A Burned Out Stub
“Dinpui, Dinpui, min lo nghak rawh! Min kalsan suh! Wait for me. Don’t leave me!” Sanga mumbles.
A startled Zorami puts down the book she has been reading and gazes at her sleeping husband.
She sits up and shakes him awake. “U Sang, what is it? Who are you calling?”
He sits up and rubs his eyes. She puts a hand on his shoulder and asks, “What is troubling you?”
“A sad dream.”
“Who is Dinpuii?”
After a long silence he tells her.
Dinpuii is the girl he loved. He can’t forget her, though he has tried.
Zorami feels like she’s hurling down into a black abyss.
And then she feels nothing. No anger, no grief, no emotion at all. Only a heavy deadness. “No wonder there’s no spark of romance in our life together. He’s only a burned out stub, poor guy!” she thinks.
At last, in a flat, lifeless voice she manages to ask, “Where is she now?”
Dinpuii and Sanga were in the same class in college. They both took up Honours in Political Science in first year BA. Dinpuii was the best student in the class and the favourite of all the teachers. She was passionate about the subject, passionate about studies. She was brilliant and talented, the college champion in debate. And she was beautiful.
Unlike most pretty girls, she was quite unconscious of her good looks. Tall, slender and straight, with big expressive eyes, hair tied in a simple pony tail, she wore a blue and white checked shirt with a plain dark-blue puan when Sanga saw her for the first time. From his seat in a corner, he noticed her entering the classroom through the door at the front. Her large, lively eyes quickly glanced round the room and settled on his face for a moment. She sat down on the second row with two other girls. After the class started, he heard her pleasant contralto voice answering the teacher’s questions. By the end of the period, he was utterly and desperately in love.
They became good friends in a few days. Sanga was surprised at her rather un-girlish interests. Her favourite topics for discussions were matters relating to the socio-economic and political condition of Mizoram. She liked hockey and sometimes joined the boys at the games, though girls normally did not touch the hockey-stick those days. She played the guitar fairly well; better than he did at any rate. And she immensely enjoyed debating.
During off periods, they would go for walks around the college campus. And talk. Her animated face would glow as she talked of her dreams for Mizoram. Schools in every village. Colleges in all the regions. Hospitals within easy reach of all. Factories to produce all essentials like cloth, paper and other things. Her dreams seemed endless. She would conclude with, “All these will be possible when we become independent.”
Sanga disagreed with her on the point of independence. “Independence is like a fruit in heaven. It’s not possible to get it in our present situation. We became part of India when the country became free from the British, and now India will never agree to let us separate,” he would say. They often argued on the subject.
One day after classes, Dinpuii walked back to the rented house she shared with a friend. When she reached the front door and was about to open it, a man’s voice called her name and she looked back. The man, hobbling up with crutches, caught up with her and spoke loudly. “Dinpui, don’t you recognise me? Remember we both gave our names to join MNF on the same evening?” he said.
“Awi, it’s Ralkapa!” she exclaimed.
As she said this, she saw two men in army uniform, not very far behind. They would have heard the conversation, whether they understood all they said or not. In any case, they would have realized that she and Ralkapa knew each other. She understood what that meant. Ralkapa’s horrid deeds were well known. She had to escape, and fast. There was no time to inform anyone, not even Sanga.
The army men did not move forward to arrest her. Perhaps they were planning to do it later. As soon as Ralkapa went away, she fled to the house of a friend. She hid there until this friend located some MNF soldiers who helped her escape to their underground shelter. Her letter, narrating all these, was hand-delivered to Sanga by a stranger some weeks after Dinpuii’s disappearance.
Soon, stories of a girl called Lalpuii among the MNF filtered out. She was the only female in what the cadres named Blue Valley Camp. There were no proper medical facilities there, but they said Lalpuii tended wounded Mizo soldiers with loving care. They nicknamed her Florence Nightingale.
The Indian Army discovered Blue Valley Camp and raided it. Some were killed, some were captured alive. Others disappeared. Those who escaped regrouped later, but Lalpuii was not among them.
About a month after the raid, a badly mutilated corpse of a woman was found near an army encampment in the same area. Though no one actually identified the body, it was generally believed to be that of Dinpuii.
Sanga could not eat or sleep properly for weeks and months. And then exhaustion took over, and he gradually resumed life. But he lived with a gaping hole in his heart.
“Why did you marry me then?” Zorami asked at length, still numb with pain.
“There was no point in going on that way. I was hoping that being married would help me forget her a little. I’m so sorry to hurt you like this.”
“Why did you pick me? From your description I’m just her opposite in looks, nature and everything. Why didn’t you go for someone more like her?”
“That’s impossible. I’ve never seen anyone even remotely like her in any way. Besides, I grew to like you once my uncle pointed you out, and there was truly no one else I was willing to marry.”
After Dinpuii’s disappearance, and especially after the corpse was found, Sanga had lost all interest in life. He felt he was only a living body without a soul. He wished he could give up that life too. But he had his mother to consider. He mechanically went about his routine. He attended classes, wrote the exams when the time came, and finally graduated and got a job in the State Bank. Once he settled at his post, his family wanted him to get married. His uncle kept suggesting some girl or other, but Sanga remained uninterested.
Finally, when he was nearing thirty three, his uncle talked about Zorami. Her family had come back to Aizawl after she finished her post-graduation in English, and she had started working in a college. He agreed to consider her. When he got to know her, he thought he loved her and that’s why he had proposed. But he could not bring himself to forget his first love as he had hoped.
Zorami left the bed and went off to the sitting room. She knew attempting to sleep would be futile.
Sanga stayed on in bed, closed his eyes and tried to sleep again. But his heart was burning. Dinpuii had appeared in his dream, smiled at him and walked away. He ran after her but he couldn’t catch up, she was too fast. That was why he had cried out. “Dinpui, how can I forget you? You are the most beautiful person I’ve seen, beautiful in mind and heart,” he whispered to his pillow.
Zorami sat on the sofa, drawing up her feet, head on her knees.
“One can’t compete with the dead,” she thought.
She recalled lines from Yeats’ poem:
Does the imagination dwell the most
Upon a woman won or woman lost?
“Woman lost is much more precious,” she told herself.
“Two broken lives brought together. Can they ever become whole?” she wondered.
Broken? She was lacerated, ripped apart. A fiend in human body did it in revolting lust. When the thirteen year old did not come back from the tuikhur where she had gone to fetch water, her worried mother took a couple of neighbours with her and went in search of her daughter. They found her unconscious, her dress torn and soaked with urine and blood, in the bushes. In the hospital, after she regained consciousness, a nurse stitched her up. Without anaesthesia. How she screamed! The needle pierced her again and again. Stinging pain upon pain.
And the dirt, the dirt! How she wanted to wash herself clean, to be immersed in a flowing river! But there was no such river within reach. All she could get was a few mugs of water for a bath. She loathed her defiled body like a rotten carcass. In sleep, she dreamt of a brook running down a hill. She ran to it, hoping for a dip in its clear, clean water. But when she reached there, she saw only muddy, filthy water.
Within a day, the buoyant, rather boisterous young girl had turned into a weepy, terrified wreck. When she was sent back to school after being discharged from the hospital, she went without fuss, without spirit. She walked with head bent, looking at the ground. She avoided everyone and kept to herself, hardly talking even to Kimi. She struggled to keep up with the lessons though earlier she used to be considered the best student in the class. As soon as school was over, she walked straight back home and stayed inside for the rest of the day.
As dusk fell, she was seized with terror and broke out in cold sweat. She sat by the fireplace, her head buried in her knees, and trembled violently. Her mother tried to soothe her, but only succeeded in making her cry uncontrollably.
As time passed, the wounds on her body healed, leaving scars. But her wounded psyche festered.
Two broken lives.
What an incredible privilege to blog an extract from a soon to be released book that's also due to be a historical first, being the first ever full-fledged novel written in English by a Mizo writer.
Malsawmi Jacob, established poet and writer, takes on the most traumatic period in Mizo history, the Insurgency years of the sixties, to tell the story of a young Mizo girl, Zorami. Coming of age, after an uneventful, idyllic childhood, at the same time that the political unrest and struggle for independence gathers momentum and breaks out to devastating effect, Zorami's life and experiences reflect those of her beloved people, land and culture. Written in Mrs. Malsawmi Jacob's distinctive restrained, understated, always beautifully lucid style that breaks into poetry in moments of passion, the novel, titled Zorami after its protagonist, is expected to be released in May 2015.