperated with one another, contributing to the community work until the earth became habitable again, and the glorious feast could be held.
All creatures made merry during this feast, laughing, playing and dancing. The mole played the drum and in his enthusiasm, he donned a flower on his head. It was not a pretty sight, and the other creatures laughed at him. He became angry and retreated into his hole with the drum (khuang) and would not be mollified. Since the feast could not go on without the drum, they tried various means to cajole him out of his hole. Eventually they poured water down one end of the burrow, and he emerged, still sulking, with the khuang and threw it out. It landed just at the knee joints of the hen, who was nearby, and to this day, the hen’s knee joints are bent backwards as a result of this incident.
It was at this feast, which went on for several days, that many creatures were given their names, based on their performances and feasts, and they retain their given names to this day. Also, as a result of this, the typical Mizo house built on stilts replaced the former homesteads of the Mizos, whose mud floors had been washed away by the torrential rain. In order to avoid such calamities again, it was decided that all houses would henceforth stand on stilts, well away from the ground.
During this prolonged feast, there was a great battle between the creatures of flight and the beasts of the earth due to a misunderstanding. The conflict resulted in a victory for the earth-bound creatures. They decided to celebrate their victory, which would also mark the culmination of the great feast hosted by Thlanrawkpa. However, the domesticated animals refused to bow under the dictates of their human masters any longer, claiming that they should have a more exalted position because of their contributions to the victory. They raised a great protest when some of them were to be slaughtered for the feast. The situation became critical until Sabereka, Thlanrawkpa’s father-in-law decreed that, henceforth, neither animals, plants nor humans should be able to speak the same language. Thus, with communication cut off between them, other creatures could no longer make protests, and order was restored with humans continuing to be masters over other living beings.

Cherrie Lalnunziri Chhangte works in the English dept at Mizoram University. She writes poetry in English and also does translations from Mizo to English. The piece reproduced here is part of her seminar paper presented at the International Seminar on History of Religions, JNU, October 2007 entitled Myth and the Mizo World View.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Amid these hills where once we lived I retrace my steps...

By P.Rohmingthanga

Part I

(A narration of the writer’s experiences as he revisits the dreamland of his childhood)

All of us are familiar with the above lines from a popular song. It evokes memories of days gone by, of longing for that special someone, of times shared together, of blue skies and green landscapes, of sparkling brooks, and moonlit nights.

The following story is also a love story, a story of love that began when I was a small boy in that 'greatest' and ' biggest' of all places, Serkawn, a village comprising some 20 odd houses, just a mile from Lunglei, and home to the Mizoram Baptist Church. Yes, in the late thirties and forties, before my father was transferred, we lived at Serkawn where my father was the Hostel Superintendent and taught at the Serkawn Middle English School, whose alumnus I am proud to be.

As such Serkawn was a tiny place, with the schools, one with its weather cock for the boys and the other for the girls, the church, the Mission hospital, and the Mission press dominating our lives. Unlike other villages, the houses were sparsely situated. There were plenty of grasslands, orchards, tall fir trees and a couple of banyan trees. Space was plentiful. The surrounding country side, the beautiful forests of Ramzotlang and Melte, the waterfalls at Khawiva, and the nearby Tlawng river were our favourite haunts. There was plenty of rain, particularly during the monsoon, but the autumn, winter, and spring were indescribably beautiful.

I remember the birds, small and big, which were our targets with traps and ‘sairawkherh’ (pellet bow). On clear days you could see very far, with the sky so blue and the birds criss-crossing in the breeze.

One particular bird was called 'Vamur' (Pengleng – swallow or swift) and seemed to fly, mostly from the east towards the nearby heights of Ramzotlang and thence onwards to the summit of Zopuitlang. My grandmother often told me that these birds were bringing loom threads from the peaks of the twin Tan and Lurh mountains where that most enchanting of all fairies (lasi) Chawngtinleri lived and had a loom. These Vamurs carried the threads all the way to Zopuitlang where the loom's 'them tlang' (a sort of warp beam) was located, and then flew back to Tan and Lurh to repeat the circuit. Of course, ‘Chawngtinleri's Puanthin Tlang', the hill where Chawngtinleri shook her clothings to freshen them, was also in the adjacent hills of Sairep. The twin peaks of Tan and Lurh could be seen from Ramzotlang, and I would gaze longingly for that land of romance, heroes and heroines, music and dance, 'Fiara Tui', 'Chhura and Nahaia, 'Rih Dil', of Lallula and of Rorehlova (whose name I happen to bear) , of 'lasi' and kindred spirits, and so many other stories and legends of yester-years, and so may of whom seem to have originated from that part of the world. I had hoped, faintly, that I might perhaps make a trip there some day.

In 1958, the year I graduated, I had a long trek with my uncle, the late Pu Lalmawia, starting from Seling to Champhai, then northwards to North Vanlaiphai where we parted ways, he returning to Aizawl, and me proceeding to Thingsai. While passing through Biate, Lungdar and North Vanlaiphai, we were very close to the thick, purple and green hills of my childhood dreams being, as the crow flies, just a short distance away. Alas, it was a case of being so near, and yet so far away.

Years later, namely in 1973, I came on transfer from Delhi to the newly created Union Territory of Mizoram. Under unusual circumstances, with no effort from my part, I was appointed DC of Aizawl district, a job that required extensive traveling. The opportunity to make a tour to the eastern ranges of the district came in connection with the opening of the EGS road to Hnahlan. Accompanied by my wife, our young son, our baby daughter, Mawitea, my ADC, a couple of officers, and a police party, we set out for our destination. The journey between Zote to Hnahlan, made against the advice of many, and under the shadow of a tragedy, was one of the most eventful journeys ever experienced by me, but the story may perhaps be told some other time. On our return to Champhai we rested for a day to recoup our enrgy and to service our vehicles for the second leg of our journey to Farkawn, which will take us through those enchanting lands. And having rested, we started the next day.

Just about five miles away, on the southern end of the valley, was the village of Ruantlang where the well known singer Lalhmingliana was the Administrative Officer (AO). On the outskirts of the village, there was a small, flat ground. This was the spot where the engraved memorial stones called ‘Mangkhaia Lung’, also known as 'Chhura Farep' were supposed to be. I was taken aback to see them lying about uncared for. So after a discussion with the AO.and the village council, I requested them to have the stones erected and fenced with timber. A small amount from EGS was given for tea and refreshments. I am glad to say that in later years, whenever I had the opportunity to visit the site, I had the satisfaction of seeing the stones standing, and enclosed with wooden fences.

Going a little further past Ruantlang, we were shown the location of the lake of 'Rih Dil'.

We were also told of the possibility of finding down below the rocking stone called 'Rahbuk' on which every spirit of the departed must tread upon on their way to ‘Mitthi Khua’, the land of the dead. The spring known as 'Lungloh Tui' which the spirit, on its way to ‘Mitthi Khua’, must drink so that the departed would lose all desire to return to earth, was also said to be somewhere in the forests down below. Since we had no time for such an exploration, and assuring myself of finding an opportunity in the future, we proceeded and spent the night at Bungzung. At Dungtlang, a fairly senior citizen of Leithum village, by the name of Hrangthiauva was introduced to us. Talking with him, we found that he was extremely knowledgeable about Mizo history, culture, religion and even more so about the countryside. We took him along with us, and we were regaled with the history of the places we passed through, such as the story of Zawlsei, Lallula’s Zopui, Tualte, Selesih, and of Dungtlang which, according to our guide (though others might disagree), was the biggest ever Mizo village, with seven thousand houses, and of the stories and legends associated with the countryside.

At Dungtlang itself, I was very keen to visit 'Lianchhiari Lunglen Tlang' situated above the village. But as there was no approach road, (not even a footpath), and our time was short, we had to be satisfied by looking at the pristine timberland interspersed with flowering trees, amidst which were the remains of Lianchhiari's loom, and the rocky precipice where she sat and pined for Chawngfianga, her beloved. It was as if the forest was cradling and providing a protective cover for her. It was obvious that an approach road was needed. Accordingly, an EGS road was sanctioned and the local officer advised to execute it.

Lianchhiari Lunglen Tlang

After passing Vaphai village, we came to 'Tan', to me the most facinating mountain of all mountains, where Chawngtinleri ruled over her animal kingdom, and dispensed her favours, namely, a successful hunt, to those in her good books. This was where she worked on her loom which spanned across the sky from the towering heights of Tan and Lurh to the pinnacle of Zopuitlang.

Tan Tlang

I do not remember the exact time of year, but to me, the forests at the foothills of Tan were at their greenest, with Vaube, Fartuah and other flowering trees interspersed among them. The mountain itself inspired awe, grandeur and majesty, all at the same time. The whole scene took one's breath away. I would have loved to come across the graceful animals of legend, on whose back sat the 'lasis', or the wild mithuns with rainbows between the tips of their horns. With so much to see and hear, I do not remember looking for 'Vamurs' in particular. Pu Hrangthiauva invited our attention to various points, particularly the 'puk' (cave) where Chawngtinleri was supposed to dwell. We wondered whether Buizova ever lived here and sang his melodies causing the trees to shed tears of leaves, and where the Liandova brothers might have found the giant python. As it was already late in the evening, we had no time to stop at the fabled hill called ‘Thasiama Se No Neihna’, where Thasiama’s mithun incredibly climbed to the top and delivered a calf. A little ahead on the roadside was also ‘Fiara Tui’, which the Mizos considered to be the sweetest water in the world. Thogh we were all keen to taste the water, a visit to this spring too was reserved for the next day.

Fiara Tui (Vaphai)

We passed through 'Lam Thuam Thum', said to be the trijunction of the three trails which figured prominently in the story of Kungawrhi. The opening to 'Kungawrhi Puk' (the grotto of a maiden called Kungawrhi) was full of dry and broken branches obviously brought by a flooded rivulet, now dry. I requested them to clear the 'Puk' and fence the area with timber.

Kungawrhi Kua

We were also shown a number of memorial platforms known as 'Lungdawh' (I was told the stones were sometimes removed for other purposes), and a number of old grave stones. Some of the engravings were hardly legible, but some had highly interesting information about the deceased. From a distance we were shown 'Lamsial khua', where Fiara was said to have lived. I was also told of 'Lamsial Puk' where the skeletal remains of some of our forefathers were preserved. An EGS approach road was sanctioned to enable tourists to visit it in the future - but the villagers were advised to preserve the bones, fence the area, and to prevent anyone from pilfering them. Wherever we halted, the villagers were told how vital it was to preserve the virgin forests which serve as a hinterland, and as a sanctuary to the heritage sites, however intangible they might be. 'Lurh' was on the other side, but there was no road to enter the forest. So an EGS road to a village on the slope of the mountain was sanctioned, which was completed soon after.

Lamsial Puk

As the sun was setting we reached Farkawn, to me a romantic name that often rang a bell in my ears. The most senior male citizens of the village welcomed us attired with the most traditional dresses they could muster, complete with ornaments, trinkets, and the inevitable pipes, some of which were made with ‘tursing’, the bamboo used for making the best quality pipes made in these hills. It certainly was the most colourful welcome that I ever received in the course of my extensive tours in Mizoram. It was a pity that we had no good cameras, not to speak of VCRs and such like.

On our return journey we stopped at the legendary 'Fiara Tui' on the eastern slope of Tan, a few miles from Farkawn. Being the dry season, there was no water on the roadside. We had to descend some metres down below to find the spring. The water was trickling. So we took the help of a big leaf to direct its flow. After drinking our fill, we filled one jerrycan and a number of bottles. We spent a long time at our task, so small was the flow of water. On return at Aizawl, I gave samples of the Farkawn ‘Fiara Tui’ to friends, and the rest was consumed in the course of a year or two. On very special occasions, it was also mixed with other beverages.

As readers might be aware, both Farkawn and Vaphai claimed to have the ‘true’ location of 'Fiara Tui'. The one claimed by Vaphai was on the western slopes of Tan. It was situated at the base of a huge boulder - a small lovely pool of clear water – almost too good to be true. It was located in the midst of a very thick growth of trees and bushes, so thick and green that the very appearance suggested the presence of water. Here also we drank and filled another jerrycan. An approach road to this 'Fiara Tui' was also sanctioned as it was of some distance from the road.

I would like to mention here that all the springs seeping through the rocks of 'Tan' are sparkling, cool and delicious. However, the vicinity surrounding Vaphai 'Fiara Tui' being so rich with trees and foliage, a needling doubt arose inside of me as to how such an obvious water source could be hidden. I must also admit that from what I could gather from other knowledgeable sources-including Pu Hrangthiauva, folklore, and old songs - I felt that the real 'Fiara Tui' could be somewhere else, more to the vicinity of 'Lamsial Khua', and probably on the southern or south western slopes of 'Tan'. When the AO and VCP of Farkawn reported completion of the road to 'Lamsial Puk', they reported finding the real 'Fiara Tui' along the newly constructed road. I had then hoped that I would some day surely go back, spend a couple of weeks, and try to unravel the controversy, and locate the true 'Fiara Tui'.

On the foothills of the mountain was the famous hillock 'Thasiama Se No Neihna'.

Thasiama Se No Neihna

On our way back we stopped near this hill. I did not allow anyone to climb the hill because our time was very limited and also because there was no road to it. However, my wife, on a false pretext misled me, and without my knowledge approached the hill through the jungle, quickly followed by the VCP and a guard. I do not know how she did it - next we saw her standing on top of the hillock, and it was only with some difficulty I persuaded her to come back. She was probably the first known human being to have set foot at the peak after 'Thasiama's Sial' had given birth to her calf. On her return I scolded her for wasting so much of our time because, I must admit, I was peeved at being outsmarted and outperformed. Here also an EGS approach road was sanctioned which was completed soon after.


P. Rohmingthanga is a distinguished bureaucrat, having worked under the governments of Assam, Mizoram, the Delhi administration and the Government of India. He was the District Commissioner of Aizawl in the early 70s, Chief Secretary to the Govt. of Mizoram in the latter half of the 80s, and superannuated in 1996 from the post of Secretary to the Govt. of India. His post retirement assignments were State Election Commissioner (for some UT adminstrations), and member of the Delimination Commission of India (representing Mizoram).

This piece was originally titled
Ka rawn fang leh kan tuanna tlang and published in Newslink in 2007.

Picture credits: Lianchhiari Lunglen Tlang and Thasiama Se No Neihna, oil paintings by Tlangrokhuma,
Tan Tlang photographed by Zara Ralte, 2006,
Lamsial Puk photographed by Marii, 2005,
Kungawrhi Kua, Fiara Tui and Rih Dil,