Wednesday, December 16, 2009


The pine trees did it. They moved such an unlikely person as Manoj Prasad to compose a poem. As they drove up the pine wood lined, winding road, his heart beat faster and all his sleeping senses revived. And with that the pain, buried deep down and covered by thick layers of time, rose to the surface. He got out note pad and ball pen, and wrote as well as the moving vehicle would allow –

Pine trees, pine trees,
Sweet cruel chain,
You bind me

I strove to get free
Of lost love’s shackles.
But you bring back
Delightful, tormenting.

Love heals and hurts.
You are his agent,
I, your willing captive.

“What are you so busily writing?” asked the talkative, small man sitting next to him. Manoj only smiled and put away the notebook. He was in no mood for conversation. Thoughts crowded his mind. Wasn’t it silly of him to have come all the way to visit Shillong, with no business at all there? Wasn’t he a romantic old fool? Perhaps he was growing senile. Who would have thought that the fifties man, happily married and with two grown up daughters, would be so sentimental as to wish to see again the place where he last met his old sweetheart many years ago? Would she be still in the town? Were they to meet, would she recognise him with his potbelly and balding head? Would he recognise her? He could picture her only as the twenty year old he used to know; dark brown eyes, nose tip slightly tilted up, small sensitive mouth, olive complexion with ruddy touch around the cheeks, long silky brown-black hair and petite figure. She would be forty one, nearly forty two now. Wouldn’t she have become wrinkled, grey haired and stout?

They reached the town, the cab stopped at Police Bazaar. Manoj got out, crossed the road and started walking towards Wards’ Lake. Shillong had not changed as much as he had expected it to have in twenty one years. The December sky was partly cloudy and the air was chilly. He put on his warm jacket and walked on. It was on a whim that he had decided to visit here after completing his business at Kolkata, for which he had flown over from Delhi. During the last many years, he often came to Kolkata, sometimes even up to Guwahati, but had not been further up to revisit Shillong, where he had spent most of his youth. Even now, he was strangely reluctant to halt there, so he had put up at a hotel in Guwahati and taxied up the next morning, planning to return the same day.

He walked down the lake. The place was much the same as when he last saw it, except that flowers were few, it being winter. He walked over the bridge. Fishes still surfaced to catch the grains people fed them, as they used to do in the old days. He crossed over and sat down on dry grass around the spot he had met her last. The scene came back to him clear as if it had happened only yesterday. She was standing there in her lemon yellow dress, sunlight and breeze playing on her hair, tears in her eyes, saying “Then it has to be Goodbye, Manoj, Goodbye for ever”.

They had disagreed over Maria’s new friend, who used to be notorious for loose living but got ‘born again’ at a gospel meeting. Maria had brought her to church on Sunday. Later, Manoj had upbraided her for it. “I won’t have my future wife seen around with a bad character”, he said.

“She’s not a bad character any more. She’s changed”, she argued.

“All the same, people know about her past. I can’t let you spoil your good name by associating with her”.

“Who’ll associate with her then? I’m the only friend she has. Would you have her go back to her old friends and old ways? Lord Jesus made friends with sinners. A reformed sinner’s a good enough friend for me”.

“All right, make your choice. Your friend or me”.

Tearful but resolute, she had made her choice. He had not expected it of her, and hoped she would relent. But when she did not contact him to apologise after three weeks, he wrote to her, asking her to forget the incident and to continue their relationship as before. She wrote back saying that the incident had opened her eyes to the fact that their outlooks differed too much for them to be happy together, and that their parting had better be final.

Unable to bear the pain and humiliation, he wound up the garment business he had started and left for home in Delhi. Within a few months he married a woman his parents selected for him, took up garment business where he prospered, and lived a comfortable life. Four years later, he heard from a friend that Maria also had got married to one of her colleagues, a school teacher. He had felt both jealous and contemptuous. He knew teachers don’t earn much, so she would never be rich. He wondered whether she had regretted rejecting him.

As he reminisced thus, his eyes travelled to the far side. The next moment he rubbed his eyes in disbelief. There, on the path beside the lake was Maria in person, walking between two lanky teenaged boys, shaking with laughter at something one of them said. There was no mistaking her. That gait, that petite figure, belonged to her alone, and his heart confirmed that that was she. She was in a red sweater and black skirt, hair worn in boy’s cut. Still laughing, she turned and took the bridge, coming towards him with the boys in tow. Manoj felt anger rising in him. How dared she laugh like that in public and how dared she look and dress like that at her age, like a teenager! Then he remembered he had no claim over her, no right to feel offended.

They came nearer and reached quite close, but she did not notice him at all. She was about to pass when he stood up and addressed her -
“Excuse me, aren’t you Maria Lyngdoh?”

She turned, a smile still playing on the corners of her mouth and answered, “Yes, I am”.

“Can you recognize me?” he ventured.
She looked him up and down for a while and asked in a doubtful tone “D’you happen to be Manoj Prasad?”

“Yes, yes”, he said enthusiastically, happy she could recall him.

“How you’ve changed!” she exclaimed. They briefly exchanged news. She introduced her two sons to him then soon took leave and walked away.

For a long time after she left he stood there thinking. Maria thoroughly puzzled him. Physically, she had changed little. Her once long brownish hair had turned jet black, probably dyed, and cut short. Her figure and face had remained the same, except for some wrinkles around the eyes. But she seemed totally changed somehow. There used to be a certain wistfulness about her which had been replaced by sheer life and merriment. In the old days, she was lovely like a pale rose lit up by the rays of setting sun. Now she was more like a rippling stream dancing in sunshine. What could have brought on the lively change? It couldn’t be age that did it, as age rather weighs and slows one down.

Was it then the doing of marriage and family life? He didn’t see such an effect on his own wife. Though living in affluence she had turned decidedly middle aged in body and mind by the time she reached her early thirties. Could it be her husband? He became quite curious about him. What kind of man was he? He, along with their sons, must be responsible for Maria’s youthful and buoyant spirit.

With something of a shock, Manoj realized that had he and Maria married, she would never have turned out this way. He would never have allowed it. He would have thwarted her freedom and growth, weighed her down with traditions and dos and don’ts. He would have stifled her personality, throttled the laughter and choked the joy out of her. He now saw that his ‘love’ for her was motivated by a desire to own and control, not a seeking after her welfare. When he wanted to marry her, he had planned their life together. He expected her to obey him in everything and serve him tirelessly. That she might have her own dreams and aspirations never occurred to him. The question of her individual ideals never arose in his mind. If he had his way, she would have been merely his shadow.

For the first time in his life, he was glad, truly glad, for her sake, that they were not married to each other. As he walked back to the taxi stand, he told himself that the trip had been worth it.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Munna's Koel

by Malsawmi Jacob

The koel called early in the morning. The clear, sweet voice delighted Munna. He could have jumped out of bed and enjoyed listening at the window. But he made up his mind to get annoyed instead. “Damn it!” he muttered, burrowing his head into one of the pillows. And went back to sleep.

Munna dreamt. A bright, sunlit morning. He was a little boy in knickers, barefooted. Walking on the green grass, back and forth between the well in front of the house and vegetable garden at the back. Helping his mother water the plants, fetching water from the well. His mother, young and laughing, pinched his cheek, patted him on the head, and called him “My big boy”. The sky was blue, the sunlight golden, and the grass green. And the koel was singing all over the place. The world was smiling.

“Get up, Munna, the koel is calling”, said his mother’s voice. He awoke with a start and then came back to his senses. “Shit! My mother’s dead and can’t call me any more”, he said to himself. “And why the hell should I get up just to go to college and listen to boring lectures?” He turned over and tried to sleep again.

The koel continued to call outside. “Up, up, Munna, the koel is calling us”, Ma would say in the old days, when he was a little boy. He would get up, bright and cheerful, to greet the new day. While he brushed his teeth Ma would boil milk, mix with sugar and cool it by pouring from one vessel to another. He would drink the milk with a couple of biscuits, sitting at the dining table, feeling like a little lord. Then he and Ma would fetch water from the well and take bath. He still had a clear picture in his mind of the little cottage where they used to live. It was on a hillside, cream coloured, the wood works painted dark brown. A patch of grass on the front yard with a well on one side of it. The well water was warm in the morning and felt real good on your body. If the weather was dry they would water the garden. Then Ma would make the breakfast of roti and gugni while he got ready for school. After breakfast they would walk together to the bus stop to wait for the school bus. Father was away on business most of the time, but when he happened to be home, they would go on outings and picnics on holidays. Those were happy times!

Life rolled along quietly and smoothly until Munna turned fourteen. Then, all of a sudden, everything changed. He fell out of love with everything. Out of love with the morning, the sunlight and the koel’s music. Out of love with life. All he now cared for was watching TV late into the night, sleeping late into the morning, and roaming around with friends after school late into the evening. His studies suffered. He did not heed his mother’s gentle corrections, and his father’s harsh scolding made him only more stubborn. Both parents were puzzled and dismayed at the change in their only child.

A few years later when Munna was just seventeen, his mother died. She was one of the victims in a bus accident. From then on Munna grew more bitter. He came to hate everything and everybody. Two years later his father remarried. This was a further blow to Munna. He felt betrayed, abandoned. Each new day, he told himself he had no reason to get up and go through the day. But he always did somehow.

Summer came round once again. Birds chirped and flew about the trees around the house. Among their many voices the koel sang out with clear, sweet voice. It sang any time from morning till night. The sound awoke strange feelings in Munna. He now lay in bed, head buried under the pillow, trying to shut out the koel’s voice. Trying to sleep. But sleep would not come any more. Thoughts and feelings crowded in upon him,. He couldn’t sort them out, couldn’t make sense out of them. They caught him and whirled him round and round. In the midst of this whirling darkness a voice was calling, clear and sweet. Munna suddenly thought ‘I must kill the koel. Silence him forever’.

He sat up. The thought of doing something surprisingly gave him a sense of purpose. He started plotting how to kill the koel. ‘I can use my father’s gun. He or his new wife won’t know it when they get back from their honeymoon’. He got up and walked to his father’s bedroom and tried the door. It was locked. With a grim smile he thought ‘Of course, they don’t trust me. Why should they?’

He found nails and wires in the storeroom and went to work, hoping that Ganesh, the all-purpose servant, would not hear him and peep in to see what he was doing. Picking locks was one of the things he learnt from his High school friends. After some effort he managed to get into the room. He found the gun, found bullets in the table drawer and loaded it. He went back to his own room and stood by the window, leaned the barrel on the window bar, and waited. He was ready. Crows were cawing raucously on the bhel tree. Sparrows and mynahs hopped about on the mango. A dove was cooing from somewhere. In a little while a koel landed on the big neem. Munna took aim and cocked the gun. He watched the bird’s black form as it gave three calls. His forefinger was on the trigger.

But his hands shook and his face poured sweat. He slowly lowered the gun. He could not shoot. Hardened as he thought himself to be, he could not commit the heinous crime. The koel gave three more calls and flew away.
Munna unloaded the gun and put it back in place. Then he came back to his room and sank down on the floor, exhausted. His nerves had been taut the last few minutes as if under great terror. The moment they relaxed he felt physically tired, drained. But he felt relieved too. Relieved as if he had just escaped from great danger. Or had passed a difficult test. And he now knew why.

It would never do to kill the koel.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Goodbye, Mrinali

by Malsawmi Jacob

So, it's been a whole year since Mrinali left us. Her sradha was performed today. But she is still alive, very much alive, in my heart. How can she die? Mrinali—my lovely, silly, elder sister! Her likes never really die. Perhaps they never really live on this earth, either.

Much as I grieve, much as I miss her myself, what I find so hard to bear is the sight of
Bhindeu’s sorrow. He doesn't talk much, hardly expresses his feelings to anyone. But his grief is evident to anyone who knew him before. He is hardly forty, but looks seventy. Most of his hair has turned white, his once big, brown, kindly eyes are sunken and dull, and he stoops. He seems to be constantly living in a world of reverie. If you talk to him he starts and stares at you. Then you have to repeat yourself.

Why am I putting all this down on paper now? It is to unburden myself of what I know that nobody else knows. I cannot speak of this to anyone, least of all to Bhindeu. But if I don't come out with it I shall burst or go mad. So here it is.

Two days before Mrinali disappeared we had a feast in their house to celebrate their wedding anniversary. She and Bhindeu had completed ten years together. That night I noticed that Mrinali was looking positively miserable beneath her bright smiles, bright jewels and beautiful mekhela-chaddar. I called her aside and asked what was wrong. She only replied that she should be happy but was not. We left it at that. Two days later, the day of the incident, she visited me at our home near Dighali Pukhri. Probably I was the last person to see her alive. She never went home. The next day her body was found in the pond.

During that visit she had told me of something that had happened on the day of the anniversary, which had upset her terribly. I had dismissed it as nothing worth worrying about. My attitude seemed to upset her even more. When she left she was close to tears. I was greatly tempted to laugh.

This was one problem with Mrinali—she could not see the funny side of things. She took everything, every little thing, with dead seriousness. I was just the opposite. Seriousness itself often made me feel like laughing. Since our childhood this difference had been the cause of many clashes between us.

Not only did Mrinali take things seriously, she also felt intensely. The sight of a newly opened rose or a lady bird could literally make her dance with delight, while a wounded puppy or a butterfly with broken wing could make her cry. Perhaps it was this nature of hers, added to her physical beauty, that made me feel protective towards her since we were little girls. She looked so vulnerable with her heart-shaped face, wavy hair, dark sensitive eyes, small mouth and deeply curved lips. Though she was two years older than me, I somehow felt that it was my responsibility to look after her.

People often compared us to each other, always to my disadvantage. “Mrinali is so beautiful, but Mitali is so different. How can two sisters be so unlike?” I couldn't blame them. They were only speaking their thoughts, though they had been better left unspoken. Mrinali was fair, sweet looking, slim and all that. I was dark, stout, and not so sweet looking. Of course, I wasn't ugly. I might have been that when compared to Mrinali. If I had a choice, I would have liked to look as good as Mrinali, but since I haven't a choice, I don't really mind my looks as such.

We two sisters were close friends. But Meghali, our youngest sister, came five years after me as if she was an afterthought of our parents. Like a belated birthday present. She was just the baby of the family and didn't come much into account. She is now a housewife, married to a journalist who usually comes home late, frequently drunk. They live in Uzzan Bazar, five minute's walk from Mrinali's place. I, by the way, am a medical doctor, a pediatrician on the lookout for a placement. My husband is also a doctor, a cardiologist. He is so busy attending to people's hearts that he has no time at all for matters of the heart. So you see, we do not have much conjugal bliss.

As far as family life is concerned, I should say that Mrinali was the luckiest of us three. She had a caring husband and mother in law who loved her like her own daughter that she never had. In fact, like a very young daughter. Between Ma and Bhindeu she was like a pampered little girl. May be that was part of the problem—she couldn't grow up. She was kept sheltered from the dangers and harsh realities of life. She was guarded from all possible evil influence. The friends she had, the books she read, the TV programmes she watched, were all kept under strict vigilance. She was not allowed to go out alone.

At home, she was not allowed to work too hard or idle too much, or to be sad. She was made to stay neat and well groomed at all times. Clothes, ornaments, and all things that a woman could want, were heaped on her without her having to ask. Especially in the evenings just before Bhindeu came home from the shop, Ma loved to have her dolled up and waiting in the front room. Bhindeu's face would light up on seeing her and there would be such a good feeling all around. Mrinali was truly the light of the home and the light of Bhindeu’s and Ma's eyes. Even the servants knew her importance in the family and treated her with respect. They were all out to honour her every wish or whim. She was kept like a princess.

And all this in spite of the fact that she had not conceived in all those years. Countless doctors and pundits had been tried; thousands and thousands of rupees spent, but to no avail. They were still childless. This thought did sometimes furrow Ma's brow, but not for long. She had not yet lost hope. Ma had a sister who gave birth to a son after twelve years of being married.

Of course, Mrinali was grateful. A sweet nature like hers could not fail to appreciate her good fortune. And she did her best to be a good wife and good daughter in law. But still there was an under-current of discontent in her which probably no one noticed. A longing for something indefinable, a feeling of restlessness. Once or twice she had asked to help in their electronic goods shop. Bhindeu replied that there were enough of employees. She asked to learn driving, and Ma said that since they had two drivers it was not necessary to exert herself. There were servants to do the house works. So her main duties were helping Ma with part of the cooking, amusing herself within the permitted limits, and looking pretty.

In spite of these circumstances that many women would have dreamt of, Mrinali sometimes talked to me of her 'broken dreams'. I would laugh and tell her that in her case reality was better than dreams. At times she would join me in laughing, at times she would complain that her own sister and closest friend failed to understand her. The broken dream she referred to was that of becoming a writer. Mrinali used to love reading. When she was married off, without her consent, at the age of nineteen, she was a first year degree student of English major. She loved the subject. She went crazy about poems and novels. She dreamt of finishing her studies and then writing books.

But then the marriage proposal that was too good for Father and Aunt to turn down came. It had not been easy bringing us up, three daughters, without a mother. Our mother died at Meghali's birth. Father brought us up, with help from his sister. But Aunt had her own family to look after too. And Mrinali was quite a source of worry as she was so beautiful.

How she cried when the marriage was fixed! Marrying a man ten years older than her was not Mrinali's idea of romance. She begged to be let off, but her pleas fell on deaf ears. As it turned out, it was in a way a good thing that the marriage took place. Father died a few months later and we were left orphans. Bhindeu stepped in to share the responsibility of looking after Meghali and me. Though Aunt and Uncle were our legal guardians, it was Bhindeu who gave us financial support and finally provided for our weddings to men of our
own choice. But Ma did not allow Mrinali to continue her studies after she was married.

Now what Mrinali told me on her visit, the last day of her life, was this. I am putting down the account as I remember.

“Mitali, you've got to help me, or I'll go mad”, she had blurted out as soon as I opened the door. “I'm feeling so utterly wretched I can't live on like this”.

“What's the matter? Tell me all”, I responded as we both sank down on the sofa.

“You know, day before yesterday, the day of our anniversary, was a bad one from the start. Early morning, still dark, I woke up from a horrible dream. I saw my own body, dead and all covered with green slime, being fished out of water. All the time a voice kept saying 'Wasted life! Wasted life!'. I woke up trembling all over. Pratul (that's Bhindeu) was snoring peacefully. I thought of waking him, but decided to let him sleep on. The poor guy works hard all day, he needs a good rest. I couldn't trouble him with my silly dream. But I couldn't sleep any more. I lay awake, shivering and sweating at the same time, till it was light. Then I got up and went out into the garden. When the sun rose I felt better, but the words 'wasted life, wasted life' kept echoing in my mind.

“We all got busy preparing the anniversary dinner. I helped also, but before lunchtime Ma told me to take rest. She said I looked tired, and she wanted me to look fresh for the evening celebration. I was in fact feeling quite sleepy because of my disturbed sleep that morning. So I went to bed and tried to sleep. But the horrible dream came back to my mind and I couldn't sleep at all. So I sneaked out of the house, hoping that they'd think I was asleep in our room, and went over to Meghali's place. I was hoping that a change of scene would help me to forget my bad dream.

“Meghali was bustling about preparing lunch. Gautam had invited the Editor of the paper he works with. She asked me to stay on too, so I did. I was eager to meet this Editor, R.C.Baruah, whom I greatly admired. He turned out to be a real gentleman and I enjoyed talking with him. As we chatted, I unthinkingly confided to him that I had wanted to become a writer but could not. He listened sympathetically as I told him of the incident that sealed my fate. It happened a few months after my marriage. I hadn’t told this to anyone before, not even you, Mitali. It’s too painful to talk about. I was writing a story about a college girl who was in love with a boy from her class, but was forced to marry a rich middle-aged man by her parents. Ma caught me at my writing, insisted on looking at it, tore it up and firmly told me good girls don't write such rubbish. That was the end of my writing hopes.

“All of a sudden it struck me that I was making a fool of myself, sharing my secret to a stranger. I was so embarrassed that I took a hasty leave of Meghali and rushed out, completely ignoring the Editor. I'm so ashamed of myself for treating a respectable elderly person, and such a nice one, like that. I've been so rude and crude. O Mitali, when will I stop being stupid?” she lamented.

“We all do stupid things at times”, I replied. “Don't torment yourself. Just forget it”.

“How can I forget it? I can never forgive myself”, she said.

And she left with that, in an agitated state, while I was quite amused at the whole thing. Strange, I had no premonition at all about the tragedy that was to follow. How was I to guess that was to be the last time we meet? How could I have thought that the sweet, sensitive Mrinali who wouldn’t harm a fly would drive a knife right into the heart of her husband who loved her so tenderly? Had she killed him with one stab, it would have been kindness in comparison to what he has to suffer now. As for the rest of us—Ma, Meghali, me and all who loved her, she has brought black darkness into our lives with what she has done.

But again, I can’t help wondering, given her temperament and circumstances, wasn’t that only natural? My thoughts just go round and round endlessly, always asking why did she have to do that. Why, why, why?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A Mizo Myth

by Malsawmi Jacob

Since the dawn of civilasation, most people groups seem to have believed that human life does not end with the-here-and-now. The ancient Egyptians embalmed their dead to prepare them for the next world. The Greeks had their stories about Hades. The great Indian epic Mahabharata closes with a description of the hero Yudhishthira in 'swarga' or heaven. Before the teaching of Christianity came to the Mizos, they also had their own system of belief and fascinating tales about life after death.

Mizoram, or the land of Mizo people, is one of the states in north-east India. It is bordered by Bangladesh on the south and Burma or Myanmar on the east. Here is an old Mizo myth about the dead.
The forefathers believed that at death the spirits leave the body and go to live in another world called Pialral (literally translated ‘beyond earth’). On their way they have to pass through Rih Dil, a lake in the border between Mizoram and Myanmar. Though the lake lies amidst cultivated fields now, it was surrounded by thick forests in olden days. There must have been something eerie about the lake that fired the imagination then, as many strange tales are told about it.

Rih Dil Tales
Once, a man camped out hunting on the shores of Rih lake. The whole area was thick jungle, inhabited by wild animals and birds. At night he was awakened from his sleep by the sound of human voices. Startled, he sat up and listened. The voices came nearer. He was even more surprised to hear the voice of his own wife saying "O, I forgot to tell my children that there is smoked meat in the pot on the shelf over the hearth. Their father has gone out hunting and won't be back for some days. Unless they find it, they will be eating plain rice until their father returns".

On hearing this, the man got up and stood in wait to catch his wife. Finding her from her voice though it was too dark to see, he caught hold of her and said "Where are you going? Why have you left the children alone in my absence? Go back home at once!"
"I have to go on", she replied. "Do not delay me, let me go. See, my friends have passed on and I'm lagging behind."
"I won't let you go", he said and held her tight. At this, she turned into a male goat and butted him. But he held on. Then she turned into a caterpillar and tried to wriggle free. He still would not let go. Finally, she turned into a firefly, slipped through his fingers and flew away. The man hurried home as soon as it was daylight. There he found that his wife had died the previous day.

It is also said that there are wild fowls known as 'Rih ar' around the lake. If someone picks up an egg of this fowl and carries it, they may go on walking for a long time but never leave the place.
The water of the lake is also supposed to be inhabited by strange beings. It is said that once, a group of young men went swimming in the Rih lake. One of them dived under water and came up after a long time. He told his friends that under the water he saw an old man shaping split bamboo for weaving, who told him to go back at once and never come again, or he would die. His friends laughed and taunted him for lying. When he asserted that he was speaking truth, they challenged him to go back and bring some of the bamboo shavings to prove his word. At last he reluctantly agreed. He asked them to tie a rope to his ankle, and to pull him up at once if he kicked. After a while he started kicking about and they hauled him up. The body came up, with the head cut off, holding bamboo shavings in one hand.

The World of the Dead
After passing through Rih lake, the spirits reach a high hill called Hringlang Tlang (meaning 'hill from where human habitation is visible'). From there they look back at their old villages and other places familiar to them, and weep with regret that they have to leave it all. Then they reluctantly proceed on the journey.

By and by, they reach a valley full of beautiful flowers, known as Hawilo par ( or 'Flowers of no turning '). When they see these flowers they cannot but pluck some and wear them on their hair. As soon as they do this, they refuse to look back to their old world and hurry on. After some time they reach a stream of clear cool water, called Lunglo Tui ( or 'water of forgetting '). They cannot help but drink from this stream and then forget all about their old life, and look forward to reaching the other world.

Finally, they reach the gate of Pialral, where stands a giant watchman named Pawla , carrying a catapult, with pellets the size of hen's eggs. They say that the pellet wound takes at least two years to heal. But Pawla does not dare shoot people who were heroes in their life time. Such people come accompanied by all the animals they had killed. A great hunter comes in riding on a stag on whose antler a python curls round, followed by tigers, bears, boars and other animals. 'Pu Pawla' or 'Sir Pawla' allows such great persons to pass on in peace.

Another group that Pawla dares not catapult are babies. A baby, it is said, clenches its fist and stamps its foot shouting "Why did you take away my life so early? Had I lived on, I might have grown up to be a hero!"

When a young child died, they used to bury an egg along with the body. This was because they feared that the child would not know the way to Pialral. They thought that the egg would roll on and the child would chase it and reach the world of the dead.
Once inside the gate, the heroes lead princely lives. They are fed and served by others and do not have to do any work. But ordinary people have to go on much in the same way as in this world.

One story that gives a picture of what life in the other world is like, is the story of Tlingi and Ngama

Tlingi and Ngama.
Once there was a married couple who loved each other dearly. The man's name was Ngama, and the wife's name was Tlingi. Tlingi died, and the grieving Ngama visited her grave daily with fresh flowers. He was surprised to note that each time he came, the flowers he had placed there the previous day would be gone. So one day he decided to keep watch and catch the thief.
A little later, a wild cat came and picked up the flowers. Ngama jumped out of his hiding and caught it. "Let me go, Pi Tlingi sent me to fetch the flowers", said the wild cat.
"Then you must take me to her. I'm coming with you", Ngama replied. So the wild cat told him to hold on its tail, and off they went.

At length, they came to the land of the dead where Tlingi received him with surprise and joy. The next morning, Ngama watched some men cutting down a yam plant and splitting the stalk with great difficulty. Ngama came to their help and cut it easily with his hands.

Another day, the men were going out to hunt and Ngama joined the party. When they reached the forest, the men whispered that there was a bear ahead and prepared to attack. Ngama could not see any bear. He accidentally stamped on a black hairy caterpillar and killed it. The others gave a great shout saying that he had killed the bear. They carried it home and cut it up.
Yet another day, they went fishing and caught floating leaves in a shallow stream. On the way back it got dark. All Ngama's companions turned into fireflies and flew home. But Ngama could not do so and had to walk back alone.

Soon it was time for Ngama to return to the land of the living. Tlingi sent the wild cat to escort him back.

After a while Ngama also died and came to live in Pialral with Tlingi. He found her living in a good house made of wood. She told him that the wood was what he had torn with his hands on his first visit. And there was a large stock of smoked meat, and his wife said that it was the meat of the bear he had killed.

And so Tlingi and Ngama lived happily together in the land of the dead.

All these are a far cry from the Biblical picture of a beautiful heaven and a horrible hell. But it is interesting to note that the olden-day Mizos, in all their simplicity, conceived of a life after death in common with the sophisticated nations of the world.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Encounter with Rainbow

by Malsawmi Jacob

Just after rain, a little boy was walking home. He saw a piece of rainbow on the wet road. He at once looked up, hoping to see a real rainbow in the sky. But no, it wasn’t there. Then he looked back down on the road, but the rainbow there was gone too. The little boy became very sad. He lost two rainbows in a moment: one he saw on the ground and another he hoped to see in the sky. He lost the first by looking for the second. The little piece he had was gone while he looked up for a full one.

The little boy then made up his mind on two things. One, there’s no rainbow in the sky. Two, if you look up, the piece of rainbow you have will be lost. This became his philosophy of life as he grew up. There’s no rainbow in the sky. Don’t look up.

The young man was driving home in a drizzle late one afternoon. It was cloudy in front, but the sun was shining low in the sky behind him. Right ahead, well defined in rich colours, a rainbow bridged the horizons. And above it, a little smudgy but quite visible, curved another one. Double rainbow! It was impossible to ignore it any longer.

“But it’s just an illusion”, reasoned the young man. “The rainbow has no real existence. It’s just a visual deception created by raindrops and sunrays. It has no body that I can touch. Seeing need not lead to believing”.

“But you seem to be pretty sure there are sunrays and raindrops”, another voice in his mind spoke up unexpectedly. “How do you know they’re real? Aren’t they just illusion too?”

“I know the sun and rain exist, because I wouldn’t be alive if they didn’t”, he replied.

“Good you at least acknowledge that. Let’s put it this way: the rainbow is a picture painted by the sun and rain working together. But it’s real nevertheless, and has its own distinct identity”.

“But I don’t trust the rainbow. It cheated me badly in my boyhood, I can’t forget the hurt”.

“Aha! We’re getting totally subjective eh? Well then....How many times, between that boyhood experience and now, have you deliberately shut out the rainbow? Many times, you saw a rainbow from the corner of your eye, but decided to ignore it, having made up your mind to deny its existence. Even now, you can lie and tell yourself you have never seen a rainbow except the piece on the wet road that you saw when you were a little child”, continued the relentless Voice without sound.

The young man was silent now. He realised he must admit the possibility, no, probability, no, actuality of the rainbow as long as sun and rain exist. Denial of this is delusion, an act of lying to oneself. Lying to oneself is no better than lying to others. And if telling a lie is wrong, can living a lie be right?

But then, once you admit the existence of rainbow, there’s no end to possibilities.