Thursday, March 20, 2008

Politik Gypsy - Thanseia

Translated by Dr Margaret L. Pachuau

Several men set out from Lawipu (a locality situated within Aizawl city) to go hunting amidst the forest at about ten in the morning.The group headed towards Reiek village and went across the Tlawng river. They proceeded enthusiastically towards the mouth of the river. Barely had they taken a few paces, when they noticed smoke arising steadily from behind a huge rock. The leader of the group said, “Hey, who could it be that goes ahead of us? Can it be that they have set up camp overnight? Could they have destroyed our hamlet?” A young man from the group commented vociferously, “If they have destroyed it then we shall fight them all.”

They all gazed down and atop a rock they could perceive a man as he sat sunning himself. He was busy creating ripples in the water that raced past his fingers. He was almost naked, and it was difficult to decipher whether he was male or female, especially because he wore his hair in long tresses. The distance between them was quite far off and besides they had to pave their way behind huge rocks. Eventually by the time they reached the spot where they had first detected him, he had vanished. It was not possible to decipher where he had taken off. Upon close scrutiny of the fire that he had stoked as well as the place occupied by him, it was clear that he had spent the night there. Yet it was almost as if he had no bedding or utensils. It was indeed very difficult to trace his steps. Yet it was clear from his footprints that he was a full grown man. What remained unclear was as to whether he had traversed further downstream or whether he had disappeared in the thick forests. Thus the men who had gathered there began to ponder reflectively and some of them declared that was they had seen could have been a spirit, and yet others felt that it could have been someone who was mentally unstable.

Someone from the group commented, “I seem to recall that last year, at about this time, some young men had gone travelling, and they spoke about a man they spotted in the river between Tuipang and Serkawr. They said that they had seen someone very much like the man we spotted just now. In fact they had even spoken to him, but he had not replied. They saw him moving steadily away upstream. That itself convinces me that the man we saw was human.”
Even as the group proceeded further, all of them queried themselves, “I wonder who it was that we spotted”.

A month later a hunter from Chhingchip village, was lying in wait for a wild boar. It was the season when the wheat crop was nearly ripening. He saw a person sitting inside his jhum hut. “Who could it be sitting inside the jhum hut? I wonder if he is also lying in wait for an animal. And is he wearing clothes at all? His hair seems to be really long…”
And wondering thus, he continued to gaze at him even as darkness arose. The wild boar was nowhere in sight and so he eventually headed for his jhum hut. It was desolate and yet the fire was brightly lit. On the walls of the jhum hut he could perceive these lines written beautifully in charcoal:

Difficulties and misfortunes are truly precious!
Akin to an ugly frog bearing gold.

The man declared, “I wonder who this could be? Has he gone back to town, or is he lying in wait for his hunt? It appeared as though he was almost naked, I wonder if he was human…’’ those thoughts amidst his mind, he set off for home.

In different places, amidst the plains and forests, many reported that such a man had indeed been spotted. In fact there were reports about the same in the daily newspapers. While some wrote about how the man was a very pitiful figure, some others carried stories about how dangerous and gruesome he was. Eventually he became the talk of almost every town and village.

Once a group of young girls on their way to gathering firewood chanced upon him. He was walking about silently. Standing by the side of the road, he presented the group with orchids. Even as they observed his countenance it was clear that he was not dangerous, rather there was a kindly, benevolent aura about him. His shock of long hair, and his heavy beard, and his tattered clothes made him all the more pitiable.

After barely half a month later, some women from Champhai Hmunhmeltha town were proceeding someplace. At Keilungliah, which was a place where the rhododendron were in full bloom at the bed of the river, they spotted him as he was plucking the flowers while tucking the same into his hair. His beard was thick and overgrown and due to this some men actually pitied him, but there were others who found it a bit difficult to fully come to terms with him. Before they could speak to him he had disappeared by the other side of the valley.

A woman remarked, “O that I could follow him, his lifestyle seems to be so enchanting…but if I speak too much he would be the envy of my husband…”So saying they laughed in amusement.

This youth, who later turned out to be a Mizo Politik Gypsy, had arrived in Aizawl after completing his I.Sc. examination from Cotton College, Gauhati. He was a reserved young man, with a good personality. He spoke ill of none and was liked by his friends. While he was in college he loved reading tales about the Gypsies in Europe. At home, both his parents had passed away and he had two sisters who were already married. His elder brother was serving in the Assam Regiment and so he lived with his uncle, who sold charcoal in an obscure corner of Aizawl.

His uncle advised, “Now that things have come to such a pass, we must try and locate some work for you, you must seek work, for I am highly inexperienced and there is little I can do to help you. You must seek out politicians and other influential people of Aizawl to come to your aid. Adhere to the path of righteousness and God will be your guide.”

Accordingly, the young man spoke to the politicians as well and other seemingly influential people. He was greeted with encouragement from all sides. “I must appear for the exams as soon as possible” he decided. Yet such a possibility was hard to come by. At the same time, some of his acquaintances would secure jobs here and there. Upon his query they would reply, “These are only temporary appointments, but the job will be regularized later.”

He even appeared twice for the exams.In fact he performed meritoriously. At times he was even placed in the panel list. His dream was to serve as either teacher or clerk within Aizawl and help his uncle. However he would stop just short of getting a job. He felt that those who had fared worse than him, yet had influential connections were steadily securing employment.

He was steadily disheartened. He was disenchanted as well.Mizos have become pawns in the game of politics, he thought. It has eaten us away like poison, as though we are severely ill, yet we are unaware of the same. When will this lead us to total ruin and damnation? He would steadily ponder upon these aspects in great dilemma. In like manner, he felt that Mizos in general and the residents of Aizawl in particular could be classified under three distinct categories: (a) The rich and influential (b) The middle class (c) The poor and the marginalized

The divide was getting wider steadily. He realized that in a short while the divide would be so wide that it would not suffice even if a ladder were to be placed as a bridge to narrow the same. “Mizos are one and the same, our status can be likened to a hen’s tail that is more or less of the same width, our clothes, food, are the same, and we are blessed”. Those were merely sayings that he could recall of an era that was gone by.

The first group that he had classified was a group that bonded only with one another, and even marriages were conducted amongst themselves only. They looked after one another at times of happiness and sorrow. Even their children cared little for the under privileged classes. He saw them as a group that embezzled money. They were corrupt, yet at the same time they were a very securely established group.

The second group was a predominantly middle class group. They were an average lot, and they could manage to make a semblance of existence in terms of food, clothing and shelter. They sought ways in which to best fend for themselves and in the process they often sought favors from the first group in order to secure work. Very often they would project themselves as more economically viable than they actually were.

The third and the last group however, were actually the largest group in Mizoram.They were the underprivileged lot, who were oppressed and could barely eke out a living. This group was deemed of value only at the time of the elections, and they were often appeased by mere word of mouth. As the young man spent a larger part of his life with this lot, the terms Communist and Socialist were often music to his ears. However, as they did not dare to protest against the corrupt practices of the first group, especially in terms of the manner in which they dealt with their land revenue and taxes, and because they could not really arrive at a semblance of unity he felt that this group could actually be termed as “a group of cowards”.

He also condemned the political parties. He felt that they were only insane about their own ideologies and were often swayed astray by the corrupt winds of politics. He was often disheartened. He felt that these were factors that were largely responsible for his lack of employment. If one was not a member of a political party, and did not have political leaders as acquaintances then it was evident that life hung at a dead end for him. After spending a considerable manner in Aizawl in that fashion, there was little he could do. So he sought work as a Middle School teacher in the villages. He was recruited as a headmaster on a temporary basis, in a private middle school in a village located in the Western part of Mizoram.He was delighted. With a newly found colleague he worked very hard towards the progress of the school. He stayed with a Church elder who was ill of health and decidedly poverty stricken. After he had worked for a span of one and a half years the school also made remarkable progress. It even began to receive aid from the government. And he was overjoyed. He had also begun to develop a close affinity for a young lady.

At this time, a politician’s son who had recently passed the Pre-University examinations was being nominated as Headmaster of the school. The corrupt winds of politics were about to blow once again, and petty gossip,criticism and malicious slander were on the rise yet again. Some people remarked, “Our Headmaster…is actually a supporter of the opposition party, he does not support the policies of the present ruling party …he doesn’t pay enough attention when our party leaders visit…”

The winds of political change were about to blow once more. He would often chat and spend time in prayer with his host at night. “How politics has corrupted our community as well as our lives. It has turned friends into foes. It has done away with the aspect of love, and shattered mutual compatibility and healthy competition. It has rendered the poor who are unable to pay for medicines to the status of the terminally ill. Yet we are unaware of the fact that we are ill, unable to pay for medicines, because the corrupt winds of politics have rendered our senses blind.” These were aspects they would discuss till very late at night.

“What can be comparable to the corrupt winds of party politics? They could be akin to a stick that is ramrod straight, dipped in crystal clear water that turns crooked at that portion which is touched by the water. We will never see ourselves as ram rod straight. It is much better to resign from the job of headmaster…” he would ponder often.

Before the leaders of the village community could come to a consensus about the decision of Headmaster, the school closed for the annual session. With a heavy heart he set off for Aizawl to spend his Christmas vacation at his uncle’s house.

He carried his bags and all forenoon he sought a motorable road and that made him very tired. He sat atop a hillock near the road, and soon he fell asleep. He dreamt that the school had replaced him with a new headmaster and that he had been dismissed on the grounds of corruption. He was filled with profound sorrow. At that very moment two sojourners from Mamit came his way, and one said, “Hey, young lad, which way are you going? Come, let us go together.”He replied graciously, “Thank you, I am on my way to Aizawl. You go on ahead, and I shall come along later.”

The two men from Mamit then left him. The sun was slowly fading in the horizon and the motor able road was still some distance away. Even then it was all a matter of whether one would encounter a vehicle that could accommodate them. “That young man is really a bit slow,” they remarked and so saying they went their way.

Not much is known about this young man. The last that one saw of him was when he was spotted sitting westwards, by the hill. It had been a man from Mamit who had spotted him and later a group of men from Phuaibuang, had perceived him in that manner even as they went on a hunt towards Hingtlang.It is not known as to how long he strayed in the vicinity of Hingtlang or even amidst the sylvan surroundings of Tuivai. A hunter who saw him from a considerably close range observed that age had crept upon him and his hair had streaks of grey as well. Yet no words were exchanged between the two. His countenance remained relatively unaltered. He seemed to encompass love as well as innocence.

He could be at home amidst a herd of wild boar, and could slumber deeply amidst them. He was comfortable amidst the deer and her young. Monkeys would tend to the lice on his head. He even made friends with different kinds of birds. Yet ironically he could not proffer a hand of friendship towards his fellow men who were prey to the terrible blemish of politics.

Thanseia was the first District Education Officer in Mizoram. He later retired as Joint Director of Education in Mizoram and lives with his family on McDonald Hill, Aizawl.

Politik Gypsy is included in a collection of his works entitled Pangdailo. Written in 1983 at a time when blatant party favours and preferential biases had begun making ominous inroads into Mizo bureaucratic life, this short story is almost Kafkaesque in its depiction of a frighteningly manipulative and impenetrable bureaucratic and social system.

A Ph.D in English from JNU and on the teaching faculty of the English Dept, Mizoram University, Margaret L. Pachuau juggles a busy schedule of work with an often time-consuming, personal contribution to Mizo literature through translations from Mizo into English.

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