25 February 2010

Top 10 Mizo Stories - IV

Crazy crazy times at work! And tomorrow and the next few weeks still look as hectic so I'll sacrifice a few sleeping hours and do this now before I lose interest in it completely. Okay, here it goes – number 1!

(By the way, 1 is the magnitude or absolute value of a unit vector and a unit matrix, and is also the only odd number in the range of Euler's totient function φ(x), in the cases x = 1 and x = 2. Just in case you'd like to know :D)

1. T.H Lewin (Thangliena) leh Dari

I’m not sure how many of us have heard of Thangliena. He seems pretty well-known even today and I don't know where I've been but I only learnt about him last year, but I was hooked the moment I started reading about him. I find him interesting as a person, a historical figure (both to admire and criticize) and his influence on the Mizo people makes me want to study history full-time, but the story of him and Dari touched my heart in a completely different way. One thing to know - there are two ways to look at this story. I can endlessly question everything, looking for facts and figures and trying to decipher people's real intents etcetera, but it touches me only when I set the critical, questioning part of me, the hunger for historical facts and data aside and just let the romantic enjoy the story.

Thangliena was a soldier in the British army, he first came to Mizoram in 1865 and was later a part of the Lushai Expedition in 1871. He sounds like such a poet to me - for a soldier. But a poetic soul is never ever bad. Intrigued by the land and its people, he would play his violin and sing of the Phawngpui - ‘The blue hills secret shall be yet, shall be mine...’

In 1873, the great Mizo Chief Rothangpuia built him a house in Sirte Tlang on top of a hill which his friends called ‘Uncle Tom’s cabin.’ There are no accounts of how he and Dari met, but shortly after he moved into his Sirte house, he took in Dari as his wife. (Frankly, I’m not sure what exactly this 'union' was - did he just take her in as his woman? Did he officially marry her?)... But for the sake of romance, let’s just assume he saw her and fell madly in love with her and properly married her following all the Mizo customs :)

But in any case, I believe he certainly did have deep affections for her. Apparently, he mentioned ‘Dari’ so often his soldiers thought it was the Mizo word for ‘young woman.’ This to me clearly shows that Dari was a big part of his life, despite the lack of historical record stating as such. I know how it feels to be crazy in love, and it’s only when I’m crazy about the other person that I say his name every possible chance I get. They also had a child together who unfortunately died when he was just a toddler.

However, Lewin fell out of favour with his superiors in Calcutta. I believe it had something to do with him being too overly fond of certain tribes and so was considered biased in his judgement. Not permitted to return to Mizoram, he was stuck in Calcutta during which time he missed Dari a lot and would send her clothes and other things from Kolkata. There came a time when he had to go back to England for good, and he wanted to take Dari with him. But Dari refused as she couldn’t bear the thought of having to live out her life away from her people in a land of foreigners and so far away beyond the sea, and so they parted ways.

Dari went back to her village where she had to endure snide whispers behind her back about being a foreigner’s kept woman but she eventually remarried in time. Lewin also married an Englishwoman, Margaret Elliot in 1876 after he returned to England.

And here’s where my favorite part comes in. Years later came our first missionaries, who all looked up to Captain Herbert Lewin as the ultimate expert on Mizos. J.H Lorrain, sent Lewin a letter on 25th April, 1899 - about how much he was missed by the Mizo people, he wrote -

I have further news to tell which will gladden your heart even more...Your own influence upon the Lushais is still felt. I do not think there is a man or woman in all those hills who does not know the name of Thangliena. It is handed down from father to son, and they are never tired of singing your praises. We have sat for hours and listened to them talking of the bye-gone days and the wonderful white chief, who has become to them the ideal Sahib or Englishman. Some few we have met who could boast that they had actually seen the great Thangliena in the flesh...”

(Page 316 - A fly on the wheel)

In October 1915, Lorrain, that sly old matchmaker (who would’ve thought it!!), sent Lewin another letter, another general report of some Mizos he met that remembered him, and then he added - “And more than any of these people, there is a woman who remembers you always - my friend and a good woman, Dari..”

He then proceeded to tell him about how Dari’s husband had fallen sick and died, how Dari was now a Christian, and how even her sister Chawngi, and here he added within brackets (Dari says you’ll remember her very well) was also a Christian. He told Lewin that Dari begged him to tell Lewin personally all of this because she knew he would feel sorry for her if she were to die without anyone to take care of her. I think with her being widowed, and no living relatives except her sister, she must have felt alone and wanted to take comfort in the fact that there was still one person who cared enough to share her pain in some way...

(According to my source, Lewin cried when he read this part, but it cites no solid source so I don't know if I should believe it. )

Lewin replied to Lorrain’s letter, and included some money and a photograph of himself for Dari. These were faithfully passed on to Dari by my favorite missionary himself :-) After she received the picture and money from Lorrain, Dari weaved a zawlpuan. Zawlpuans are special cloths that Mizo women used to weave to cover their husbands' corpses with when they die. It’s a very beautiful tradition but sadly it’s no longer practiced today. In fact, I think most Mizo women today - including myself - don't even know how to weave.

Dari went to Lunglei to give the Zawlpuan to Lorrain and ask him to send it to her husband Thangliena. The cloth was carefully woven, red in color with blue and yellow stripes. Dari had made it from cotton she grew herself on her own farm.

Don’t forget that all of this happened 42 years after they last saw each other.

I can’t explain in words how deeply special this action is. It is the action of a woman truly in love with a man, whose feelings for him evidently still lived even after 42 years of not seeing him. I think she realized that they were both old and close to dying and that this was the only and most special way she could show her love for this man one last time.

It also said a lot about Lewin himself. If she felt like she could turn to him for sympathy and missed him so much even after 42 years, the man must’ve given her good reason to. If she loved him so well, he must’ve treated her well. We women love with good reasons, and to earn such long-lasting affection, I believe Lewin must’ve done his part.

This zawlpuan reached Lewin’s house in Parkhurst on 2 February, 1916. However, he had left for London with his wife that very day to see his doctor. On February 11, after a consultation with his doctor, he collapsed in his hotel room and died shortly afterward. He was cremated in London and only the urn that contained his ashes returned to Parkhurst so he never got to see Dari’s zawlpuan. He was 76.

I’ll admit I shed a good amount of tears over Dari and Lewin’s story. It was quite unexpected as I thought I was just reading up on some Mizoram history.

Disappointingly, I can’t find any original account of Lorrain’s letter about Dari or the Zawlpuan story on any of my limited resources. It’s too bad that Lorrain hadn’t met Dari when he wrote the first letter to Lewin. Then Lewin would’ve been able to include it in ‘A fly on the wheel' and I would've been able to read it to my heart's content.

Well, that's it. This probably was too long and too interracial for a lot of us, but for me, it stands out for the fact that all of these indeed really happened even though it sounds like it came from a movie, and that even our very own Pu Buanga was involved in it :-)


Now romance and good-story factor aside, I'm not sure what I think of Lewin, the man. I don't like his photographs, he looks too snooty, too British. And I get this nagging feeling that for him, the Mizos including Dari were only part of some fantasy-like, crazy adventure where he's the hero, loved by even the wildest people of an exotic and strange land.

There are, however, other interesting accounts that make me think the man in real life was somehow different from this man portrayed in these pictures. His first meeting with Rothangpuia was very interesting, and gave me newfound admiration for our old Chiefs. You can read A fly on the wheel online, this meeting is described in detail on page 200 - 201.

Every time I decide he was just another Englishman who reveled in his power gained from his country's imperialist ways - I also have to wonder why he was so popular with the Mizos. We have always been proud people, and they were no different in those days. So what made those wise and haughty Mizos accept and love this man so unconditionally? This makes me hesitant to judge the man too harshly.

Maybe it was because they saw that he really did love them and genuinely had their best interest at heart...

"I knew and loved my hill people. I lived among them and was their friend. They admitted me into their homes and family life as few Englishmen have been admitted. I ate with them, talked with them, played music at their feasts, and joined in their hunting expeditions. They concealed no thoughts from me; I had their confidence. They gave me their sons to educate, and invited me to the marriage-feasts of their daughters. I was ready to spend and be spent in their service."

(Page 312 - A fly on the wheel)


05 February 2010

Top 10 Mizo Stories - III

Okay I'm really getting into this so let's move on to numbers 3 and 2 so we can get to number one quickly. To be honest, I don't really feel like writing about the next two now but in my haste and excitement to get to number 1 (I can't wait to do this!!), might as well do these now and try to keep it as short as possible (which I'll probably forget to do as soon as I start because keeping things short is not my forte), but I really want to reserve my energy for number 1. Anyway, here comes tres and dos...

3. Tlingi leh Ngama

Another love story but this one is super cute because it's got a talking cat! It also has the hero traveling to the land of the dead, and I like all underworld related stories.

Tlingi and Ngama were a loving and happy couple until Tlingi suddenly got sick and died. The bereaved Ngama would keep flowers at her grave every day but they'd disappear the next morning. So one night the infuriated Ngama decided to hide near his wife's grave and catch the thief. He waited all night, and finally a little before dawn, he heard some movement from the bushes and out came a little cat. This cat daintily (they never told me how this cat walked, but in my mind it always takes confident, dainty little steps) walked up to the grave, grabbed all the flowers that Ngama had placed there that day and started to walk back towards where it came from.

Ngama then pounced on the cat and asked it where it came from and why it was stealing all the flowers meant for his wife. After he threatened to pound it with some good Karate chops, the cat finally admitted to being a messenger from the land of the dead and that he was taking the flowers upon Tlingi's own request.

Ngama convinced the cat to take him to the land of the dead, and this weird journey involved a long trek along tiny winding roads and walking through cracks in rocks which looked like tiny slivers but would magically accommodate Ngama's size when they passed through them.

When they finally got to the land of the dead, Ngama and Tlingi were happily reunited but things began to get crazy when they tried to resume living together as normal. Ngama was invited for bear hunting and fishing, and while he expected a real bear and real fishes, the bear turned out to be a big furry caterpillar, and what they called fishes were only dead bamboo leaves floating on the water.

In fact, Ngama became quite the hero. It was very difficult for the dead people to catch fishes because the leaves behaved like fishes with them..gliding away when they reached for them but for the living Ngama, they were like what dead leaves floating on the water are like, and he easily scooped up heaps of them. And he valiantly squashed their much feared bear caterpillar.

But when the hunt was over and they were all heading home, the dead all turned into fireflies and Ngama was left alone in the forest in the dark to find his own way home. This part is hazy, but I think there's another part where they turned into something else but I can't remember :( (was it frogs and they all hopped home without him?)

And when it was time to sleep and Ngama and Tlingi went to bed, Tlingi slept the dead village way - with her head towards the foot of the bed with her feet on the pillow (this for some reason to me is SCARY AS CRAP!), while Ngama slept the living way with his head on the pillow.

I think there were more weird stuff but I can't remember. Anyway, in the end, because they were just too different, they agreed that Ngama should go back to the land of the living and wait there till it was time for him to die and join Tlingi there. Tlingi summoned the cat who took Ngama back to his human village, where he pined away for Tlingi and soon joined her in the land of the dead and they died happily ever after! :P

Now isn't this the perfect stuff for a good fantasy movie? Maybe the Japanese can make one of their great fantasy anime movie on this :)

2. Local Real Life Experiences (supposedly)

The best stories are always those that you hear from real people, telling of real things that happened to them (or to someone they know, or someone who knew someone they know :) But I don't mean just the general corner shop ghost story types that any 'tlangval leng rei' can come up with. The stories I have in mind are the types told by old men and women, with wrinkly skins and white hair and the wisdom of the years - you know what I mean.

Just as an example, I'll share two of such stories I can come up with off the top of my head. First one, when we were little kids, my dad had this friend who he used to go hunting with regularly. He was a very tall guy with a perpetually paan-stained teeth, he had a rifle and he would bring it to our house, oil it, polish it...the macho type who like to talk about how nothing scares him etc etc. He used to scare me a little but when he told stories...the man was a magnet. Anyway, I can't forget this story he told once, not even to me but to my father and a bunch of their other friends. I was just lurking around to listen and the story according to him was this -

One day he went to the forest to hunt on his own. He decided to construct a 'machan' - a temporary loft/shelter type thingy on a tree and wait there all night for any unsuspecting animal to come by. The night was unnaturally quiet, and he didn't hear any of the usual forest night sounds and he thought that was a little strange but he kept on waiting anyway.

And finally I think he said it was almost around 3 AM that a deer suddenly popped out of the bushes below him. He watched it as it calmly approached the tree he was sitting on and stood there not moving any further, so he took aim...and then just when he was about to pull the trigger, the deer suddenly looked up and started laughing in a clear woman's voice. Very high-pitched, pealing laughter that resounded on the hills around him.

He admitted to being so spooked that all his hair stood on end. He forgot all about hunting and sat there all night, the deer disappeared back into the bushes, and at first light he climbed down and hurried home.

Now I don't know if this really happened to him, or if he made it up just to impress his friends or just repeating something he heard somewhere - but wow, what a story, right?

Okay..getting a bit lengthier than I intended but I can't leave this second one out -

This was told to me by my mom who heard it from her very old grandmother. So my mom's grandma when she was a young lady used to go to their farm in the forest with her mentally unsound sister. Her sister walked with a slight limp and would slow her down so my great grandmother :) used to walk ahead. Her sister would lag behind and reach their farm later on her own. And because they do it every day and used to it the older sister never really worried about her.

One day they were going to the farm and as usual the younger one was falling behind. There was a little stream that they had to walk across everyday but that day it had swelled up a little because of heavy rain the night before. The older one crossed the stream and walked on ahead but after a while became a bit concerned about her sister crossing the stream alone because of it being flooded and her sister's condition so she decided to turn back.

There was a bend in the path from where she could see the stream from a distance, and as she looked she saw a large woman - very tall, dark, long shaggy black hair, naked with breasts hanging down to her navel carrying her sister in her arms and walking across the stream with her. She watched as she put her down gently when they got to the other side, and she then went back to the stream and disappeared among the rocks and boulders.

I should add that my great grandmother was already very, very old when she told my mom this story. Which means when she was a young woman, it was way before the British and the Gospel, when we were still praying to tree trunks and sacrificing animals to random spirits.

And this woman who carried her sister - doesn't she remind you of the Chawmnu? The friendly female spirit that dwells on the banks of rivers and streams and creeks that we used to study about in high school? She was mentioned in the spirits chapter, but I don't remember much because I was always too scared to read about the spirits in depth :(

I grew up loving the forest but I've never had anything interesting happen to me. There was this one time when I was a raggedly little kids, I with a bunch of my equally raggedy friends were wandering around in some wooded area near our house and we found a shed snake skin. I don't know how it all started but we dared one girl to eat it, and she, with all the denseness of a kid, ate it with bravado. She's all grown up now of course, working in Bangalore for a big multinational company, all posh and professional but no matter how polished she is now, to me she'll always be the little girl that ate shed snake skin :-) -- I guess that's the only funny story I have now to tell my kids.

And now there are tons of other such stories bubbling up in my head but it's too late in the night and the post is already too long so let that be it for number 2.

Watch out for my number 1! For once, I'll do a research-based post, and maybe even care enough to use spell check on it. That's how good the story is :-))

Buenos noches all!