Sunday, February 24, 2008

Happy Valley - Vanneihtluanga

Translated by Cherrie Lalnunziri Chhangte

In a part of Aizawl that was nearly inaccessible by virtue of the sheer inconvenience of the roads leading to it, and yet, was paradoxically situated in the heart of the city, where the roads meandered like the intricate maze of a mole’s burrow, some people, on their way back from work headed for home. The road that led them home was a dead-end one, and there was no way to return from there except by the same torturous road.
Had the Creator not destined this particular locality to be in the very heart of Aizawl, no sane man would have chosen it as his dwelling place. Yet, since Aizawl city had already chosen these particular people to dwell there as her guests in that rocky ravine, the citizens of this place led a contented existence, bolstered by the knowledge that there were many who were not fortunate enough to have even a place like theirs to claim as their own in Aizawl. The place had no resemblance to what the likes of John Keats romantically described as a “vale”. There was no justification for naming it ‘Happy Valley.’ Most of the inhabitants had probably never set their sights on the haunting beauty of the place called Happy Valley in Shillong. Thus, one could surmise that they had not named the place because the denizens of this area were nostalgic of Shillong’s Happy Valley, and were reminded of the beautiful landscape of that place. The simple explanation was that they chose an English-sounding name, easily pronounceable, and which even the barely literate amongst them, who had learned their ABCs in adult schools, could write without fear or apprehension.

The people of this area did not have such lofty ambitions of making the place live up to its beautiful namesake in Shillong. I do not think they said, “Since we belong to Happy Valley, let us make it as beautiful as Shillong’s Happy Valley.” For them, it was simply a place to go home to after spending all day trying to squeeze their share of the fat from an already-lean Aizawl. There stood their ramshackle houses which afforded them shelter from wind and rain. Having few expectations, they spent their time there not particularly envious of anyone.
Who lived in Happy Valley? Few of them actually owned the houses they lived in. Aizawl was becoming more crowded everyday; prospective tenants multiplied, accompanied by a corresponding increase in the rates of house-rent, and no matter how unappealing a house or its location was, there was always someone to rent it at the right price. The few people who owned land in Happy Valley were aware of this, and as much as their financial and intellectual resources would allow them, they constructed simple dwellings, tenements that would perhaps fetch them between fifty and a hundred rupees per room.
Those who afforded such dwellings stayed there, more possessive of their homes than their landlords themselves. Thus, all kinds of people gathered there: peddlers and merchants who were not necessarily Paihte, malaria-ravaged people from the west, Maras1 from the extreme south, wandering Evangelists, Muster Roll Drivers, Muslims who paid no heed to Ramzan and Id, Sericulture office workers who had no inkling of what a cocoon was, babysitters who worked in other people’s homes, those who babysat these babysitters, their assorted family and friends, those whose only field of expertise was in auto repair, others who had always belonged to the Left ever since Mizoram entered the political arena; also, those whose sole reason for being sent to Aizawl by their parents seemed to be to appear for Matriculation exams, a big man whose drunken behaviour differed depending on whether he drank local liquor or the imported variety, a few who still vehemently declared that they would have no other ruler besides Kumpinu2, some who wanted to withdraw their names from the Church Registry because they were unhappy with the latest translation of the Bible and the new version of the Christian Hymnal, and those whose character could never be ascertained owing to the fact that their stays in Happy Valley were few and far-between, as sporadic as a comet’s visits.
“New tenants” and “moving out” were two key-phrases in Happy Valley. Every week, down the torturously step road leading to Happy Valley came a few new tenants carrying kerosene stoves stained with dal, and bedding that had sadly seen many better days strung together in an untidy heap; at the same time, those moving out laboured their way up the road equally burdened with kerosene stoves stained with the yellow gravy of behlawi bai3 and a locally-made double-stringed guitar, which, however, sported only four strings.
Whenever there were newcomers, Happy Valley bachelors asked two very crucial questions: one, was there a pretty girl in the new family? And, two, if there was any such beauty, did the family have any chairs to sit on? This was indeed a pertinent question in a place where many of the new arrivals were likely to inform all and sundry that furniture such as chairs had been “left behind in the village”, a piece of information that brought more gloom to the listeners than did Reagan’s Economic Sanction in South Africa. Thus, a lively discussion about any new people who had a pretty daughter always merited further discussion on whether they had seating facilities as well.
Cutting through Happy Valley was a public road on which rambled along vehicles of all sorts: huge, shiny, and indiscriminately noisy. While those living near the road were privileged to breathe in the faint promise of a glorious future, those living in the outer periphery below the dust of the main road were not unduly worried about the sounds they could hear from above, of people jostling with each other as if eager not to miss out on their share of riches, power and glory. They had a complacent and satisfied aura about them, since they saw the futility of attempting to even join the rat-race, and even if they could hear these sounds of materialistic struggles with their outer ears, they learned to shut their inner ears against them, and instead, forged a lifestyle and attitude that was in tandem with their income, a mixture of village life and city life which resulted in a unique lifestyle adapted to their means and needs.
When dusk fell, people who belonged to diverse professions, as if having made a pact to go home together at a certain time, met on that rocky road like beavers on their way home to their burrows, and disappeared into their homes for their evening meal. After that, electric lights – those powered by stolen lines indistinguishable from the legal ones – began to flicker and illuminate the rooms one by one. Some lights seemed brighter than necessary, while others were mellow and dim. Whether out of neglect or inconvenience, the locality, although it was situated well within the bounds of the city’s heartland, did not have even a single electric post. Hence electric lights had to be powered by an electric post high up above their locality. Those who could afford longer cables had electricity, and that was all. In the monsoon, because of the terrific length of these few lines, when the rain and wind spewed forth in fury, the electrical cables fizzed and sparked dangerously.
On what could dubiously be called a terrace, the roof of a badly-constructed concrete building, girls sat after washing the dirty dinner dishes. They squeezed together on a bench that had some legs missing, and every time somebody moved, the bench creaked in loud protest. Inevitably, a young man would come carrying his guitar, a most pathetic sample of such an instrument. He had tuned and adjusted the strings so tautly that the bow of the guitar was bent at an angle, making it difficult to coax a decent sound even out of the “D” key. Incredibly, the guitar’s owner could somehow persuade beautiful music to issue forth from this hopelessly battered instrument, which would have defeated even guitar maestros like Jimi Hendrix. When the tune was in danger of going flat, he would push the relevant string sharply upwards with his finger, and melody would return.
And then, how they would sing! How fortunate the composers never heard them sing their songs! An ex-army man, the only one among them who knew any English, would always join them, and tipsily taking the guitar, would proclaim that he sang nothing but English songs. Crossing his legs, taking the guitar and strumming a hringdup, hringdup4 beat, he proceeded to sing what could possibly be an original composition, judging from the extreme dissimilarity to the authentic version of the song he was singing:

I’d like to saddle round
But they won’t saddle round
A virgin tube must be a rolling stone!
Down every road there’s one more Satan
Aim on the rock
The Highway is my home.
The words, no doubt, might have been strange, but the spirit that gripped him as he sang was certainly exalted. As soon as his performance was over, in true Vanapa Hall5 fashion, his audience clapped and cheered, to which he magnanimously replied, “Thank you…with effect from tonight” in unadulterated English.
Now it was the turn of Mawitea, the lad who owned the guitar, to sing. In total contrast to his upbringing and lack of formal training, he expertly used his fingers to reproduce the opening chords of Europe’s “The Final Countdown”. His audience, expectant as they were of hearing a song by Europe by virtue of the introductory notes, were somewhat taken aback when he proceeded to follow the magnificent solo with a song by The Crusaders. Then he gave renditions of songs by The Invaders and Vanlalruati; when he had sung a verse each from three songs, the girls cried out, “Mawite, Mawite, ‘Zanlai Thlifim’” and in the blink of an eye, they were transported to the side of the great singer, Lallianmawia6. Whichever song he sang, he had the ability to replicate the exact pitch and style of the singer who had made a particular song famous, be it C.Lalrinmawia, Zirsangzela Hnamte, or C.Vansanga.
In their midst was a man who felt justified in calling himself one of the “owners” of Happy Valley. It was apparent that he considered himself a very big fish in a pond of small fishes. He was as pale as the unexposed side of a bitter gourd, and apart from the pale skin, red nose, the abundance of pimples on his face and the protuberance of his behind, there was not much to distinguish him. He was a strange man. Outside Happy Valley, he was just another man looking for favours from those higher up than him in the hierarchy. As soon as he entered Happy Valley, however, he became Lord of the Universe in his mind. When he truly became himself, he would hold forth on all topics based on what he had heard on the radio or read from old issues of Time Magazine, liberally sprinkled with lies that he dreamed up. He would then speculate and make authoritative conclusions based on the scant information he had gleaned thus. In front of the Happy Valley men and women who had gathered, he would talk of strange and amazing things. He talked excitedly of Reagan’s Star Wars Programme. At another time, he said, “Michael Jackson is going to the USSR, and there they will change his name. He will no longer be known as Michael Jackson, but Mikhael Jacksonov.” His audience was silent. They had no idea if Michael Jackson was a rat or a bird. The only other person who had heard of him, said, “I know who that is! A female soldier who screams a lot, and walks very stiffly. Reminds me of an arthritic trying to dance.” Another, said “Oh, I see” while chewing on tobacco leaves, and from there the conversation fizzled out. The ex-army man, wanting to contribute something to the topic, but at a loss for a suitable thing to say, said, “I once bought a black ticket at Zodin cinema too.”
When they talked of matters close to their hearts, however, they became so enthusiastic that they had to fight for a chance to speak. The topics varied from charcoal sold in the market, wholesale prices of firewood and mustard leaves, a coin found in a bag of fermented fish, present prices of Burmese cattle, the irregularity of supplies such as dried mangoes and cloth smuggled surreptitiously from across the border, how they had been miraculously healed seven times through Evangelist Lalchungnunga’s ministry, how they positively loathed men who wore earrings, how many tiny pebbles there were in this week’s ration-rice, and how, seeing that they were born only once, they were determined to request at least one song on All India Radio during their lifetime. Towards the end, a small boy who always hung around them would make an innocent comment such as “I don’t think the pebbles they add to the ration-rice make it any tastier” and they would all burst out laughing.
With the break of dawn, the crowing of cocks in the distance and the loud rumble of water-trucks out to supply water to the citizens of Aizawl woke up the people of Happy Valley. Since they were in the west, they had to peer towards the east, to the hills of Reiek in the distance to see if the sun was up or not. A woman called her neighbour, “Neighbour, what are your plans for the day?”
The neighbour appeared at her window, “I thought I would go to Civil8 today for a check up.”
“What is wrong with you?”
“Oh! Haven’t you heard about the new machine they have installed there, Endawskawp or something.”
“Everyone is all praises for it, they are all going there to consult it, and I thought I would go too.”
“And what ailment are you going to get yourself checked for?”
“I’m not sure. All I know is that the machine is good. Maybe I will let it check my insides.”
“Well, maybe I should go too; my eyesight is not so good these days.”
“Eh! Let’s go together then. I have been having this persistent pain in my ankle too. I went to get myself checked the other day, and I think just a single visit has relieved me of so much pain. It seems to work better than the X-ray.” Thus, they went to consult the endoscope machine, an instrument meant for examining the inside of the human body, believing that it was some sort of a medicine, and hoping to be cured of all their ailments.
In Happy Valley, it was impossible to survive without that amazing word, “borrow”. Since times were hard, it was not uncommon for a family not to have even small items like knives and scissors. If one had too many visitors, one simply borrowed chairs from neighbours, and sharing utensils was a common practice too. Nobody was aggrieved over these matters. Since what they did not have far outnumbered what they did have, borrowing became a way of life for them, and they did what they could to help a neighbour who, after all, lived just on the other side of the wall.
When we had lived for a considerable amount of time in this manner, video invaded happy Valley in a big way. As before, young men and women gathered after supper, but things had changed. Mawitea walked around with a scarf covering his face, only his eyes visible, while a samurai sword was perpetually strapped on his back. Happy Valley was no longer a safe place. That was not all. One fellow, a driver by profession, refused to wear clothes any longer after watching a Rambo movie. When he was not carrying a baby on his back, an old bicycle chain was draped around his shoulder, and even when he was carrying a baby, he did not refrain from tying a bandanna around his head or wearing hunter boots. He had a maniacal gleam in his eyes, as if he wanted to chew and spit on the world in general. The Mara boy, on the other hand, could not walk past a pole or tree or any object that one could circle, without singing, “Tarzan! My Tarzan!” first.
The erstwhile simple babysitters now looked like local versions of Cindy Crawford and Sridevi with their charcoal black eyelids. Whenever they came together, they clutched fashionably thin bags with pictures of Popeye under their arms. Once a neighbour from this group came and excitedly said, “Oi, they were selling some neil pawlissh7 at really cheap prices…” and proceeded to take out a bottle of stencil correcting fluid out of her bag. Such incidents were not cause for wonder or embarrassment in Happy Valley.
Handshakes now were offered at great peril to the owner of the hand, for the young boys were likely to throw you over, with a great shout of “Freestyle!” Any old bin or pieces of tar lying on the ground became instruments for practising kung fu.
~ ~ ~

Nights falls, and they all disappear to watch videos at a neighbour’s house. There is nobody left at the rooftop where they once congregated. It is eerily silent. The bamboo groves far below swish and rustle when the wind blows through them. Above, the waning moon, looking desolate, inhabits the night sky like a lone ship on a vast ocean. All the young men and women who sang so well, spoke so well, and related to each other like kindred spirits – where have they all gone? There is no other sound except the noise from a far-off television set, where music from MTV blares out the song, “Video Killed the Radio Star.”

  1. Paites are a clan belonging to Mizoram. They have been traditionally portrayed as peddlars and small-time merchants.
  2. Kumpinu: The East India Company, here synonymous with the British Empire.
  3. Behlawi Bai: A Mizo dish made out of certain leaves called behlawi.
  4. Hringdup beat refers to the simplest form of the swing rhythm, a beat popular in many Mizo songs.
  5. A public hall in the centre of Aizawl city, where most important functions are held.
  6. The Crusaders and The Invaders were popular gospel bands in the 1980s, who followed Evangelists and complemented the sermons with their songs. Vanlalruati, Lallianmawia, C.Lalrinmawia, Zirsangzela Hnamte, and C.Vansanga are well-known singers in Mizoram, and the story is set at a time when they had reached the height of their popularity.
  7. Nail Polish.
  8. Civil Hospital

Vanneihtluanga is among the most outstanding Mizo contemporary writers. Written in the mid-80s, this piece comes from his autobiographical collection of short stories Keimah leh Keimah first published in 2000. He still lives in what's sometimes fondly called Happy Valley by its inhabitants in Chanmari, Aizawl, although now in a spacious multi-roomed house.

Cherrie Lalnunziri Chhangte works in the English dept at Mizoram University. Actively involved both in creative writing in English and translations from Mizo to English, her prose here has a lyricism that is beautifully poetic.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Glimpses of Mizo Literature - RL Thanzawna

Ninety one years ago, not a single Mizo could read or write for the Mizo alphabet as we know it today, was only codified by the pioneer missionaries, Rev FJ Savidge and Rev JH Lorrain who landed in a small hamlet near Sairang by the banks of the river Tlawng in Mizoram in the chilly winter of 1894. If the true meaning of literature is to be taken literally, it may perhaps be a little presumptuous to claim the existence of any Mizo literature prior to that date.

Oral Literature
If we remember, however, that long before man wrote down his thoughts and emotions, he expresses them in songs. Untouched by learned influences from without, these songs are crystallized into the living language of the people – folksongs and folk stories were born out of such full and spontaneous expression which were then orally passed on from generation to generation. As we follow history of any literature through all its transformations, we are brought into direct and living contact with the motive forces of the inner life of each successive generation, and learn at first hand how it looked at life and how it thought about it, what were the things in which it was most willing to be amused, by what passions it was most deeply stirred, by what standard of conduct and of taste it was governed, and what types of characters it deemed worthy of its admiration.

Mizo Literature begins with the history of the people
Mizo literature, we would therefore, claim did not begin with the day when the Duhlian dialect we now call the Mizo language was reduced into writing in the Roman script but in fact, started with the history of the Mizo people. Anything that, for good or evil, has entered into the making of Mizo society has also entered into the texture of Mizo literature – whether it was the travails of their migration, their fierce battles and ambuscades or the sweat and toils of raising their crops, their festivals and folk dances, all go to their general life, belief and aspirations which were profoundly imprinted in their literature.

What we now call Mizo literature consists not only of the creation of literate writers or translations of the Bible and other western literature but also of the collection of those folk songs and folk stories which go under the anonymous name of the people’s creation.

Beginning of Written Literature
Thanks to the hard work of the pioneering missionaries, their earlier converts and to subsequent generations, no less, Mizo literature has now gained, within a span of less than a century, a status which is considered fit to be included in the curriculum right up to the university degree courses. The tales told by grandmas to the children, war chants and love songs provided the necessary ingredients to the literature. All these not only generate existence of Mizo literature but also inspire and promote its development.

Earlier Literature
The earliest Mizo songs are those which can be called nursery songs or cradle songs, most of which are apparently nonsensical repetitive mnemonic rhymes but on closer look they reveal the imprint of the simple milieu of yesteryears of Mizo society. Perhaps the earliest Mizo songs we know of are the following –

“Ur ur tak kai, ur ur tak kai
Hnung hnung tak kai, hnung hnung tak kai”
“Khawmhma pal a er an ti,
A duh duhin er rawh se”
Mothers carrying their babies on their backs would put their darlings to sleep with a lullaby like this –

“A khiah khian lungpui a lo lum dawn e,
Ka nauvi kha a del hang e, suan rawh u”

(High up from the hill is a rock rolling down
Remove my little darling, lest the rock will crush him)

“A khiah khian rammu an kal dial dial e,
Ka nauvi pa tel ve maw, ral that ve maw?”

(Yonder o’er there go the warriors
Does my darling’s dad join there, did he too kill an enemy?”)

Influence of Neighbouring Communities and Christianity
Cradle songs such as these connote the primitive – animistic belief and their headhunting proclivities and their admiration for those who vanquished their enemies. In course of their migration towards the west from Central Asia, the Mizos established a big settled village in the fertile valley of Chindwin in Burma where they tarried for a considerable time until they were forced by a stronger tribe, such as the Chins, to move westwards to present Mizoram. Their stay in this valley of Run (a tributary of Chindwin) was marked by a number of songs and interesting tales. Their songs and stories wer indicative of their intercourse with other communities. Many of their songs talk of the marauding Chins who ransacked their villages, held their daughters to ransom, and took the men as captives while most of their war chants or Hlado as they were called, are interspersed with Chin dialect. Some Mizo tales like Khena leh Rama, Rairahtea leh Chhawnabawrahza, Mauruangi and many others smack of a faint acquaintance with Hindu mythology or the existence of some powerful Raja somewhere. It is presumed that such knowledge was gained by them through their contacts with the people of Cachar, tripura, Manipur or Chittagong areas. What is evident, however, is that some version of Hindu mythologies had been passed on to the forefathers of the Mizos long before Christianity made its entry into their society. Having first learnt something about the tenets of Hinduism, it is not known why not a single Mizo has embraced that religion. This can be an interesting subject for research.

The history of the literature of the Mizos is, truly, the history of the Mizos. For reasons unexplainable by any glib interpretation, Mizos embraced the Christian en masse; since 1894 till now, within such a short time almost a hundred percent claim to be Christians. Since this date, ie 1894, Mizo history is an entirely new chapter.

How Mizo Script was Formulated
Mizo language has no script of its own. Credit for reducing it into writing in the Roman script has been given to the pioneer missionaries. Their efforts were, however, preceded by commendable exercises of enterprising officers like Lt. Col. Thomas Herbert Lewin (affectionately called Thangliana by the Mizos – a corruption of Tom Lewin) who wrote Progressive Colloquial Exercise in the Lushai Dialect in 1874. Dr Brojo Nath Saha, a civil medical officer of Chittagong, also published a book called Grammar of the Lushai Language. Yet another British officer called C.A. Soppitt had compiled Rangkhol-Kuki-Lushai Grammar way back in 1885. All these efforts paved the way to the more systematic and organized efforts of the missionaries.

First Book Published
Having taught the art of writing and reading to the Mizos, one of the first things the missionaries did was produce some literature to read. Portions of the Bible particularly the Gospels, were translated into Mizo – first came the Mizo version of Luke (1896), then John (1898), then the Acts of the Apostles (1899). Then came the first Mizo Primer – Mizo Zirtir Bu (1903). The Mizo version of the Bible remains the standard for Mizo literature today.

Original Works of Mizo Poets
Following publication of the Mizo Bible, a number of books on religious matters including translations of Christian hymns were published which were avidly learned by the new literates. Their thirst for more literature to read was nursed with the publication of the Mizo version of the Pilgrim’s Progress (Kristiana Vanram Kawngzawh) translated by Rev Chuautera which remains one of the most readable books, apart from the Bible, in Mizo literature today. The contribution of the missionaries and the churches towards the development of Mizo literature cannot be overemphasized; they do not only provide the printed material but opened up their eyes to wider horizons to the world of literature and changed their outlook on life and life after death. Not being content with the translated hymns of the western composers, many gifted Mizo poets came up with poems written in their own idioms and in tune with their own indigenious ethos and conception of Christianity. Such songs of worship are called Lengkhawm Zai and are sung in the traditional Mizo way with a drum. In style and profoundity these songs are dearest to the hearts of the adult members of the society and are original contributions to the wealth of Mizo literature.

The codification of Mizo language and publication of Christian literature in that language not only paved the way for the development of Mizo literature but also resulted in the emergence of the Mizo language as the only language, the lingua franca as it were, for the entire Mizoram. Barring the Mara (Lakher) and the Chakmas, all the sub-tribes who used their own dialects switched over to the Mizo language. This has had a salutary effect on all aspects of development and the growth of literature.

The Role Of Journalism
Having been exposed to the world of literature, the need for publication of things mundane and secular was soon felt. The first Mizo journal of a sort called Mizo Chanchin Laishuih was published in 1898; it was a cyclostyled tabloid. This publication did not last long. A monthly journal published by the Superintendent of Lushai Hills and printed in Sylhet came out in 1902. This monthly journal called Mizo leh Vai Chanchin was in circulation for several years. Contributors to this journal were the first educated Mizos who were held in high esteem by the people. Their writings on human interest did a yeoman’s service to the people. Then came the Kristian Tlangau, a monthly mouthpiece of the Presbyterian Mission from Aizawl in 1911. The Baptist Mission of Lunglei also came up with a monthly magazine called Tlawmngaihna (1934). This magazine, though with an emphasis was more interested in highlighting whatever is good and worthwhile in Mizo tradition like Tlawngaihna and so on. Another monthly Kohhran Beng from the Baptist Church of Serkawn came out in 1947. This again is the mouthpiece of the church and is still in circulation. But the journal which took up the development of Mizo literature as its main object was the monthly mouthpiece of the Lushai Students’ Association (LSA) which came out in 1935 till it ceased publication in 1980. The LSA was later changed to MZP – Mizo Zirlai Pawl. This magazine published, among other things, essays and other writings of purely literary nature. Many other newspapers and journals have since come up but the ones which have contributed most to the development of Mizo literature are those that have been enumerated. At the moment there is only one literary magazine called Thu leh Hla, a mouthpiece of the Mizo Academy of Letters.

Contemporary Literature
A study of contemporary Mizo literature reveals considerable maturity and depth from the 30s onwards with poets and writers producing works of lasting value on secular subjects. From Serkawn High School under the leadership of the headmaster Lalmama and Rev H.W. Carter a number of poems called Sekawn Concert Hla have been produced. These poems eulogise the legendary heroes of the Mizos and praise traditional values in Mizo society, the beauty of nature and other human interests. This type of poetry called Hla Lenglawng (Community songs) set a new chapter in Mizo literature. In the traditional Mizo style the creations of Awithangpa, Bualkunga and a host of others blossomed forth. In originality and content, the works of Kamlala stood out prominently. World War II and its aftermath saw the blossoming of many beautiful lovesongs from the pen of C. Lalzova, Vankhama, Lalzuia and others. The devastation caused by World War II and the political awakening which followed also brought about the spirit of nationalism and the need for moral development all over the world which also inspired writers like Rokunga and others to produce poems of inspiration and thought-provoking nature. The essays and writings of Biakliana, K.C.Lalvunga, C. Thuamluaia, J. Malsawma and others set the pace for literary prose writings.

No sufficient justice can be done to describe the spurt of literature coming up in recent years without a full length study. Suffice it to say that the literary award given to Rev Liangkhaia by the Mizo Academy of Letters in 1978, and the Padma Shree award to James Dokhuma for literature in 1985 by the President of India, confirm that given the opportunity and necessary patronage, the door is open now for the massive development of Mizo literature.

Impediments to the Growth
The greatest impediments to the growth of Mizo literature is lack of funds. Printing of books cost much money. In a small community, the number of books that could be sold is very small. Publication of any literary works, unless it happens to be a textbook or supported by the government or church organization, is a losing proposition which no individual writer can afford. There is, at the moment, a great interest in the development of literature which is evident from the number of manuscripts and cyclostyled copies lying with individual writers. If only there could be an agency of the government which could assist with the publication of works of literary value, it will be a monumental contribution to the growth of Mizo literature and to society.

R.L.Thanzawna was a trailblazer and pioneer for Mizoram during an illustrious bureaucratic career spanning the 60s to the 90s. With a wide array of interests and deeply knowledgeable in Mizo culture and history, as head of the newly created Department of Information and Public Relations and Tourism in the early 70s, he spearheaded a flurry of publicity for Mizoram, opening it up to the world. With great empathy for the younger generation, he organized the influential Beat Contests of the 70s. He was also interested in the print media and was instrumental in the creation of Mizoram Today, a classy tourist-oriented monthly magazine chronicling official developments in fine quality print, and organized several workshops for young journalists whom he personally trained in reporting ethics and know-how. He co-authored A History of the Mizos with CG Verghese in 1997, besides writing several authoritative articles on Mizo arts and culture. He died on the 5th November, 1998.

I am deeply grateful to his son Lalhmingliana for giving me free access to his father's works and allowing me to reproduce online this essay which was first published in Mizoram News Magazine, 1985.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Hostel Sentinel - KC Lalvunga

Translated by Margaret L Pachuau

I wasn’t feeling too well that night and so, had stayed back in the hostel. Alone. While all my friends had gone to Church for the Sunday Mass.
My roommate, Lalhluna, had offered to stay back to give me company but I had declined, saying that my condition was stable enough. In truth, I had also wanted to use the time to study. After everyone had left, there was only the haunting silence for company, and the only light in the entire building was from the bulb in my room. Through the window, the sight of the moon bathed in all its splendour made me nostalgic. I filled a glass of water from the bathroom and placed it on my table.
I don’t know why but while in the bathroom, ancient tales about our hostel sentinel came rushing to my mind and my hair stood on end. Admonishing myself for letting such thoughts overpower me, I latched the door. Spreading a fresh sheet on the bed and placing a pillow, I lay down on it and began to read the chronicles of the Sepoy Mutiny.
The Sepoy Mutiny of 1857… also called the First Indian War of Independence. Undoubtedly, there has been a sea change in political thought, for during the British rule the event had been described as one that had done away with rebels, wicked murderers and thieves. Foreign authors had presented sordid tales of Indian and their atrocities. The present political powers, however, glorified those “rebels” as martyrs to the cause.
Just then the sound of people opening and entering the gate interrupted my thoughts – probably my friends returning.
Suddenly, I could hear someone running, and then a scuffle.
“Whatever could be the matter?” I thought, listening intently. The footsteps hastened, as others followed. It stopped outside my room.
Suddenly, a cry pierced through the air, “Ka nu… I can’t take any more of this.”
Another voice said, “Stab him!”

“No, no, please don’t stab me… please let me go,” the first person said.
Silence. And then the sound of someone being stabbed. As I jumped up to intervene, full of anger, I heard a voice saying, “Let’s put him in here.” Then the sound of fleeing footsteps.
When I opened the door, a handsome youth stood before me – his sparkling eyes, aquiline nose and wavy hair enhancing his looks. I could not help noticing that the suit and the bow tie he had on were however, a bit old fashioned.
“Who was stabbed?”
“Ah, it was me,” he replied simply.
“Where did they stab you?”
He mumbled a reply indistinctly. I thought he said, “Right down my heart,” I wasn’t sure I heard it right.
He stood there seemingly without a trace of pain, but I could have sworn that it was a murder I had overheard. “Are you hurt?” I enquired.
“Well, yes.” He quickly added, “Do you have any water?” Noticing the glass on my desk, he picked it up and gulped down the water.
“Why were you fighting?”
“Ah, it’s a strange story, but if you want to know I’ll tell you. I have a girlfriend, nay, let me call her wife… her name is Laltinchhingi, and this is her photograph.”

She was a sensuous young woman who seemed to epitomize feminine radiance. Her beauty had a magnetic appeal and I gazed at the photograph much longer than I had actually intended to. They made a fine pair indeed.
“Well, so, there she is…my girl, whom I truly love. What’s more she loves me too. We were engaged last week. But there were a few others who desired her as well. Their love going unrequited, they plotted to kill me.”
“Wait,” I interrupted anxiously, “let’s attend to your wounds, let’s have a look at it… Shouldn’t we send for a doctor?”
“No, thank you, there’s no need. But pardon me, I don’t know your name as yet. What’s your name?”
“Liankhuma,” I replied.
“I see… well, Khuma, sit down. What are you doing here?”
“I’m a student, and this building is a hostel.”
“Oh, I know that. I stay here too. My room’s just across the landing.”
“Ah, then you are a new resident, aren’t you?”
“No, no, I’ve been staying here for quite a while. But I haven’t really made many friends, so very few know me.”
For a while we both gazed at each other silently. Then he said earnestly, “Khuma, the world is a terrible place to live in.”
“Why do you say that? Young men like you and I should not have any such problem.”
“Yes, it should be that way but envy and malice make it appalling. Ah, envy…why is there so much of it in the human heart?” he brooded.
I had no answer.
He continued, “Khuma, allow me to confide in you.”
“Yes, please do so. A burden becomes lighter when shared,” I urged.
Holding his handkerchief against his face he said, “Love is what gives pleasure to life, isn’t it?
“That’s right,” I said.
“Or rather, our loved ones are the source of our happiness. Greater than any other pleasure in the world is a life together with our loved ones. Every man’s dream is to marry his beloved and live in idyllic splendour. To be pampered by them, to lean on them… could any man wish for more? Is that not reason enough for love?”
“That is so,” I replied. His words belied his youthful demeanour.

“Our parents shower us with love, eagerly waiting for the time when we will spread our wings. They make tremendous sacrifices, sending us to places such as this hostel by the sweat of their brow. They wait for us to mature and make a definite mark in the world. The tremendous anticipation that emerges from parental love is unparalleled in this world.”
“That’s right.”
“Ah, to betray that hope… that trust. Is it not the most disgraceful thing in the world?”
I was so engrossed in his words that all I could do was to stare at him in awe.
“What opinion would you have of those who have deprived me of such a love?”
I was unable to comprehend what he was saying.
“I mean, what can you say about murderers?” he persisted.
Well, they are abhorrent criminals who very often do not get the punishment they deserve.”
“That’s right. Very often they escape penalty.”
We were silent for a while, then at length, “Khuma,” he said weeping copiously, “I find it terrible that I’ve been snatched away from the company of my beloved. My fate has been most tragic and disheartening.”
“Hey, didn’t you say she reciprocated your love?”
“Certainly, she loved me too and has endured many a hard time for my sake, shed many a tear for me. Khuma, no fate is as tragic as mine.”
“Wait a minute… why should your fate be as pathetic as that? Handsome men like you should not be prey to such a destiny.”
“Ah, but fatal are the wounds of envy!” saying this, he clutched at his heart and doubled up in pain.
“Hey, where is the wound? Why didn’t you say so before?” I sprang up to hold him.
“Sit down, Khuma… thank you for your concern, but now it’s too late.”
“Show me where they’ve stabbed you.”
He then got up, took off his coat and unbuttoned his shirt, showing me the knife wound running down his chest. I winced at the ghastly sight. Panic seized me.
“Here, let’s go to a doctor, why didn’t you mention this before?”
“Khuma, doctors won’t be able to help me. Don’t trouble yourself.” But I was determined and started getting ready to go to the doctor.
At that moment, I could hear the sound of my friends returning and my mind was more at ease.
“Anyway Khuma, let me go to my room briefly.”
“All right,” I said without looking at him, engrossed in dressing up. He left the room. Then I heard my friends thumping on the door.
“Come in,” I called.
“Open up.”
Irritated, they yelled, “It’s locked from inside.”
I was still putting on my jacket when I glanced around and saw that the door was indeed locked from inside.
I opened the door and said, “Get ready, we’ve to go to the hospital.”
Lalhluna replied in jest, “Why, aren’t you well?”
“No, it’s not about me. That young man there has been badly wounded. We’ve to take him to the doctor.”
“The one who came out just now.”
“From where?”
“From this room.”
“We didn’t see anyone.”
Lalhluna grabbed hold of my arm and said, “What’s the matter with you?”
I was annoyed. “I am telling you, this isn’t about me.”
“Then what is it?”
I could sense that some of them were a bit amused.
“That young man who came out from here just now was stabbed and we’ve to take him to a doctor.”
They looked at each other in utter consternation. Then it dawned on me… my door had been bolted from the inside all the while!
Horrified, I checked the glass of water, but it was still on the table, full to the brim. I rushed outside to where I had heard the sound of a scuffle but a vacant lot was all that awaited me. I was stupefied.
Alarmed, my friends hesitantly suggested summoning a doctor. It was then that I disclosed what had taken place. My tale was received with shock and astonishment. Some felt that a trick had been played on me. I realized that there was no way I could prove the reality of the incident. We made a thorough search of the entire hostel, going to the extent of checking out all the guests. Our search prove futile.
Our aged hostel chowkidar, whose quarters were located towards the main gate, appeared. We enquired if he had seen such a person.
Astounded, he looked at me. “You say he was in black?”
“A handsome, wavy haired youth?”
“Ah, that’s him all right… the hostel sentinel.”
Then we learnt the whole story. As he had told me himself.
“What happened to the murderers?”
“Well, they were never caught. His body was found in the nearby well. It was a long time ago for, as you can see, the well too has dried up. I remember when we were young we could still draw water form there.” Coughing loudly, he rasped, “When the body was discovered, it had decayed beyond recognition. Everyone, of course, had their suspects but nothing definite came out of it and no one was convicted.”
We stared at him mutely.
“How long ago was this?”
“Ah, a long time ago. My father was a mere boy then and it was he who told me about it. They say that every twenty years he wanders about this hostel trying to find his murderers.”
And indeed, it must have been a long, long time ago, for our chowkidar himself was bent double with age… his sideburns graying. Wearily, he sounded the gong, shut the main door and stooping, he proceeded homewards.
That night, thoughts of the youth haunted me. Though nearly a century had elapsed, curses formed afresh in me … in sheer condemnation of those who had snuffed out so cruelly the glory and splendour of youth.

KC Lalvunga wrote under the pseudonym, Zikpuii Pa. He wrote both novels and short stories, besides several articles and essays, which he published in various journals and periodicals. He has fifteen poems and two songs to his credit, which have been compiled together in a volume entitled Zozam Par. He was the recipient of the Academy Award (Posthumous) by the Mizo Academy of Letters (MAL) in 1995 and the Writer of the Century award given by the Mizoram State Government. The first Mizo to qualify for the Indian Foreign Service, he was the Indian Ambassador to Venezuela, Colombia, Oman, North Korea and Jamaica. He also taught at school, dabbled in politics and edited a newsletter Zoram Thupuan, before joining the civil services. He died in 1994.

Margaret Lalmuanpuii Pachuau teaches at the Department of English, Mizoram University.

The Hostel Sentinel was first published in Mizo as Hostel Awmtu in the Mizo Students’ Association Monthly Magazine, March – April, 1960. This translation was published in English in The Heart of the Matter (KATHA, New Delhi 2004).

Friday, February 8, 2008

Poem - Lalnunsanga

Are you well?
I am well.
Are you not well?
I am not well.
Do you breathe?
Yes, I breathe.
Do you not breathe?
I do not breathe.
Do you love?
Yes, I love.
Do you not love?
I still love.

Lalnunsanga teaches English lit at the Christian Academy in Shillong. We hope to see more of his promising writings very soon.