Thursday, April 24, 2008

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

By P. Rohmingthanga

Part II

The saying goes - 'Man proposes, God disposes'. I stayed on in Mizoram for another six years, and was given various assignments. I also came back for a short stint some years later, but my plans for a second visit to these places came to nought. So it was that long after superannuation, but still in a post retirement assignment in Delhi, and persuaded by my wife's yearning to visit 'Rih Dil', that I did retrace the route, however fleetingly. So, at March end of 1999, we left for Champhai, accompanied by our 'baby daughter' who had since grown up and Lalthianghlima (Pu Hrangthiauva’s son). At Champhai we were joined by Vanlalsawma, the forest chief of the district. Our first stop was at Keifang where we had a look at the 'Rul Chawm Puk', the cave where a big reptile which used to be fed by some of our forefathers was said to inhabit. I had seen this ‘puk’years earlier, while undertaking the long trek - Seling - Champhai - Thingsai – Keitum, mentioned earlier. Then, it used to be just above the main road (Lam lian). There used to be thick foliages all around, creating the impression that the "Rulpui" was still inside. It was therefore with some trepidation that we had then peeked at the 'Puk'. In fact, we could not see through the foliage properly. This time though, it was completely bare of any growth, not even a blade of grass. Houses had since been constructed in the immediate vicinity. As a result, the wonder and the mystery of the unknown had disappeared, it had become just a small roadside cavity, and one felt saddened as if something of value had been lost. From Seling onwards, all the way to Champhai, we kept looking for the blooms of Vaube and Fartuah - since it was the right season, and a familiar sight on our earlier trips on this route. But it was most shocking to discover that there was no green patch anywhere along the road, not to speak of blooming trees. These disappointments were the first two of a series to follow.

The third was with the once beautiful forest of 'Lianchhiari Lunglen Tlang' (the hill where the damsel Lianchhiari was said to be pining for her lover), the forest which since times immemorial enveloped the heart broken maiden and from which she surely must have got some solace. I think there is a song which asks "where have all the flowers gone"? In this case the question is where have all the trees gone, and the flowers too. Obviously, someone had allotted a big chunk for cultivation leaving just a fraction of the forest in the vicinity of the rock. How tragic. It was as if a beautiful woman had been reduced to a mere skeleton because of the ravages of men. Though I was happy that at long last I had come by the road I prepared some 25 years ago, and was actually sitting on the rocky precipice, my joy was shaken by the knowledge that something beautiful had gone forever, never to return.

The fourth was with both the locations of 'Fiara Tui'. In the case of Farkawn 'Fiara Tui', the area above the road, along the upstream, was jhum land, and having been burnt recently, it was completely bare. The foliage below the road was also badly burnt. The result was that the very appearance and environment was unfriendly. One could hardly entertain the thought that the most delicious water in the world could be down there and of course, there was no water, not even a trickle, the forest cover having been so completely denuded. So it was with Vaphai 'Fiara Tui'. The entire area had since been allotted for a garden (huan). No trees are left. But the source being so good, there is still a pool of water at the base of the rock. To add to my disenchantment, a villager let it out that the water was not hygenic - probably as a result of domestic animals drinking from the pool, of which we saw one as we were approaching the spring.

The fifth was at 'Tan Tlang'. The mountain itself continues to be spectacular, majestic and changing colours as the sun moves across the sky, exuding an aura of mystery all around. Sadly though, all the trees, greenery and foliage which, like a woman's sparkling necklace, used to adorn the foothills, had vanished. The rich hinterland, the abode of the spirits, the 'lasis', the birds and the beasts, had been decimated. No wonder the inhabitants had faded away without any trace, probably led by Chawngtinleri herself to greener pastures, perhaps, to 'Buannel Ram', the paradise of the creatures of the forest.

I visited 'Lamsial Puk', and saw the bones still well preserved. The approach road was also good, and I was glad it stopped well short of the cave. We had to walk a fairly long distance through the jungle to reach the cave which, to my great joy, appeared to have remained undisturbed. I hoped they would preserve it that way. I also hoped that at certain steep stretches they would fix some support with local timber materials to prevent someone slipping off the track. But now I would not recommend construction of a jeepable road to reach the ‘Puk’ itself.

Inside Lamsial Puk

I also revisited 'Thasiama Se No Neihna Tlang'. The small hillock was now easily approachable by car, and mercifully it still retained the nearby trees and foliage, probably because it was too steep for cultivation. I made an attempt at climbing to even the score with my wife, but finding the track too steep, I became dizzy and had to give up. However, I was successful this time in discouraging my wife from repeating her feat. We passed through 'Lam Thuam Thum' and saw 'Kungawrhi Puk', the latter was ominously fenced with a barbed wire, which gave an impression that someone might have been allotted a ‘garden’.

Thasiama Se No Neihna

I also visited two sites with commemorative stones recently erected honouring people who were considered to have distinguished themselves by their outstanding achievement in their profession (I was told they were considered to have achieved the status of thangchhuah), and to literature and the arts - the former at 'Lianchhiari Lunglen Tlang' and the latter at Khawbung. I also saw the tombstone of Pu Hrangthiauva, who was no more.

All this and much more were covered in the course of a day, and when we came back we had a good night's rest. The next day we went down to Tiau (the river which flows near Thingsai and gave me so much enjoyment in my youth) by the newly constructed PWD road, hence the drive was smooth and relaxing. On the Myanmar side of Tiau, our papers were cleared in no time thanks to our escort, a DSP from Champhai. From there we were transported by a noisy old one tonner. My wife and myself shared the front seat, the rest of the party were at the back with an escort. The drive itself, initially along the river followed by a steep climb, was rock and roll at its best, still much better than the ride to Hnahlan some 25 years ago.

At last, 'Rih Dil' came into view. Even though there was a village close to the lake and the adjacent lands on one side were cultivated, the first view of the heart shaped lake struck one with its sheer beauty and the stillness of its waters. The surrounding environment was, however, bereft of its original greenery. One had to close one's eyes to imagine the landscape of long ago, of dense forest and rich animal life, including the legendary 'Rih Ar' whose eggs could immobilise anyone who dared try taking them away. It was no wonder that for people who lived in constant fear of evil spirits residing in all manner of things, and spent a great deal of their lives in propitiating them, the lake was revered as the passageway of the spirits of the dead on their way to 'Pialral' and 'Mitthi Khua'.

I had always been apprehensive of swimming in the lake because of the myths and stories associated with it, told to me so many times by my grandmother. But tempted by the sight of a few boys swimming in the lake, I also took off my clothes and joined them. To me it was a record of sorts, even if it might not have really measured up to my wife's.

On the way back, we took a detour to the new Hruaikawn village. The villagers directed our attention to a red tinged mountain far across the river Tiau, which they said was 'Buannel ram' the abode of the birds and the beasts. Having left the vehicles in the village, they also took us downhill for about a kilometer to see 'Rahbuk' and 'Lungloh Tui'. I must confess that for a moment, I suspected the authenticity of the site because I had always regarded 'Tiau Ral' as being on the eastward side of the river and it seemed to me unlikely that the spirits of the dead would retrace their steps after having crossed the river Tiau and reaching 'Rih Dil'. But then I realised that our ancestors could very well have regarded the westward side of the river as 'Tiau Ral' since they had migrated steadily from Myanmar towards the present Mizoram. And I know that the debate about the location of such mystical places could never be satisfactorily resolved.

I recalled that some time in the mid 70's, the then headmaster of GMHS, a culture buff, reported that an expedition led by him had discovered 'Rahbuk', and apprehending mischief including theft, broke the stone in two pieces, removing one piece to the school museum. Though I did not say a word, I was a little upset with what had been done to the stone, but it was too late in the day and in any case, I realized it had been done with the best of intentions. The other half was still in place. Close to the stone was 'Lungloh Tui', a tiny pool of water formed by seepage through the rocks. Enroute, we were also shown what they said could be the spot where Pawla stood with his pellet bow. The lay of the land was, however, such that it was difficult to visualise the spot as the convergence of the seven trails. There were 'Hawilo Par' among the foliage. This is a flower which the spirits of the dead plucked and wore on their head; and just like Lungloh Tui, they then lost all their desire to return to earth. The forest around was still in good condition, except for a small patch. The advice to preserve the forest was repeated. The villagers also wanted a motorable approach road, but this time, I responded with reservations. We also stopped at Ruantlang, where we found the main 'Chhura Farep' had since been shifted and erected in front of the YMA office.

Chhura Farep

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).

Picture credits: Marii, 2005

An interesting link here on Chhurbura and the impact of his legend on Mizo life and language.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Two Sky-Women and Two Earth-Men

A folktale retold by Malsawmi Jacob

Two lovely girls, Lasiri and Lasari, lived in their sky house. They were sisters. Many young men courted them, but they gave their hearts to Thangsira and Thangzaia, two brothers living on earth, who visited them frequently. Just after sunset when the sky was lit up with many colours, the young men would stand on a spot under their house and sing—

Lasiri and Lasari, let down your twined rope
For Thangsira to swing up, for Thangzaia to swing up.

On hearing this, the two young women would drop down a rope and haul them up. They would sit together on the smooth, well-polished crushed bamboo floor and chat, laugh and sing together happily. Then when roosters crowed before midnight announcing the time for visitors to go, the young men would leave by sliding down the rope.

Now Bakvawmtepu (Bear-man), an ugly, lonely person, had heard about the two beautiful girls in the sky and fallen in love with both of them though he had never seen them. He made up his mind to marry one of them, never mind which! When he came to know that Thangsira and Thangzaia were courting the two sisters, he started spying on their movements. He would hide behind a tree and listen to their song, watch them swing up the rope, and wait around until they came down again. In this way, he learned the song and how to reach the house of the sky-women. One night, soon after the young men had returned from their visit, Bakvawmtepu went to the same spot and sang the same song. But his voice was so hoarse and out of tune, and the time was so wrong, that Lasiri and Lasari at once knew that it was the voice of an impostor and they refused to let the rope down.

Bakvawmtepu understood his mistake. He diligently started training singing. He would get up early every morning, stand neck-deep in the sih stream and sing, till he sounded like Thangsira and Thangzaia. So when he went under their house and sang again, Lasiri and Lasari let down the rope and heaved him up. He was so heavy that the two girls said to each other “What’s the matter with them today? Why have they become so heavy?” And when he finally landed at their door, they were shocked and repulsed to see him. But custom demands that all visitors are to be welcomed, whether you like them or not. So they invited him to take a seat and talked to him politely.

Bakvawmtepu refused to go home even when the roosters announced the visitors-going-home time. And as young women are taught to be always courteous even to people who behave rudely, they could not directly tell him to go. To give him a hint, the younger sister, Lasari said “The roosters are crowing already! I was feeling sleepy without knowing it was so late!” “I’m feeling quite sleepy too”, Lasari responded. “Goodnight, Bakvawmtepu, do visit us again.”

But Bakvawmtepu merely replied “I am not going yet.” What could the poor girls do? Lasari lay down on the floor and pretended to sleep. As he still did not take the hint, Lasiri also lay down next to her sister. And then Bakvawmtepu shamelessly lay down too and fell asleep. To get rid of him, Lasari woke him with a song —

Move, move a little Bakvawmtepu,
My sister needs more space to lie.

At this, Bakvawmtepu woke up, moved a bit and went back to sleep. After a little while Lasiri sang the song again. Again Bakvawmtepu moved a little. She kept on singing the same song every now and then through the night. Bakvawmtepu kept moving little by little, closer to the open door on the floor. He finally fell down through the hole.

After this incident, the two sisters became very afraid of another visit by Bakvawmtepu. They decided to be very careful. When Thangsira and Thangzaia next came and sang their song, they did not let down the rope but wanted to verify their identity and asked in song –

Are you truly Thangsira? Are you truly Thangzaia?
Bakvawmtepu is not welcome here.

On hearing this, the young men were sorely offended. How could their sweethearts suspect them to be Bakvawmtepu with his ugly hoarse voice? Then and there, they decided to go away and never return. They bid them goodbye singing

Bakvawmtepu we are not,
We turn around and go away.

When Lasiri and Lasari realised that Thangsira and Thangzaia were gone, they set out in pursuit. They hurriedly came down from their sky house and followed the road the young men took. They walked so fast that they were soon about to catch up with them. Thangzaia turned back and saw the girls at a short distance behind them, and said “What shall we do, brother? I cannot walk any faster, and they will soon reach us at this rate.”
“Let’s disguise ourselves,” said Thangsira.
“Let’s turn into hair-combs. If they pick us, we will be re-united with them. If not …”
So the two brothers bent down and hid themselves, and turned into hair-combs and lay on the path.

When the girls reached the spot, they were surprised to see two hair combs in the middle of the path. Lasari wanted to pick them and sang to her elder sister –

See my sister, what good combs,
Let’s pick them up for our hair.

But Lasiri was in a hurry to go on, so she said brusquely “No, let’s go on fast.”

After they left, the young men returned to their natural shapes. They took a short cut that the girls did not know of and overtook them. Both parties walked on as fast as they could. After some time, the men heard footsteps behind them. When they looked, they saw that it was the two women coming close. “What shall we do now?” Thangzaia asked his brother.
“Let’s change ourselves into glass bangles. If they pick us, good. If not…” Thangsira replied.
So they turned into pretty glass bangles and lay on the path. When Lasari saw the bangles, she longed to take them and sang to Lasiri —
See, my sister, pretty bangles,
Let’s wear them on our arms.

But Lasiri was in a hurry and told her sister “No, we can’t stop. Let’s go on.”

After they left, the two young men again changed back into their true selves, found another shortcut and overtook the girls again. All the four had walked a long way by this time and they were all tired. The young women were spurred on by their fear of losing the two young men, who in their turn did not really want to get away but were too proud to make up with them.

The road led to a plain. By then, the sun was high in the sky and it became very hot. There were few trees to give them shade, and all were thirsty. “My brother, I can’t go on any more. I don’t mind letting them catch us”, Thangzaia panted.
“That will be a shame. We are men and they are only women”, Thangsira responded. Then he had an idea. “As soon as we turn that bend on the road, before they come close enough to see us, I will turn into a river and you turn into a bridge across me. If they can cross safely, we will show ourselves to them. If not…”

So as soon as they reached the next bend, Thangsira turned into a river cutting off the road. And Thangzaia turned into a bridge over it. When the two girls reached the point, they were dismayed to see the road stopped by a big, swirling river. Lasari wanted to walk on the bridge and sang —

See my sister, a good strong bridge,
Come, let’s walk across it.

But Lasiri was afraid and looked all around for some other way. But there was none. The river cut right across the road, and the road led straight to the bridge. There was no escape.

Lasari led the way and went on the bridge. But as soon as Lasiri stepped on it, the bridge began to sway and the wood started cracking. She screamed in fear and ran back. Lasari said, “Watch me cross it, then you can come after.” And without any problem, she walked across and stood on the far side. But whenever Lasiri stepped on it, the bridge started swaying and creaking. Finally, Lasari said, “Don’t be afraid, I will carry you.” So Lasari carried Lasiri piggy-back, and they moved on. But when they reached the middle of the river, the bridge suddenly broke and the sisters fell into the water and drowned.

After their death, the brothers changed back to human form and grieved for the loss of their loved ones. They said, “There is no more reason to live as humans. Let’s change into something else.” So they thought of what to change into. “Let’s turn into cows and graze together”, Thangzaia suggested. “No, cows grow old or die”, his brother protested, “let’s turn into roosters and crow together.” “No”, Thangsira argued. “Roosters get killed and eaten.” They thought of many creatures to turn into, but could not agree. Finally, Thangzaia said,

You turn into Fartruah tree,
I’ll turn into Vaube tree,
And let’s bloom together every year.

His brother agreed. So Thangsira turned into a Fartruah tree, and Thangzaia turned into a Vaube tree. The two trees bring out their beautiful flowers at the start of summer every year till now.

Thursday, April 3, 2008


Translated by Rini Tochhong

Once upon a time there was Chawngchilhi, who with her younger sister would go to their jhum to guard their rice plants from birds. Their father was greatly pleased with their work so everyday, he would pack for them a sumptuous lunch, enough for the both of them. Even so, the father noticed that the younger sister was getting thinner everyday and he was so greatly worried by this that one day he finally asked her why she was getting so thin even though he packed them lunch everyday. The younger sister would not come forth with a straight answer, and clearly embarrassed she said, “If I tell you the truth, I know for sure my sister would cane me, so I can’t speak the truth.”

Her father grew even more concerned and insisted that she speak the truth however undesirable it may be. The younger sister did not have any choice then, so she spoke - uncomfortably and highly embarrassed- she told the truth to her father. “My sister has a Serpent for her lover. She makes me call him in the day and when he comes, they would sleep together completely naked. I get so scared of this Serpent that I would run out of the house and am even unable to eat- this is why I have grown so thin.”

The father at once became angry and highly agitated over what the younger sister told him. He devised a plan to go to the field himself taking Chawngchilhi’s younger sister with him. Once they reached the field, he sent the sister to go call Chawngchilhi’s lover as she always did whenever Chawngchilhi desired to spend time with him. The sister went off and called the serpent:

“O Chawngchilhi’s beloved one,
My mother begs for you to come,
My father begs for you to come.”

As soon as the Serpent heard the younger sister’s call, he answered with his usual amorous reply:

“I am coming, quick as I can,
Combing my hair to look my best,
Wearing my turban to look my best,
To rest as if dead in your loving bosom.”

The Serpent majestically made his way to the farm house, expecting, as always, to spend time with Chawngchilhi but much contrary to his expectations, he found instead, Chawngchilhi’s father with a sharp dao. On finding that the sister had spoken true, he cut the serpent into pieces in great anger. He buried the pieces beneath the farm house and its genitals inside the stove. The next day Chawngchilhi went with her sister to the jhum and heard from the snake’s spirit that her father had killed it. Beneath the farm house, she found pieces of its flesh and inside the stove, she found the genitals. Being so in love with the snake as she was, she kept the genitals piece in her crotch and the sisters then set off for home. When they reached home, Chawngchilhi found her father lying at the foot of the door with his dao. She said, “Father, move away or I might spill dirt on you.” But her father was adamant and he said, “I don’t mind the dirt of my children” and he would not move. As Chawngchilhi stepped over him, she did spill the snake organ she had kept in her crotch. As the organ hit her father, he got up in anger and killed Chawngchilhi with the same dao he had used on the snake.

Now Chawngchilhi had become pregnant by her serpent lover and she was near delivery. When she was killed, several baby snakes made their way out of her body and started slithering towards the wilds. Her father did his best to kill all the baby snakes and managed to do so except for one which escaped his knife. This solitary snake grew large and dangerous, often devouring human beings in later days. It lived in a cave which came to be called ‘Rulchawm kua’, which can be seen to this day. In time, a new settlement grew in the area surrounding this cave and a village with the name ‘Rulchawm’ was thus born.