How does it feel to return to a place after 21 years – a place which used to be your second home in your growing up years? …I was trying to figure out the feeling as our Jeep had started to climb the Mizo hills on the afternoon of 7th of May, 2011. The memories were playing hide and seek with me… my father was posted in Aizawl, the capital town of Mizoram, for 5 years or so starting 1985. And by default, the place was our vacation home on our school holidays. We created many a memories in various nooks and corners of this hilly city – not exactly by design. And now, I’m returning to this very place more than two decades later – for the shoot of our documentary ‘Guns and Guitars…a musical travelogue’.
More the things change, more they remains the same…the zigzag hilly routes were still as pretty to travel. Time and again, we crossed the famous ‘Lunglei express’ – a wonderful innovation of ingenious thinking, where a piece of wood is modified to a motor-less vehicle having steering and brake, ideal for travelling downhill in a hilly region… I was keeping my eyes open looking for those ‘shopkeepers less shops’ – where the families keep the vegetables for sale in a plank of woods by the road-side, with a price list for different produce and piggy bank to put the money for the things you have taken… sounds unbelievable, I know, in today’s age and time – but then we are talking here about northeast India, a place where in places -time has stood still. Unfortunately, that afternoon we couldn’t spot any – our travel timing was wrong, I was told.
As I tried to re-discover the Aizawl of my childhood that evening, the first thing that hit me was the rampant misuse of medicated cough-syrup as a substitute for the banned alcohol by the average youth in the street. It is a state under prohibition – thanks to the all powerful church, which many claim to be even more powerful than the govt. Although am a teetotaler myself, I still can’t figure out the logic behind the ‘total prohibition’ in a tribal society where the drinking of homemade liquor is traditionally a part of the culture… Besides, total prohibition has proved to be a total failure anywhere in the world…
Now don’t get me wrong –no way am I supporting the drinking of alcoholic beverages by anybody. In fact, I strongly believe that the drinking of liquor to be the root of many problems, especially amongst the youths of northeast India. Still, am not quite sure that the way out is total prohibition – which results in rampant misuse of medicated drugs amongst other things, which is actually much more worse!!
Another feeling floating in the atmosphere is the sense of rootlessness mostly prevalent amongst the Mizo youths – which is obvious to even to the traveler who is sensitive to the surrounding vibes. What could be the reason behind it? Some blame it on the Mizo National Front (MNF) led insurgency … true, the insurgency ended way back in 1985 in one of the few instances where the lasting peace was brought in with the stroke of a pen, yet many believes that the vibrations of two decades long insurgency could still be felt in the unseen depth of the psyche of the Mizo people till date. Many still vividly recollect with pent up bitterness the unprecedented occurring of Indian Air force bombing its own citizens in and around Aizawl on 5th & 6th of March 1966 even today… Besides, there is also the matter of two decades long event of ‘night curfew’ because of the insurgency, forcing the people to stay indoors, and its effects on a society that “was based on working on the field during the day and young men singing and wooing their womenfolk at night”… How much these occurrences are actually responsible for the present condition of the Mizo society could be an interesting study for the sociologists…
It was surprisingly easy to meet up with Mizoram’s chief minister Mr. Lalthanhawala, one of the chief architects of the Mizo peace accord. He had recounted how he was also behind bars as a result of the ‘mass arrest’ at the peak of insurgency led by Mizo National Front and how he had to share his cell with a complete lunatic. ‘Both of us were charged under the same section of the law – sedition, IPC 121’ – he added with a sarcastic smile!
Meeting with my father’s old driver was an emotional moment. Mr. Lalhmingliana, whom we fondly address as ‘Kapu’ (uncle, in Mizo language) was almost like our family member. And as an ex-rebel of Mizo National Front, he does have an interesting past. When we interviewed him for our film, he recollects how in the late 1960s they used to fight the Indian army during the day and used to sing Jim Reev’s ‘this world is not my home…’ once back in their hideout!
That is Mizoram! As Dr Cherie Chhangte, Assistant Professor at Mizoram University, pointed out, “from the olden times, somebody dies, we sing. Somebody gets married, we sing. Somebody is born, we sing… it is all about music!”
As we were climbing down the hills in our vehicle, I was hoping that this melodious affair of Mizo people with their lives will continue… and the few missing notes in the existence of the Mizo youth will be but a fleeting pause… harmony will soon return to reclaim their lives…
Note- To know more about the crowd funding drive for Guns and Guitars check here
To check out the actual crowd funding campaign check here