Sunday, November 6, 2016

Rewind - John Chhana

Three men removed the heavy marble stone and placed it aside, then went on to dig out the coffin that had housed him for eternity. Mourners arrived by the throng, the pastor read from the Bible and the coffin was taken to the morgue. There his corpse was removed and carefully inspected, after which the doctor came in to check on him, and eventually, to pronounce him alive. It was his birthday.

Seventy-six years, twenty four days, thirty two minutes and seventeen seconds, said the doctor, the cancer will be gone in five years or so. That was how much time he had left. He shrugged, got into his birthday suit, the black one, and was pushed out on a wheelchair. His family was there – the wife and the twins, both in their teens and they cried when they saw him. He said nothing, for he was but only one day into the world. There was the house, which he would go on to give to another person by also paying that person, and there was the dog which had been born on the same day as him, and now had twelve years or so left.

The years passed, and with that his memories left him, along with much of what he already knew. Fortunately, the pain in his side had gone as well; things were looking up. His children grew dumber and moved from college to high school, while he got a job at an office but then got fired because he now knew too little. When the twins grew smaller, he found that his problems got bigger and they had to have their diapers changed. Eventually, their time was up and they were sent back into their mother’s womb to the sound of joy and laughter. They had died and it was the first happiest day of his life.

In a year, he and his wife entered the church where the pastor pronounced them single man and single woman. They kissed and removed the rings from each other’s fingers; the second happiest day of his life. They had some time left together after that though, and they gradually fell out of love until that fateful day when he said goodbye to her forever. His brain grew duller every moment, and just like his children, he moved from college to high school, when in time, he knew nothing and the seventy-six years had all but passed.

And so, on that day, he too, was sent back into the womb. His father, who had been born miraculously out of a car accident only two days ago, gave him one last look, smiled happily and said, “You shall no longer be called John.”

On a bigger scale and long story short, the government decided it was time to wage war to give away their independence and one brave man thought it time to do away with the electric bulb. People kept erasing all the good books during all this time, while some experts were hired to unmake every last thing- skyscrapers and bridges were taken down. Millions awoke from their slumber on the fields of war, only to jump right into the fray with rifles at the ready. People were released from prison after which they brought back others into the world. Trees were returned to the forests where they stand for ages and all the minerals were taken back to where they belonged. Cities receded, the waters became pure and birds returned to their place in the sky. A great wall was demolished and the barbarian hordes returned to their humble beginnings.

In the end, a man walking on all fours removed his spear from a stag, bringing it to life. Big, monstrous creatures began to roam the earth again and the human was all but a tiny speck in the universe, as it always was. When all these things did come to die, the one perpetual thing undid the earth itself and roamed the void, because for Him there would be no beginning. 

John Chhana
lives in Shillong and has an unexpectedly scientific background for a young creative writer, being a postgraduate in Biochemistry. He is also a talented artist and graphic designer, as well as being interested in photography and videography. He recently made a no-budget Christian short film, doing the script-writing, acting and cinematography with the help of close friends.

He won second place with a very creative, tongue-in-cheek piece on headhunting in a short-story writing competition I had the good fortune to be on the judging panel of earlier this year.  I am delighted to be able to feature one of his writings here.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Poems - Hannah Lalhlanpuii


Sometimes it is easier to hide under the covers,
Than to admit how I miss his light.
Sometimes the space he left is too wide,
To fill it up with poetry.
I remember him at night,
The feel of his jacket,
The scar on his chin.
I fashioned myself a shield,
Out of his memories.
To protect myself,
From spilling a tear,
From breaking down.
Come back,
For a breath, for a beat,
For a day, for a year,
For me,
For us.


Library Reverie 

Between the ticks of the clock,
Somewhere along the tap of keyboards,
In the soft whirling of the fan,
I could hear you.
Projections on the wall take your form,
Your footprints embroidered the floor,
I hallucinated that you walked in through the door.
My concentration is undoubtedly poor.

Is it the boredom that pulled you in here?
Or is this lonely heart beating too loud for you to sit still?
For, here you are.
You are here with all your breaths, your thoughts and everything more than just you in flesh.
You dragged in everything with you -
Your smell, your thoughts and wants,
As if the sight of you alone is not enough to kill the heavy air.
You were so close,
I could smell the human sweat on you,
I could see your veins pumping beneath your skin.

Eager hands reaching out,
Watch out for that chair,
Come closer.

Then a drop of a pen flicks you away.

Hannah Lalhlanpuii is presently working on an M.Phil. in English literature at the University of Hyderabad. She writes poetry both in English and Mizo.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Four - Lalsangliani Ralte

Four is the dreary intensity
Of shock, of anguish, of despair, of questions,
Of self-blame.

What if, what if, what if, what if

unwanted phone calls
uninvited knocks on the door
unsolicited bad news

Four hearts, four faces, four smiles
Four pairs of feet, four pairs of hands
Four into ten fingers
Four into ten toes
Four innocent lives,
Four loved souls.

When four becomes pain
Mizo men and women, young and old
Rise to the occasion
Amidst rain, discomfort, cold, hunger

Four may be a hurt unparalleled
But it will never stand for solitude
Here in the land of the Zo people
For as long as the sons and daughters of the soil
Remember the narratives of 'tlawmngaihna'
Whispered by the spirits of their ancestors.

When four becomes vague memories
Faint smiles and faded pictures
When four becomes hushed warnings
By concerned parents
In the mortal world

Four will be immortal
At the feet of their Saviour
Playmates of angels for eternity

Four new smiles
To make the stars brighter
Up there.

*On the humid evening of October the 4th, 2016, five children all under the age of twelve, were playing on a river bank in Ramthar, a locality in Aizawl, when sudden, heavy rain turned the stream into a raging flash flood which swept away four of the children. The survivor, a ten year old girl, managed to summon help who immediately set out looking for the missing children. Their bodies were eventually all recovered over the next few days by YMA-organised search parties.

Lalsangliani Ralte is an M.Phil in English from Mizoram University. She has written a number of poems on topical issues including the Nirbhaya rape case.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Untitled - Bex Hauhnar

We soak our pain in the chaos of the broken end that we look past the beauty of the beginning. We dwell in the sea of reverie, blocking the tides that hope brings and losing ourselves to self-pity, blind our eyes to what promises bring.

It's not wrong to cry over our never healing scars but it is a prejudice against our souls to trap our dreams that might drag us out of our coma of tears.

~ ~ ~

I have loved you ever since I became frightened to thoughts of losing you.
Ever since your name resonates in my head like a kite to a string.
I knew I loved you when the quick brush of your hand sent sparks down my spine.
I had loved you then when every wish tied my tongue to thoughts of you.
I had started loving you when i poured myself a glass and every sip tasted like your sweet lips.
I knew I loved you then when every waking hour showers me your sweet smile.
I knew I loved you then when algorithms and physics makes no sense.
And your goodbyes were my unsolved chemistry.
I knew I love you when the sky became my sheet and the sea became my ink.
I know love only in the form of you.
I know love only when love is you.

Bex (Becky) Hauhnar recently graduated from college with a first class in English literature. Although she has not been writing for very long, her poetry has been fittingly described as having "soul." She is currently preparing to study law in South India.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Locust Years/ Khaukhuap Kum - Malsawmi Jacob

locust years

honey in a broken jar
summer breeze caught in a net
flowed  blowed away
into lunglo* stream.

glowing golden yarn on loom—
sunlit days and starlit nights
rolled scrolled away
never back will roll.

but the silver strands in hand
pretty pattern yet may weave
hide the scars of
locust eaten years.

*Lunglo is the stream of forgetting on the way to the world of the dead in Mizo myth


khaukhuap kum

khawizu bur keha thun leh
thlifim chhihriha dan chu
a baw zo, a tleh liam
lunglo tuiah an pil zo.

thembu-a rangka zai ban –
ni em ni, si-ar em zan
an zial bo, an her bo
an kir leh ngai tawh lo’ng e.

silvar zai kuta kawl lai
tahpuan atan bang ila
ze mawi dang a chhuah mah na
khaukhuap ei ser* zawng thup nan.    

©Malsawmi Jacob

Blogger's note: I am so happy to be able to post here an original poem in English and the poet's translation of it in Mizo. With the increasing interest in Northeast culture and literature, including poetry in Mizo and their translations, this is something to treasure.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Mythical Creatures from Mizo Legends - Jacqueline Zote

What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when people say “North-East India”? Is it the food? Is it the picturesque landscape and mountains? Or is it the culture? Whatever it is that you associate with this region, let me introduce you to a side that you might have never heard about – the mythical creatures from our folklore. Since I wasn’t able to get much contribution from friends in the other parts of this region, I’m going to focus on folklore from Mizoram.

I have to admit, there aren’t many written documentations for these stories. Most of them have been passed along for generations through word-of-mouth, so you might find some inaccuracies in the details. Regardless of that, these creatures have fascinated me since childhood and I hope you love reading about them too. Here goes:

1. Pheichham Pheichham is the name given to a creature that is most likely a djinn or a type of goblin. The exact definition isn't clear since there aren't many written accounts of these creatures. Instead of causing harm to humans, they do the opposite - bring them good fortune. These creatures are one-legged, so when they fall down it’s extremely difficult for them to get back up. If anyone comes across a Pheichham that has fallen down and helps it up, they are granted a wish. Till date, the term “Pheichham man” or “catching a Pheichham” is still used to describe having immense luck.

2. Lasi – The exact translation for these creatures vary. Most translate them as fairies, while a few call them demons. The description of a Lasi also differs from story to story. In many legends, these creatures disguise themselves as beautiful women and try to seduce hunters. If a hunter falls in love with a Lasi, the creature guides him in his hunting expeditions and he would never come home empty-handed from a hunt. The problem is that the hunter can never tell anyone about the Lasi nor be free from it without ending up dead. These creatures somewhat remind me of the succubus to a significant extent.

Some legends also claim that the eyes of a Lasi are vertical (just try to picture that before you go to bed). Many believe that these creatures can run extremely fast despite the fact that their feet are turned backwards. There’s one story about a boy who was being chased by a Lasi. He hides under the bed and notices that the creature’s feet are turned backwards. Thinking that the creature is going away, the boy slowly creeps out from under the bed only to be eaten by it. Now if that’s not creepy, I don’t know what is.

3. Keimi – My personal favourite is the keimi, which is basically a weretiger or a human that can turn itself into a tiger. The literal translation for “keimi” is “tiger-person” – “kei” stands for tiger and “mi” for person.  If I’ve heard correctly, tales about these creatures are also told in other regions of the North East like Nagaland and Manipur (correct me if I’m wrong).

There’s one story involving a keimi that’s stayed with me since childhood. It’s the story of a girl named Kungawrhi, who is practically the Mizo version of Thumbelina. Like the fairytale character, this girl was also born from a thumb. Unlike Thumbelina, however, she grows up a normal-sized girl.
In fact, she grows up to be the most beautiful maiden in the village and therefore, gets plenty of suitors. Among her suitors is a keimi, who steals Kungawrhi’s footprint and sets it upon the stove. The girl becomes seriously ill because of this and her father declares that whoever can cure Kungawrhi will win her hand in marriage. This keimi then takes the footprint off the stove, curing the girl from her illness and then ends up marrying her. 

Seems to me like this dude was performing some sort of voodoo on the girl. The story goes on where two brothers set out on a quest to the village of weretigers to save her after her father discovered the true identity of Kungawrhi’s husband.

4. Phung – Like the Lasi, the translation for Phung varies. Some would call them ogres, while others again define them as a type of demon. In many stories, the Phung is described as a horrendous humanoid creature with wild hair and pitch-black skin (?). 

These creatures are found in a lot of Mizo folktales, such as the story of Chhurbura. The story goes that Chhurbura tied a makeshift swing outside his farmhouse and would swing there every day.  At some point he realizes that a Phung (in this case, it’s a Phungpuinu which might refer to a mother Phung) would use his swing as soon as he leaves for home.

Chhurbura then decides to catch this creature. He pretends to leave home while hiding and waiting for the Phungpuinu to come out.  As soon as the creature is convinced Chhurbura has gone home, she happily swings on the makeshift swing, singing, “Chhurbura awm ta love...” This means “Chhurbura is finally gone”.  Taking his chance, Chhurbura manages to jump on the Phungpuinu from the back and catches her.

Scared out of her wits, the creature tries to strike a deal with him so he can let her go. Finally, she offers to give him a Sekibuhchhuak, which is a magical horn that gives out rice from one side and meat from the other when coaxed using a specific chant. This is basically like the cornucopia or the horn of plenty. 

These two characters (Chhurbura and the Phungpuinu) have been mentioned together in a few more stories. In one of them, Chhurbura captures the creature’s children and roasts them (brutal, I know). 

5. Huai – “Huai” is a broad term for demons in Mizo folklore. Some claim that the Huais aren’t demons but evil spirits. There are different types of Huais, mostly named according to the place in which they’re found. The Ramhuai is found in the forest and the literal translation is “forest demon” or “forest spirit”. The Sihhuai is found in a sort of watering hole, which is again apt in that “sih” refers to a type of watering hole.  A Pukhuai is found in caves, the term translating to “cave demon” or “cave spirit”.

Most of these demons are bad, causing sickness and bad luck to humans. The Huai of the banyan tree, for instance, was believed to cause insanity. A watering hole rumoured to have a Huai was avoided by the entire village. Whenever our ancestors believed that a Huai was angry with them, they’d try to appease it by performing animal sacrifice. The sacrifice was performed by the Bawl Pu or witch doctor.

6. Van Chung Nula – I think this is most likely an angel (maybe a harpy or a valkyrie according to my friend) and is portrayed as female. “Van” means “sky”, "chung" means "above", and “nula” means “maiden”, so the translation for this creature is a Sky Maiden or maiden from above the sky (sounds lovely already). They are defined as beautiful women with long, flowing hair and large, bird-like wings. 

One of my favourite Mizo folktales is of a man who chances upon one of these creatures bathing at a watering hole. He captures the creature, whose name was Sichangneii (I think this translates to woman with wings). The man then marries her after he clips her wings and hides them (so Maleficent). They end up having seven sons, the youngest of whom happens to discover his mother’s wings tucked away somewhere. The kid asks his mother what the wings were, unknowingly aiding her in her escape. She takes the wings and flies back home to heaven. 

The father, in grief, decides to crack one of his testicles with a hammer (Ouch!). He was probably trying to emotionally blackmail Sichangneii to come back to earth. When she does not come back, he then cracks his other testicle, killing himself in the process. 

7. KhuavangKhuavang is another type of demon that is fairly smaller than a human. I personally imagine them as goblins. Some say they perform magic and are largely in control of nature. There are some terms like “khuavang kal lai”, which means “pin-drop silence”. The literal translation, though, refers to a moment in which the Khuavangs walk amongst us (?). A common saying, which was existent even in my childhood, was that the first person to talk after a pin-drop silence gets marked by the Khuavang with a mole. Incidentally, the mole is referred to as “khuavang chhinchhiah” or “marking of a Khuavang” in Mizo.

8. Khawhring – This is an interesting character in Mizo folktales and was not considered so mythical back in the day. A Khawhring can be defined as a type of spirit that enters a person’s body, causing severe stomach cramps. When the family suspects that the person was possessed, they would ask it to reveal its identity and desires.

By speaking through the person, the spirit would reveal the name of a person and demand the sacrifice of a pig or hen. The accused person is then believed to own the spirit, although they’d be completely unaware of this. The tragic part of this is that the person ends up being ostracized by the entire community, sometimes even being chased out of the village along with their whole family. 

The fact that the accused person is usually a pretty maiden has recently given rise to the suspicion that they were, in fact, victims of jealous rivals or disgruntled suitors. During those days, no one would be willing to marry these girls.

9. Thla Ai – A Thla Ai is a spirit associated with a human being that is on the verge of death from illness. To cure the sickness, a volunteer ventures into the forest in an attempt to bring home the spirit. The creepy part is that the Thla Ai follows the volunteer, making strange noises and screams all along the way. If the volunteer turns around even just a little bit, the spirit would fly away. “Thla Ai koh” or “calling a Thla Ai” was a ritual performed even until the recent past.

10. Milian – Just like folklore from all parts of the world, the Mizos also have the story giants or Milian. There is the story of Mualzavata, who is mostly referred to as a strong man and a giant by some. His name literally translates to someone who can clear a hundred ranges of land. It was fabled that he can do this in one day. His wife was able to clear ninety ranges of land in one day.

There is a cave called “Puk Zing Cave”, which is about 75-feet wide, near Puk Zing Village. Legend has it that the cave was carved out by Mualzavata using only his hairpin. According to the stories of his strength, he was clearly capable of doing that. However, his hairpin also had to be humongous since it was used to carve stone. So, he couldn’t have been just a strong man but also a giant.

Not-so-mythical noteworthy mentions

Although the creatures mentioned above are purely (?) mythical, derived from a collection of fables and rumours of the Mizo community; there are also a few strange characters that were found in the olden days. Some of them were still found in the recent past and many seniors today can attest to that. Here are a few that I found worth mentioning:

1. Zun hin dawt – These aren’t really creatures per se, but humans that go out in the night drinking people’s urine (ugh! I know you just cringed).  Decades back, the Mizos did not have indoor plumbing. People had to go out and attend to nature’s calls at the porch of their bamboo houses. The zun hin dawt would lurk around houses and wait for someone to come out and urinate. It will then suck up the urine that’s collected in the ground (I have no clue how this would benefit them but hey, they did it).

I’d like to point out that these people really existed. Even when my late grandmother was a young girl, she encountered one of them and actually chased after it when most people would have run away at the mere sight of a zun hin dawt. Yes, my grandmother had balls and she was awesome. 

2. Tual sum su – Like the zun hin dawt, tual sum su also refers to humans who come out in the night to do weird shit. They would seem like perfectly normal human beings during the daytime. When night comes, they’d go around the streets hopping upside down on their heads. That might have been a horrendous sight, don’t you think? They wake up the next morning with no memory whatsoever of what had happened the previous night. The only reminder was a massive headache.

These are only a few of the many mythical (some not-so-mythical) creatures and characters found in Mizo folklore. I was unable to mention several more of my favourite creatures due to lack of detailed sources. I’m sure a lot of the details I’ve mentioned are also inaccurate, so please feel free to leave your comments and help me make corrections.

Jacqueline Zote is a freelance content writer currently living in Aizawl. She developed an early fascination for mythical beings and fairy tales. She hopes to have a book published some day. 

She also has an intriguing blog called Little Box of Secrets and this particular write-up on the fascinating collection of spirits and ghouls from Mizo folklore and legends is one many will enjoy and find very informative - probably more so among the younger generation of Mizos who grew up in the post-Christian era with only the sketchiest of ideas about these mythical creatures. This write-up was also featured on which is where I happened to stumble onto this very promising young writer via a good friend (thanks, Missy!)

Friday, April 29, 2016

TEMPORAL (The way of all flesh) - Lalrinmawii Khiangte

My roses have dried,
Withered, wilted and whimper,
"We cannot go on..."

We are born for death,
For 'tis the way of all flesh,
We come and we go.

Nature has designed,
Temporal mortality,
So, perish we must.

Betwixt birth and death,
Richness of abundant life,
Is for our taking.

*A haiku is a three lined Japanese verse composition of one stanza comprising of seventeen syllables of 5, 7 and 5 syllables respectively, traditionally evoking images of the natural world. However, instead of the conventional one stanza haiku, the writer has taken the liberty to put four haikus together to form a whole, although every stanza i.e. every haiku, can function on its own, independently.

Lalrinmawii Khiangte (also known as Mamawii) is an Associate Professor in the Department of English at Govt. Aizawl College, Mizoram. She has contributed several poems to a number of publications over the years including The Oxford Anthology of Writings from North-East India.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Going Places with "Of Butterflies and Lullabies & Unfinished Conversations"

It was a proud moment on Wednesday the 10th February when our very own Dawngi Chawngthu formally released her first collection of poetry, "Of Butterflies and Lullabies & Unfinished Conversations." Containing 55 poems, spanning 86 pages and costing 200 Indian rupees, it is a slim, hardbound volume published by Writers Workshop, Kolkota. This is only the third collection of poetry published by a Mizo writer in English - the other two being Laldinkima Sailo's Spectrum: A Plethora of Rhapsody, published 2002, Imprint, and Tinkim Dawn by Malsawmi Jacob, a collection of poems written in English as well as in Mizo, published 2003, Mizoram Publication Board. Mizo writing in English is so niched, so specialised that few actively pursue it, and fewer still publish it. But for the few that are involved in it, it is our chosen mode of creative articulation, and one we are fiercely loyal to despite little to no public acknowledgment or recognition.

A little clarification first: in May 2014, Malsawmi Jacob published Zorami, a novel dealing with Mizo history and more specifically the Insurgency Movement of 1966. While most of us had believed it then to be the first ever novel published by a Mizo in English, two books popped out of the woodwork - Facebook Phantom, pub. 2013, Duckbill, by Suzanne Sangi, and Jo's Journal, pub. 2014, Notion Press, by Sarah Aineh, both young Mizo women (and coincidentally both only 17 when they wrote their books). While I have not read either, I gather from reviews that both are classified as young adult fiction and make for light, easy reading. They are entitled honourable mention in any discussion of book publications of Mizo writings in English.  Zorami, however, stands a class apart and must hold indubitable place of pride as being yet the only fictional prose work in English by a Mizo writer to painstakingly sculpt a plot within the Mizo ethos and present to a worldwide readership a novel that is uniquely, unquestionably and comprehensively Mizo in context.

To get back to Ms. Chawngthu's volume of poetry, the 55 poems are divided into two sections - "Unfinished Conversations" contain poems written for her late mother, some directly addressed to her and some written around her. The other section "Of Butterflies and Lullabies" are a fusion of love poems, personal poems, poems that explore the challenges of women and poems that raise questions on a number of social issues. I remember Dawngi at university, forever scribbling on her notebooks snatches of song lyrics, bits of poetry she found somewhere that resonated with her or that she wrote herself. Then we lost touch. It was only in late 2007 that I found something on a friend's blog that Dawngi had written in Mizo, which caught me by surprise because I didn't remember her writing in anything other than in English, and had certainly never known her to write on social issues. Butterflies has the English version, Lucky Zo Lanu, translated by Dawngi herself, where she cleverly turns the incessant social conditioning of young Mizo girls on its head by pointing out that Mama, the young Mizo boy, needs all the advice and teaching far more since he is the keeper and future torchbearer of the tribe.

What I have always loved about Dawngi's writing is that she writes so simply and effortlessly. No superfluity, no theatrics, no showing off of vocab or forcing on of vague, shadowy allusions. It's so clean and simple, you think, "Oh, I could write stuff like this too" but uh, not really. The apparent artlessness and easy flow of words and thought are skills not everyone is born with, and most definitely not the adept way she rounds off a poem. I tend to never quite know how to phase out a poem to a nice uncontrived ending but Dawngi does it time and again in a way that has me thinking, "Wow, that was smooth" in genuine admiration.

Over the years, through the privilege of being an old friend, I have had the opportunity to put up on this blog a number of her poems. The first time was in July 2008.  Of the two posted then, both of which are included in Butterflies, The Mask, so vulnerable, wistful, and uncertain, yet tentatively hopeful, remains my favourite. Another favourite, also in the book, is Dead Butterfly - dark, brooding and so desperately, hopelessly sad.

throw away my memory
throw them into
unknown areas of your mind


your haloed moments
your sane and conscious moments
will never find you here

your back is turned
your mind is closed
your love is gone

but someday
a quiet and lonely evening
may catch you off guard

taking a stroll
through the wastelands
of your mind

you will find me
sitting in a darkened corner
a dead butterfly in my hand.

To Dawngi, and to Mizo writers in English, may our tribe increase!