To imagine Mizoram is to imagine a land floating on clouds. A number of colourful houses sparsely garnished over blue Lushai Hills, balancing elegantly on bamboo stilts.
Life in Mizoram is no different—it is a balancing act between a region grounded in its remoteness and the world furiously knocking to get in. A friend who spent all her life in Aizawl, the capital city of Mizoram, described the state’s topography as resembling a karela (bitter gourd).
“What an odd analogy,” I thought to myself. The more I traversed the “land of rolling mountains”, the more her metaphor came to life. But instead of karela’s sharp bitterness, Mizoram tasted what a cultural mosaic (the mix of ethnic groups, languages, and cultures that coexist within society) in food form would taste like.
The roads, both physical and metaphorical, to Mizoram are few and risky. One of the major roads from its only airport to the city of Aizawl has a sinking zone. There is a point where the road gets almost viscous and presses like a hot plum cake.
“Landslides are a common sight,” I was informed. Yet, Mizoram’s narrow lanes boast of the most disciplined traffic flow that can be experienced in the country (here is a viral video of it)…
Without any proper divisions or traffic lights, mind you.
To my utmost surprise, nobody honks on the road. Imagine buses, cabs, two-wheelers slithering like snakes on hairpin bend roads, with absolutely no blaring of honks.
On a long road trip from Aizawl to Champhai, a sophisticated border town to Myanmar, I observed the reticent road revealing a rich tradition of kindness.
Twenty minutes into the journey the bulky TATA Sumo, a shared passenger vehicle for long journeys, comes to a sudden halt. I pause my music to look around for a cue. The woman sitting beside me starts murmuring in Mizo, all the other passengers respond with calls in unison.
My mind remains fuzzy in confusion until everybody unanimously says “Amen!” and wishes each other a safe journey. Risky roads require preparation and prayers.
The misty green landscape on the left side of the road looked like an untouched bowl of green salad. The road was laced with a string of petty stalls selling corn, fruits, petrol, thingpui (the local Mizo tea), etc. The only strange thing to notice was that there were no keepers, only a price list and a cash box.
These were the “nghah loh dawr”, or shops without keepers. Passersby are trusted to only take what they need and put the money in the deposit box. On roads as remote and not-so-well connected as these, such generosity is godsent.
I heard that even during the Covid-19 crisis, these dawr (shops) remained functional. Nghah loh dawr is a grounding lesson from a community that attempts to choose trust over fear or scarcity.
This practice is one such example of the unique code of conduct called ‘tlawmngaihna’ in Mizo culture. “It is an unlegislated code that asks one to be kind, generous, and giving. It is to choose others over oneself in a time of crisis,” said John Hnamte, a research student at Mizoram University.
John elaborated that the state has seen its fair share of crises. In the history of independent India, there is only one instance where the government of India resorted to air bombings on a civilian territory within the country—it was in Aizawl.
A violent insurgency followed that lasted for 20 years. Republic Veng, where I lived in the city, was one of the four largest neighbourhoods that was completely razed to the ground.
John’s father was born on the fateful day of March 5, 1966, when the whole state was burning in chaos. He was named “Vanlalhruaia” i.e., the one who is guided by the king of heaven. March 5 is observed as “Zoram Ni”, or Zoram Day.
The trauma remains etched in the collective memory of the state and its people.
For a community as close-knit (even today) as Mizoram, self-determination is a large part of healing. The more I learnt, the more I realised that to fall in love with a place is to also acquire a knot of pain that’s theirs and becomes yours.
It was my last day in Aizawl, I wake up early, like every single day. The wooden floor creaks noisily as I walk towards the kitchenette. Between my room and the kitchenette, there is an unusually large window, with no panes or grills.
A usual reflexive halt takes place. “Where in the world am I?” I gasp, looking at an ocean of green hills approaching the blue horizon.