Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Pendulum Swings - Dawngi Chawngthu

You stand in the doorway
Enveloped in a blanket of darkness
Come to say goodbye – have you?
Or is it another re-union you seek

Sensing my withdrawal
You retreat…
The right thing for you to do
For you see I’m not so sure anymore
If I want to be with you

What is it you want from me anyway ?
A security blanket…
To keep you warm when it gets cold
And then to pack away
In warmer climate

Tell me what now
You say you love me
You say you need me
But what of him
Who precedes me

He’s an invisible wall between us
A wall too strong to cross
Erected even before we met
I guess you can’t jump over it
I guess you don’t want to jump over it…

Must be hard for you
To compartmentalize your life
A life with him where you feel trapped
And a life with me
Where you claim you are happy!

And what of me…
I swing with the pendulum
Sometimes happy, sometimes not.
When will the pendulum stop
At me happy…with you…forevermore.

Picture: Apa-Lelhchhun

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Time Passes - Zualteii Poonte

Long gone, long done,
long ago yesterdays
live on in the recesses of the mind,
held by tenuous threads of spider silk
spun finely through the hazy distance
of mutating time.

But was it all quite as perfect
as you remember or does
the index of the mind
fudge the reality?

Then again,
does the truth really matter
so long as the illusions
leave you happy.

*Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened ~ T.S. Eliot*


Winter shreds
the leaves from the trees;
denuded, desolate, defenceless,
they stand in silence.
But Spring comes
and out of the bleak nothingness,
a new life breathes.

The old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.

Photograph: Andrew Lalbiaknunga Ralte

Zualteii Poonte teaches English lit. at college and is the owner of this blog.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Mizo Women in Myth and Reality - Vanlalveni Pachuau

There is a Mizo saying which, roughly translated, states, "The same story differs with the one doing the telling." This is in reference to the fact that Mizo folklore is of the oral tradition and therefore, a story may have several versions. However, the basic elements remain the same. While it may be easy to dismiss folktales as fanciful tales spun by old warriors and housewives, there is, in fact, a deep correlation between folktales and social reality. Lily Kong and Elaine Goh have explored this relation between folktales and reality and have surmised that these tales are not just ‘fictive constructs’ but represent ‘fictive, historical and projected realities’:

'Fictive reality' is a construct of the narrative imagination and is bound by the rules that govern each genre. In the folktale, this fictive reality is presented as apart from the narrator's world. However, far from being purely imaginative, fictive reality can be a part of transformed 'historical reality'. Past customs, beliefs and social organisation 'survive' as fictive reality in the folktale, although to the narrators, they may have ceased to be either historical or current social reality. Hence, they may have undergone a transformation from history into fiction, from reality into fantasy. Apart from historical realities, a third kind of reality-'projected reality'-results when the present is incorporated into folktales. This projected reality can be seen in the variations that occur in the same tale told by different narrators who project their own culture, social class and personal psychology into the fictive realities of the folktale. [Kong and Goh, p. 261-2]

This paper aims to show how the treatment of Mizo women in folklore reflects social reality through the stories of three women, namely Mauruangi, Tualvungi and Zangkaki. Mizo folktales have an abundance of women characters, but since these stories are generally viewed through the male perspective, these characters tend to fall into a standard precept- either the woman is a hopeless victim or a cruel victimiser. The feminist dictionary defines fairytales as, “a harmful cross-cultural educative story told to unsuspecting children that shows women as passive, opportunistic or cruel” [Cheris, 149], and while this may be applicable, to an extent, to the projection of women in Mizo folktales, the purpose of this paper, however, is not to dwell upon sexism or the repression of women, but rather on the representation of women in Mizo folklore. Through this, this study attempts to explore the social realities of Mizo culture pertaining to the status of women and their societal roles.

Mauruangi - the Mizo Cinderella:

Mauruangi’s story is similar to Cinderella’s in that she too was a helpless victim under a wicked stepmother, a jealous stepsister and a neglectful father. She also had help, though in the form of her dead mother’s spirit rather than a fairy godmother, and she also escaped her hard life through marriage to a ‘prince’. Mauruangi’s story is a magical one, with her mother’s spirit alternately taking the forms of a catfish and a tree, and giving Mauruangi food when she was overworked and starved by her step-mother. Mauruangi grew into a lovely maiden whose hospitality and kindness impressed the servants of a vai lalpa1, who took her home to their master who married her. Her step-mother invited her back home, and there, she murdered Mauruangi by pouring boiling water over her. Her dead body, however, was found by a serow who, by blowing over her, brought her back to life and took her home to be his babysitter. Meanwhile, Mauruangi’s step-sister Bingtaii had persuaded vai lalpa and his servants that she was Mauruangi, and despite their doubts, they had grudgingly accepted her. However, vai lalpa’s servants found Mauruangi rocking the serow’s baby, and they brought her home. Vai lalpa made the two women fight a duel, and Mauruangi, who had been given better weapons, killed Bingtaii and she was finally reinstated to her rightful place. 

Mauruangi has often been cited as the epitome of the ideal Mizo woman. Humble, subservient, hospitable, kind, and skilled in spinning, farming and weaving, she is in direct juxtaposition to her step-sister Bingtaii, who is lazy, vindictive, manipulative and unskilled. While Mauruangi’s fantastical story may seem other-wordly, it is representative of the qualities valued in Mizo women. Mizo women were a hardworking lot - they had to get up early to fetch water and kindling, then perform their domestic chores before they set off to work all day in the fields. Then when they got back home, after preparing and eating supper, they had to spin or weave by the light of the fireplace. All the while, they had to entertain their inleng2 who usually stayed till midnight. As such, the qualities exemplified by Mauruangi were seen as the ideal of Mizo womanhood, and her story served as a lesson to young women on the merits of conforming to that ideal. Fairy tales often consolidate the belief that it is in a woman’s best interest to get married and beget children. As such, Bingtaii’s unwed state exemplified the perils of not submitting to these ideals.

Interestingly, while most western fairytales have only a neglectful and ineffectual father as the counterpart of the wicked stepmother, Mauruangi’s father serves as a perfect foil to his murdering second wife. He had pushed Mauruangi’s mother into a river where she had drowned, perhaps because he had grown tired of her. He had also been complicit in the maltreatment of Mauruangi by agreeing to kill the catfish and to cut down the tree which had housed his previous wife’s soul. While we may now be shocked by the callousness of Mauruangi’s father and her step-mother, their behaviour is indicative of the status of wives and of orphans in Mizo society. The matter-of-fact way that the murder of Mauruangi’s mother is narrated reveals that the loss of a wife was not that devastating. A constantly warring race, sons were prized in the Mizo community. Women were necessary to beget sons who would ultimately help to protect their lands. But if a wife died, men could and often, remarried, so that sons would be born to help propagate their race. Mizos also tended to regard orphans and widows as third-class citizens. Mauruangi, though technically not an orphan, was clearly unwanted and the fact that no one intervened in the harsh treatment meted out to her is indicative of the lowliness of her station. Mauruangi’s story, therefore, though it might seem entirely fictional, is actually reflective of past Mizo society and its social customs and beliefs, especially pertaining to women’s social roles. 

Tualvungi - the trophy:

Tualvungi and her husband Zawlpala are famed lovers in Mizo folklore. A happily married couple, their happiness was marred/ended when Phuntiha, a rajah from Tripura heard stories of Tualvungi’s beauty and came to see whether the stories were true or not. When he saw Tualvungi, Phuntiha, thinking that Zawlpala was her brother, immediately asked Zawlpala for Tualvungi’s hand in marriage. Zawlpala, who was inordinately proud of his wife’s beauty, proceeded to play along so as to see to what lengths Phuntiha was willing to go to secure Tualvungi. Zawlpala demanded an exorbitant amount of goods as Tualvungi’s customary bride price, confident that Phuntiha would never be able to meet it. However, Phuntiha was an exceedingly rich man and he arrived a few days later with the requisite amount of goods. Tualvungi begged and pled with Zawlpala to not let her be married to Phuntiha, but Zawlpala had given his word and he had to honour it. And so the young lovers parted sadly. Phuntiha had by now realised that Zawlpala was indeed Tualvungi’s husband and he grew extremely jealous of him, especially since Tualvungi continued to pine for him despite his showering her with affection. Phuntiha, therefore, decided to have Zawlpala killed and with this purpose in mind, he invited him to visit. When Zawlpala arrived, Phuntiha had him poisoned and the grieved Tualvungi told him to go back to his village at once. There, Zawlpala managed to tell the elders what had transpired before he died. A messenger in the form of a wood pigeon was sent to Tualvungi to break the sad news to her, and on hearing of Zawlpala’s death, Tualvungi sought out ways in which she could evade Phuntiha so that she could visit Zawlpala’s grave. She managed to make her way to his grave, and on reaching there, persuaded an old woman to kill her so that she too might forever rest beside her dead lover. Phuntiha had followed Tualvungi and unable to relinquish her to Zawlpala even in death, he also persuaded the old woman to kill him so that he might follow them. The spirits of Zawlpala and Tualvungi turned into butterflies so as to escape Phuntiha, but his soul too took the form of a butterfly, and he followed them relentlessly, though never quite catching up.

A romantic tale of star-crossed lovers, the story of Tualvungi and Zawlpala is another tale that reflects the status of Mizo women in society. Though Zawlpala was deeply in love with her, his honour meant more to him than she did. Tualvungi had absolutely no say in the matter of her marriage. Her fate hung entirely on the whims of the man responsible for her - whether it was a father, a brother or a husband. Admittedly, she took matters into her own hands by defying Phuntiha, but her defiance was not borne out of rebellion but out of the desire to be with the man who had sold her for a boast. Tualvungi was in actuality a trophy to be wrested and fought over, herself having little or no say over her own life.

A woman in Mizo society in fact, had little say over who she wanted as a husband. She might be given to anyone of her parents’ choosing, and she was to accept without demur. When her inlengs came calling, she was not in any way, by word or deed, to indicate any preference for a particular man. To do so would label her as forward, shameless and self-governing, qualities which were highly undesirable in a wife. She also was not to appear to be rude to any inleng, no matter how undesirable; if a man said that a maiden had not treated him hospitably, the young men of the community tore down the maiden’s hut. In indulgent families, though, daughters were asked their opinions about the choice of husband that her parents had made for them. However, even in the most indulgent of households, a daughter could never directly give assent or dissent. She could either say, “As you wish”, if she found her parents’ choice acceptable or, “You can have him yourself if you want him” if she was displeased with their choice. However, the ultimate decision lay with the father and to go against his wishes was unthinkable. That Phuntiha approached Zawlpala instead of Tualvungi on the matter of marriage, and that Tualvungi acceded, albeit reluctantly to Zawlpala’s decision, indicates the lack of say that women had in the matter of their own marriages.

As mentioned before, women needed to possess certain qualities if she was to be deemed fit for marriage. Apart from that, in cases where the prospective husband came from an important family, the prospective bride had to undergo strict scrutiny before she was declared eligible. Prospective brides of important men were stripped and their bodies were examined minutely to check for birthmarks or moles. Their genealogy was also examined to weed out any undesirable traits like kleptomania, epilepsy and madness, since those were considered to be heritable. Sometimes, the excrement was also checked since it could be an indication of her health, which determined whether she might be fit to bear many sons. In cases where two or more men asked for the same woman in marriage, she would usually be given to the one who would pay the highest bride price - the highest bidder, as it were. Daughters were married to strengthen familial ties, to elevate one’s social position, or to form alliances. Her choice was rarely taken into consideration. 

Zangkaki - the sorceress:

Zangkaki is actually not a central character, but a villainess who entered the story of Lalruanga towards the end of his life; in fact, Zangkaki was a powerful sorceress who outwitted and killed Lalruanga, the most powerful sorcerer in Mizo folklore. Zangkaki is a powerful female character who, through feminine wiles and trickery, managed to outwit Lalruanga the master trickster himself. Lalruanga was a Quixotic character, noted more for his powerful magic and cunning rather than any heroic quality. He first proved his magical prowess against his father, who was also a noted sorcerer. He then captured and wrested magical secrets from Vanhrika, a heavenly being, before killing him. He then outwitted Keichala, a ferocious were-tiger, and his whole tribe of were-tigers. When Keichala’s brothers killed Lalruanga’s brother, the two declared war on each other, with the promise that the victor would honour the defeated with Hrangsaipuia’s famed bullhorn3. Lalruanga used his cunning to defeat Keichala and went to take Hrangsaipuia’s bullhorn. Hrangsaipuia was also a famed sorcerer and the two dueled using all the magic they had at their disposal. Lalruanga inevitably defeated Hrangsaipuia resoundingly and so, he seized the famed bullhorn.

While it was that Lalruanga seemed invincible, he met his defeat at the hands of a sorceress who was less powerful but more cunning than he. Zangkaki was a beautiful sorceress and she lured Lalruanga with the secret purpose of defeating him. Lalruanga took his most powerful dawibur4 with him and Zangkaki knew she would not be able to defeat him just then. So she lulled him into a false sense of security by pretending to fall in love with him. A few days after Lalruanga went home, Zangkaki sent word, asking him to visit her again and telling him that she was expecting his child. This time Lalruanga, suspecting nothing, took his less powerful dawibur with him and he had a pleasant time with Zangkaki, who had been secretly observing him. Sensing that he was no longer as powerful as he had been before, Zangkaki imprisoned Lalruanga inside a stone fortress that Lalruanga, with his limited powers could not break through. He sent an ant to fetch his strongest dawibur but the ant dropped the dawibur into a river where it was swept away by the current. Lalruanga, unable to defeat Zangkaki, finally met his end in the stone fortress in which she had imprisoned him.

Zangkaki in this story is pojected as a licentious seductress who used her feminine charms to defeat the hitherto undefeatable Lalruanga. Her very name is indicative of her amoral nature- Zangkaki’s name is actually Chhuzangkaki; however the first syllable has been dropped in subsequent retellings of the story since the word is a derogatory term referring to the female genitalia. Zangkaki epitomises the destructive feminine stereotype, whose sexuality is cunningly utilised to bring about the downfall of the male species. Folklores and legends are replete with this image of the powerful temptress who, like Delilah, could deceive even the strongest of men like Samson. The fact that Zangkaki’s name contains a derogatory word for the female genitalia is indicative of past Mizo society’s mistrust of women whose sexuality is obvious.

Virility was much prized in Mizo men, while chastity in a woman was highly desirable. A telling Mizo joke recounts how, when asked about their youth, all Mizo men claim to have had lovers, while all Mizo women claim to be virgins. The question arises - which one of them is lying? Mizos believed that Pu Pawla stands at the gates of Pialral5 where he asks each man whether he has been tried or not, and if the man is untried, Pu Pawla would inflict a telling injury on the man which would publicly proclaim his lack of virility. Women, on the other hand, were expected to be chaste and modest, and any woman who did not conform to this expectation was regarded as unnatural, immoral and dangerous. A Mizo woman’s reputation, once damaged, can never be repaired, and a fallen woman, even if she finds a man foolish enough to marry her, carries her shame over to the next generation, where her children and her children’s children will forever be tainted by association with the unfortunate woman. It is therefore, telling that the only person able to defeat Lalruanga is a woman who does not hesitate to use her sexuality to attack a man where he is weakest- his sexuality. The derogatory name given to Zangkaki indicates Mizo society’s vilification of such women. 

Early Mizo religion was a mixture of Pantheistic and spiritual elements, replete with superstitious beliefs. Closely attuned with the natural world, the Mizos believed that nature was infused with spirits, good and bad, both of them needing to be appeased. They also believed that spirits of dead persons often took the form of animals or resided in rivers, mountains or forests. Hence, though these tales may seem fanciful with their talking animals, magic and fantastical acts, they also depict the religious and superstitious beliefs of the past Mizos. Mizos also had a strict moral code which dictated valour and bravery for men, and submissiveness, chastity and domestic prowess for women. This paper seeks to demonstrate that folklore, though they have often been relegated to fantasy or children’s tales, actually contain within them a rich source of information pertaining to a society’s culture and their beliefs. The stories mentioned here are not mere imaginative stories but are actually indicative of what Kong and Goh call fictive, historical and projected realities. The stories told here of three Mizo female characters give a very accurate picture of the social status of Mizo women in Mizo society, and lend support to the feminist belief that gender roles are socially and not biologically constructed. 

Christopher Rollason, Modern Criticism. Rajeshwar Mittapali (ed). New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers and Distributors, 2002.
Fungki: B.A Mizo Zirlai. CTBEB P ublication. Aizawl: Gilzom Offset, 2007.
Indian Folklife: A Quarterly Newsletter from National Folklore Support Centre. Serial No. 34, Nov 2009. Jan 21, 2011.
Kramarae Cheris and Paula A. Treichler, A Feminist Dictionary. London: Pandora Press, 1985
Lily Kong and Elaine Goh, “Folktales and Reality: The Social Construction of Race in Chinese Tales”. Blackwell Publishing on behalf of The Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute ofBritish Geographers). Area, Vol. 27, No. 3 (Sep., 1995), pp. 261-267. Feb 17, 2011. .
Nuchhingi and Zirtiri, Serkawn Graded Reader: Mizo Thawnthu. Aizawl: Mualchin Publications and Paper Works, 2004.
Rosan A. Jordan and F. A. de Caro, “Women and the Study of Folklore”. The University of Chicago Press. Signs, Vol. 11, No. 3 (Spring, 1986), pp. 500-518. Feb 17, 2011. .

Vanlalveni Pachuau completed her Masters in English Literature from Mizoram University and also recently earned an M.Phil. degree from the same. She wrote and presented this paper at a seminar on folklore organised by the International Society for Folk Narrative Research at NEHU in Shillong in February 2011. I am indebted to her for allowing me to reproduce it here.

Note: Plagiarism or appropriation of any content herein for any purpose will not be tolerated. In the event of interest for usage or partial reproduction of contents, kindly contact me at the email address given on the home page for necessary action. 

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Poems - M. Vanlalhumi (Mahumi)

Thoughts of an Invigilator

sleepy i aint
nod off i caint
a pressure from within
and i gulp mouthfuls of air in.

is sitting so tiring
that i keep on yawning?
will scribbling and writing
make less of the yawning?

I sure do hope that it be so
'coz where i am, i have to stifle so.
round and round and round i stroll
if only i could rock and roll.


Crushed Love

you often wonder
what life has dealt you,
happiness eludes you
joy evades you
you curse life
you curse those who scorn you
damn judas, damn them all
life is like an elusive butterfly
you reach for it and it flies away.
damn love, damn life,
damn all butterflies.
you feel irrefutable love
you give irrevocable love
you dream of utopia
of walking down the aisle.
shattered, crushed, trampled
what was is no more
what used to be can no longer be
what was within reach is miles away
together is no more, you now go solo.
loneliness, solitude, emptiness
your only consolation, your companions
you hug them, you embrace them
like you'd never let go.
at times you want to have a fling
most times you want to crawl under the bed
and be a rip van winkle.
you put on a brave face
you smile while you cry inside
you always feel the pain -
the crushing squeeze in your heart.
time heals they say
but time crawls.
patience, courage - a distant dream
no silver lining anywhere.


M. Vanlalhumi, also known as Mahumi, is a school teacher as might be guessed from her light-hearted piece on the inertia brought on by exam hall duty. She is happily married with two young children. Her poem Remembrances of Dad was posted in December 2007 here.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Poems - C. Lalawmpuia Vanchiau


Silence, the voiceless voice -
it speaks volumes
it triggers a strong
it narrates a long

silence soothes the heat
it makes mild a hot wind
and warms a late cold

but not always..

sometimes it just
crazes oneself
without leaving
a footprint...


my beloved one,
i don't
why i
so long
and then
attacked you
may be
i just
to be sure
and not
to promise
hollow words,
it seems
to me
and now
was there
since the very beginning
but now
is it
still there?

i am
i know
you are
unhappy too,
and it is sweet
to be part
of the same
with you.
was LOVE
and now
pain in
LOVE too

we must
know every
kind of
through pain.
we'll know
the joy
meeting again
i want it,
i need it
i'll try to
get it

(This poem was inspired by a letter written by Simone de Beauvoir (1909 - 1986) to her lover, Nelsen Algren)

C. Lalawmpuia Vanchiau completed his MA and M Phil. at the Central University of Hyderabad, and is currently working on a doctoral thesis from Mizoram University. He writes a regular literary column for a local monthly magazine and is deeply involved in birthing a new genre of Mizo literature that he calls Rambuai fiction, which deals with the traumatic Mizo pro-Independence movement of 1966.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Paper Boat - Dawngi Chawngthu

A boat
A tiny paper boat
Blown by winds of destiny
This way
and that way
Sometimes high
Sometimes low
Depending on the velocity of the winds
Quiet, peaceful winds
bring on the unexpected
yet welcome moments
too good to last…
for the sometimes-happy-paper–boat
yet knowing that
rough stormy weather
Would soon show up
And as expected
Dark clouds
With darker winds
Play havoc with
the small paper boat
ready to sink…

Dawngi Chawngthu was recently invited to present her poem Motherhood at a National Women Poets' Meet hosted by the Sahitya Akademy in New Delhi. The poem was also translated into Hindi and is now available to a wider reading audience in the country. Way to go, Dawngi!

Picture: Paper Boat by Mama aka Jiksaw Lalmuanpuia

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Poems II - Zosangliana


The night moves against curtains
to pass my trespasses for judgement
and the insects emerge
to move with the flicker of the filament.
I am alien, uncut and unkind when the night submerges.
I am faithless, fast falling but undying when the city the colour of
kerosene sleeps.
I am at the downs where you take me.

You take me to the end of myself
a measure before the flood on the floodplain,
before vast fields that stretch till they turn into walls of the unseen
where you stand a few paces from the pain
to canopy me from the muted screams of our destruction:
the insects and the kills that we push in to the night
with the shame of the futilely of sought absolution
for the shapes of the night.

I sleep to wake to wait with insects
for you take me to the downs
to put me in your killing jar butterflies.



I have taken all that I have -
hurt, hope and held sentiments coloured by television lust,
to be between these walls that
that separate me from the sounds of Pilate's last dice falling.
Hell is only a heartache away
and heaven in a summer's downpour is falling
down on this world and its nicotine stained sunsets
that lovers share without knowing.
Love me, Love me, you cry
Without knowing why that shade of yellow in the sunset
makes you reach out (only to pluck)
when you don't understand the chemicals that fuel your soul.
There is no beauty,
and no moment still enough to hold it
even with all of heaven raining down on
us like in the movies.
There is no pain
and no denial strong enough to hide the glare of it
even with the thickest sunglasses on
like us in reality.


Monday, February 21, 2011

Untitled - Dawngi Chawngthu

The fading lights
Of the city of joy
Flicker in the distance

And approaching lights
Of the city of pearls
Growing brighter every second

Promise a new beginning:
Beginning of unknown
Things to come.

I embrace the beginning
Though it leaves me sad
And apprehensive

But there really is no choice
Time has come
To let go…

Let go of bits and pieces
of trivia…
Enough to fill a dustbin maybe.

A memo from a lunch
That rainy June
To let you know…I care

A ticket torn in half
From the movie
That had us in splits

A letter signed with love
Not really a love-letter…
Nevertheless, full of love.

Dark shades…now broken
Sent all the way from the old city
You remembered….

Looks across the dinner table
Winks across the room…
Blank stares…yes, that too…

Little acts of kindness
Words of care
Whispers of love

Forget the dustbin…
The abstract
Outnumber the concrete.

A decade holds a lot.