I’m sure if you've been around a lot, away from your comfort zones, your “people”, your “natural habitat and environment”, you must have asked yourself this question at least once, “How [insert the ethnical group you belong to] am I?” Or worse, somebody asked you that question right to your face…
Because if you belong to a particular group or community, society expects you to have some trait or personality of wherever you’re from, no matter how many times you’ve broken away from the stereotypic mould and created your own avatar.
I’m a Mizo. And one of the things that kinda irritate me a bit is when other Mizos say, “Mizo nih chuan…” English Translation: “If you are a Mizo, then you should…”
I hate that line. In fact if I’m with a couple of Mizos and somebody starts their sentence with that particular line, I just shut myself off completely. On one hand, we are complaining about how people generalize us or how we are not given our due recognition, but on the other hand, we are not taking any attempt to assimilate or do whatever we want to do, out of one’s own free will and volition, with no bondage to cultural shackles or societal norms. That choice of freedom is up to every individual… and it is uncomfortable when people look at me differently just because sometimes I am “not very Mizo”.
What does “being Mizo” mean?
That fact that I hate TEA seems to get on the nerves of many Mizos. “Either you’re a 7th Day Adventist or you’re not a Mizo, how can any Mizo hate tea?” is the question I face many times. Why can’t a person just dislike tea? Why do people always try to force me into liking tea so much, just because it is the unofficial State drink of Mizoram? I don’t like tea, and that is the path I have chosen. Live and let live.
I was brought up in Tamil Nadu. So from the time I was small till I graduated from Engineering College, the first thing I always drank in the morning was coffee. Filtered coffee. So I became a coffee lover. An addict. And tea wasn’t appealing to me because of that, even though almost every Mizo drinks tea (except the 7th Day Adventists of course). And as I have pointed out in my blog earlier too, when I say I love Ice Tea, then the first question people ask me is, “How can you love ice tea and hate hot tea??? That doesn’t make any sense!” and again I have to reply, “You like chilled beer? Yeah? Well do you like hot boiling beer too? No? I rest my case.”
Similarly, I’m supposed to like every Mizo dish. If you’re a Mizo and you don’t like the traditional Mizo dishes, then they call you names like a snob and “in ti changkang” and somebody who is ashamed of being a Mizo…
Seriously??? Questioning one’s patriotism and loyalty over… taste buds?
I love bekang and nghapih and a lot of stinky dishes. But at the same time I am not a big fan of the bitter veggies, which one can find in almost every Mizo cuisine. And I don’t like being forced to like those, because I really can’t. Being a Mizo does not guarantee me to like them. And if I prefer, say, a five course meal at an expensive 5 star restaurant starting with the proper appetizers and wine and ending it with the perfect dessert, instead of our local Mizo cuisine, does that make me a snooty prick? Or even worse, a turncoat to one’s root?
No, for various reasons: One, I’ve been working my ass off every day for the past so many years so that I can afford such food on a regular basis. You reap what you sow. Two, It’s a matter of taste buds. Of course to me the Hotel food tastes better but does that mean I eat only such high-end cuisine or exotic dishes? Hell no, if I want, I am content with just rice and dal with no other side dish. I am that simple. In fact I can survive eating just roadside vada-pavs or samosas for days, so don’t you ever judge me on that.
The thing is, I like variation. I like my food to rotate, you know. And that is why sometimes I think I will never fit in a typical Mizo household, where for breakfast and dinner, we eat the same food every day for the rest of our lives. Like I said, I can manage with Mizo dishes, but I need variations now and then, otherwise life gets too… simple and plain and… a bit boring. I’d like to rotate my breakfast or brunch with poha for one day, upma the other, then dosas and idlis on some days, then sandwiches on other days, followed by puri bhajji or chole bathura, and then maybe a Mizo full course meal, again followed by cornflakes and pancakes or even just bread and jam, and then back to poha again and so on…
Similarly, for lunch or dinner, I can of course have a Mizo meal, but again, I’d like to rotate it now and then with maybe a Chinese meal, an Italian meal, Indian meal with rotis and other bread, or even go for a simple shawarma or pizza and so on. I am a foodie and I love trying out new cuisine, and I have indeed tried out different varieties of food from all across India… That was the way I was brought up, and when one is well past his 30’s, it is indeed very hard to change suddenly and adapt to something else permanently.
Another situation that makes me contemplate a lot is when I help out my fellow Mizos… being a close knitted society, we of course feel comfortable when we are with other Mizos even if they are strangers. And so, it is very common for one Mizo to help out another Mizo, even if they are meeting for the first time… And when I do that, others call me a good person. The thing is, will I still go that extra mile and help out another stranger if he is not a Mizo? I probably won’t. So does that still make me a good guy then? Probably not.
To me, that is a bit like the faith related question I’d really like to ask some of the Christians I know online (you know, the ones who quote Leviticus 19:28 and brand me a Devil worshipper just because I have tattoos all over my body, but conveniently skip the previous verse Leviticus 19:27 that prohibits man from cutting off his beard and side-burns) the following questions… “Are you NOT committing murder (or rape or burglary etc..) just because the Bible tells us not to do so as it is a SIN… or are you not doing it because it is a wrong thing to do? Because deep down in your heart, in your conscience, in your mind, you know it is bad and wrong?”
But no matter how un-Mizo I may seem to some, a part of me will always forever be Mizo. Because after all, that is who I am. I always talk about our Mizo culture, customs, traditions etc. whenever I am among a group of new people, informing and educating them about who we are and what we do and so on. Because it warms my heart to talk about my roots.
So does “being a Mizo” mean it’s only about the food we eat, or is it more about a higher calling, about how we are proud of our heritage and how seeing other Mizos who excel in different walks of life makes us happy deep down inside? Is “being a Mizo” only about the tea we drink, or is it more about how much we love informing the world about who we are and even going to the extent of scouring the internet everyday just to correct misconceptions people may have about us?
At the end of the day, I think “being a Mizo” means doing whatever you love doing, out of sheer passion, in whatever way you can. To find a connection and bond with other Mizos, which need not be only through traditional cuisines. To feel ashamed when you read the news about another Mizo getting involved in drugs or prostitution. To feel the pain when you see scores of your fellow Mizos fleeing a particular city. To feel elated when you get to know about a Mizo achieving something noteworthy in his/her line of work. To feel a deep kinship every time you come across a Mizo name in the newspaper.
Just the other day, during the ongoing Juniors National Hockey Championship for Girls, Madhya Pradesh thrashed Mizoram 12-1. The top scorer for Madhya Pradesh, who scored a hat-trick, was Ramngaihzuali Ralte, a Mizo. Another Mizo girl Lalruatfeli Hnialum too scored two goals for Madhya Pradesh on that same match. Yes, they just happened to play for a different state and there can be many reasons behind that, maybe they were brought up in MP, maybe they are currently studying there, maybe they have better sports facilities which can help them in their career, it can be anything… but a part of me felt pain. I know it’s not supposed to hurt (maybe) but it did. If, say, for example, Maharasthra beat West Bengal and the best player for Maharasthra happened to be a Bengali, I’m sure not many Bengalis would go, “How could you do that to your own people…” But in my case, it was hard to ignore the disappointment. Maybe it’s because we Mizos are still a very small community and the entire population of Mizoram is less than the population of Andheri East here in Mumbai… Maybe…
Of course I still remember what one of my friends once told me… If we are supposed to act as Indian, as one unit entity as a whole without keeping our ethnocentric roots and respective States first, then why do we keep having these National tournaments and competitions that pitches one State against another?
Hmmm… Food for thought maybe?
In the meantime, let me go reheat some of today’s leftover ham and salami pizza garnished with my own stash of bekang and ratuai pickle, and topped with good ‘ol spicy vaihmarcha rawt dip from Mizoram. Yummm!
Bon appétit to you all…