Monday, November 19, 2012

Poems - Jesleen Lalmuanawmi

Clouds Large

Clouds large, looms larger,
You have no idea what you saved.
Larger, looms larger,
How do you tie a knot?

A bird flies out, out the barred window,
From her heart, from behind the bars,
Into the horizon, beyond the clouds
And at home, the clouds loomed larger.

You spent a day with her,
Sweet words, she hadn't heard for long,
And for that day, the clouds stopped looming,
You have no idea what you saved.


Bangalore Guesthouse

Hours, sketches and Dylan
Laces, petals, roses, vase blue.
Vase blue on woodwork.
Gone, gone to country foreign

Snow and no internet
Gone. Gone, gone to your peer group.
Tea and a life mundane.
Coffee mug, used coffee mug on wood work.

Despair, 2.51 AM, Silence.
Morose, resounding, ear splitting silence.
Sleep, let it come sleep,
Eyes closed, let it come.


Stark, dark, grey

He sits alone at his desk,
A pencil, a sheet as blank as his stares,
A stark picture in black and grey,
Alone in room grey, as he battles his longings.

She sits alone and jots down furiously
Her pain, her loneliness, her longings,
She pauses awhile and tries to muster anger,
Yet all she feels is an understanding.

She knows why the sudden departure,
She knows why the complete silence,
She knows why the snuffed out longings,
This was the only way to get it done.

The stark room in black and grey, where she stayed,
Dashes of colours added by the lyrics of songs carefully chosen
Of life, of love, of sun-filled days,
Of long talks, of kisses of yesterdays.

So the stark rooms in black and grey
Where both battled longings, their whims and fancies,
They peeked into each other`s windows into rooms grey,
And they both knew why and snuffed out longings.

Jesleen Lalmuanawmi loves life...the rain on her face...sand between her coffee and a good book. She is presently living in New Delhi with her husband and three children.

Monday, October 29, 2012

We Were Supposed To Meet Today - David L. Hmar

We were
To meet today
Get up close
And personal
Chat over
A double scoop
Of ice cream
And relive
The past week
With relish
And seal it
With a kiss
(Or two…)

We were 

To walk today 
So I could 
My undying 
For you 
And then brush 
Past your hand 
And delicately 
Only touch you 
Anything else 
Land us both 
In a deep deep soup… 

We were 
To hear 
Our hearts 
In the 
And stare 
At each 
Make love 
With our 
When I awoke today
To tell you I love you,
I found
You were
Nowhere to
Be found
And everything
The dream
Came crumbling

David L. Hmar is presently based in Kolkota, pursuing his studies, and dreams of "winning the Booker and Nobel Prize for the Mizos, and counts Hemingway as his chief inspiration as the 'the writer who made me want to live a writer's life even it meant being poor.' The aspiring author writes because he has lived these moments and wishes that others too, in reading his works, would experience the zest for life and love."

Saturday, October 20, 2012


Retold by C. Lalnunchanga
Translated by A. Hmangaihzuali Poonte

Long ago there once lived a poor widow. She had a beautiful daughter named Thangchhawli and their house was always filled with young men coming to court her. One day, mother and daughter went out to work on their farming. Their farming land that year was very far away and had not been very well cultivated. Around noon, Thangchhawli became very thirsty so her mother said, “Chemte¹, go down to the little stream at the end of the farm and see if there is any water.”

So Thangchawli went to fetch the water. But the stream was completely dry and seeing some water in the hollow of a tree, she quenched her thirst. Quite unknown to her, however, the water belonged to a tiger-person². When she went back to her mother, she said, “Mother, the stream was dry but since I was so thirsty I drank the water I saw in a tree hollow.”

Soon, Thangchhawli’s face began to change: her skin became striped, long, sharp talons grew out of her hands and a thick tail sprouted behind her. Her mother lamented, “Chemte, what a terrible disaster, the water you drank must have belonged to a tiger-person!” After a while, Thangchhawli turned back into a human being. But her mother advised her, “You must keep this a secret.”

For a certain length of time, they managed to hide the secret from everyone. But one night, as Thangchhawli was being courted as usual by several young men who were lounging on the floor as she and her mother tended to the fire, and she was certain they were all fast asleep, she said to her mother, “Mother, I am hungry.”
Her mother said, “Go eat the leftover rice on the shelf there.”
“I’m not hungry for rice.”

“Go eat the goat that’s tied outside the front door.”
“I’m not hungry for goat meat.”
“Go eat the sow below the house.”
“I’m not hungry for pig meat.”
“All right, go out to the edge of the forest and feed on the cow we keep there.”
But Thangchhawli refused again, saying, “I’m not hungry for cow meat.”
Her mother looked around at the young men fast asleep on the floor and seeing one of the youngest suitors sleeping by the furthest wall, told her daughter, “All right, go to the youngest boy over there and feed on him.”

However the young man was not asleep, and had been listening to the conversation between mother and daughter. He was filled with great fear and woke his companions, saying, “Get up, get up, I have a terrible stomach ache,” and pretended to be racked with abdominal pain.

So his friends carried him to the Zawlbuk³ and there, he told them the truth. “I was only pretending to be in pain because while you were all fast asleep, I heard the girl we were courting tell her mother how hungry she was. But to everything that her mother told her to eat, she would say she was not hungry for it. Finally, the mother told her, “Go feed on the youngest boy,” and I was so frightened, I woke up all of you.”

The eldest young men among them said, “Tomorrow night, we shall court her again and find out the truth. We must all secretly carry a rock and a stick of firewood.”

So the next evening, the young men all went to Thangchhawli’s house again. Unnoticed by the girl and her mother, they dropped their rocks into the pot of pig swill cooking over the fire, and hiding their firewood sticks under their puan, stretched out on the floor and pretended to fall asleep.

After a while, the pig swill was cooked and Thangchhawli prepared to remove the pot from the fire. But the rocks the young men had secretly dropped into the pot made it very heavy and she was unable to move it. As she drew all her strength together, her supernatural tiger powers emerged and she was able to easily pick up the heavy pot and remove it from the fire.  

At this, all the young men jumped up and cried, “This is a tiger-person. No ordinary woman could have moved that pot!” Arming themselves with their sticks of firewood, they got ready to beat Thangchhawli to death.

But the mother exclaimed, “Alas, we can hide our secret no longer. Forgive us!” She then told the young men the sad story of how the misfortune had befallen her daughter. But the young men said, “However sorry we feel for you about this situation, your daughter can no longer continue living in this village.”

And so the poor widow and her daughter had to part ways. Being no longer allowed to live with human beings, Thangchhawli left to live in the jungle and her mother watched her leave, weeping bitterly.

Because of her reluctance to leave her mother, Thangchhawli stayed on for many days in the outskirts of the village. She often brought choice pieces of wild animals she had caught and left them at her mother’s doorstep.

One night she brought the hind leg of domestic cattle and her mother told her, “Chemte, you know I’ve told you not to prey on domestic animals. If you keep doing it, huntsmen will soon shoot you dead. Go far away from here for your own safety.” Thangchhawli said sadly, “Mother, it breaks my heart to leave you forever.” Her mother told her, “You must go. But be careful wherever you go.”

So Thangchhawli went away deep into the jungle where she later married a tiger and had children with him. When she left her home, she had been wearing a thihna (a traditional Mizo necklace) and it is said that her offspring could be identified by their necks. Whenever the old Mizo elders came across tigers with white markings on their necks, they would always refer to them as Thangchhawli’s descendants.

¹ A term of endearment for a young child
² Keimi. Creatures believed to be part-human, part-tiger. Perhaps the Mizo equivalent of the European werewolf
³ Traditionally a dormitory for young Mizo bachelors

Translated from Ka Pi Thawnthu Min Hrilh Chu (Stories My Grandmother Told Me), a collection of short stories written and compiled by C. Lalnunchanga, one of the most prolific contemporary writers in Mizo literature.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Giants (for Pupu) - Lalnunsanga

It wasn't long ago that I learnt Giants walked among us. They were not 30 feet tall and physically imposing nor were they frightful or terrifying. They didn't conquer you with their muscles nor mock your weakness. They did not walk above us. They look just like you and me and for the most part didn't even know they were giants and neither would you; until they leave. No matter how frail they look on their death bed, no matter how fragile their bones, you feel the weight of their history, their enormity and you are humbled. The spaces they leave can never be filled for we are we and they, Giants.

Lalnunsanga currently lives in Shillong and is pursuing his doctorate at NEHU.

Picture: Rollick Lalnuntluanga

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Undiscarded Image: Love in C.Thuamluaia’s Sialton Official

- Dr.R.Thangvunga

The story  -  A government official at Sialton in eastern Mizoram proceeds to his new post in southern Mizoram with his family, breaking journey at the parachronistic Hotel Odyana in Zolawn, where an old discarded Shillong Times brings back memories of a buried romance which perhaps all happily married men would have shrugged off. What he reads there is an echo of lovers’ familiar heart-to-heart communiqué plus news about an ill-fated marriage of the girl he loved once. But the Sialton Official (thus known), like Pandora, must open the safely locked past with this key, and bring about ruin and death. His indulgence with memories of a romance with a tea-girl in Shillong leads to another indulgence to cure the first indulgence, and bury his loved ones in the other love. From his drunken torpor he is rudely awakened by cries of “Hotel Odyana is burning! Your family….”  He loses everything except remorse and, Oedipus-like, wanders Cainfully bearing his sin and punishment, while to all men he becomes the very sainthood of Penitence. His forgiveness finally comes where he had sinned, in Zolawn, to which his daughter’s voice has been driving him relentlessly, to find peace and self-forgiveness. With his salvation the whole community comes alive to worship and hear his testimony of the Miracle of Love.

Some early novels familiar to Mizo readers are romantic love stories with tragic endings. As in Hardy’s Return of the Native, a young man returning from civilized world to his native village in the hills typically becomes ‘the eye’ in society, winning favour and love, and rivalry: a perfect stereotype setting for a sentimental plot. But Sialton Official is different in that the romance and sentimental elements take a back seat, and practical life is foregrounded, at least in the setting. Shillong was a conventional name for education till recently, and an occasional tale of romance with a local beauty is not unconventional, for it does not seem as romantic to go gallivanting with one of the same tribe; and marriage was hardly ever the goal of such relationships – there being an unspoken taboo-like consensus against inter-tribal marriages. Any such inter-tribal amatory relationships came under a cloud of displeasure from both the communities. But it is the memory of a romance that we are dealing with, not the actual event, which had been sealed fast in Time’s sepulchre, incapable of meddling with the present life. Or is it? 

To compare such a happy memory with a Dracula or a raised Mummy and the unspeakable fear they evoke may seem farfetched. But the catastrophe attending on it is no less horrible than such visitation from the nether world.

The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n. [1]

And Dorothy may yet be living in St. Mary’s Convent with her daughter after the death by drinking of her husband, when her SOS reached her old lover. It is no evil hand reaching out from the grave in a fit of jealousy of his good fortune in love that bewitched the Sialton Official. Nor can we blame Dorothy for putting that bleeding message, knowing she has no hope of her distant fiancé riding against the wind to rescue her. The message may just be a ‘heavy weight of hours’ sighed out for relief – a shy, unadmitted ‘if’ betraying her need of comfort in her solitude  - an undiscarded image.

Pillowed upon my fair love’s ripening breast,
To feel forever its soft fall and swell,
Awake forever in a sweet unrest.[2]

What kind of love is this that can cut across a happily concluded marriage? Is there a different kind of love outside the marriage institution? In Medieval Europe the amatory aspect of love was institutionalized in ‘courtly love’, with the effect of relegating married love to the status of domestic order. The majority of Medieval poems celebrate love within a religious framework by which the lady is an ideal of beauty and chastity to whom devotion is due as prove of an ideal knightly character. Marriage is not the end of this holy quest, for an ideal possessed loses its value as an ideal. The beautiful lady is an ideal inspiring love and devotion till she becomes a possession. Love idealized thus is an intangible vision that illuminates the object. And when the Sialton Official cryptically remarks, “I reached for the star without climbing whereas she looked in vain for a bridge where there was none,” there can hardly be a better way of stating the situation of such relationship, showing that love is a two-way glass, man and woman having different concepts about love. According to this, man idealizes love, whereas woman sees it as a means. Man needs woman to light his life, but woman demands his very life. He loved, not Dorothy, but what he saw in her - a very Desdemona. And to Dorothy, he is a daydream, a mirage, the handsome knight who never stays. Both went separate ways to marry and kept their love alive, but closely, so closely they both thought they had buried it under marriage vows. The dead never rise, but the undead.

For Othello, Desdemona incarnates his concept of Beauty and Love. It is not Desdemona dead but the dead in Desdemona that raised the chaos in him. Man as husband and father plays his role smoothly when the undiscarded image of love lies dormant. The loss of husband, albeit a drunken one opened the chest that had confined love in Dorothy, and like Pandora, let loose the winged scion of Love whose arrow pierced the once wounded heart of  the Sialton Official on that ill-fated evening in Odyana Hotel, with catastrophic consequences.

Once Dorothy, ideal love incarnate in “Queen of the days I loved,” lives again, the other love incarnate in his wife (the ideal wife) must die. And husband too. But not necessarily in the flesh. Thus the pain of physical death is not felt by his wife and children but him alone; that is, the text saved them the horror, the fear, the burning heat and the suffocating breathless smoke. It is him so rudely called from another world that bore the full painful consciousness of death.  They are the sacrifices at the altar of the goddess of love. But the cost, so dearly paid by the penitent – of what worth is it made to serve?

The answer to this has to be the conclusion of our brief critical adventure. But there is yet an unvisited but familiar spot in love’s empire: the hill of Platonic love where true devotees of love find fulfillment. For Plato the object of love is perpetual possession of and union with the good.[3]  In literature woman more often as not objectifies the good “in her self-possessed, witty, modest and circumspect nature, ready to face life on her own.”  [4]“. . . love of a particular person leads to the discovery that beauty of soul is more valuable than beauty of body." [5]

Such beauty engendering love in man is observed in most of Shakespeare’s heroines who possess a kind of beauty that can turn cold the heat of lust. Marina of Pericles, Imogen of Cymbeline, Portia of The Merchant of Venice, among others, are the quintessence of beauty that does not rust in marriage.The seemingly wasted goodness of a Cordelia, an Ophelia, or a Desdemona constitutes an honest admission of the insignificance of human virtue in the context of an impersonal, apathetic and consciousless cosmic order. In such a universe, man is the only ‘measure of all things, of those that are that they are, that are not that they are not.’[6] Man must make his virtue meaningful in himself in order to save himself the pain of existence, or perish in the limbo of his own agnosticism, or hang precariously in the swing of ontological relativism. The Sialton Official chooses to live, to go on, and ‘BE,’ to make the sacrifice of his loved ones meaningful, for himself and for humanity, and leave an unforgettable legacy of Love.

[1]  John Milton, Paradise Lost, Bk. I (ll. 254-255).
[2] John Keats, Bright Star.
[3] R.Thangvunga, Shakespeare and Donne: Themes of Love, Time and Mutability, 2010,  Atlantic Publishers, New Delhi, p. 76.
[4]  ibid., p. 26.
[5]   ibid., p.77
[6]  Protagoras.

Dr. R. Thangvunga is an Associate Professor in the Mizo Department at Mizoram University. This seminar paper which examines this short fiction was presented at the National Seminar on Mizo Fiction  organized by the  Department of Mizo, Mizoram University, at Aizawl, in 2011.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Aftermath - Cherrie Lalteii Chhangte

You would, perhaps, have me write poems
Of bittersweet love on sun-kissed mornings,
Of how our sandalled feet splashed
Across pavements on rainy afternoons
When monsoon downpours burst
upon us in orgasmic urgency,
Brief moments of ecstasy that left us drenched,
The aftermath infinitely more permanent than the event.
Aftermaths-  that is what it always crumbles to,
Like the precarious towers made of dreams
That we are so adept at building.
How I dreamt that you would be my saviour
From the neurotic web of nothingness
That ensnares me in its fatal allure!
And how you dreamt that I-
I in my fear disguised as calm -
Would embody every pristine boyhood dream you had,
Before the scarlet of betrayed hopes
Left that stain across your battered soul.

Ah, but dreams are fragile, sweetheart,
As you and I well know,
For they crumble to dust
With an untimely question,
A half-articulated doubt,
A wing clipped in mid-flight.
The house of cards you built yesterday
Could not withstand your deep soul-weary sigh.
So we stand across each other
In the debris of the aftermath,
Weighed down by the failure
Of the punchline that was never delivered,
And the climax that never came.

Yes, I think I will write poems
Of bittersweet love on sun-kissed mornings.

Dr. Cherrie Lalteii Chhangte is on the teaching faculty of the English dept at Mizoram University. She writes poetry in English and also does translations from Mizo to English.

Photo credit:  Andrew Lalbiaknunga Ralte


Saturday, May 5, 2012

Blurred - Dawngi Chawngthu

Do not underestimate me for a fool yet
Intelligence still runs through my veins
Cold facts of reason struggle with words of nonsense

But then don't overestimate my intelligence
My mind is blurred by dreams we weave
Dreams that border between myth and reality

Somewhere between here and there
Somewhere between hot and cold
Somewhere between sane and insane

Somebody pinch me
Shake me awake from this day-mare
Place on me the cold stamp of definition

Vague confusion though comforting
and vaguely pleasing
is somewhat disturbing..

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

An Analysis of Popular Mizo Culture through Vincy Chhangte's 'Aizawl' - Vanlalveni Pachuau

The simplest and most obvious way to define popular culture is as simply the culture that is widely favoured or well liked by many people. Culture here refers not just to a particular way of life, but also to intellectual and artistic works and practices, such as literature, music, art, films, etc. By this definition of culture, popular cultural forms are those that are commercially produced and therefore, are easily accessible and also understandable by the masses. Popular culture has often been defined as a culture of the people by the people. Since it is the culture that is mass produced to suit the tastes of a general audience, it is regarded by some as being an inferior type of culture.

There have been many critics who have drawn distinctive lines between “high” culture and popular culture. According to them, ‘high’ culture consists of ideas and practices which have been created out of intense study. It appeals to a select audience, that is, those who have the intellectual capacity to appreciate it, whereas popular culture caters to a general audience, one which is less discriminating, and so, it would be less intellectually significant. As a result, ‘high’ culture deserves a serious and intense response, whereas popular culture deserves only a fleeting study since it would have very little to offer. However, popular culture has the potential to offer more insight into the study of culture than what is initially apparent.

For this paper, Vincy Chhangte’s¹ “Aizawl” has been chosen so as to show how popular musical forms can and do give an insightful critique of society. Vincy’s “Aizawl” is a satirical rap-song in which the rapper elucidates the various qualities of the youths in Mizoram’s capital, Aizawl, to an outsider while actually highlighting the posturing and the hypocrisy of its inhabitants. The song starts off with praising Aizawl, extolling its virtues such as its perfect weather and its beautiful women. He tells the outsider that they are approaching Dawrpui, the market centre, where most of the city’s shops are located and where, therefore, the youths proliferate:

“Dawrpui i rawn thleng phei tep;
Angel hawlhthlak hlir maw i hmuh.
Mahse neih chhuantur i neihloh chuan
Bem ringawt suh”

(You’re almost at Dawrpui now;
Are those angels descended upon us you see?
But unless you have something worth boasting about
Don’t presume to court their favours)

The irony here lies in the usage of the phrase “angel hawlhthlak” . While the phrase has often been employed to describe physical beauty, the term “angel” nevertheless points towards the less angelic qualities of the women whose favours could only be courted by those with material wealth. Vincy here gives us the first glimpse into the materialistic attitudes of Aizawl youths. The first verse continues to provide the listener with Aizawl’s youth culture

Chhas bem huai nan Stag i peg alaw?
Khumsenin a khung ang che, fimkhur rawh

(A peg of Stag for courage to make a move on a girl?
Careful, the Redcaps will put you in the slammer)

Here, we are again shown one of the many hypocrisies of Mizo society. Around 85% of Mizoram’s population are Christians who subscribe to the belief that liquor consumption is a sin. Neverthless, the church and the government felt the need to introduce the MLTP (Mizoram Liquor Total Prohibition) Act, which was implemented in February 20th, 1997. This Act called for the total prohibition of liquor in Mizoram. However, critics are of the opinion that this Act has totally failed and has only proliferated bootlegging of poor quality liquor, resulting in fatalities and increased prices of smuggled liquor. The former chief secretary M. Lalmanzuala has said, "If a law fails, it is either to be lifted or amended. We have experimented with the Liquor Ban Act for more than ten years, and witnessed that it has failed to stop what it is meant to stop. It only made Mizoram the wettest dry state. One can find plenty of liquor, only the prices are extraordinarily high".

Locally produced liquor is still readily available, as are IMFL (Indian Made Foreign Liquor), albeit at exorbitantly expensive prices. The table below gives the statistics of liquor seizures in the years 2008-2009 and 2009-2010. Smuggled or bootlegged liquor is seized, those who are found in possession of it, or manufacturing it are arrested. Yet The bottomline is that, despite the raids carried out by the Excise Department and various NGOs, liquor is still readily obtainable. One needs only to be careful of the Redcaps or the police working under the Excise Department.

Fortified by alcohol, Vincy invites the listener to sample the many entertainments that Aizawl has to offer:
Party naah I kal chak a nih chuan
Zantin party chu a awm alawm

Mahse I lam anga lam kan awmlo (zak suh!)
Mi nuih kan chinglo
Hlet I siam ve thovang.

(If you want to party
There’s a party every night.

But no one here dances like that (don’t be embarrased!)
We don’t laugh at others.
Im sure you’ll still make an impression)

One of the things that has often been said about Aizawl youths is their great sense of belonging to the capital city. There are those who tend to regard those from other towns with a certain degree of condescension. Vincy patronizingly tells his friend that his way of dancing do not conform to Aizawl standards but that he should not feel embarrassed by it because Aizawl youths are kind enough to not laugh at others. Implicit in this is the disdain felt by the city-dwellers for outsiders, whom they feel are not quite as “cool” as they are.

In the second verse, Vincy gives a list of various music artists, both belonging to the Gospel and the non-gospel genres. Mizos are known for their great love of singing, and there is a huge proliferation of singers. This distinction between Gospel and non-Gospel singers is an important one within the Mizo context. The question of whether a Christian should sing Gospel songs or Love songs has been an ongoing debate for a long time. There are those who feel that Christians have a moral obligation to give back to God for bestowing upon them the talent of singing, and this should be done through the production of Gospel music. However, Vincy renders this moral debate into a travesty when he declares:

“Zai lama lar I duh chuan
C.Dina tlawn rawh”

(If you want fame as a musician
You should suck up to C.Dina)

C.Dina is the owner of Lelte Weekly, a fortnightly newspaper dedicated to musicians. By virtue of his being the only noteworthy musical journal in Mizoram, C.Dina is probably the biggest musical promoter in Mizoram. A mention in his newspaper brought much fame to musicians since the paper is widely circulated within Mizoram. Vincy implies that commercial success lay not with God but with the bestowing of C.Dina’s favours. This brings into question the musical integrity of the artists and of the Mizo community itself. He continues

Rimawi Kutpui a awm thin Vanapa Hall-ah
Zaimite kan fuankhawm
Kan style a dang, kan hmel pawh a dang
Studio hrang hrang a tam
J JER, SS, Zaiawi-
Ka sawi senglo

(We have Musical Festivals at Vanapa Hall
We musicians abound
Our styles vary, our faces vary.
There are so many studios around.
JER, SS, Zaiawi-
I can’t name them all)

Despite having such a huge proliferation of musicians with varying ‘styles and faces’, Aizawl, for all its appreciation of music, is unable to provide a sufficient platform for these artistes to showcase their talent. The biggest event for them is Rimawi Kutpui, and the occasional concert. The many music studios are a testament to the flourishing of budding artistes; however, the only ones who profit from the music industry within Aizawl are the owners of the studios- the artists get little exposure and are paid only a trifle. Yet, the studios never run out of the patronage of artistes who are willing to try their luck, whether their aims be religious or materialistic.

After listing the various entertainments afforded by Aizawl and its flourishing musical trade, Vincy declares the pride that he feels his hometown. But characteristic of the materialism prevalent in Aizawl, the pride he feels lie in that fact that Aizawl is home to International clothing brands:

Thawmhnaw duhzawng a kim,
duhloh zawng pawh a kim,
(Khawiah maw?)
Adidas, Nike, Reebok showroom-ah

(All the clothes you want
And the ones you don’t, they’re here
At Adidas, Nike and Reebok Showrooms)

The fashion-consciousness of Aizawl youths is hinted at in these lines with their reference to International Sports Fashion brands. When one takes into account that 22.5% of the population in Mizoram declare themselves as living below the poverty line, it comes as a surprise that the biggest concern among youths is fashion. This is particularly true in Aizawl, where brand-consciousness is especially prevalent. Branded clothes are seen as a sign of class and quality, and presumably after they have outfitted themselves in those, Vincy declares 

I changkang ta hle mai
Engzat motor nge I hmuh?
Aizawl motor tam zia hi!
Mak ti duh suh.
Saw saw a va mawi e,
Thlir vung vung suh!
Ava chhelo e,
Hawi huhu suh!

(You are now a person of class.
How many vehicles do you see?
There are so many vehicles in Aizawl!
Don’t be impressed.
That one’s a beauty.
Stop staring!
That one’s not bad.
Stop gawking!)

These lines are in the form of a dialogue between Vincy and his listener. After having introduced him to the higher standards of living in Aizawl, as exemplified by the parties and the branded clothes, Vincy declares that his friend is now a person of class, and therefore, befits the Aizawl standards. However, his friend is nevertheless impressed by the many vehicles and the sights and sounds around him, all of which causes Vincy to admonish him. The true Aizawlian is accustomed to these sights and sounds and is no longer impressed by them. To stare and gawk would give away that one is not from the city, and so, one should act nonchalant even if one is impressed. 

Finally, Vincy declares
Sappui nun kan ngailo, ramdang nun kan ngailo
Kan hmel a tha, chhe deuhte chu lo awm mah se…

(We don’t yearn for the Western way of living
We are beautiful people, though some are not quite so…)

Again, the irony implicit in these lines comes from his declaration that he does not yearn for a Western way of living because it is exactly the western fashion that Aizawl youths are trying to imitate- with their parties, lifestyles and fashion. The last line, “Kan hmel a tha” is reminiscient of one of our more popular Mizo folk song, which declares

“Mizo kan ni, kan hmel a tha
Kan tum a sang bawk si”

(We are Mizos, we are beautiful
And our ambitions are lofty)

This folk song praises the Mizo perseverance and determination, qualities which made the Mizo people beautiful. Yet when Vincy declares, “Kan hmel a tha”, he seems to mock these very ideals that the folk song talks about. Our beauty no longer lies in our noble and lofty aims, but it is rather commercially generated through Western influenced fashions. Thus, while Vincy seems to be extolling the virtues of Aizawl, he is actually exposing its hypocrisies and its vanities. Its angelic women are available only at a price, its laws are carelessly broken, its Christian values are subverted, its prized singers are mere puppets to commercial success, and its beauty is clothed in high priced branded clothes. 

Earlier in the paper, we have mentioned the distinction that has often been made between what is regarded as ‘high’ culture and popular culture. Cultural purists might regard Vincy’s “Aizawl” as belonging to a lower form of culture in that he uses everyday Mizo language to convey everyday elements. He shuns the literary and linguistic devices employed in traditional Mizo song s and poetry. He also departs from the traditional Mizo tunes to employ the use of rap music. As such, his style is different from what is traditionally considered as the artistic form of Mizo writing. However, it cannot be denied that what he has done is to depict, in the common vernacular, a picture of modern Mizo youth culture. Through the use of irony and satire, Vincy reveals much more than is initially apparent and the song is worthy of a more detailed scrutiny that this paper has been able to achieve. The song touches upon the twin holds of materialism and religiosity implicit within Mizo culture, and specifically upon Aizawl culture, and these two aspects will always come be a point of debate in any study regarding Mizo culture. 

¹A popular Mizo rap-singer who writes his own songs.

Vanlalveni Pachuau is presently working on her Ph.D. in the department of English at Mizoram University. This seminal study on contemporary Mizo pop culture was presented at a seminar in March 2012 at Govt. Aizawl College.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Cheraw - Lalnunsanga

I cannot place it in terms of the bigger picture
but it's somewhere south of where i am; here,
a place that is built on some great mercy of Providence
with houses teethering on cliffs.
We are known for our dance that have bamboos snapping at ankles,
as our young men and women, dressed in tradition's best, hop in and out.
The essence of this dance is the understanding of rythm and balance,
where one wrong movement would lead to disaster.


This dry and dusty place boasts of small towns and big houses,
with comprehensive differences in warmth and sizes.
Out of these, the hopes of future generations,
hardly able to walk with pants worn at knees,
and shoes that can feed a family for months
(but what is food compared to the latest fashion).
Subbing identity for brands, a living, breathing advertisement.
and in their coolest, hippiest ignorance,
sing along to an apt tune
"Pretty fly for a white guy"
(O well,you know he doesn't really get it anyway)


We also have our share of democracy's champions; the politicians,
who in years of election give huge contributions to charity and churches.
(for votes mind you.....keep your salvation)
Then the righteous elders that go home to ignored wives and children,
and illegitimate grandchildren,
that sit around a table for a perfect family portrait, and pray,
to a God that does not live within them.
we also have our revivals, as the crowds go,
in throngs, to see the magic show.
The deaf hear, the dumb speak, the children see,
visions of angels and Christ; slowly,
convincing ourselves of strengh in our shaky faith.
Multitudes would bow in awe at the spectacle

if in a single raindrop
or a humming insect
you do not see the miracle
then you do not see God.


A word of praise for our ingenuity,
we do not have liquor here, but we find inventive ways to get high,
off household appliances and medicines.
Mean those meant to fix meant for a fix.
And Jim, poor Jim.
He's hanging on a shoestring.
The diluted blood in his veins ran cold.
His relief from pain became his pain.
And in the songs of mourning and accompanying drums,
mother would cry,"'s my fault!"
Silent father would whisper,"'s my fault."
In the corner of each isolated spot, they would discover
regain the rythm to the dance,
but Jim,poor Jim,
He is dead.


Lalnunsanga currently lives in Shillong and is pursuing his doctorate at NEHU.

Picture: Richard Hrahsel

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Ropuiliani in Mizo Historiography: a Postmortem - H. Vanlalhruaia

The Lushai Hills (now Mizoram) were incorporated into the colonial empire by the last part of the 19th century. Indeed, resistance against colonialism in Lushai Hills was not less intense than in any other part of India. The immediate result of colonial expansion was an increase in widow chiefs. Military officer J. Shakespear noted the condition of the South Lushai Hills in 1892: “It will be noticed that all these villages except Mualthuam and Aithur are now ruled by Widows”.1 The remaining Mizo Chiefs, including widow chiefs, were now in a dilemma and forced to negotiate with and make certain adjustments towards the colonial government. It was under this critical situation that many women Chiefs, including Ropuiliani, emerged in the colonial archives. In the post-colonial and contemporary rethinking of the history of resistance against colonialism in Lushai Hills, Ropuiliani has become an ethnic idol of patriotism, whereas other women (Pi Buki, Lalhlupuii, Rothangpuii, Vanhnuaithangi, Laltheri, Darbilhi, Neihpuithangi, Pawibawia Nu, Dari, Thangpuii, Pakuma Rani, Zawlchuaii and many others) who also struggled against colonialism remain comparatively unknown.2

This paper wishes to raise questions concerning the post-colonial ethnic recollection of the past that has repeatedly focused on an individual character--a female chief named Ropuiliani. Why are Mizo historians so interested in Ropuiliani, but not Dabilhi or other female Chiefs? Is it because there was not much to celebrate in history other than Ropuiliani? What motivates our interest? Is our interest in the history of Ropuiliani truly just a historical one or is our interest in her history a symbol of ‘ethnic loyalty’? How can one account for the reappearances of Ropuiliani in Mizo historiography? Why have the roles of many ‘other women chiefs’ remained relatively unexplored, though their potential contribution in resisting colonialism appears so obviously in both colonial texts and oral traditions? History should tell us; but often it does not. These questions have hardly been asked, let alone answered, in Mizo historiography. 

My curiosity about the rethinking of Ropuiliani is particularly drawn from Gayatri Spivak's most influential essay on the Rani of Sirmur, the wife of the ruler of a hill-state in Himachal Pradesh.3 In this essay, Spivak demonstrates that the Rani of Simur emerges in the colonial archives ‘only when she is needed in the space of imperial production’.4 The British East India Company attempted to control the northern frontier of Shimla hills though various settlements and courtly political affairs. “It is within this political and diplomatic framework, where the Company attempted to pacify and subordinate the hill-states through their “Settlement”, that the Rani appears briefly in the Company’s archives as ‘a king’s wife and a weaker vessel”.5 Similarly, I argue that Ropuiliani emerged over and over again for a ‘purpose’ and that she survives in Mizo historiography for the production of those who need ‘her’ for their own respective agendas.

In this paper, my interest lies neither in narrating the oft-told history of Ropuiliani, nor in re-producing her stories. Rather, I would like to problematize the historiography of Ropuiliani in relation to the way in which Mizo scholars imagine and categorize Ropuiliani in history. The main objective of my paper is thus to engage or to inject a more skeptical view towards the historical narratives of Ropuiliani within the larger framework of women history of Mizoram.

I shall begin my discussion with the work of N. Chatterjee, “Position and Status of Mizo Women in the earlier Mizo Society”. Before the publication of this monograph in 1975, there was hardly any research available on Mizo women's history.6 The historical relationships between Mizo women and colonialism have been largely overlooked by scholars. More general studies on Mizo women were carried out by some historians and their investigation into women's roles were largely confined.7 The reconstruction of the history of women, most remarkably in politics, was largely overlooked. Consequently, women and their role in the freedom struggle against colonialism were neglected until the pre-insurgency period (1947-1966), when the reconstruction of ethno-national identity was taking place.

During the course of such ethnic identity reconstruction, the call for an ‘ethno-hero’ from the past went hand in hand with the revival of ethnic consciousness. Eventually, the Mizo National Front (MNF) drew their inspiration from the Mizo warriors (Pasaltha) who had fought against British colonialism in the Lushai Hills.8 In due course, the Pasaltha, such as Zampuimanga, Chawngbawla, Taitesena, Vanapa, Saizahawla, Khuangchera etc., were incorporated by MNF standing troops as symbols of ‘ethnic patriotism’. Surprisingly, not a single woman’s name was included. This is evident also in the historiography of popular struggles in other parts of India, where women were “subsumed...women under the category of man thereby ensuring their invisibility, and created [creating] [sic] the myth of women’s passivity, on the other. It gave rise to the belief that men alone were capable of militant action, of leadership, of changing the course of event- in short of making history”. 9

In fact, the Mizo Insurgency broke out after the first women’s movement (i.e. Mizo Hmeichhe Tangrual) was initiated in the post-colonial period. Ethnic nationalism can at times be emancipating; at other times it is a reactionary force of the subjugation of women. Since its inception, the insurgency organisation (Mizo National Front) was entirely dominated by men. Despite this, many women embraced ethnic nationalism and participated in the insurgency movement, though the actual practice of ethno-nationalism was reserved for men. Some women internalize patriarchal thinking within the politics of over-determined ethnic nationalism.10 Recent histories of insurgency movements have largely dismissed their contributions. Insurgency in Mizo hill thus, appears as a patriarchal war against the larger National State for the restoration of ethnic, patriarchal order in the society. Women are subsumed under the category of ‘Mizo Nationalism’; this had ambiguous effects, not only on the status of women (by confining them as mothers to the home), but also in the broader sense of ignoring women's issues themselves. It also reaffirmed the boundaries of culturally acceptable feminine conduct and exerted pressure on women to articulate their gender interests within the terms of reference set by ethnic nationalist discourse.

Women and politics soon became separate spaces. Mizo historian Sangkima notes in this context that “there was a great change in the nature of women’s participation in politics after 1966”.11 The MNF movement (1966-1986) in the Mizo hills was not only a masculine construction that ignored women's agency in history, but also one that brought about the downfall of women’s participation in present politics. But the present condition of women and politics is not only the result of the insurgency movement (1966-1986), but also of the history of colonial patriarchy that separated women from the political space.12 However, this is beyond the present objective of my paper.

In 1988, the recollection of women’ role in history was initiated by ethnic leaders in their conference at Champhai, an Indo-Burma border town in Mizoram. The meeting created the ethnic “Ropuiliani Award”. Rani Gandiliu, a Nagaland lady freedom fighter was the recipient.13 A Mizo woman hence emerged because she was needed in the space of ethnic identity production.

In the following years, historians explicitly focused their attention on either insurgency or colonial history in which the role of women as historical agents was almost left out. Surprisingly, in 1990, the need to reconstruct women’s role in resistance against colonialism was noticed by the Centre for Adult and Continuing Education and Department of Public Administration at the North Eastern Hill University (NEHU). Then the first seminar on the “Role of Ropuiliani in the Freedom Struggle” was organized on June 27, 1990. The seminar paper was published later in 2005 which included nine empirical essays by a number of scholars.14 For the first time, the history of women’s resistance against colonialism was brought to the notice of a small academic community.

The book stressed the political nature of colonialism as “oppressive” and “repressive”; the impacts of colonialism, which affected men and women in different ways, were overlooked.15 Females who were often subjected to what has been called a double colonization, where they were discriminated against not only for their position as colonized but also as women, was not recognized.16 Ropuiliani, a woman who measured up to the ‘male standard’ in the struggle against imperialism provokes post-colonial scholars curiosity as to why women played such a role.

Then the family background of Ropuiliani as a part of a ruling chief family which enjoyed better status than a commoner was highlighted. She inherited her qualities and her anti-colonial feelings from her father as well as her husband. This construction is strongly influenced by the colonial prejudice that wrongly defined Mizo women as passive and subsidiary inferiors. Her consciousness as a woman was entirely ignored. In the end, one may observe that collections of these articles reflect Ropuiliani as someone speaking through a colonial patriarchy which has been echoed and celebrated by the post-colonial ethnic patriarchy in the name of ‘Mizo patriotism’. While there is of course much disagreement concerning the nature and the impact of colonialism, at least a careful re-reading of colonial sources with other available sources may help us understand the gender complexities in colonial Lushai Hills.

One of the contributors of the seminar, Laltluangliana Khiangte, continued to unearth colonial archives and oral sources in the succeeding years. His efforts materialized in the historical play “Lalnu Ropuiliani”, which earned fame in the Mizo literary circle from 1994 onwards.17 The book was eventually incorporated into a college text book of North Eastern Hill University (NEHU). The character of Ropuiliani as a Chief was built from various angles, from noble to an “autocratic nature”, as her efforts to protect freedom from colonial exploitation were highlighted.

In 1994, PR Kyndiah (then Governor of Mizoram) brought out another interesting book called “Mizo Freedom Fighters”, in which the reconstruction of the legend of Ropuiliani against British colonialism is framed within the nationalist project of the recollection of the war of liberation.18 PR Kyndiah’s work was followed by the publication of “Mizo Chief and Chiefdom” by Suhash Chaterjee.19 Basing it on the on colonial archives, he successfully uncovered the biographies of the Mizo female chiefs from the 19th century to first half of the 20th century.20 Out of 104 chiefs, many chiefs were female and who were either widows of Chiefs or independent in Mizoram. Chaterjee goes beyond other writers by saying that it was not only the male chiefs but also the women chiefs who played key roles in the political process of governing Lushai Hills.

A detailed, empirical work on the history of women’s resistance ‘Tlawm Ve Lo Lalnu Ropuiliani’ was published in 1999 by local writer and poet Lalsangzuali Sailo.21 Focusing on an individual character, the past is perceived instrumentally, investigated and selected, to prove a former glory and to highlight great achievements. This is done to confirm a political project for the future of the Mizo society, without giving credit to the agency of Mizo women. Such projections were made, historian Forbes notes, “because her [Ropuiliani] accomplishments were significant by male standards”. 22

Later, in 2002, Sangkima, a Mizo historian, revived a fresh study on women and politics in Mizo history starting from pre-colonial times to the recent era.23 The first part of his essay brought out a case study of female widow chiefs in the pre-colonial period. He implicitly credited ‘tribal patriarchy’ when noting that women “become rulers or Chieftainess not as a matter of right but as a matter of chance”.24 He skipped the colonial period on the grounds that there were no women who actively participated in politics in colonial Lushai Hills. He then finally gave credit to post-colonial women as “they joined active politics only because of their desire to uplift the status of Mizo women in the society”.25 Despite this, he fails to mention that it was the colonial rulers who were repressive to women, so that the number of female chiefs decreased in colonial Lushai Hills, especially when the patriarchal Mizo customary law was drafted in 1927 for the production of colonial administration.26 The immediate impact of colonialism in Lushai Hills marked a radical transformation of women and politics in Mizoram. British colonial administrators soon assumed that women were incapable of political leadership and provided political roles for men only. These colonial chiefs were given complete authority and the traditional decision making power for both sexes was ignored.

Thus, these works reached different conclusions at times but all of them had much in common. They leave us with only a partial picture of women's experiences in resisting colonialism in the Lushai Hills. Hence numerous tales of women's struggles, negotiation, resistance, pain, and sacrifices, and, most importantly, contributions, are hidden in the background. The shortcomings in these writings could be in part due to an absence of an alternative approach to define the experiences unique to women in history.

Thus we find that Ropuiliani emerges over and over again in Mizo historiography. She first emerged in the colonial archive for the production of colonial knowledge and for the exercising of colonial power in the Lushai Hills. Secondly, she re-emerged in the post-colonial period, especially when various discourses on the reformulation of ethnic identity were taking place. Her role has been used to justify a post-colonial ‘ethnic nationalism’. Thirdly, she continues to emerge in recent historiography that vigorously clamours around the ‘Mizo nation’ with much popular backing and enthusiasm. The historiographies of Ropuiliani continue to show us the ‘revolutionary movement’ or the ‘war of liberation’ as the only means of being ‘patriotic’ or ‘nationalist’. In other words, Ropuiliani's history is the glorification of the revolutionary movement or of ‘heroic history’ rather than other forms of resistance.27 Needless to say, it overshadows other forms of resistance when the majority of scholars make universalized assertions that leave out much of the ‘other women’ in Mizo historiography. The real problem lies with the ‘grand narrative’ historical approach and the tendency to generalize for all on the basis of the actions of a few. Such impressions need to be reframed and enlarged so that the past is not merely judged through grand narrative history. The greatest challenge to the historians and scholars of Mizoram is thus to incorporate the various experiences of women from all classes in the broader framework of Mizo history. The present brief essay, though partial and incomplete, is a request to these scholars to note the critical challenge of framing a new analysis that will address the various historical complexities shared by different groups of women in Mizo history.

1. J. Shakepeare, Report Concerning Ropuilieni Widow of Vandula and Her Son Lalthuama at Present Prisoners in Lunglei, 1984. Exhibit list, Serial No.28, Government Archive, Aizawl, Mizoram.
2. For further details, please see H.Vanlalhruaia & Hmingthanzuali; Women and Resistance in Colonial Lushai Hills”, in K.N Sethi (ed); Resistance Against Colonialism: The Life and Times of Veer Surendra Sai, Shivalick Prakashan, Delhi, 2009.
3. Gaytri Spivak, The Rani of Sirmur: An Essays in Reading the Archives, History and Theory, Vol. 24, No.3, 1985. pp.247-72.
4. Ibid.
5. Tony Ballantyne; Archive, Discipline, State: Power and Knowledge in South Asian Historiography, New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 3, No.1 (June 2001). pp.87-105.)
6. N. Chatterjee; Position and Status of Mizo Women in the earlier Mizo Society, Tribal Research Institute, Government of Mizoram, 1975.
7. For example, please see L. Malsawmi, Mizoram Kohhran Hmeichhe Chanchin, Synod Publication Board, Aizawl, Mizoram, 1973, Set On A Hill Light on The Lushai Hills After Forty Years Report of Women’s Work, Baptist Church of Mizoram, 1993 and others.
8. For further reading, please see Nirmal Nibedon; The Dagger Brigade, p.
9. Indra Munshi Saldanha; Tribal Women in the Warli Revolt: 1945-47 ‘Class’ and ‘Gender’ in the Left Perspective, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol XXI, No.17, 1986.p.
10. For further reading please see Denise Adele Segor;Tracing the persistent impulse of a bedrock nation to survive within the state of India: Mizo women's response to war and forced migration, Fielding Graduate University, 2006.
11. Sangkima; Women and Politics in Mizoram through the Ages, Historical Journal of Mizoram, Vol. III. Issue I, Mizo Historical Association, 2002. p.35.
12. H.Vanlalhruaia & Hmingthanzuali; Women and Resistance in Colonial Lushai Hills”, in K.N Sethi (ed); Resistance Against Colonialism: The Life and Times of Veer Surendra Sai, Shivalick Prakashan, Delhi, 2009.
13. The ethnic leaders collaborated under the organization of Zo Re-Unification Organization (ZORO) The organization was formed with the aim of promoting the integration and unification of all Mizo groups around the globe who were actually divided by colonialism in three countries of India, Bangladesh and Burma.PR Kyndiah; Mizo Freedom Fighters, Sanchar Publishing House, New Delhi, 1994. p.10
14. Lalneihzovi; Role of Ropuiliani In the Freedom Struggle, Aizawl, Mizoram, 2005.
15. Ibid.p.xiii
16. Feminism and post-colonialism,, accessed on 5 December 2008.
17. Laltluangliana Khiangte; Lalnu Ropuiliani, Aizawl, LTL Publications 1994.
18. PR Kyndiah ; Mizo Freedom Fighters, Sanchar Publishing House, New Delhi, 1994.
19. Suhash Chaterjee; Mizo Chiefs and the Chiefdom, 1995.
20. Ibid.p. 81-171
21. Lalsangzuali Sailo; Tlawm Ve Lo Lalnu Ropuiliani, Aizawl, 1999.
22. Geraldine Forbes; Women in Modern India, Cambridge University Press,2004 (3rd reprinted) p.I
23. Sangkima; Women and Politics in Mizoram Through the Ages, Historical Journal of Mizoram, Vol-III, Issue-I, 2002.p.23
24. Ibid.35
25. Ibid. 35.
26. N.E. Parry, A Monograph on Lushai Customs and Ceremonies, T.R.I, Aizawl, Mizoram, 1988
27. Such historical writing not only distorts our history, but also conveys a message to the student of history that one could be patriotic only when he or she uses violence against the oppressor. Other form of resistances (case of Darbilhi, Lalhlupuii and Pi Buki) in a peaceful means could potentially contribute to the richness of Mizo history.

H. Vanlalhruaia recently received his Ph.D. from the University Of Hyderabad, and loves writing, history and the culture of North East India. He wrote and presented this paper at a history seminar on ‘Ropuiliani and Zakapa’ organised by Govt. Hnahthial College, Hnahthial, Mizoram, on the 8th & 9th December, 2011.

Note: Plagiarism or appropriation of any content herein for any purpose is not encouraged. 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.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Winter Fragment - Zualteii Poonte

A light winter rain.
I can't remember the last time it rained.
October, or was it November..
hard to recall in the aftermath of Christmas.

Today I walked past your hospital
and looked up at the room
you were in this time last January.
It didn't seem to remember you.

Later the soup chow in the little eating place
up the corner steamed so long,
in a burst of idle impatient hunger
I splashed in a splotch of chilli sauce.
It only burned my mouth twice as badly.

I don't think I will eat the broth there again.
Most certainly not in steaming hot mid-April
when this gray sunless day will have ebbed out with the cold.

Picture: James Lalsiamliana