Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A Frog's Frock - Vanneihtluanga

Translated by Dr Margaret L. Pachuau

I am quite the boss, but since I am not the kind to sing praises of myself, I will tell you about my friends. And by then, if you are not a fool you will be able to decipher exactly where I stand in life. On my left, sat a man who was a media person cum industrialist, and he was probably as profound as the Rihdil¹. On my right, there sat a man who was quite punctilious and absolutely eloquent to the hilt. He was well versed in the nuances of prose and verse and as for the word sluggish, why, it never existed in his dictionary. So you see, exalted men such as these sat by my side. Let me tell you that sitting in the centre is actually a kind of prestige. A lamb on the right and a goat on the left, and lo and behold, the one in the centre will remain the undisputed king. In fact, if you recall, even at the time of the crucifixion, the men on either side of the cross were remembered only because of the one man in the centre. In my case, the ones by my side were neither lamb nor goat. Nor were they criminals who deserved to be hung. As I have indicated before, they were illustrious people, who had been able to stand on their own feet for over the past forty years. They were the kind of men who were consulted by people, on matters related to the home, the hearth and the state. So the fact that I was ensconced between the both of them like their beloved youngest child, was for me a matter to remember always and I was proud of that. Mind you, I was not merely sitting in the warmth of the living room couch, rather I was actually on my way to Guwahati, inside a vehicle of great speed, popularly known as a Gypsy.

The friend on my right held on to the handle of the vehicle tightly, even as he drove, and it was evident that he had my safety in mind. The friend on my left was equally poised and on guard to defend me from wild animals. You see, he sat as though he were my bodyguard. In fact when I first embarked upon the vehicle they both cautioned, “Lest you be the one to meet danger head on.”

And so obviously they did not permit me to sit up front. But after a while when things were seemingly more stable, they made me sit up front, flanked by the both of them. Although the prospect of sitting with the gear box between your feet seemed uncomfortable, they assured me, “Kings and gentlemen do not sit with their legs crossed while traveling, and in fact, sitting in the manner that you do now, is a sign of greatness.”
And so I sat likewise in a most contented manner.

None of us spoke much during the journey. Yet we conversed about the ginger export rates in Mumbai, how it was not the wise to make a crown out of hnahthial², the magnitude of the Subash project, and the fact that there was no interconnecting strand between AIDS and soyabean. We delved into the aspects of total prohibition, the
efficiency of the CBI, the invincibility of the Rajput carriages, the magnificence of Bill Gates and the Microsoft company, and eventually in that manner we arrived at Guwahati.
I must confess that we were not there for any particular reason. In fact, the three of us had decided to get away because we were fed up of being under the thumb of our wives, so we decided to go ‘camping’ without them. So thoroughly did we enjoy ourselves that we did not even feel the heat of the summer. We passed the zoo, went across to the press, and visited the offices of the Sentinel and North East Times. Why, we even met with the editors and shook hands with them. We purchased tobacco as well. There was one thing though…we were not avid shoppers and so we were uncomfortable with the ordeal. At length we trudged through the market, and the rickshawwallah zoomed us right across town, and very soon he deposited us amidst a throng of people. We gawked around for a very long time when the friend on my right spotted a sign in the distance that said,

All three of us scrambled into the shop in search of the great bargain offer. Both friends to my right and left purchased two shirts of a matching colour, and that great buy actually got me two free shirts. We stepped out into the light, and perhaps because there were no other shops that could quite meet our expectations, we ended up once more stepping inside into the “BUY 2 SHIRTS” store. My friends repeated their purchase of buying two shirts of an identical colour and once again I ended up with two new shirts on the house. We went back to the hotel and freshened up and wore our new shirts of similar colour and we meandered about the streets of Guwahati. Again, we stepped inside the store where we had purchased these very shirts and got yet more shirts. The salesmen were wise to the fact that we were wearing the shirts that they had sold us, just about three hours back and they kept smirking slyly at each other.

Of course, we did not dare to go back without buying anything for our wives so, we decided that we should buy a ‘pawnfen’³ for them. Yet we were apprehensive about the purchase. Since we were not at all expert in buying clothes for women, we pondered about whether they would be offended by what we got for them. Yet we shuddered at the prospect of going back home without getting them a gift. So we approached what seemed to be a shop selling ladies’ apparel. It was a huge air conditioned store, with very smart sales ladies bustling about. And the man who opened the door for us was elegant enough to pass off for a Major in the army. While we were walking astride the marble steps of the shop, attired in shirts of the same colour, the friend on my left whispered,
“Hey, I do not know what they call a ‘pawnfen’ in English, how on earth do we buy one?” I replied “Isn’t it pretty god…no, pettygoat is what it is… I think…” I was miles away from the Chambers’ Dictionary which I had left at home.

But the friend on my right was a know it all, and he was actually very deft in the nuances of translation, so he confidently argued, “Of course not, prettygod refers to a beautiful god, while a petty goat is a small goat; it doesn’t refer to a petticoat at all. I think it is called petty guard”.

I felt it was not quite right but since I myself did not really know the right word, we decided to agree upon that term amid much apprehension, even as we confidently sauntered forth.I, being in the centre, was regarded to be quite fluent in English. So I bolstered my confidence and approached a lady ,whom I regarded to be the smartest and the most attractive salesgirl. Very politely I said, “Madam, I have the honour to say that I want to know whether you have a petty guar…”
When the friend on my left broke me off and hissed, “Stop speaking to her, she will never reply for she is only the mannequin.”
And I took a good look and realized that I was indeed speaking in earnest to a wax figurine. I took a lingering look at the figure I had spoken to, and before I could recover I noted that the friend on my right was speaking to a sales girl in a high pitched voice,
“Do you have Petty guard…petty guard?”

I felt his tone was most impolite, but then assured myself that it was allright, just as long as it fetched us what we wanted .So I sauntered forth to his side. Just as we feared, we realized that the salesgirl was totally unaware of what a petty guard was. Most diplomatically she queried “You want petticoat?”
“Yes, pettyguard,”he replied.
And not content with that, he even spelt out the word for her. She was most astonished and she whispered a hasty, “Excuse me” and went to fetch the manager.

The manager was a man, endowed with a flowing beard and whose countenance was as stately as that of Rabindranath Tagore. It was indeed daunting that we should have to explain what we wanted to him. After sometime, with explanations rallying back and forth he decided to show us a sample. There were samples galore! Apparel that were designed in myriad ways; trouser like-skirts, school uniform skirts, saree-like skirts, dhoti -like skirts … yet none that could remotely resemble the kind that our wives would wear.

The man on my left asked in dismay, “Tinbo, Sike, Siphu, Elevenday
hai?” (Actually, ‘hai’was the only word he knew in Hindi) At this everyone in the shop grew more and more perplexed. In utter consternation they called for the owner of the shop. At her approach, all the salesgirls stood ramrod straight, akin to all their mannequins. She was a huge lady of a rotund frame. We spoke in what we felt was, to the best of our knowledge, in the tongues of men and angels, but we still could not make ourselves understood. We even wrote down the term ‘pettyguard,’ and baffled them all the more. In despair I turned to the friend on my left and declared in a conspiratorial whisper, “My friend, instead of “prettyguard” I think it should be ‘pretty-God.’”

At that the owner of the shop declared triumphantly, “Ah! Now I know what you want.”
And saying this she led us to an inner room where the gods were kept. “Shree Durga or Lord Ganesh or Hanuman?” she offered.

It was way off the mark and did not feel right at all. In utter dismay, our friend on the left, took off his pants and demonstrated the manner in which his wife wore the required garment. He gestured wildly both upwards and downwards, and pirouetted back and forth. After he had done all that he could, the owner of the store took a deep breath, looked at us with folded arms, and declared, “I think what you want is …frock,”
“Frog?” we cried out in unison. So astounded were we. “Yes frock, a woman’s frock,” she pronounced confidently.

We rolled our eyes in horror, and were no longer interested in the purchase. In despair and utter bewilderment, we walked out of the magnificent store, leaving a host of equally perplexed people behind. How we reached our room at Guwahati Mizoram House I am yet to decipher. The words, “Yes frog; a woman’s frog” was enough to diminish our morale.

The man on my left declared, “When that lady saw me gesticulating wildly, she must have felt that we wanted to seek out a prostitute. And in all her wisdom, must have realized that a woman is actually a frog. Being unable to bear the fact that we were about to lie abed with frogs, she must have decided to tell us the truth.”

As for me, I, have always placed women on the same pedestal as God, and I have always treated my wife with great tenderness. So it was an even more greater hurt. I mustered up all my knowledge about the English language but yes, there was no doubt about it, she did say, ‘Yes, woman’s frog.”

There was no other way to interpret it. Surely such a noble woman belonging to a learned community was far more intelligent than us. I thought of the wedding vows I had taken and became mortified. The friend on my right, being well read and profound counseled, “It could be true. Even Europeans say that women are frogs. If my reading of history serves me well, then I recall reading about a prince who could not find a wife. Eventually, he kissed a frog nestling in a lake and she turned into a beautiful damsel. And he married her. But alas…she always needed a kiss to retain her human shape.”

By now, we had spent four nights in Guwahati, and it was true that it had been quite a while since we had last kissed our wives. We were horrified at the thought of them turning into frogs while we were away. There was no time to buy garments for them now. And secretly we were all apprehensive about kissing the frogs we had left behind, but we reminded ourselves that we were indeed chivalrous men, who had to rise to the occasion. Why…if others could do it, there was no reason why we could not do the same. We packed our belongings in the hope of rescuing the women who were about to turn into frogs… and raced away from Guwahati in tremendous haste.

¹the name of a lake,to the east of Mizoram, said to be passed by departed spirits on the way to the abode of the dead.

²the name of a plant and also its leaves.



  1. Excellent translation. Another humorous one from Pu VNT. The story starts out with a lot of promise and cruises along nicely and humorously, taking you along on a smooth ride with expectations of some grand ending or great punchline and you start to mentally prepare yourself but then, suddenly, just when you think its coming to a smooth ending, comes to an abrupt stop. In other words, a nice beginning but a rather lame ending. Maybe its me, but that's how I felt. :) Thank you Pu VNT, Storyteller and Dr. Pachuau for another good Mizo story.

  2. Mawl hmel fahranin a'n posi vel a, awihawm loh angreng bawk si. Good farce. Good laugh. Kudos to Dr Margaret L. Pachuau. Tranlators are doing a real good work in bringing out Mizo literature to those who can't read in the vernacular.

  3. van let hnehsawh ve..nuihna tak kaitu a nih hi!

  4. First time reading a mizo literary piece. looking forward to more. I like the subtle humour in the story. Dr.Pachuau I am waiting to lay my hands on your TALES FROM MIZORAM (writers workshop).I haven't got it yet-I will someday.