To go to Aizawl, the capital of Mizoram, I had once again to take the same wretched road that had earlier taken me to Silchar on way to Agartala. The only consolation was the food on the way at Sonapur and those deadly dried red chilies that were crisply fried with their sting intact. Curiously, these fried chilies have become kind of part of a meal. As far as I know, Bengalis could eat an entire helping of rice with these with ghee and salt added to the mix. The flavour of the ghee made out of cow’s milk mixed with the sting of the chilies would make the rice heady. It was considered poor man’s meal but the stuff is so delectable that it has made its way into a Bengali meal as one of the courses or, perhaps, as a starter.
Our driver, Lushai, was happy as we were going to his homeland which carried his name. The Mizo Hills, as is well known, were earlier known as Lushai Hills and the Lushais are one of the several tribes in Mizoram. They lived in dense rain forests of bamboo and brush and lived by “jhoom” cultivation. Nature was kind and the denuded forests would re-grow in course of time when they would again be due for denudation. With the cycle becoming quicker over time Nature was all the time fighting a losing battle when, mercifully, the tribal people gave up their way of cultivating their land.
One can see the forests as one crosses Vairengte in Mizoram after Silchar. Once one is on a plateau of around 3 or 4 thousand feet one can see the Lushai ranges, that are part of the Patkai Ranges, running north-south parallel to each other. These jungles are peaceful today but in not too distant past they hosted militancy. Does the name Laldenga ring a bell? It was his Mizo National Front that carried on a rebellion for 16 years until the Mizo Accord was signed in 1986. It was the audacity of a former Assam Government clerk, dissatisfied with the way a cyclic famine in his homeland was dealt with, to organize a powerful militant army and once he found that he had a critical mass of militants he sought outright secession. No wonder, on account of persistent militancy in the region the Government of India established the internationally famous Counter Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School at Vairangte.
As one goes further down the road it increasingly becomes worse and at one point it is as dangerous as it could get. The road was cut out of a hill with a deep trough of a valley on the other side. A minor human or mechanical slip could land one hundreds of feet below in a jumbled and messy tangle of metal and human flesh. Mercifully, that did not happen with us and we safely went across that treacherous stretch to find, after a few miles, new yellow and black Maruti 800 taxis parked in a very disciplined manner in single file on one side of the road. It was indicative of our arrival on the outskirts of Aizawl.
Quite obviously, Aizawl is a hilly place with hills and valleys dotted with houses. Until our visit the place looked pretty green but, in course of time, with a greater stress on housing the hills might get shorn off of their greenery. Hopefully the governments in future will keep them in mind. The Mizos build multi-storied structures using the hill slopes so that around two or three stories can be accessed from the road in front and the remaining floors are along the slopes facing the valley in front. A Mizo house, therefore, is of four or five stories or even more depending on the capability of the builder.
We drove into the Assam Rifles Mess where its DG, Lt. General MK Lahiri had made arrangements for me. Assam Rifles is one of India’s oldest para-military organizations, established somewhere in the first half of the 19th Century. It was primarily meant to safeguard British interests in those far-flung and remote areas where tribes frequently troubled the British penetrators. Assam Rifles, after having seen several changes in its nomenclature, settled for its current name after independence.
The Assam Rifles mess at its headquarters was centrally located and came under heavy attack from rebels during the rebellion to establish an independent state of Mizoram. It is, therefore, a very important property of Assam Rifles at Aizawl which the Mizos have been eying for a long time. Time and again they have asked the para-military force to move its headquarters away but the government has resolutely declined to move it. Perhaps, logistically this is the best place to be in to operate from when arms are taken up against the government.
There is nothing much to Aizawl that one could talk about except that it is hill-town with a good deal of greenery which makes it attractive. In the offices the high percentage of educated people becomes palpable as they are able to communicate freely and fluently in English. Nonetheless, when it comes to make oneself understandable to an outsider, say a Kuki or a Naga, it is Hindi that finds greater usage. This is where one finds Hindi, even if it is broken and tattered, as a uniting element. On many occasions at Shillong I came across North-easterners talking among themselves in what appeared to me pretty brutalized Hindi. One might even call it pidgin. It nonetheless, made me happy as it was not some other language like, say, English.
Walking the streets of Aizawl one morning I came across something very attractive in a small pen outside a house. A flash of black and white attracted my attention. It was a very attractive sow with an unusual black and white pelt that was probably being fattened for Christmas. Normally pigs – wild or urbanized – are of a dirty muddy colour. But this one was different – even better looking than the “Empress of Blandings” that PG Wodehouse went raving about. The “Aizawl Empress”, if I might call it, was the most mentionable item of this rather dry piece.