Sunday, October 25, 2009

Disowning Myself - Dawngi Chawngthu

was what i said
to myself
on that July morning
in 2002
i watched myself stand
along with the rest of my folks
as i waved goodbye
and drove off...
i felt myself disintegrate
saw myself torn in two
and the process of
disowning myself
had only just begun

i later said
to my new self
a self made lighter
with disorientation
and self denial
but so much more heavier
with added responsibility
of a new role...
since then i have now
functioned as a protective mother
to my four children
and a somewhat laid-back wife
to my equally laid-back man

the process of
disowning myself
had not after all
been a difficult task
my carefree
head held high walk
has been replaced
by a careful tread...
hugely approved by my children
you see
they've always complained
of my proud walk
as they would call it

I beliefs...
Strong ones
a couple of them
are now replaced
by we believe
safe ones
conventional ones
palatable ones
non-controversial ones...
yes, its been easy
to re-schedule
my thoughts
my time
my priorities

my old self
smiles back at me
from photographs
of yester years
of a life i left behind
with the other me
i said goodbye to...
in July '02
my clothes of those days
that no longer fit
lie neatly packed
in my old suitcase

i go through them
every now and then
with half a mind
to do away with them
telling myself
they've served their purpose
and made me feel good in the past
but i stop and say no...
these are things
that take me back
to a time
when i was whole
and undisowned

and so...
i lie trapped
somewhere deep inside
my old suitcase
wrapped carelessly
in an old green dress
suspended between what was
and what will be
ready now for a resurrection...
i tentatively reach out
to reclaim lost identity
and steer myself towards the unknown
waiting for the new beginning
to unveil itself.

Picture: Models, oil on canvas, by Laltanpuia

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Zawlpala's Lament

A reworking of the old legend from Zawlpala's perspective by Lalrinmawii Khiangte

With fury directed at himself
He felt his insides bleed in agony:
This is self-annihilation.

He made a bargain over a lie in jest
Surely no man was rich enough to pay
Such an exorbitant amount for a bride.

The lie - this priceless beauty is my sister, not my wife.

The suitor delivered the goods - the price intact.

Alas, he had given his word of honour
His integrity and principle to uphold
Surely he could not take back his word.

It was death - to watch his beloved led away
To become the wife of the ardent, wealthy suitor.

He saw the betrayed look in the eyes of his wife
he heard the crying of her soul.

Pride goes before a fall; it tore him to shreds
It led him to his grave.

Such a hideous, ugly, gross mistake
Such self-loathing, such bitter remorse and guilt.


A pair of butterflies - a couple- fly in unison- happily
The aery spirits of Tualvungi and Zawlpala - lovers united after death.
And in their merry trail - follows forlornly
The spirit of the much maligned suitor Phuntiha
And the legend lives on.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

An Impression Of Being Alive - Mona Zote

All day we have watched the street shift
and careen, shed skin, refill, crest and yaw,
corrected our taste for oranges
packed by other hands from other places, bought
tokens of summer and the coming happiness —
we paused at the Korean romances: A Tale of a Prince,

Over Rainbow, Tree of Heaven. And the corporate type
who went mad for a girl.
No prince arrived with a piece of fax.
You said Plainly, it’s all money and for-
nication, just like everywhere else. We smiled
at the notion of moon bases and hummed a tune
from the movie we figured
we were still living in.

All day the sun kept tangling and stumbling
among bright open windows while the shopgirls cheered on,
and the pavement singers, and those women
fingering black laces in Foreign Lane
and we lived in and out of restaurants, smoking nonstop,

plate after plate of consommé
not thinking or speaking, our nerves
shattered by the urge to depart. All day
we have waited and waited
under heaven’s wide and lovely tree
for princes, advisors,
even some flannel postman to come and say
that the ship’s sailed, the bus
has left, all families look for us.
Have we said too much? Or not enough –

And here we are, the day gone
to its usual brilliant bedtime, the astronauts gone, the rain
now cadencing in our heads. The restaurant must close.
We have learned nothing. You wisely add: Really,
there was nothing to learn.

This poem was first published on in the February 2009 issue of the Indian edition.

Despite the somewhat intellectually arid landscape of her homeland which occasionally threatens to stifle her creativity, Mona Zote here provides insightful reading of a society and people caught, like most of the rest of the world, in the thrall of mammon. Small, sleepy, non-happening town or not, from the Korean romance DVD hawkers, the blind, dark-glassed pavement singers, the giddy, hired shopgirls behind glassed windows to the Foreign Lane smuggled ware sellers and tiny, crowded shops that serve chow swimming in gravy, and all closing at dusk, it’s all money and fornication, just like everywhere else.

Saturday, April 18, 2009


A long, long time ago, there was a poor little boy in a village by a river. His name was Rairahtea. He lived with his stepmother who was very cruel to him and always made him do the hardest of work.

One day, all the boats on the river near his village were stranded in water and unable to sail. The sailors had never had any major problem because they had a bahhnukte, an axe which had magical powers. But it had now been stolen by a python so the sailors, helpless without their magic axe, decided to offer a human sacrifice. When Rairahtea's stepmother heard of this, she sold him to the sailors in return for a bowl of money.

Rairahtea stayed with the sailors and guarded their stores of rice. One day, as he was on duty, a python suddenly crawled towards him. It was the same python which had stolen the sailors' magic axe and was running away from them.

The python begged Rairahtea to save him but he refused saying, "I am also a captive and you are too big for me to hide. So if we must die, let us die together." But the python said, "I can make myself smaller and I will give you anything if you hide me." He then made himself smaller and smaller until he was reduced to the size of a needle. Rairahtea then took the needle-sized python and hid him in his hair.

The sailors soon came in search of the python and asked, "Rairahte, have you seen a python?" He replied, "No, I have not. Why do you ask?" They did not believe him because the trail left by the python ended next to Rairahtea. But Rairahtea insisted, "I have not seen any python and even if I did, how can I possibly hide it?" The sailors believed him and went away.

After they left, the python came back to his original size and crawled down from Rairahtea's head. "You have saved me from death so I will give you anything you want. Just name it, " he said and vomitted out jewels and money.

But Rairahtea did not want the jewels or money. Instead he said, "Open your mouth wide." As the python opened its mouth out wide, Rairahtea saw a shiny object in the corner. When he realised it was the sailors' magic axe, he said to the python, "I want that shiny object in your mouth." The python was very reluctant to part with the magic axe but in the end, he agreed to let Rairahtea borrow it for a while in return for saving his life.

Rairahtea was very happy to have the magic axe and immediately ordered it to set free all the stranded boats in the river. This made the sailors very happy and one of them even decided to adopt Rairahtea and bring him up as his very own son.

So Rairahtea grew up as the dearly beloved son of the sailor and his wife. Many years later, he asked his father to get him a wife and said the girl he wanted to marry was the daughter of the great Chief of Tripura. When his father heard this, he was not very hopeful. However, he set off for the Chief's house with a proposal of marriage. The place was heavily guarded sevenfold by soldiers. At the gate, they asked him why he wanted to se the Chief. The old sailor barely managed to say, "We want your princess..." before he was struck down and killed by the soldiers. They then threw his body into the river.

Rairahtea became very worried after his father failed to return from the Chief's house. Taking his magic axe with him, he went along in search of his father. When he could not find him, he realised he must have been killed. He ordered his axe to bring back his father to life. The old sailor at once reappeared beside him and was very surprised to be brought back to life. He decided to go back to the Chief's house where he was killed once again. Rairahtea again restored him to life and the old father again went back to the Chief's house. When the soldiers saw him reappear for the third time, they were filled with fear and let him into the house. The father then informed the Chief the purpose of his visit to which the Chief replied, "Your son can marry my daughter only if you change my house into a golden palace with the river of life flowing beside it." Rairahtea's father became very sad because he knew his son would never be able to do such a thing. He went home and told Rairahtea what the Chief wanted. But his son was not at all worried and went to sleep peacefully.

The next morning, Rairahtea's father woke him up before sunrise. Rairahtea ordered his magic axe to turn the Chief's house into a golden palace with the river of life flowing next to it. And there it was, golden and shining! The Chief was overjoyed to see it and at once asked for Rairahtea and announced, "You may now marry my daughter!"

Rairahtea had some very faithful animals and he sent them off to test what kind of girl the princess was. When they reached the Chief's hose, they tried to make the princess angry in a number of ways. But the princess remained calm. Back at Rairahtea's house, they told him that the princess was very kind and gentle. So Rairahtea married the princess of Tripura.

Unfortunately the princess was in love with a man who lived up in the sky. She knew that Rairahtea had a magic axe and she was always looking for a chance to steal it so she could go away up in the sky and live with her beloved. One day, she had the opportunity to steal the magic axe while Rairahtea was taking a bath in the river. She quickly grabbed the axe and flew up into the sky.

As soon as she was gone with the magic axe, the power of the axe disappeared and the Chief of Tripura's housde returned to its original form. This made the Chief very angry. He sent his messengers to Rairahtea. They told him that if he did not turn back the Chief's house into a golden house within eight days, the Chief would kill him. Rairahtea was very worried. He sent his animals in search of the magic axe and they soon realised it was with the princess high in the sky. Using a long chain made by the monkey, the climbed up into the sky. When the princess saw that they had come for the magic axe, she quickly put it inside her mouth and went to sleep. So the animals sat down and worked out a plan. The rat tickled her nose with his tail and the princess sneezed. Out came the magic axe and the rat quickly grabbed it and ran away.

After many difficulties, the animals were finally able to bring home the magic axe. But Rairahtea was not at home. He was being kept a prisoner in the Chief's house. The animals headed towards the Chief's house but could not give him the axe because he was guarded by the soldiers. The animals again sat down and wondered how they could give the magic axe to Rairahtea. In the end, the cat was chosen to pass the axe to their master. Since a cat is a familiar sight in any household, the cat easily got inside the house and left the magic axe in a place where Rairahtea was sure to find it. Meanwhile Rairahtea was rolling on the floor in pain. When he felt something hard under him, he reached out to see what it was. He saw it was his magic axe. Gladly, he took it in his hand and ordered it to fill the place with mosquitoes. Immediately, the place was filled with mosquitoes and the soldiers all ran away.

The next morning, Rairahtea once again ordered his magic axe to change the Chief's house into a golden palace. At the same time, the soldiers had returned to the Chief's house to kill Rairahtea. When he saw them coming, he quickly looked out of the window and shouted, "Magic axe, bring down the princess and her lover!" At once, the princess and her lover fell from the sky and were killed instantly. That was the end of Rairahtea's wife and her lover from the sky.

On seeing his golden house once again, the Chief was overjoyed and offered his younger daughter to Rairahtea for his wife. Rairahtea again sent his animlas to find out what kind of girl the younger princess was. Just like before, they tried to make the princess angry. The younger princess was very angry with the mischief caused by the animals. They then ran home and told their master that his prospective bride was very short-tempered. However the two were married.

A few days later, one of the animals came to Rairahtea and said, "Master, it is time for us to return to our old master, the python." So Rairahtea, thankful for all they had had done for him, released them and sent them back to the python with the magic axe.

Taken from Selected Mizo Folk Tales, 2008, published and edited by the English Language Teaching Institute (ELTI), SCERT Mizoram.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

A Mizo Star (A Letter Written with Love)

- Raghu Leisangthem
(Translated from the Manipuri by Robin S Ngangom)

James Dokhuma, I’ll come and see
Your hunting rifle one day
In Mizoram’s museum with my own eyes,
Traversing the paths of your soaring hilltops.
You’ve seen, haven’t you
In the thick forests of the Mizo hills,
Small streams of little ravines
In your novels,
In your poetry,
Amidst the broken stones of your gliding rivers,
In the gestures of dancing leaves of trees growing there.
From the windows of little huts
Covered with dark clouds
You’ve watched, haven’t you
How small red birds
Soared freely in the sky.
You’re a comrade lifting your hands together
With your hilltops in solidarity,
With animals, birds, forests, and
With hills, lakes, rivers.
Inside a dark prison cell you are
A writer, rebel, who opened his eyes and saw light.
The scars made by bullets
Which struck your body
Are indelible moles of that beautiful face.

The inspiration behind this poem, Mizo writer James Dokhuma (b. 1932, d. 2007), played an active part in the Mizo insurgency movement of the 60s and was made to serve a prison term, during which he wrote a number of poems and novels. In 1985, the Govt of India awarded him a Padmashree for his contribution to literature.

Raghu Leisangthem (b. 1959) is a Manipuri poet, and I am deeply grateful to my old friend Robin Ngangom for allowing me to reproduce here his lovely translation of this generous poetic tribute to one of our greatest literary stalwarts.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Chhura and his enemies

Transcreated by Margaret Ch. Zama

One day Chhura made a trip to Mawnping village only to discover that it was like no other. People did not defecate because they had no anuses, and when asked how he acquired his, Chhura replied, “When we were little, our parents applied a red-hot iron skewer, and then put us all in a big basket which they opened only on the third day.” At this, everyone wanted the same operation performed on their children, and so brought them to Chhura. Chhura followed the procedure he had told them about and asked them to come for their children on the third day. When they did so, they found that only one lone child had survived, but not for long as it too was killed by the rush of parents claiming it.

They then realized that Chhura had duped and made fools of then, so directing their anger at him, they gave chase. But Chhura had foreseen this and hidden himself inside a hollow log. Soon his pursuers reached the place and sat upon the log to rest. In his anger and frustration, one of them hurled his spear at the log exclaiming, “Had this been Chhura, this is how I would spear him!” At this the foolish Chhura replied from inside, “Take care! You might really spear me!” They then arrested him. “Alright,” he said “you may hold me by the elbows as our forefathers did with their captives.” As they did so, Chhura suddenly wriggled out of their grasp and violently flayed about his arms, hitting them in all directions, then made his escape. 

Realising they had been tricked, his enemies now came after him in a large group. Just before they caught up with him, Chhura quickly climbed atop a huge banyan tree. As they collected in a group below deciding on their next course of action, he walked along a branch and flapping his puan (traditional lungi) about him exclaimed aloud, “I am going to fly across to the distance yonder.” At this , his enemies quickly dispatched a group shouting, “Quick! run ahead of him! Run ahead of him!”. Chhura then walked along another branch in the opposite direction and did the same thing. His gullible enemies quickly dispatched another group in this direction.

Now only a handful of them remained and believing that all exits were blocked, they decided to cut down the tree. As they proceeded to do so, Chhura realized the tree was about to fall, so he called out, “Wait! Let me come down and help you with the task.” They did so, and completed the job with his help. They then suddenly came to their senses and firmly got hold of him. But he again tricked them into holding him by the upper lip, and when he suddenly blew his nose they released their hold in disgust. In this way he once again escaped them.

Chhura’s enemies were now angrier than ever and determined to catch him. They lay in wait for him in his jhoom hut, but secretly aware of their plans, he outwitted them into thinking that his hut could respond to his call. When he loudly addressed his hut from a distance, they at first keep silent. Then, as though thinking aloud, he said “How strange that my hut should refuse to respond today. I will call once more and if there is no reply, then it will mean that there are enemies hiding in it, and the hut is afraid to call out.” So he once again called out, and this time, the enemies within were compelled to make response. At this Chhura shouted, “Enemies! Enemies!” and once again evaded them.

Chhura however, was finally caught and imprisoned inside a huge basket which was hung under a bridge. Below flowed a deep river. Before long a merchant belonging to the Pawih clan came to cross the bridge and Chhura called out threateningly, “Pawia, if you don’t release me I shall kill you,” and saying this he brandished his knife from where he was. The man did as he was told. Then Chhura told him, “Why don’t you try out the basket, it is really quite comfortable,” and thus tricking him, imprisoned him in his stead. He then cut the rope from which the basket hung and the poor merchant drowned in the river while Chhura took possession of all his money and merchandise.

Loaded with his treasures, Chhura made his way into the village of his enemies. Everyone was surprised to see him. “How did you manage to escape from your imprisonment and acquire all these riches?” they asked in wonder. He replied, “Well, being a man I tied a big empty vessel round my waist and jumped into the river. As soon as it made the sound ‘bi bi birh birh’, I exclaimed ‘great riches are found! great riches are found!’ and then gathered as much riches as I could from the river bed.”

Excited, and their greed aroused, Chhura’s enemies decided to do the same. All the men tied empty vessels round their waist which they hoped to fill with treasures, and rushed off to the river, with Chhura escorting them. At first no one dared jump in, so Chhura pushed over one of them, and as soon as his vessel started filling with water, it emitted the sound “bi bi birh birh”, and hearing this the rest of them exclaimed “great riches are found! great riches are found!” and jumped into the river without further ado, unwittingly drowning themselves.

Chhura returned to the village alone and when the women inquired about their husbands, he urged them to go and help their men folk who were on their way home with their heavy loads. They all excitedly set off. Meanwhile Chhura went round the village and doused the fire at every home. Only he had a huge fire going and when a widow who stayed behind went to ask for fire, he made her earn it by sleeping with him.

Late in the evening the women returned from their futile errand, tired and cold from the pouring rain only to find their homes cold and without fire. When they asked the widow for fire, she refused them saying, “I earned my fire. Go and do the same.” So it was that all the women had to pay a price to Chhura for their fire. 

Dr. Margaret Ch. Zama is a professor in the English dept. of Mizoram University. She is deeply involved in the transcreation of Mizo folk literature and bringing it to national and international audiences.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Chhura’s Horn of Plenty

Transcreated by Laltluangliana Khiangte

In a certain village, there lived a very straightforward, courageous man called Chhura. His best friend was his brother Nahaia, alias Naa, who was cunning enough in all respects to take advantage of Chhura’s ignorance and stupidity.

As was the practice of the day, both brothers were jhum farmers. Their paddy fields lay adjacent to each other a fair distance away from the village. At the bottom of Naa’s plot, stood a big hollow tree where many birds would roost. Naa could not tolerate them and would often throw stones at them. At times, he would hunt them down with a catapult or sairawkherh.

One day, the stones hit the hollow of the tree occupied by a Phungpuinu¹. She was enraged and threatened to take revenge by using her supernatural powers. She chanted unintelligible words which scared Naa out of his wits. He then decided that if the field could change hands, all harm would fall upon the new owner and he would be free from danger.

So Naa approached Chhura and proposed that the land should be exchanged. He cleverly showed his brother a groundview of his own field while asking Chhura to look at his field from the top of a tree. Chhura was easily convinced and went to his new plot the next day. He quickly saw the big tree with many birds and began throwing stones at them to drive them away. The female spirit within the tree immediately reacted with her mysterious utterances once again and warned him to stop because he was hurting her children. But Chhura did not heed the warning. Instead he ignored the phungpuinu and continued to throw stones at the tree. Realising that the new owner could not be frightened away, the spirit escaped from a corner and went down the brook.

In the meantime, Chhura had reached the big hollow tree from where the mysterious utterances had emanated. Looking into the hollow and not finding the spirit, he forced her children to swallow hot ash, as a result of which they all died. He then quickly left the place.

The phungpuinu wept plaintively over the loss of her children. Meanwhile, Chhura made plans to capture her. He erected a swing on his farm and pretended to leave for home. After a while, the phungpuinu stealthily approached the swing and sat down on it, singing a dirge of mourning. Chhura then seized her by the hair and threatened to capture her to be paraded for the pleasure of the village children.

The phungpuinu begged him to set her free and promised to give him a good axe in return. Chhura declined, saying he already had one. She then promised her a hoe which Chhura also refused.

The phungpuinu dared not imagine what her plight would be once she was in the village. So she made a last offer and that was her most prized possession – a magic horn called a Sekibuhchhuak.

Chhura gladly accepted the last offer for he knew that the magic horn could produce delicious, well-prepared rice from one end and ready meat from the other. After testing it, he set the spirit free and went home happily with his new possession. He and his family now stopped working and lived without a care in the world.

When Nahaia came to know about the horn, he was filled with envy. He warned Chhura that should there be any fire, he should first pick up the horn and leave the house quickly.

Within a few days, he thought of a way to dispossess his brother of his magic horn. He went near Chhura’s house, gathered a big heap of dry leaves and set it on fire. He then shouted, “Fire, fire, Chhura, your house is on fire! Come out quickly with your horn!”

As Chhura came rushing out, he fell down by the door, as Naa had planned, dropping his precious horn on the ground. Nahaia quickly picked it up saying, “Let me have what Chhura has rejected!” Thus Naa tricked his brother and got the magic horn.

Chhura was very displeased and thought of a way to get the horn back. He went to Naa and advised him that in case of fire, he should first get hold of the horn. Then soon after, he arranged a fire just as Naa had done and shouted, “Fire, fire, Naa, your house is on fire!”

But Naa was not so easily fooled. Instead he picked up a pestle and pretending to fall, threw it directly at Chhura’s shin. So instead of getting back the magic horn, Chhura received a severe injury on his shin and he left saying, “Let me have what Naa has forfeited.”

Legend has it that the magic sekibuhchhuak has remained with Nahaia ever since and he partakes of its delicious repast day and night.


¹a spirit, ghost, bogey, spook, ogress, goblin, hobgoblin (generally regarded as female)

The most interesting and memorable personality in the world of Mizo folklore would undoubtedly be Chhurbura. A reading and study of Mizo tales would be incomplete without Chhurbura who must be considered the undisputed hero of Mizo folktales. There is a great paradox in his character which makes him all the more interesting for young and old. He may be considered the silliest of simpletons but on the other hand, he can also be considered the cleverest of all.

It has also been claimed that Chhura played an important role in the creation of the universe. He shaped the world by beating and hitting the solid earth with his big stone club, leveling parts of it and in the process, he created hills, mountains, plains and valleys.

Even accounts of his demise are many. One version says he died in an accident while others suggest he died as a rich and powerful ruler. Another version says he died while playing an interesting game called Nghengtawlhah Saiawnah. Legend goes that he was so absorbed in this game that he forgot to eat anything and eventually succumbed to fatigue and exhaustion. According to yet another tale, Chhura was still alive in the 14 century AD. He reportedly lived in the eastern part of Mizoram and monuments were erected in his honour which can be seen even today.

Professor Laltluangliana Khiangte
works in the Mizo dept. at Mizoram University. He is a prolific writer with an immense volume of output, both in English and Mizo, and has several publications to his credit. A prominent folklorist in North-east India, his contribution to the documentation, growth and development of the Mizo language and literature is tremendous.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Tualvungi and Zawlpala

A Mizo folktale transcreated by Margaret Ch. Zama

Once upon a time there lived a young man named Zawlpala who fell in love with Tualvungi, a maiden renowned for her beauty. They eventually married and were very happy together. At this time lived a raja from Tripura holding sway over a small principality called Theihai Ram. He was named Phuntiha by his subjects, a very apt name really since it meant that no one dared to complain in his presence. He was of a tyrannical disposition, always wanting to possess the best of everything. It was no wonder then, that when he heard of Tualvungi’s great beauty, he at once set off to visit her village with the intention of marrying her should her beauty please him. On Zawlpala’s village, Phuntiha found Zawlpala happily keeping his wife company at her weaving loom.

Setting eyes on Tualvungi, Phuntiha found her beauty far exceeded his expectations, and fell in love with her. So he inquired of Zawlpala if she was his wife or sister, to which the latter replied “my sister”. Zawlpala answered thus because he knew full well that Phuntiha wanted Tualvungi for his wife, and was quite capable of killing him if his true status was revealed. To the “brother’s” reply, Phuntiha at once offered a proposal of marriage, inquiring about her man, the Mizo customary bride price quoted by the bride’s family before marriage. At this, Zawlpala deliberately quoted a stupendous sum which he hoped the raja would be unable to fulfill and thereafter leave them in peace. The brideprice he quoted was thus : enough mithans to number every post and pillar of his house to which they will be tethered; beaded necklaces and Mizo puans (traditional woven cloth) so great in number that they break every railing and clothesline in the house with their weight, and lastly, Mizo chempui or big daos numbering every crevice of the woven bamboo walls into which they shall be tucked. To Zawlpala’s great chagrin, Phuntiha accepted his terms without much ado, and left immediately for his village to make preparations.

A few days later, Phuntiha returned not only with Zawlpala’s demand, but with a huge entourage of villagers as well, all eager to escort home the new bride. Tualvungi was the first to sight them while they were yet some miles away, with Phuntiha in the lead wearing a bright red lungi which stood out brazenly even from the distance. Distressed greatly, she turned to her husband and pleaded with him thus:

I can see them yonder
Herding in countless mithans
And carrying great numbers of puans
Tell them Tualvungi is with child
O my love Zawlpala

But her desperation was matched by Zawlpala’s loss for words at the turn of events and he was unable to offer her any consolation. So the now hated Phuntiha arrived and proceeded to fulfill his obligations with great gusto. Mithans were tethered to each and every post of Zawlpala’s house; beaded necklaces and woven puans were hung on to every available railing and clothesline in the house, snapping them all in no time with their weight; and lastly, the Mizo daos were firmly tucked into all the visible cracks and crevices of the bamboo walls. Thus Phuntiha claimed the unhappy Tualvungi as his lawful wife and led her away to his village. Zawlpala stood helpless, watching them leave and bitterly regretting his folly but all too late, for he had spoken as a man, and had to honour his words.

Now, although Phuntiha had feigned ignorance, he knew that Zawlpala was Tualvungi’s husband and not her brother, and knowing of the great love they shared though now parted, his jealousy was greatly roused. This determined him to do away with his rival. In spite of his shortcomings, Phuntiha truly loved and cherished Tualvungi, and catered to her every wish in the hope that she might forget her beloved. But Tualvungi never ceased to pine for her beloved, and this made Phuntiha even more possessive of her and jealous of Zawlpala. One day, Phuntiha said to his wife, “I suggest you invite your brother to visit us for as long as he wishes as we have not seen each other for a long time. And now seems to be as good a time as any, besides my pigs are fat enough to be slaughtered.” Too naive to comprehend his true intentions, Tualvungi eagerly sent a messenger to Zawlpala with the good news.

When Zawlpala received the message, he too was taken in by Phuntiha’s supposed goodwill, and wishing to reciprocate, at once set out for their village. Phuntiha played the perfect host to his guest, but before long, Tualvungi began to have her suspicions. So she warned Zawlpala to beware and not accept any food from Phuntiha’s hands. But due to his prolonged stay it soon became impossible for Zawlpala to continually refuse his host’s offers and so one day accepted rice beer and arum bulbs that the latter gave him. Immediately after having them, he started experiencing stomach cramps, for the food had been poisoned just as Tualvungi had feared. Greatly grieved and not knowing what course to take, she sent him home at once, and doing so, Zawlpala was able to reveal the true circumstances of his condition to the village elders before he finally died. He was buried with due honour, and his grave was decorated with numerous mithan skulls that had been slaughtered in his honour. This Mizo tradition is called thlaichhiah, which means sacrificing of animals for the dead, so that the spirits of the slained animals may accompany the departed into the next world.

Now came the task of finding a messenger to break the sad news to Tualvungi. But no one dared to volunteer as all were afraid of Phuntiha whom they knew would not hesitate to kill in his jealous rage.

In the hunt for a messenger, the first candidate was a Chakai (crab) who, when asked how it would address Tualvungi replied ai, ai. This displeased the villagers and they stamped it aside, which is why, we are told, the crab still walks sideways today. Second came a Choak (raven) who was asked the same question. It’s reply ak, ak disgusted the villagers and they threw indigo dye on it, which explains the blue-back colour of the raven today. Then along came a tlaiberh (bul-bul bird) whose call berek, berek again failed to satisfy the villagers. As punishment, they impaled the bird on a fence, which is why the feathers under the tail of the bul-bul remains red till today.

Finally, a vahui (wood pigeon) turned up and its performance so pleased them that they elected it to be the bearer of the tragic news. After feeding it on rice and meat, they sent it on its way. The bird flew for many, many days before arriving at Tualvungi’s village. On reaching there, it perched on a nearby tree next to her house, and began to plaintively warble out its song, telling her to go and pay her respects to her dead husband Zawlpala. Tualvungi, who was busy weaving in the verandah, heard the song and exclaimed to the bird, “If you are singing to me, come closer and repeat your song”. So the bird flew closer and perched on a railing nearby. After it had sung, Tualvungi was heartbroken but still unable to believe the sad tidings, again asked it to hop even closer and sing its song again. So the little wood pigeon sat on the bars at the end of her loom and sang its heart out. After this, Tualvungi could no longer doubt the message, and broke down with grief for her lost love.

Tualvungi thought out of ways in which she could deceive Phuntiha, and leave for her old village as soon as possible. She finally came up with the excuse that she wished to vist her ailing brother Zawlpala, as he was quite unwell when he last left them. Phuntiha of course knew that Zawlpala was long dead by now due to the poison, but not wanting to seem inconsiderate to his wife by refusing her outright, he invented a string of excuses in order to prevent her from leaving. The first of his excuses was that he wanted her to wait for their newly hatched chicks to grow big, but when this was done, he insisted that their dog give birth to its litter first, and when this too came about and the puppies grew big, he was still reluctant to let her go. So once again, he asked her to be patient and wait for their goat to give birth, then next came the sow giving birth to her litter, and finally came the mithan having her calf. During this long delay, Phuntiha hoped that Zawlpala’s body would decompose completely and Tualvungi’s feelings of tenderness towards him gradually wane. Meanwhile, Tualvungi patiently tolerated the delay, but her feelings for the dead Zawlpala remained ever strong.

Phuntiha, having run out of excuses to delay Tualvungi, sought other means of preventing her from leaving as he was still extremely jealous of his dead rival. So, his reasoning clouded with envy and jealousy, he sharpened his dao and placed it edge facing upwards, just outside their main door, which Tualvungi would be sure to step upon, on leaving the house. As intended, Tualvungi cut her foot deeply and was unable to do anything for many days. This put Phuntiha’s mind at ease and he departed for game hunting for a few days. Tualvungi, on her part, sought to avail of this opportunity and daily nursed her wound in order to be fit for the long journey ahead. It was not long in healing, and having bandaged it thoroughly, she packed all her more valuable possessions and puans in a bundle and set off on her own.

The journey was a long and difficult one, and Tualvungi suffered and grieved for Zawlpala all the way. Once she came across a group of children playing kawibah (a popular game among Mizo youngsters, played with the large bean-like seeds of a species of hardy creepers), and asked them,

You little children playing yonder,
Have you seen Zawlpala’s grave,
My beloved Zawlpala.

to which the children replied,

The open space round Zawlpala’s grave
Is filled with trees in bloom
And solemnly lined with mithan skulls.

A short distance away, she again passed by some children tending their grazing herd and made the same query thus :

You little children tending your herd
Have you seen Zawlpala’s grave,
My beloved Zawlpala.

and they replied

The open space round Zawlpala’s grave
Is filled with trees in bloom
And solemnly lined with mithan skulls.

When Tualvungi finally arrived at her beloved’s grave, there was no mistaking it. It was just as the children had told her, lined with mithan skulls and trees in full bloom. Weary from her long journey, fatigued from her wound, and now, the sight of Zawlpala’s grave, proved too much for her. Her spirit broke and she began to weep bitterly over the grave. An old woman who happened to pass by, took pity on her, and tried to comfort her. But Tualvungi would not be consoled, and instead pleaded to the old lady thus, “If you truly pity me, do away with my life instead as I know I am not going to survive this anyway. You may take my belongings and keep them for your own.” The old lady reluctantly agreed, and together they started digging up Zawlpala’s grave in order to make room for Tualvungi to lie down. When his bones were sighted, so the story goes, they moved over in order to make room for her. Lying down beside the remains of her beloved, Tualvungi gave up her life to the old woman.

Meanwhile, Phuntiha on his return from his hunt in the deep forest, flew into a jealous rage when he realised that his wife had slipped away. He at once set out after her, but all too late, for Tualvungi had achieved her union with Zawlpala in death. Not to be outdone by the two lovers, he too lay down beside them and got the old woman to kill him. But the spirits of Zawlpala and Tualvungi, determined never more to be parted by Phuntiha, flew out of the grave together in form of beautiful butterflies. The persistent Phuntiha flew out after them, and this is why today, a butterfly couple flying together are always followed by the third behind them - never quite catching up.

Dr. Margaret Ch. Zama is a professor in the English dept. of Mizoram University. She is deeply involved in the transcreation of Mizo folk literature and bringing it to national and international readers and audiences.

Picture: Zawlpala thlan in hmu em, oil on canvas by Tlangrokhuma