By David L Keivom (This a the continuation of Back To My Roots: Descent into Tipaimukh, the land between two rivers - Editor)
“How long have you been away from the country?” Laruja asked Ibarra.
“Almost seven years.”
“Then you have probably forgotten all about it.”
“Quite the contrary. Even if my country does seem to have forgotten me, I have always thought about it.”
― José Rizal, Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not)
MAUCHAR – 24th April, 2012. It seemed all of Mauchar that night patiently lay awake waiting for our arrival, under a dazzling array of celestial gems as we made a rather loud, unsubtle entrance into the heart of the town by9 pm with the vehicle engine screaming murder, roaring like an angry mythical dragon being restrained by the weight of seven colossal heavyweights.
The village committee had clearly attached importance to our visit seeing from the grand welcome bamboo entryway they had erected right beside an immaculate stage decorated in cultural finery. I recalled another occasion as a child when we had toured Parbung and were met with the same warmth. Such honor is reserved only for a few and I was quite humbled to be part of the L. Keivom entourage; more than anything else, the Hmars in Mauchar were paying tribute to a figure many perhaps had only heard of as legend but had never glanced upon in flesh and blood. It was a historic arrival to some extent: Pu Keivom was setting foot in their village for the very first time. I wondered how many stories I would have to write, how many songs I would have to compose, how much labor I would have to put in to receive a welcome suitable for royalty. And then again I thought to myself: ‘tis not by works but by grace alone. In the long run one simply can’t buy off popularity and love.
We were ushered to our seats on the dais and sitting next to the village leaders, we surely must have looked splendid in all the splendor of our mud-splattered and unclean clothes. Our first glimpse of Mauchar’s finest ladies occurred under the dim light of a few solar-powered lanterns, four beauties seated right beside us, to felicitate and present the gifts. Perhaps every man will agree what a fine pleasure it is to behold the perfect hourglass figure after an arduous day of non-stop travel through life and death conditions. Is it possible that the expression “you’re a sight for sore eyes” originated from such travelers and was originally intended as a praise for women?
As a token of their love (and unwittingly raising a toast to the swadeshi principles of Gandhiji) Mauchar presented Pu Keivom with their very own hand-made cotton gin and spinning wheel. In light of the dark clouds of political intrigue that we were travelling under, what with the CYMA and HPC-D issue not far from our periphery, it seemed quite apt that Mauchar was presenting what Gandhi had used as a symbolic (non-violent) weapon to spearhead his proclamation of self-rule against the British.
In his brief speech that night, Pu Keivom importantly lauded Mauchar for being on the cusp of economic liberation; indeed, once progress took place and the road to Silchar open, their village would hold strategic significance all on its own without being held ransom to the “suzerain” conditions inflicted by Aizawl. Was this an awakening call to a settlement tucked away deep in the obscurity of these verdant hills, so obscure that as Pu Keivom rightly said “its easier reachingNew Yorkthan Mauchar” ?
Mauchar’s history is one of heart; cutting through jungle and brush, every single step towards this new home must have been fraught with cuts and bruises. I wonder what compelled early settlers to migrate, what visions and promises of milk and honey beckoned them, or like many others before them was this village too built on a whim, perhaps after a trifle communal argument that forced the exodus of a small group. When villages are small to begin with, when there is strength in numbers, enough land to till, what makes brave men challenge the uncharted and live miles away from the maddening crowd, in remote places like Mauchar?
The early pioneers built this village with heart and heart will be needed once again to improve Mauchar’s impoverished state. The population has grown to little over a thousand, electricity as promised by the state briefly brought light and then just as quickly disappeared (adding fuel to rumors that Aizawl orphans and chooses to neglect areas which are not matters of consequence), promises of running water resulted in the construction of a massive concrete tank which remains empty, a hollow dream.
Our visit coincided with school mid-term exams, apparently something that had been introduced for the very first time here. It caused a mild flurry of parental anxiety in homes across the village with everyone wondering how to go about it as if it were truly an alien concept. This did highlight the need for awareness even among parents and elders. There is much to do in the villages to bring them up to speed.
Accommodation had been arranged for us at village council secretary’s house, a compact little quarter with equal divisions for a room, living room and kitchen separated by thin plywood that rose 6 feet high. Like many homes in the northeast, I find that privacy is lacking, one hears the constant babble of conversation from dawn to dusk and most most importantly, why are houses designed with no dedicated, quiet area or desk for children to study. Homes here are impersonal affairs bearing striking resemblance to public thoroughfares where, (almost as if reinacting a scene from TS Eliot’s “The Lovesong of Alfred J Prufrock”), the women (and men) come and go, speaking of Michelangelo…
Nevertheless, our arrangement is much better than the home next door where the toilet-cum-bathroom is smack in the middle of the dining-cum-living room area. David Buhril and I both share the discomfort of having to answer nature’s call very quietly in order to maintain some sense of privacy. Perhaps villagers are trained in some ancient art of relieving their bowels in absolute silence.
Extreme Regions, Extreme Weather
Just like Aizawl, the days were hot in Mauchar and yet nights saw rain rain down liberally and hurricanes blow like they were hell-bent on destruction, showing that they were a force to be reckoned with, creating an all-night cacophony that made the tin sheets of the house rattle. At times I thought the roof would simply tear off its hinges and expose a stark, dark angry sky, a macabre scene of fire and brimstone. Thankfully these were strong winds “full of sound and fury signifying nothing” and in the mornings, I was always pleased to discover that the world had not ended.
Too Many Languages Spoil the Broth
A question people seem to regularly pop on meeting me is whether or not I speak Hmar. Its a valid enough question, one they will often ask as I am speaking Hmar to them. It happens with Hindi as well. And what they really mean is why I don’t speak Hmar/Hindi more fluently. We live in a democratic country and everyone is entitled to query but of late I have begun to view the question with disregard, as a nuisance, akin to that summer fly constantly buzzing near you no matter how often you try to swat it. I wonder if, unbeknownst to me, there is some unwritten constitution that every tribesman, to prove his true allegiance or originality, must be able to pour forth eloquently in one’s own native tongue, that each individual must pass the lingual test (or risk being banished to Elba) much like a 500 rupee note is held up to ascertain if the watermark of originality is there.
Sure enough, at dinner on the first night, one of our fellow diners, as if I was invisible (or deaf and dumb), asked Pu Keivom if I spoke Hmar. I quite playfully accepted the “challenge” and shot back in the affirmative, in Hmar, and said, “Yes I do speak Hmar, I’m too tired to speak right now, maybe I’ll speak for you tomorrow.” I said it much like someone prepared to pull out a DNA test result and birth certificates to prove himself. I’m not sure if my mild tone of sarcasm was detected but I then ate the rest of dinner undisturbed, without further harassment.
In any event, though some fellow Hmars might nitpick on the language issue, like Sangma and Co. harassed Sonia Gandhi for not being a true Indian, most Hmars don’t speak or read the native tongue very well. Being able to speak well is not merely about grammar but choice of words, sentence construction, employment of certain devices (like rhetoric for instance) for enhanced communication and maximum impact. The distance between basic, rudimentary Hmar and witty, intelligent, refined Hmar is as wide apart as a portrait photographed at your local market and one shot by Lord Snowdon would be. You will agree that even reading Hmar well is not that easy. Try reading the Bible under the alert ear of someone trained and your mistakes will be readily pointed out. I have observed this with Hindi and English speakers as well when I ask them to read in their own language. Mostly, it is not second nature even to them. My point, to avoid digressing from Mauchar, is that excellence in writing, reading and speaking all require practice and a brilliant mind and I’m fortunate that, though not proficient in Hmar as the great writers and speakers in our midst, I suppose modestly, I must admit to excelling to some degree in the English language.
to be contd…