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Monday, November 05, 2007

Chp 153. In search of Hmar Identity – A critique.

This Saturday was a good experience for me. I went to the Book release function held at JNU Campus by Prof Lal Dena in memory of his son, the late Isaac L.Hmar.

I still remember that fateful night writing down my personal obituary for Isaac when I heard about his sad demise. Since then, I’ve been in regular contact with his sister settling in France - Linda Haas.

I never knew Isaac personally, but I used to read a lot of his online articles and we even took part in a couple of good discussions together during the good ol’ days of 2004-05. His death dealt a heavy blow to his family, the entire Hmar community, and his ardent fans --- people like me.

Hence it was only natural and obligatory of me to make sure I do not miss the function that was held in his memory, especially when Linda herself called me up personally a couple of times to make sure I was there.

It was a book release function - “In search of Identity: Hmars of North-east India”. I confess I was dreading to go to the function till the very last minute because all my close friends who speak Mizo (duhlian dialect) were either busy with work or at the DMZP Sports function held at that same time. Fortunately, in the eleventh hour, my good friend Tawia (Zorema)’s work got cancelled and he was free to accompany me to JNU.

So I stepped inside JNU for the first time in my life. The sheer size alone was quite impressive. The various ongoing processions and demonstrations held by various Student Political organizations were even more impressive. Back in South India, any such activities usually result in a suspension of the entire Student Union leaders or “black-listing” the particular students involved in the strike, or both. I have heard many stories about how powerful the Student Union is in the North, but this was the first time I was actually seeing it with my own eyes.

Through the midst of different crowds shouting “zindabaad” and “murdabaad”, we finally reached our destination: SSS-1 auditorium. Tawia introduced me to Mr.David Buhril, a man whose writing I truly admire. Tawia spent the next few minutes telling me the who’s who of all the prominent people who came that day – Prof Lal Dena, Pu L.Keivom, his wife, David’s brother, Hmar singers, Hmar millionaire, JNU professors etc etc. I was sure glad it was Tawia I went with that day.

Finally Linda stepped in and recognized me immediately. She was much taller than I expected. Also met Lal for the first time. Very nice people indeed, I felt very much at home in spite of everybody talking in hmar, a language that I do not understand.

Now time for some critiques. This is by no means any kind of unconstructive criticisms, but simply rather a review of the entire function. First of all, I was quite disappointed in the way Mr. David Buhril conducted the entire program. I found it a tad wee “mechanical”… there were barely any emotions in the way he conducted the entire proceedings. It was like living in a robotic age, if you know what I mean. David Buhril, a truly prominent writer from the NE and one of my role models and inspirations, suddenly somehow doesn’t fit the role of my ideal MC. But other than that, I still admire him for his writings.

My other criticism would be the language factor. I criticized my own community before too, back in Bangalore during the MSA (Bangalore Mizo Students Association) Chapchar Kut Nite (Mizo Nite). When we invite people of different ethnicities who speak different languages to our functions promising them that the medium used would be English, it would be best in everyone’s interest to stick to that promise.

At that Bangalore Mizo Nite function, I proudly took 12 of my non-Mizo friends to the function when my Mizo friends told me that everything would be in English. The Organization office-bearers were happy because 13 people meant 13x300 bucks = 3900 bucks. But during the function, the Chief Guest and the other speakers all spoke for hours in Mizo, making it really uncomfortable for those who don’t understand Mizo. I was extremely embarrassed too. Ok fine, it is “Mizo Nite” and they want the function to be in Mizo. Fine. But why lie to us by saying it would be in English so that we would invite our non-Mizo friends? Had my friends known it was going to be in Mizo, none of them would have come in the first place and “wasted” 3900 rupees just to listen to a language they don’t understand.

We left halfway through the function. My non-Mizo friends were polite enough not to criticize the event in front of me, but I could feel it from their tone about how they really felt… the same way I wouldn’t walk into a Marathi-medium function or a Telegu-medium function in the first place, unless it was really necessary to go. Sure everybody has the right to conduct their own function in their own mother tongue, but at least there should be a certain amount of courtesy to inform the guests who speak different languages about the medium beforehand.

Likewise, I was assured earlier that the particular Hmar function would be in English. Apart from it being Isaac's memorial and the book release occasion, I was also really looking forward to the speech by the legendary Pu L.Keivom. Yet, Mr. L.Keivom and all the other speakers (except for one Manipuri Professor) all spoke in Hmar. Lal was extremely nice enough to switch seats in the middle of the speech to sit by my side and translate everything to duhlian dialect for me. You rock, dude.

Of course even if I was told earlier that the function would be in Hmar, I would have still attended, for dear Isaac’s sake. But when I was told that it would be in English and it turned out to be not, a certain element of disappointment took over my mood, which would have never occurred had I known it would be in Hmar from the very beginning.

I found the prayer service conducted by Pastor Lalditsak the most uncomfortable, because I found myself opening my eyes every now and then in the middle of the prayer whenever somebody uttered “amen”, as I had no idea if he finished praying or not…

I really don’t know what’s wrong with me. Many of my friends tell me Mizo (duhlian) and Hmar are very similar. Yet I was struggling to understand the language. I don’t know how my other Mizo friends do it. From a typical 2 minute speech, I could understand just 5-10 percent of it But like I mentioned before, even though I didn’t understand the language, I felt very much at home. The way people smiled at me, greeted me, beckoned me, treated me, the connection, the bonhomie, the fraternity, the understanding, it was all abundant everywhere.

Over all, it was a great function. Linda gave an excellent speech about the book and her late brother. After the function, I immediately bought a copy, which cost a cool 700 bucks. But it was worth it because I ended up getting a personal signature from the author himself, Prof Lal Dena, and another signed autograph from Ms. Linda.

Here is a content of the book “In search of identity – Hmars of North East” by Prof Lal Dena:
Part – I
In Search Of Identity
  1. Introduction
  2. Original Home
  3. Social and Political Institutions
  4. The Status of Mizo (Hmar) women through the ages
  5. The coming of Christianity
  6. Patterns of leadership
  7. Hmar Literature: Its Growth and Development.
  8. Hmars and Indo-Japanese soldiers in Khuga Valley, 1944.
  9. Mizo Integration Movement (1946-1950)
  10. Hmars in Conflict Situations
  11. Search for Identity
Part – II
Problems and Issues
  1. Marginalization of the Hill people
  2. Tribalizism or Detribalization
  3. Tipaimukh High Dam and the question of our survival
  4. AMCO’s peace efforts during the Kuki-Naga conflict, 1992-1994.
  5. Roots of alienation of North East India
I will read the book later when I have more free time, for I would not like to keep the book down once I start reading it. As of now, I cannot afford to do that. Meanwhile my friend “Pu Hruaia from Hyderabad University has asked me to get a copy of the book for him. Author of articles such as “Duhlian: Marker of Mizo Identity” and “Revealing the Marginalization of North-East”, it would be interesting to read his review and perspective on this prolific book.

I will end this post with a sweet poem by Linda, posted at as a tribute to her beloved brother Isaac L.Hmar:
Pay Tribute to Loved Ones
- Linda Mawi Haas, November 30, 2006

If you want to make me happy,
Don’t say a word against my loved one.
If you want to please me,
See that his memory is respected.

Go there and pay a tribute,
It’s just a tiny place, where our world collapse,
That’s where my beloved lies;
Tell him of the latest news, of your life,
And tell him that I love and miss him.

If you want my tears to stop,
Let us unite in solidarity against evil,
So innocents blood will shed no more;
Let us honour the memories of innocence.

If you don’t want to hurt me,
Say no more, your words are like knive cuts.
I don’t want empty false words,
I’d rather bear this pain alone.

Let’s pay tribute to our loved ones,
Whose lives were drastically taken away,
Whose hopes and future crushed by evil;
Leaving behind many hearts that still weeps.

So if you happen to pass by,
By my beloved’s mortal resting place,
Scatter few flowers;
And remember his humours and smiles.

Sleep well, Isaac.


claytonia vices said...

Atleast distributing translated copies of the speeches could have helped IMHO. I do not know if it is practical but I do believe speeches are usually written well beforehand...

Philo said...

Going by the table of contents, the structure of argumentation was a little too predictable. Im hoping the content is a little more refreshing. Just a preliminary thought and hoped to be proven wrong.

Jerusha said...

Sounds like it's something I should read. Trawngtrai lai a men chu, I've done that too several times. I'm a Hmar, and I don't understand a word of it. I've always been told that it's kind of similar and my friends have always been able to at least understand it, rel theih loh tawk tur talin :). They can 'rel' me to shreds and I wouldn't know, a in an na ka man thei lo.

And that's so typical Mizo/Mizo-related behaviour - yapping away in our own dialects not giving thought to how that might make people who don't speak it uncomfortable.

Mizohican said...

@ claytonia: Yes they are, but only at those really formal functions :) The function I went to was more like a small community thingie function so Pu Keivom spoke his heart out without reading from anything. I just wish I could understand all that he said :-(

@ Philo: I will let you know if it is predictable or not once I go through it :) Also keep track of Hruaia who is also planning to write a review on the book.

@ Jerusha: Many of my Hmar friends in Chaltlang are also like that. They are completely clueless when it comes to Hmar language. I guess for us Chaltlang-ites, everybody have assimilated with the duhlian group.

For example, my mother's family comes from one of those long lines of Chaltlang "Paite Lal" clan. Yet none of them can understand or speak Paite.

I know what you mean about us Mizos impolitely speaking in our own language in the presence of those who don't understand Mizo. I have experienced that a lot too :) But I guess I am fortunate enough to have close Mizo friends who understand this and always speak in English in the presence of my non-Mizo friends.

Shahnaz Kimi said...

Sounds interesting...hope Lal will present me the book...ha ha ha..On a serious note, is a group divide on HNAM gettting a bigger issue among the Mizos? I am beginning to notice the race issues more and more in many articles I am coming across these days.....

PS:Greetings from San Diego, California

Awzzman said...

heheh,a nia sin Hmar trawng hi Duhlian(mizo)trawng nen a in ang viau na chu ka ti hlei thei bik tlats lo nia.Pu Dena hi an in a leng pawh`in lehkha bu min chhiar san daih zel mo le..hehehe.

Anonymous said...

Hmar ruh tak mai nisi in, Mizo hnehtum hemi te group hi an fel thei phian.

Mizo ah ka chianga kaduh tawk hle

remsang said...

Nice post sandman. Sure felt sorry for your disappointment on not following the followings. However, I must say that expecting the proceedings to be in english is a little far-fetched. Be it in NE, Delhi or even abroad, we cling to our zo-tongues which in other ways is not bad.

The above event was a book release by a group of Hmar family on Hmar history. Would it do justice to the book, the community? It would have been safer to expect not more than 50% english in it since it was apparent that it was not your first experience of being invited to an ' in english zohnathlak event'.

Lastly, duhliand & hmar 'in an na' cannot be disputed because they are one. For a first timer to the dialect, you need an attentive listener and an articulated speaker.

Mizohican said...

Dear shahnaz: I guess as we grow bigger and bigger, we look for ways to be grouped. I believe thats a natural phenomena. Hence, the issue of Hnam getting bigger and bigger :) Hope everything is fine there in CA. Have a blast, ka pi. And lemme know when you will be down in Delhi.

@ awzzman: Pu Dena in a leng turin ka thianpa Tawian min arrange sak dawn a, ka kawm chak tawh khawp mai :)

@ anonymous: Han sawi chiang leh lawks te i sawi tum ber hi. Tlem a detail deuh a i sawi theih chuan a lawmawm viau ang. Thanx.

@ Remsang: I know, Remsang, I was not expecting it to be in English, except that I was assured by one of the organizers that it would be in English, thats why I was disappointed. But as I mentioned, I would have gone anyway for Isaac's sake even if I was told it would be in Hmar.

About getting used to the "similarity" between hmar and duhlian as you mentioned, I hope to get used to it one of these days. I am always ready to learn.

Anonymous said...

Hi Kima, it's always enriching to read your posts. However, this time I came to this particular post via this blog post ( which is quite strange.

Regarding 'Hnam' thing getting bigger by the day as Shanaz has questioned, I feel that the problem lies with the definition of Mizo itself. Let's hope we find a way soon to overcome this.

The book sounds interesting, but I wonder why it is so costly!

I agree with you on the language they'd used considering the audience. Perhaps the ones who need to hear are those who do not speak the language. This has been the problem with many of us in the Northeast. This limits us to our own people only at times.

Lastly, I pray that God will give us the void created by someone like Isaac. He was such a precious jewel for our people.

Belated Merry Christmas and a blessed New Year from San Francisco, CA.

(Thanks for allowing some of us to post comments without having to login at blogger).

Mizohican said...

Dear Bei,

Thank you for commenting. Yes I know about that weird link! Just this morning, I received it on my Google Alerts, and I immediately asked my two friends Ben ( Admin) and Jimmy ( Admin) about it. That is indeed a very funny link :)

I of course allow anonymous comments, but I have activated comment moderation due to the high number of racial and religious abuses I used to get. I still get those every now and then :)

Do keep visiting, and here is wishing you a merry Xmas. And oh, I visit regularly too. The site rocks.