Thursday, June 10, 2021

Of Time and a Classroom Table - Zualteii Poonte

How many young people have sat here through the years

patiently listening to countless confusing lectures,

or losing the battle against heavy eyelids 

as a teacher drones on on a sweltering summer's day,

or in the back row carrying on a whispered conversation 

with a friend under cover of an open textbook 

propped up on the table,

or struggling through an exam 

to earn that coveted degree.

Where are they now, those generations of young learners,

who have moved on to take their places in the world -

clergymen with flocks to lead to heavenly destinations,

politicians, officers, media persons, entrepreneurs, educators,

some in distant, far-flung villages,

some dead and at slumber beneath the earth,

some fathers and mothers with offspring of their own

coming to sit at these very same tables.

This old table, once smooth and new, gleaming with fresh paint,

now decrepit and battered, scarred with scratches, 

and marked with memories of people and time.

Zualteii Poonte (official name A. Hmangaihzuali Poonte) graduated with English Honours in 1981, completed her MA from NEHU Shillong in 1983 and began working as a college teacher in 1984 at Zirtiri Women's College. In July 2001, she joined the English faculty of Govt. Aizawl College. She enjoys creative writing and translation work, and has had a number of prose and poetry writings published in various national and international anthologies. 

Monday, May 10, 2021

Decoding the Contradictions: A Study of Select Mihrinna Hla by R.L. Kamlala - Vanlalpeki Sailo


Mizo  literature,  particularly  songs,  comprises  largely  of  gospel  or  worship  songs  and  songs  that  speak  of  the  beauty  of  the  land  and  nature,  often  called  “Ram  Ngaih”  or  “Ram  Hmangaih  Hla”.   R.L. Kamlala  (1902-1965),  a  Mizo  writer  was  an  individual  who  may  be  characterised  as  one,  who,  at  one  point  in  time,  was  torn  between  the  two;  leading  to  subtle  contradictions  in  his  songs.  According  to  Revd.  Chuathuama,  in  the  Forword  he  wrote  for  his  edited  book,  R.L. Kamlal  Kut  Chhuak,  after  he  finished  Middle  School  in  1929,  R.L. Kamlala  went  through  a  phase  where  he  was  deemed  as  mad  due  to  his  anomalous  behavior  caused  by  a  spiritual  awakening  and  was  even  imprisoned  for  a  while.  Yet,  many  of  his  well_known  songs  were  written  during  and  after  this  phase  of  his  life.

R.L. Kamlala  himself  admits  to  the  changes  taking  place  within  himself  and  reveals  how  in  1932,  he  was  confronted  with  Christ  and  how  this  affected  his  literary  work  to  an  extent,  causing  to  the  contradictions  within  himself  and  within  the  subjects  dealt  with  in  his  songs.  This  occurrence  gave  him  a  new  and  clearer  perspective  of  the  word  of  God  and  also  affected  his  mentality  and  his  approach to things in general.  He  even  claims  that  it  caused  a  conflict  between  his  inner  and  outer  being.  The  songs  that  he  wrote  while  he  was  in  this  state,  as  he  himself  puts  it,  “Ka  Hla”,  “Ka  Hla  Chuam”  or  his  “Mihrinna  Hla”  are  nine  in  all.  He  felt  he  was  no  longer  in  the  position  to  call  them  Christian  Songs  or  “Kristian  Hla”  due  to  their  content  and  yet,  on  a  closer  study  of  these  songs,  it  may  be  pointed  out  that  they  still  consist  of  themes  relating  to  Christianity  to  some degree.  Moreover,  it  is  significant  to  observe  that  R.L. Kamlala,  a  man  of  God,  even  considered  mad  after  a  spiritual  encounter,  used  themes  entirely  opposite  of  the  teachings  found  in  the  Bible  in  some  of  his  “Mihrinna  Hla,"

Zawlvanbuk,  one  among  R.L  Kamlala’s  Mihrinna  Hla  is  a  song  that  reflects  the  traditional  Mizo  culture  of  young  Mizo  men  who  spent  a  majority  of  their  time  at  Zzawlbuk,  a  traditional  bachelors’  quarters  of  the  Mizos.  Zawlbuk  mainly   as  a  dormitory  for  all  unmarried  men  and   as  a  “social  institution  where  education,  entertainment,  skill  and  personal  development,  and  security  of  the  tribal  community  were  (almost)  entirely  centred.”  (Pillai  130)  R.L.  Kamlala  in  his  Foreword  included  in  R.L.  Kamlala  Kut  Chhuak  mentions  how  only  the  first  and  fifth stanzas  of  the  song  are  his,  and  that  the  second  to  fourth  are  actual  songs  sung  by  the  Mizo  bachelors  who  gathered  at  Zawlbuk.

R.L.  Kamlala  opens  the  song  with  a  scenic  description  of  the  land,  and  how  when  the  weather  was  gloomy  with  no  sunshine  in  sight  and  when  the  climate was not  suitable  for  work  or  play,  the  bachelors  would  gather  at  Zawlbuk  and  sing  songs  to  entertain  themselves  and  to  pass  the  time.  The  next  stanzas  consist  of  the  songs  sung  but  it  may  be  suggested  that  R.L  Kamlala  is  in  favour  of  and  agrees  with  what  was  being  sung  about.  The  young  men  in  the  song  are  singing  and  persuading  the  others  to  come  back  to  where  they  belong-  to  Zawlbuk  and  use  metaphors  to  signify  certain  things.  A  number  of  contrasts,  revealing  the  contradictions  in  R.L  Kamlala’s  songs  can  also  be  detected  in  this  song. 

In  the  second  stanza,  a  comparison  between  Heaven,  a  paradise  out  of  this  world,  “Van  Pialral”  and  a  heaven  on  earth,  within  this  life,  “dam  lai  Pialral”  is  seen.  The  writer,  or  in  this  case,  the  singers  are  saying  that  “Van  Pialral”,  a  place  everyone  has  been  searching  for  is  too  far  away  and  are  asking  those  in  search  of  it  to  come  back,  telling  them  that  this  world,  here  and  right  now  is  “Pialral”.  It  also  stresses  upon  the  fact  that  people,  with  all  our  differences  are  the  same  and  pleads  everyone  to  just  be  and  not to  worry  about  the  rest  too  much.  It  uses  metaphors  of  “day” -  “Chhun”  and  “night” -  “Zan”  to  denote  this  difference,  saying,

                                “Chhun  leh  zan  thim  kara  leng  kan  dang  chuang  lo,
                              Haw  rawh  tinkim  sei  I  dawn  lo  vang.”  (Chuauthuama  103)

Perhaps  the  first  contradiction  within  R.L  Kamlala  that  can  be  seen  in  this  song  is  in  how  he  includes  these  two  very  distinct  and  opposing  things-  that  of  Heaven  and  a  paradise  on  earth.  In  many  of  his  “Kristian  Hla”,  he  has  profoundly  written  about  Heaven,  his  desire  to  go  there  and  often  imagines  and  romanticises  the  beauty  of  it,  what  it  must  be  like  and  the  utmost  pleasure  and  happiness  that  it  would  give  him.  He  is  aware  of  the  evils  lurking  and  the  sadness  that  prevails  in  life  and  it  is  his  faith  in   God  that  assures  him  that  everything  would  be  perfect  in  Heaven  and  many  of  his  songs  often  depict  this  longing.  He  extensively  talks  about  the  sadness  in  this  world  coming  to  an  end  once  he  enters  Heaven.  For  instance,  in  the  song  Tunah  A  Thar  Hmangaihna  Eng,  he  talks  about  how  troubles  and  pain  surround  him  in  life  and  longs  for  Heaven,  saying  that  once  he  reaches  that  place,  he  would  not  miss  the  world  at  all;

dam  lai  ni  hi  a  tlak  hma  zawngin,
Ka  tan  chhum  a  zing  thin;
Nakinah  chu  ram  ka  thlen  ve  hun  chuan,                            
Ka  ngai  lawng  khawvel  hi.”  (  Chuauthuama  2)

The  song  Lei  Hrehawm  Hmun  Reh  Takah  Hian  also  clearly  depicts  his  unhappiness  here  and  how  the  thought  of  reaching  Heaven  one  day  gives  him  a  sense  of  hope  and  happiness;

                                                          “Tuipui  rala  ka  Lalpa  ram,
                                                         Thlirin  hlimna  ni  eng  chuan;
                                                         Ka  rilru  ngui  a  rawn  tihlim,
                                                        Ka  lungngaihna  thim  a  en.”  (Chuauthuama  7)

Such  instances  in  his  songs  reflect  his  spiritual  being  and  faith in  God,  yet  when  looking  at  his  “Mihrinna  Hla”  like  the  song  Zawlvanbuk  where  he  includes  songs  sung  by  the  bachelors,  it  may  be  assumed  that  R.L  Kamlala  tends  to  contradict  himself.  In  the  song,  he  seems  to  be  in  agreement  with  the  idea  that  Zawlbuk  or  on  a  larger  context,  the  world  and  this  life  right  here  and  now  is  good  enough,  claiming  that  a  better  place  or  happiness  cannot  be  found  elsewhere;
                                   “Kan  lenna  ram  hi  a  lo  nuam  thlir  ve  rawh.
                                 Hei  ang  lawman  dang  I  tawng  lo  vang.”  (Chhawnthuama  103)

The  song  also  stresses  upon  the  fact  that  the  kind  of  beauty  found  in  this  world  cannot  be  found  anywhere  else  and  pleads  with  the  others  to  just  look  for  their  happiness  now  and  right  here  on  earth.  The  fifth  and  closing  stanza  is,  according  to  R.L  Kamlala,  entirely  his  and  closes  the  song  with  another  scenic  description  of  the  land,  wherein  the  weather  has  cleared  up  and  persuades  the  young  men  and  women  to  get  up,  start  afresh  and  go  to  work;

                                             “Ai  ang  tho  ru  lanu  leng  leh  val  zawng  zawng,
                                          Ram  in  tuan  nan  kawl  a  thiang  ta  e!”  (Chuauthuama  103)

This  stanza  consists  of  themes  not  seen  too  often  in  R.L  Kamlala’s  songs.  He  describes  the  world  as  a  place  where  hope  for  the  future  can  be  found,  pleading  with  the  youngsters  not  to  be  idle  and  to  start  working  and  grasp  the  opportunities  given  to  them  by  nature.  The  world  that  he  has  depicted  in  most  of  his  songs-  a  world  of  despair  and  no  hope,  with  nothing  to  look  forward  to  is  in  stark  contrast  with  the  world  he  is  now  describing.  The  inner  conflict  he  had  after  his  spiritual  encounter  may  become  a  significant  feature  to  look  at.  Before  the  encounter,  his  “Kristian  Hla”  portrays  the  sadness  of  life  and  the  utmost  relief  and  happiness  Heaven  would  provide.  The  encounter  instilled  in  him  a  clearer  concept  of  Christ  and  the  word  of  God.  However,  his  “Mihrinna  Hla”  such  as  Zawlvanbuk  now  provides  glimpses  of  the  happiness  the  world  could  give  which  is  a  clear  depiction  of  the  conflict  within  himself  that  brought  out  contradictions  in  his  songs.  

Another  song  by  R.L.  Kamlala  that  is  very  distinct  in  its  subject  and  theme,  even  when  compared  with  songs  written  by  other  Mizo  songwriters  is  Cho  Ui  Val  Tha,  which,  according  to  him  is  a  song,  “humorously”  written  for  a  dog  who  died  in  Bualpui  village,  Mizoram  in  1932.  R.L.  Kamlala  may  not  sound  too  serious  in  his  description  of  how  the  song  was  written,  perhaps  due  to  the  fact  that  it  is  a  song  about  a  dog,  yet,  the  tone  within  it  is  sad  and  serious  and  captures  the  angst  of  the  owner  over  the  death  of  the  dog.

The  song  opens  with  the  writer  speaking  about  how  lonely  and  sad  the  household  has  become  since  the  death  of  the  dog  and  reveals  how  unbearable  the  loss  is  for  the  owners;
                                                    “I  pi  leh  pu  tan  zawng,
                                           Tuar  har  na  e.”  (Chuauthuama  104)

The  rest  of  the  stanzas  excluding  the  last  one  reveal  the  pain  caused  by  this  death  and  the  writer  even  claims  that  he  no  longer  has  any  brothers  and  sisters  in  this  world  and  mentions  how  this  dog  named  Ranga  was  the  only  one  he  had.  He  seems  to  be  aware  of  the  fact  that  mourning  the  death  of  a  dog   is  absurd  and  admits  that  people  might  talk  about  him.  However,  the  pain  he  feels  is  too  real  that  he  is  not  in  a  position  to  worry  or  bother  about  what  might  be  said  about  him;

                                                      “Relthang  reng  ka  dawn  zo  lo,
A  NA  RANGA!”  (Chuauthuama  104)

The  closing  stanza  and  the  subject  raised  in  it  is  very  distinct  and  opposing  to  what  R.L.  Kamlala usually  talks  about  in  his  songs.  First  of  all,  he  is  giving  the  dog  a  final  message  to  go  forth  and  continue  his  journey  to  “Thlafam  khua”,  a  place  for  the  dead,  an  afterlife  and  to  spread  the  message  that  his  master  is  in  pain  because  of  his  loneliness; 
                                                          “Kal  zel  la  Thlafam  khuaah,
I  pu  run  hrui  ang  zawt  la;
“Ka  pu  nau  ang  a  tlei  thei  lo”,
Tiin  hril  rawh.” 

A  stark  contrast  is  evident  in  this  final  stanza,  wherein  the  writer  seems  to  believe  in  an  afterlife  for  animals,  contradicting  to  what  the  Bible  says.  Going  back  to  the  period  when  this  was  written,  a  time  when  R.L.  Kamlala  himself  claims  to  have  been  closer  with  Christ,  it  is  interesting  that  he  would   choose  to  deal  with  a  subject  such  as  this.  On  the  other  hand,  to  an  extent,  this  song  promotes  the  status  of  R.L.  Kamlala  as  a  poet  and  shows  his  diversity.  He  is  perhaps  one  of  the  few  Mizo  songwriters  to  write  about  animals,  giving  them  a  human-like  attribute,  making  him  worthy  enough to  be  compared  with  Romantic  Poets  like  Wordsworth,  Shelley,  Blake,  Keats,  Coleridge  and  others  who  often  expressed  their  fascination  with  nature  in  their  works  through  depiction  of  animals  and  sometimes  using  them  as  symbols.  For  instance,  William  Blake  uses  animals  for  his  poems  as  seen  in  The  Lamb  and  The  Tyger  to  depict  good  and  evil.  Coleridge  too  based  his  narrative  poem  The  Rime  of  the  Ancient  Mariner  around  the  sanctity  of  nature,  particularly  that  of  the  albatross,  a  large  sea  bird  who  was  a  sign  of  good  luck  to  the  sailors  and  Keats  had  also  written  an  Ode  to  a  Nightingale.  (McKusick,  205).  These  poets  have  given  utmost  importance  to  animals  in  their  poems  and  similarly,  R.L.  Kamlala,  by  expressing  a  man’s  extreme  longing  for  a  dog,  describing  the  pain  a man  feels  over  its  death  and  creating  an  afterlife  for  it  shows  his  romanticisation  of  nature  and  the  importance  he  places  upon  animals.

Contradictory  he  may  be  to  himself  as  revealed  in  his  songs,  it  is  evident  that  R.L.  Kamlala,  in  his  “Mihrinna  Hla”  still  stresses  upon  the  two  worlds,  one  on  earth  and  one  after  death.  He  has  been  known  to  be  a  man  in  constant  pain  and  his  songs  definitely   portray  this  constant  ache  of  living  in  this  world.  Yet,  both  through  the  portrayal  of  nature  and  its  beauty  as  well  as  through  his  faith  and  hope  of  Heaven,  a  majority of  his  songs  provide  relief  for  the  sad  and  lonely  and  gives  an  insight  to  a  better  life,  a  life  created  by  one  here  on  earth  and  a  life  after  death.   

Works Cited 

Chuauthuama, Revd, ed. R.L Kamlala Kut Chhuak. Second Revised Edition. Aizawl, Mizoram : Synod Press, 2006. Print.

McKusick, James C. “Keats-Shelley Journal”. Keats Shelley Journal, vol. 54, 2005, pp. 204-207. JSTOR. Web 3 Oct 2017.  

Vanlalpeki Sailo graduated from Govt. Aizawl College in 2012 with English Honours. She went on to do her MA at Mizoram University where she placed first in her batch and was the gold medallist  in the English department. She then did her M.Phil. where she wrote a fine thesis on Nobel laureate cum singer songwriter Bob Dylan. This critical study of the late Mizo poet R.L. Kamlala is part of her research course work then.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Poetry & Book Appreciation Day

A Poetry & Book Appreciation Day programme was held on the 10th October 2019 at the college Conference Hall. With creative writing in English among Mizos gaining in popularity, this was a wonderful opportunity to introduce some of the finest young writers in Aizawl to our literature students. Book reading is, of course, also an issue that needs to be re-introduced today with digital gadgets taking over the time and attention of young people everywhere.

Hannah Lalhlanpuii, a research scholar at Mizoram University who is also an upcoming writer of note, talked about her novel, "When Black Birds Fly” which is about the 1966 Mizoram rambuai narrated from the perspective of a young boy.  

Somte Ralte and Lalsangliani, who both write good, pertinent poetry in English and have both had short stints as substitute teachers in the English department, presented their poetry.

Jacqueline Zote, a young journalist who takes on bold themes and issues in her poetry, and Kim Miller, one of the few male Mizo writers in English, also gave readings of their poetry.

Dr. Lalthansangi Ralte, a 2005 English Honours alum, and the then Head of the English Department at IQFAI University Mizoram Campus, gave the assembled English Core students a pep talk on the importance of books and reading. She set up a temporary book stall from the Book Café, a very popular book shop recently started by her with her brothers, who are also alumni of the college.

The programme was an extension of Poetry Day organised by the dept. where poems written by students from various departments were collected and displayed across the college building. 

The P & BA Day appeared successful with most students showing considerable interest in the proceedings.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Class of 2020 Visit Adopted Schools at Hmuifang

In what turned out to be the department’s last outing and major activity before the pandemic closed down the institution from the 17th March 2020, on January the 28th 2020, final semester students of the English Dept. alongwith seven faculty members, visited the college's two adopted schools at Hmuifang, a picturesque tourist spot some 53 kms away from Aizawl.

Splitting up into two groups, we presented an assortment of gifts and a Little Library to both the Govt. Primary School and Neihlaia Memorial Middle School. The Little Libraries were stocked with books in English and Mizo donated by students and teachers to encourage a love of books and reading among the schoolchildren.

At the Middle School, the students also spent time interacting in spoken English with the children. This was the first direct interaction made with both schools by the college since the school and village adoptions were finalised in November 2019.


Monday, February 22, 2021

Art Works - Tommy Malsawmzuala


Tommy Malsawmzuala, 5th sem, took some very basic art lessons for a couple of weeks when he was at school in New Delhi but is mostly self-taught. He says he enjoys doing portraits and some anime as well. He is presently Leader of the college Art Club and has been very helpful in assisting with designing banners and posters for college activities and functions.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Surroundings - K. Lalhlupuii


What good does it do,
To the girl you call names.
What good is in it,
To the guy you throw punches at.
All that remains
Is a desolate soul.

Does she still call you 'family'
After all those whiffs and sniffs?
Does he still call you 'boss'
When you abuse your own power?
All that is left
Is a person who feels dejected.

What would you do
If she left you one night
Painted bruises and cuts over her body.
Now closing her fragile heart forevermore,
She embraces your children
With the love you could not give.

Are they still calling you names?
Is your body aching?
Are you in pain?
Are you feeling ashamed?
Are you blaming yourself?
Do they hear you cry?
Are you tired of it all?

Know yet;
You are a person.
A person with dignity and respect.
A person who is meant to soar high,
Born with wings and starry eyes.


K. Lalhlupuii is our 5th semester student. She had never let on before that she writes poetry but she does - and how! Hoping to see more from you, Hlutei 

Friday, February 19, 2021

The Conversation of Gender Equality - Steven Ramthanmawia


What exactly is gender equality? Is it the equal access of resources regardless of gender? Or is it giving the other gender more advantages with no backlash or weight? Can there actually be perfect equality among the genders?

The 'feminism movement' started in the 15th century where women stood up and showcased rampant oppression of women, and till today new waves of female empowerment can be seen.

Due to lack of education and primal nature, society and people in general looked down upon women seeing them to just 'breed a child,’ 'take care of a family,’ they were not taken seriously which caused a lot of abuse, and having a daughter was unfavourable. This can be seen in all kinds of societies, even us Mizos have a handful of stories about abusive drunk dads who beat their wives and children, and when it comes to India there have been practices of child marriage where the parents find a partner for their child and get married by the time they are 'old enough' which leads them to get married to middle aged-old men who are often alcoholic or abusive in general. After going through all the hardships, if these men they married were to die early, these women would be seen as widows, and Indians being as superstitious as they are, see these widows as an omen bringing them bad luck, hence they would get incinerated along with their husbands.

Education plays an important role at how women are treated at present, but it sure is not in a perfect state especially when we look at the Middle East where the women have no rights to choosing their partners, domestic violence is high, there is discrimination in employment, healthcare, inequality in child custody, divorce, inheritance. Meanwhile us (Mizos) in a male dominated (patriarchal) society face little to no discrimination against women, in some cases due to religion the woman's family may not permit the girl to be with her man due to their differences.

When it comes to job opportunities, Mizoram actually has seats saved for women, and this is where the question of if they have an 'advantage' or 'equal access of resources' comes in, and why aren't there seats saved for men too? It's not like they got their position for free, or when it comes to being 'chivalric' or 'pasaltha' in our words is to give women seats at public places or transport, when it comes to wars the women and children are spared, when it comes to tragedies they are still the ones prioritized for safety.

The reason women worked less then is no question that they chose to be at home with the children and be a mother while the father worked, this has typically been the norm for a very long while. Again due to the emergence of education, women nowadays are working hard to be independent and have a head start before their marriage in order to avoid having financial hardships. This is becoming the social norm and a healthier approach to starting a family, realistically not all marriages work and it is horrible when the woman is left with nothing else.

The points elaborated above are to highlight that the perfect or ideal form of gender equality is impossible to be practised and I believe that women in our society are in a better place than at any time in our history. Then again this doesn't mean gender discrimination does not exist anymore or we should stop being open to new ideas. Rather implementation of better practices or of improving the system bit by bit will go a long way in getting to our ‘ideal' sense of society.

Steven Ramthanmawia is a 3rd semester student. He bagged third place and a cash prize of Rs 1000/- with this essay.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Just a Woman - Saihminghlui Sailo


They say that night brings out the demons,
And that home is your escape.
But what happens when my work
keeps me later than I anticipate?
Am I to be fearful of what lurks ahead?
Would calling a friend work instead?
I scan my environment consistently,
As they've been kidnapping women recently.
I see them watching, oh the misogyny.
Why won't a man make safe company.
Should I defend myself using my fist?
I can't, I'm small at the wrist.
Should I run or play their game?
Doesn't matter, both results in the same.

So you tell me one gender is superior over the other?
A stereotype;  furled and unbothered like any other.
We project and advocate intersectionality,
Because gender is not always our biggest identity.
And why should we have to fight for our rightful place?
In our own turf, where we were born and raised.
Racially profiled and stigmatized,
"Just a woman" is how I'm recognized.
They tell me that I'm soft and delicate,
Made of porcelain and easy to break.
Yes I may be a woman,
But first I'm also human.

So today I raise my voice,
It is for you to make the choice.
I suspire and ache for freedom,
Do you really need him?

Saihminghlui Sailo, also our 1st sem student, won the second prize for this poem at the Gender Equality Writing competition. She took home Rs 1500/- and a certificate for these fine lines.