originally published in Mizoram University Annual Magazine, Lunglohtui
(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.