Why be a Mizo?

originally published in Mizoram University Annual Magazine, Lunglohtui

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(picture – here)

What do you think makes you a Mizo? Is it determined by the design of your structure, a certain thought or your food choices? Have you ever wondered what sets you apart from those living on the other side of the state boundary. Is it the gate and the guards who ensure you are a citizen without the need of an ILP? Or is it the mountains that rise as soon as you enter the state territory? Do you ever find it strange sometimes how a border is just a few miles long and yet it stands to mark a difference that has been defined by centuries and genes.

If you travel to Champhai district, on crossing the town of Zokhawthar and entering Tiau of Myanmar, a bridge stands between the countries and it seems to be that the towns are alike. But, take a closer look, the posters at the restaurants, the motorcycle choices, the preparation style of the noodles. There is a stark difference that is bounded by gates on both the sides. It is not just between countries, travel from Meghalaya to Assam, the construction style of houses, the colors preferred for those houses, the clothes, the cold wind vs. the humid air, and other distinct differences stand out from one side of the border to the other.

The Mizo Union territory was formed in the year 1972, and just 44 years in, it almost seems like the Mizos are expatriates, foreigners in their own land. The men have slim-fit pants with ponytails and afro beards while the women have tops the length of faces and hair in assorted sizes. We want the Nike shoes, branded pyjamas and fitted tees that make us look like we’re all for Western cozy luxury. Faces aglow with creams and lotions from the southern borders, because the people in Korean movies glow, and a good glow makes one pretty and loved. We’re excited to be able to recite the latest lyrics of Korean pop bands while our rhythmic folk tunes have taken the back seat. Memories of Lang Leav are more relatable to us than the historic tales of our land. A couple of thousands for basketball shoes like Kobe’s and some more for a cap like Kyrie, it doesn’t matter if the fridge is broken down. We need to look like we belong. But where? Is this what it now means to be a Mizo? Does the sense of belonging to the clan only arise when certain people speak about falling in love with non-Mizos or an ILP case arises?

At a particular church function, a game was played where people were asked questions based on the number they picked. A 20 year old girl choose the number 6 with the question waiting for her, “If you go to heaven what would be the first thing you ask God?” To which she replied without a pause, “I would ask Him why I was born a Mizo.” Like a diaspora, we belong more to other lands than our own. Such wishes to be of another and the style of borrowing lifestyles from the east and west cannot be criticised wholly, development and change are interdependent. And change can be of any mode, whether fashion wise, intellect, or perspective.
But, while these differences seem to define us, we also hold, deep in our hearts, similarities that have taken roots since our birth. The ends of rubber bands joined together at playtime, five stones wedged expertly at fingers and showing off ones proficiency with circular structures tossed in precision at the game of inkawibah. Nostalgia hangs in the air when one utters that beautiful word, “Ponto” a time marked by dusk and merry laughter. Where tin cans were the best ball for play, and a beetle fight was the most enthralling show of the day, more than any FPS game could entice. Till today, a ride around the locality in the early evening hours treats you with views of children running in line, shirt edges held tight, chanting in unison “Tira mai kai ah, tira mai kai ah….”

That one moment our hearts beat at the same rhythm while sitting at Mualpui stadium and David Lalrinmuana has the ball just a few metres from kicking goal. Before you know it you are standing and screaming with hundreds of other people all wishing for the same thing, a goal for Mizoram. Its all hands up for a fancy KFC meal, who could resist that crunchy, crispy chicken? So you stand in line at Chanmari counting your notes while waiting for your turn. But three chicken wings down, and your stomach has a message for you – a yearning for behloi bai with ajinomoto, a pinch of soda and red chillies. As a student, admitted to prestigious universities of metropolitan cities, you have McDonalds, Burger King, Pizza Hut and every other international restaurant chain at your disposal, but what do you crave for at 12 am when sleep has come a little late? A pack of Waiwai with extra oil, chopped onions and fried chilli seeds.

We share the sense of pride beating in our hearts when travelling past, “nghah loh dawr,” vegetables laid out with a box to keep your money and no one to attend to you, because that’s the level of trust the citizens of your state share. The movies have funerals with ten to twenty people wearing black and sniffing small tears then walking away. As a Mizo, your ears have grown accustomed to the Tlangau, of microphones conveying the message of death of any one member of that locality. And once that voice is echoing through the hill near your home, you hurry up your chores, have an early dinner and get clad up to spend 8 or more hours singing to comfort the grieved. A night to show your love for your fellow Mizo. Hail a taxi in Aizawl and in that 15 minute journey with three people plus the driver, you can shell out your thoughts on politics, the weather, world news and local calamities, like you have lived next door all your life.

There are some things so beautiful about Mizoram, which we take for granted and wish otherwise. The next time you step out the door, take a look around – at the apartments, cottages and buildings scattered upward and downward, all around the mountains. Isn’t it a wonder how all these people share your genes, your language and similar hopes for betterment of the state. There are people who are depressed beyond comfort and those that are happy beyond measure, who have high paying government jobs and who are unemployed, but at the shout of a goal, we all become one.

What is most beautiful, a tradition we will take and pass on to our children, that will stay alive in these hills for eternity is the word that defies meaning, “Tlawmngaihna.” A sincere need to be there for the person next to you in all ways possible at your capability. The youth sitting cramped and half asleep in wooden benches where muscles ache from hours of being still, devoting every last energy they have to join in the chorus of “Ni tla ngai lo Zion khawpui…” and every beat of the drum seems to rumble TLAWM-NGAIH-NA through the valleys. It is not a quality we fabricated over the years, it is who we are, it is alive in our every heartbeat and every move. Our genes hold compassion that every humanist dreams of. The roads of Mizoram may not be thick and rolling smooth, but at any curve you will find a helping hand whether a tire is loose or you need a spark for your cigarette.

And what could be a bigger blessing than to have the view of glistening mountains lighted in arrays of colors and shapes like a giant sized Christmas tree every time you look out the window? Perfect that picture with a full moon lighting up the star clad sky and a classic Di Cham Bawihpui playing in the background while you’re sitting cozied up at the front porch with a packet of Waiwai and thingpui sen hang. Tomorrow, there may be news of a scam in the headlines, a new trend of brands that don’t fit your bill, a plethora of exams to join the employed clan, but right now, with a view gifted by the Gods, you know deep in your heart, you were always born to be a Mizo. And in any lifetime, you would choose to be one.

A Merry Demonetization to you!

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(originally published in The Mizoram Post,  December 22, 2016)

Mizoram is a state which survives the eleven months of the year to make it to the 12th month, December. While crowds are few in the market area the rest of the year, come mid-December and one hardly has space to place their feet.  It is a state where you can feel the essence of the Christmas spirit in whole, little children hugging tight to plastic bags filled with “Krismas kawr mawi,” styled up teens going out in groups and hanging around Millennium centre with the holiday cheer all over their faces, and of course, the young couples whose love blossoms with the festive cheer.

But this year, Christmas comes a little harsh on the hearts of the Mizo people. There is a gloom in the air evident in the glum faces of sales persons as you walk around the busy market area. It’s a gloom of demonetisation.

For the business-dealing men and women in Mizoram, Christmas is the ‘boost period.’ It’s the time where there’s a smile glued to the face of their profits, probably enough to keep them going in bits for the rest of the year. But this year, it’s a whole different story. While it’s a story of lives lost in long queues in other states, it’s the heart of the sales factor that is being mourned this Christmas in Mizoram.

The Mizoram Post met with sales women in the hub of the main market, and they had much to say about the state of their affairs. Lalthanmawii, a 62-year-old business women from Dawrpui said, “Our sales are down to a minimum. Even those who earn one lakh can only withdraw Rs. 24,000 a week and it takes a whole month for them to withdraw their entire salary. So, no one is brave enough to splurge. The Christmas air has become a troubled one for us.”

With only Rs. 24,000 withdrawal a week permitted by the bank, one has to pay rent, buy amenities, household needs and there is little left to spare for buying clothes, highlighted Lalrinmawii, a clothes dealer at Zion Street.

The saleswomen seated inside the cozy clothing stores at Bara Bazaar agree that their sales have been decreased by half. “Even those who can afford more only have enough to spare for sale discount items. Most people who come and take a look at the goods only put focus on the discount items,” said Mafeli, a shoe seller at the market.

One saleswoman told of an experience she encountered the other day where a young girl was insistent on buying a coat that cost Rs.2000 but if she bought it, there would be nothing left for the younger sibling and the ATM withdrawal limit did not permit any extra for the day. Goods suppliers who have come a long way to earn their money are putting out their items at wholesale rates and big discounts instead of going home empty-handed. On what they see as the best solution, these saleswomen say people should be permitted to withdraw the amount they require, let them buy what they need with what they have earned.

 

It is not just the sellers who have a dilemma, even the consumer part of the market has their share of troubles. Lalruatliana, a resident of Zonuam veng said, “We put aside our important jobs to stand in line at the bank for the whole day where we receive only notes of 2000. And when we buy something that is below the rate of 2000, we get change of old 500 or 1000 notes for which we have to put aside our jobs and stand in line for another whole day to deposit.”

 

The clothing sector has been hit hard what about the others such as gadgets? Lalthanzuala of Israel Mobile Store, with a cheerless tone said, “Our sales are badly affected, customers are few. It’s down by about 50% for sure.” Another sector that is down by 50% is the motor dealers. Lalfakzuala Hauzel, Managing Director of Khaia & Sons Hero Showroom and Worskshop, Vaivakawn, said, “The sales have dipped by 50%, the larger part of the population is only comfortable with cash. There are few who use cheques or ATM debit cards for transaction purposes. Even the income from workshop repairing and motor part sales has come down.”

 

While many are experiencing the gloom of Christmas sales, there are few who seem unaffected by demonetisation. The sofa business seems to be in good spirits, Lallawmawma Hnamte owner of the prominent Victor Sofa, said, “We have not faced much challenges. People pay us by cheque so that makes it simple for business.” Another business in good spirits is the taxi sector, “I have not faced any difficulties, people don’t pay us in bulks of 2000 or such and they seem to have more change than ever these past days. So we have not felt the load of demonetisation as of yet,” said Lalrammuana of the Durtlang Taxi Stand.

 

On the part of the banks dealings with the Christmas cash demand and demonetisation, Narendra Sonowal, Deputy Manager Operations, Axis Bank Chanmari Branch said, “We work atleast 2 extra hours everyday. There is a rush of customers and a high amount of transactions. The biggest challenge is the denomination, there is a big scarcity of small denominations.”

 

The demonetisation gloom of the festive season does not end at Mizoram, sweets sales are down at Kolkata, at the favourite holiday hub, Goa, the hospitality sector is impacted, even in Tamil Nadu, the sale of Christmas decorative items has hit a big low. On Wednesday, the Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister, CM Chandrababu Naidu stressed, “More than 40 days after demonetisation, there are still a lot of problems, but there appears to be no solution,” and there appears to be none now for the Christmas spirit at Mizoram because what can the people do but grieve among themselves and hold tight to the scarce pink notes in their purses. While Modi has strived for eradication of black money, he has eradicated a huge amount of smiles in the Christmas town of Aizawl.