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Sunday, August 20, 2006

Chp 88. Little hut on the brae

As she stood on the peak of the tall lush green hill, she could see smoke rising from the Village in the horizon. Most of the houses were on fire and long lines of thick dark smoke seemed to invade the idyllic surroundings of Mother Nature as if by brute force. With one frail hand she held on to a tall and slender pine for support while she clutched her woven shawl tightly with the other. The wind was strong at the top of the hill and an old woman of her age could easily be blown away.

Her eyesight was not as good as it once used to be, but she could still make out the burning huts and houses. The Village was perched on the slope of a hill that was just two peaks away from her hut. An able bodied man could make the trip from the Village to her small hut and back again in half a day. But for an old woman like her, it would take an entire day just to reach the Village, if she could make the trip that is.

She had been leading an isolated life for such a long time now that she could no longer remember when was the last time she had ever been in that Village. There were hazy memories of happier times, and also blurred images of the time she was the most beautiful woman in the Village. There was also another vision she wanted to forget. It was the reason why she left the Village and never turned back after that.

Many years ago, she was once a part of that Village. Everybody knew her. She was the envy of every other virgin in the Village, until she got married. Her husband was Thanga, the Village Chief’s son and the most eligible bachelor in the Village then. Not just brave and righteous, but handsome too. It was the perfect match. Together they had three adoring sons. She used to lead the life that befitted a Princess. She was a good wife and mother. She helped out other mothers and Village damsels with all their problems.

This wonderful life went on until the day her youngest son got his first pubic hair and was considered old enough to take part in the Village raids. She was around 32 years old then, still beautiful and still the envy of many other women. Her brother-in-law became their next Village Chief after her father-in-law stepped down due to a ripening age. After a long discussion with the Village Council, her brother-in-law decided to conduct a raid at Tawia’s Village. It was a risky decision which nobody undertook before, but if they succeeded, it could pay off very well. So on that fateful day, she said goodbye to her husband and three sons, not knowing that it would be the last time she would ever see them again.

Five suns and moons later, the loud Village gong woke up everybody, signaling the return of the warriors. It was around dawn and there was still a sea of mist surrounding the plush hill-side on where their Village was situated. She rushed out of her room to welcome back the raiding party. She had spent five sleepless nights, worried about the lives of her husband and three sons. Finally, the moment she dreaded the most had arrived. Would she see them again or would she be haunted with those nightmares for the rest of her life?

She saw the warriors entering the village one by one. None of them were happy; none of them rejoiced; none of them even smiled on seeing their family again. Slowly everything started spinning and becoming hazy for her. With trembling hands she counted the Village warriors who returned. More than a 100 of them had left for the raid, now she counted just thirty returning. She fell on the floor as she could not find her husband or any of her three sons in the group. Even before one of the warriors who slowly approached her spoke, she already knew what he was going to say. She looked up at him and all she could see were his lips move. Nothing was audible. Everything around her had become more and more blurry until darkness completely embraced her.

She woke up on her bed surrounded by a few of the Village women and elders. Once again, she realized her nightmare had come true. The pain of losing her husband and three sons was so hard that she could not even cry. She just stared into blank space as the other women tried to console her and prevent her from slipping into insanity. She could not even feel their sympathies.

That night, she packed all her belongings quietly and left the Village. It was a dead Village. Nobody sang songs like other nights. The sounds of insects chirping seemed to flood the entire Village. She didn’t look back even once as she left the place where she was once so happy. The only people who saw her leave that night were the two Village lookouts, who didn’t know what to say to her. Nothing they said could have ever made things right for her. She had just lost her all. They just let her walk because anything they said would make things harder for her.

Under the pale light of the moon, she kept on walking mindlessly. Through thick overgrown forests and thorny slopes. Past one hill. Past another. Finally she reached her destination. It was a small hut that she and her husband had built a long time ago. It was the hut where they had spent their first night as a married couple. It was only when she reached the hut that she finally cried. She cried her heart out. She cried for the next two days.

Some of the Village youth who were looking for her, came to her hut relieved to find her there and asked her to come back. She said no. The next day, the Village priest came with the same youths and told her she must perform the three months long ritual for her dead husband. She couldn’t care less. With that, she was ex-communicated from the Village community and she was now truly on her own.

Eventually, she recovered from her shock after a couple of days. She had not eaten at all and her face, which was once beautiful, was now just a shade of boney cheekbones and pale white skin. She made spears from the pines around the hut to protect herself from any danger. She lived on roots and vegetables growing nearby. She fetched water from a nearby mountain creek. She started setting traps for wild animals around her home. Slowly, she started getting used to the life there at the little hut on the brae. Once a month, some of the people from the Village would take a day off from their work in the Village and visit her, bringing her fruits, rice, clothes and shawls. But when they asked her to come back, nothing could change her mind. Very soon, her visitors stopped asking and visited her just to bring her new supplies. And after sometime, the frequency in which people would visit her started reducing, until they stopped.

To her, this was her World now. Hardly a year after she started living a solitude life, warriors from the neighboring Village raided her Village. It was not just a raid but an invasion, because they knew that the Village was not as strong as it used to be after that disaster at Tawia’s Village. The few remaining survivors of that invasion became slaves for the new Chief, who was the youngest son of the neighboring Village’s Chief. From the slaves, he had heard stories about the woman who lived alone in a hut two hills away from the Village. A week after he overtook the Village, the new Chief went with his warriors to see the woman.

He was impressed at her courage to live all alone in the wilderness and at the same time filled with sympathy for her enormous loss. He asked her to come back to the Village with him, even promising her that she would not be treated as a slave under his Chieftainship. She looked at him and cried. Her oldest son would have been exactly his age if he was alive. Calling him her son, she told him that she would not be able to bear the pain of being reminded of all the wonderful memory she once had in that Village. The new Chief understood and persuaded her no further. Soon he left her as she was, with five spears and his own personal dagger for her to use incase the need ever arose. He even promised that he would send someone to her hut once every full moon just to check up with her.

Life went on for her. Years went by, and soon she became a legend. Her fame traveled near and far. She was now approaching 80. Her body started to hurt more easily and there was a deep strange pain within her chest. But still she did her daily rituals with the same ease and intensity. She now had hens and chickens, a small farm the size of her hut where she grew vegetables like cabbages and lady’s fingers, and a cow. Every month, a small sack of rice was sent from the Village to her hut. People stopped talking to her because she never spoke to them. The Village volunteers usually leave the sack of rice at her doorstep without even acknowledging if she was there or not.

Nobody ever talked to her, until two days ago, when a warrior from the Village came to inform her that warriors from Tawia’s village were coming to this side of the land with the biggest raiding party people had ever seen, around a thousand young warriors. It was obvious that they were planning to raid atleast ten villages with that strength. He asked her to kindly come back to the Village for protection as Tawia was known for not showing any mercy to anyone.

She only shook her head, knowing that her time was going to come soon anyway and that she was not afraid of death, just like the way she never was ever since she left that Village. The warrior shook his head and went back to the village with a look of pity in his eyes.

Now, as she stood on the top of the hill all alone watching the massacre in the Village, she felt a deep pain within her. It was not just an emotional pain. Her chest was starting to hurt badly again. She fell on the ground clutching her chest. Somehow she managed to crawl back to her hut with all her remaining strength and got into bed. She could feel life slowly being squeezed out of her. Yet she was not afraid of dying. She smiled and welcomed death with open arms. Outside her hut, there was a commotion. The sounds of warriors ready to kill anything that came in their way. From the sound of it, there were many of them outside. With one last attempt, she opened her eyes to make out the blurry figure of a man entering her hut, a sword in one hand and a spear in the other. She laughed. And with that she breathed her last.

The warrior who had just entered the hut was the Commander of the large raiding party from Tawia’s village. He had heard tales about the brave old woman who lived all alone by herself because of something she had lost. He wanted to see the woman with his own eyes and maybe persuade her to come back to his Village where she would be treated with the highest honors. But fortune be damned, she was already dead when he saw her. He was certain she was still alive as he entered her hut, but the body infront of him was now a lifeless one.

He pitied her for living the life of an outcast. He understood how it was like to be an outcast. He too was an outcast once. He was captured during a failed raid at Tawia’s Village, which took place such a long time ago that he could barely remember anything. But later, he proved his loyalty and bravery to Chief Tawia inspite of the fact that he was not one of Tawia’s people. Soon, he became the apple of Tawia’s eyes and he was promoted to lead his own raiding party. He really wanted to bring back this old lady back to Tawia’s village because he knew how it was like to lose someone. He had watched his own father and two elder brothers die infront of him on his very first raid that lead to his capture, and later he learnt from his captors that his mother back at his Village was killed from a raid by the neighboring village Chief’s son. He missed his family a lot especially his mother, and now looking at the lifeless body of the old woman who lived all alone at the little hut on the brae, he suddenly felt a great closeness to her. He cried.


Anonymous said...

Nice introspective piece. I've noticed you getting increasingly interested in your Mizo roots. Kudos.

Mizohican said...

Thanx J :-)

Was just trying my hand at a different type of writing.

by the way, how come u commenting as anonymous? Can't login to your blogger account? hehehe. See I told you thats what happen when you try to change the template on your own... :-)

Almostunreal said...

wow..beautiful..rally interesting..almost bring me to tears :P

Mizohican said...

It was supposed to :P

Anonymous said...

I like being anonymous :)

I was going to bawl you out for what I initially thought was an inconsistency in your depiction of Mizo in widows being cast aside and as badly neglected as you say here, but I've realised that you're right. Widows, especially in pre-Christian Mizo society, were social pariahs, and being a widow's son was the definitive in social degradation. You've done your homework well, congrats.

Just wanted to point out that when writing fiction based on fact, you need to be very well grounded on reality. There was this lady who wrote a book that was partly based on a Thomas Hardy novel and adapted to Mizo situations, and she made the fatal mistake of including a scene where the protagonist was raped by a stranger right by her father's dead body. It wasn't sth done in Mizo society was the unbelieving reaction of most discerning readers, and for a moment I'd thought you'd made a similar booboo. Glad to see I was wrong. Keep up the research. It'll get you places.

Jerusha said...

mmm beautiful! am impressed, very Mizo-ish, and that too coming from someone who can't even speak Mizo properly! :D Just wondering, what was that bit about 'first pubic' hair all about?? I've never heard of that before..

Anonymous said...

while reading it, i cudn't help picturing the scenes, the huts, the greenery, the hills and the morning mist in the winter.... it makes me wanna go back in time...

Nicely done...


Mizohican said...

@ J: Thanx a lot J :-) Gone are the days when I would write about something blindly without confirming the facts first. Especially at this internet age where our World is nothing but a Global Village, everyone should be really careful on what they publish on the net.

Mizohican said...

@ Sundancer: Haha!!! You speak worse mizo than me, so shut up :-P

Yeah, the part about the pubic hair is very interesting. Even I never knew about it, but it seems that is how things were in our old culture before the Christian missionaries came to Mizoram. They would pluck out a boy's pubic hair and if that can coil around a certain bamboo, then he is considered a Man.

Plz read Pu Sangkima's book "An essay on teh history of the Mizos". It's very enlightening. Especially for someone like you :-)

Mizohican said...

@ Joykim: Thanx :-) Yeah, it does make me feel a bit homesick too...

Mizohican said...

Thanx Steve :-)

Anonymous said...

Very good piece of work. I like the way it kind of completes a circle, the lost and 'presumably dead' son comes back on the deathbed of his mother...
Writing stories is definitely one of your plus points.