Photobucket had recently changed their policy and now all the images from my 650+ blog posts are disabled. I am slowly editing them by moving my images to my own server at AWS, but it will take time. In case there is a particular old post you want to see the images of, kindly drop me a mail at mizohican@gmail.com and I'll keep that at a high priority. Thank you.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Chp 817. Zero CoVid-19 case Mizoram


Today's weather in Aizawl is chilly, windy, wet and gloomy. Mizoram has been getting some parts of Super Cyclone Amphan that devastated Eastern India and Bangladesh for the past few days now. Fortunately, the damage so far isn't as bad as those regions facing the brunt of the cyclone.

Also, as of this morning, according to the official Indian CoVid19 website, Mizoram is now the ONLY Indian state with no active CoVid-19 case!



I see a lot of my friends sharing this on their status and expressing their relief. While I appreciate their sense of alleviation, I must admit, I do not share their enthusiasm. Because you need to look at the underlying reason why our neighbouring states like Nagaland, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya, all with zero positive cases in the past few days, suddenly have so many active cases now.

It's not that they were careless or negligent. These states were also as vigilant as us, but their positive cases came from their recent returnees. Yes, with the operation of buses and special Shramik trains, stranded migrants from different parts of India are returning to their respective home states. And with them, came the inevitable CoVid-19.

Mizoram too has been seeing almost 1000+ Mizos returning daily at Bairabi Train station and Vairengte check-gate. At this stage, there are only three possible reasons why Mizoram still doesn't have any new CoVid-19 case:

Reason #1. All the returning Mizos had been extremely careful and taking utmost care of themselves to guarantee that they were not infected by the virus.

Reason #2. They were extremely lucky not to contract the virus from their point of origin, as well as on their journey home too.

Reason #3. We have faulty testing kits in Mizoram.

I wish it is because of Reason #1, but we got to be a little bit more practical and I think Reason #2 seems to be the most rational option, while I hope and pray to God it is not because of Reason #3!

And that is why I feel the fact that we are currently a Zero positive case State should by no means be a cause for celebration. It is still too early to let our guard down. A lot of our Mizo brothers and sisters are still returning to our beloved homeland, and we should be prepared to accept the worst, both physically and mentally.

I added the word "mentally" above because we need to prepare our minds to a possible scenario of mass infection that should not cloud our judgment with hate or scorn upon those who are returning home. We have our Quarantine centres and frontline medical warriors to handle those cases. Let not the worst moments bring out the worst in us.

We still have a long battle ahead in this fight against CoVid-19, and meanwhile, the best we can do for now is to welcome back our people with loving and open arms, not literally though, and convey to them the assurance and sanctuary that they so desire.

These are the reasons why we should continue to be ever vigilant, and these are also the reasons why I will not share this jubilation of being a Zero positive case State, yet. Not to sound clich├ęd, but this is our "calm before the storm" moment.

I'm sorry if I'm being such a Donnie Downer this morning, maybe it's because of the weather. Like I said, today's weather in Aizawl is chilly, windy, wet and gloomy.



Thursday, May 21, 2020

Chp 816. Journey to School


While I was writing my previous blog update - The Long Train Home about Chennai Mizo Welfare Association (CMWA) sending home a train full of Mizos back to Mizoram, I felt nostalgic about the good old days when we too used to travel by train on that same Kolkata - Chennai railways track.

However, I didn't want to dilute the content of that post with my personal experiences, especially since the CMWA had done such an outstanding and commendable job. And so here is a separate post on some of our "train experiences" with my school seniors :)


I did my schooling at Montfort, Yercaud, Tamil Nadu, from 1993 to '99.

It was a popular destination for Mizo students back then because the institution was run by the same branch of Catholic Brothers who also ran St. Paul's High School in Aizawl, Mizoram. And so, every year, there would be around 7-10 new Mizo students joining at class 11 in Montfort, since St. Paul's didn't have class 11 and 12 yet back then.


It felt good to have quite a sizeable number of Mizo students every year as it took away some of our homesickness and loneliness. However, there were only just a handful of us Mizo students at the lower level classes.

Back then, one of the things I used to dread the most was going back to school after coming home to Mizoram for a brief vacation. It wasn't much of the being at school part or the missing my family part that I hated, what I really hated was the journey between school and home.

Yup, travelling between Tamil Nadu and Mizoram was a harrowing experience, because those days, air travel was out of the question as it was a luxury most of us couldn't afford. Only the uber rich schoolmates and children of politicians used to travel by air back then. Hence, for the rest of us plebeians, we had to endure that long-ass bumpy ride on a passenger train for many days and nights.

Back then, Chennai was still Madras, and Kolkata was still Calcutta. Most of us would catch a train to Madras from Howrah station, Calcutta.

[image source: iamrenew.com]

Ah I can still smell that musty, humid, suffocating odour of Howrah railway station, the moment we stepped out of the cranky old ambassador taxi near the entrance gate.

It was just us students, with no parental supervision. We always travelled in a group, and my school seniors of class 11 & 12 lead the way.

Sometimes we would hire a coolie, and then we would follow that coolie like a mini-train within the congested railway station in one single file, slithering past the sweltering crowd until we found our platform, and then from there it took us a few more minutes to find our coach.

[image source: telegraph.co.uk]

We usually booked our tickets for "Coromandel Express", as it was the fastest train between Calcutta and Madras back then (maybe now too, I don't know).

There were also times when we didn't get tickets for that train, and so we used to take the "Howrah Mail" instead. Now I don't really remember how much faster "Coromandel Express" was compared to "Howrah Mail" or any other trains for that matter, all I remember was that it was the fastest train in that sector.


The best part about traveling in a group with my seniors was that we used to occupy an entire compartment or two by ourselves, and so we could sleep or sit anywhere we wanted. Once we had placed all our luggage beneath the lower berths and on the upper berths, being the youngest, I was always put on guard duty to sit inside our compartment and guard our luggage, while my seniors stepped outside on the platform to buy water bottles, snacks, magazines etc.

And soon, the Loco Pilot, which is what a train driver is known as here in India, blew a whistle and waved a flag, and the train slowly started moving out of Howrah Station. Chug, chug, chug, chug…


Looking back at all that, I can't help but wonder how much confidence we used to have in each other! Because when the train started moving, there were always members of our group missing. But none of us used to get worried or concerned about them, and soon enough, those missing members would turn up, talking about how they managed to jump into one of the coaches at the end of the moving train and then walked all the way to our coach.

I mean, if it was today, we would be frantically trying to call them up, or sending them WhatsApp messages in bold letters, "WHERE THE EFF ARE YOU, THE TRAIN HAS STARTED MOVING!!!" Right? :D Ah those good old, carefree days. :)

Everybody was just expected to be responsible by themselves, nobody was looking out for a particular person to see if he made it to the train or not.

Once the train started moving, there wasn't pretty much anything to do except stare outside the window at the monotonous landscape changing in similar patterns over and over again.


I mean, the Howrah-Chennai route was a pretty boring route; there weren't any mountainous scenery or sea view or romantic bridges or anything like that to pique our interests.

We also didn't take many photos at all, and this pic is apparently the only photo I have of us travelling inside a train from my old photo album collection.


The reason is because, back then it was expensive to own a camera. It wasn't just the cost of the camera but the various expenditures incurred in purchasing new roll-films and developing them and printing copies etc., that made it a luxurious device, whereas today, any Tom, Dick and Harry carries a 16 MP phone camera with +64 GB storage space to click unlimited photos and videos.

One of my favorite pastimes was to stand by the door next to the toilets and feel the speeding air hit my face and body, while gripping the handle tightly so I don't fall out. :P

[image source: telegraph.co.uk]

Other than that, I usually spent my time lying on the upper berth and reading a Sidney Sheldon or Robin Cook novel, as I didn't quite fit in with the conversations of my seniors. I ended up reading a lot of novels on those train journeys because we didn't have mobile phones back then to chat with friends or play games.

In fact, this was the only hand-held "console" we had back then :D


Believe me, it takes a lot of skills and patience to play this game! In fact, guys who had played this game are known to be great husband material because of their ability to understand and bear their wife's naggings and complaints! :P

And then of course we had those "Walkmans" to entertain and quench our musical thirst. Though the name walkman specifically referred to the portable music device manufactured by Sony, pretty much like "Xerox" or "Band-aid", the name "Walkman" became a common noun.


And all walkmans would be incomplete without the accompanying Reynolds pen!


Yup, Gen Z won't understand the meaning of the two combination above :D. Back then, we had to conserve the AA batteries running our walkmans (because they were expensive), and so if we wanted to rewind or fast-forward our cassette to a particular song, we used a Reynolds pen instead, as it fits perfectly inside the cassette reel, and then we would wind it manually, hence saving up on battery life :D

Back then, people would treat you like Royalty if you happened to own a "special" walkman, for example, a walkman with TWO earphone jacks, or one that rewinds or fast-forwards to the next song automatically. Man, those were extremely innovative inventions back then :D

Another favorite pastime was to indulge in playing cards, and since we had the entire compartment to ourselves, my seniors would play various card games (dawl inchuh, dost patti, rummy etc) right there itself. We never played for money, but instead, the losers had to drink a jug of water, lolz. Yes, people who lost frequently had to pee all the time. :D

So that was how most of us would spend our time in the train, as our body grew accustomed to the never ending shaking and jerking of the train wagons. There were a couple of stops we used to look forward to on the Howrah-Chennai route.


Kharagpur - They served the BEST alu-puri I have ever tasted :) And since the train used to stop for a long time on this station, having their alu-puri from the many vendors on the platform is a must. Also, it felt great to walk on the longest platform in the world and boast to our friends about it! It was only many years later that I found out the longest platform in the world is actually Gorakhpur in UP, not Kharagpur, lolzzz. All those years of false glory and pride! :D

Vishakapatnam - This was where the train engine head was changed and we started moving in the opposite direction. Every time, we would fool the first time travellers among us (those who joined in class 11) that we were heading back to Howrah, just to see their expression and shock :D

Vijayawada - We usually stopped here for a long time too, and all I remember was that it had a very industrial structure, with factories and smoke coming out from the surrounding chimneys etc.

And in between these stops, there were also certain places where a group of transgender used to enter our coach, clapping and singing while demanding money. I used to be terrified of them because they wouldn't leave you alone until you gave them money, and if you ignored them, they would harass you and even grab your private parts! Man, thinking about that now, that was actually not just a form of sexual abuse but even child abuse, as we were all juveniles back then.

Waking up to the sound of tea and coffee vendors shouting "Chai chaiii, kaafi kaaafi" was a pleasant experience. Nothing felt better than a strong cup of hot coffee after a sleepless night of rocking back and forth, especially when you finally managed to fall asleep, only to be woken up rudely by the loud rattling noise of the train running over a bridge, lolz.

Yup, coffee was a welcoming sight indeed. But opening the window to enjoy the morning view wasn't, because there would be scores of people lining up outside along the railway tracks taking a dump! Some of them would even grin and wave at us while they squatted, lolz.

In the midst of enduring this long, monotonous, noisy, uncomfortable journey with unbearably hot and humid climate in a second class sleeper coach, at least the fun part was that we were in one group. Sometimes it would be even more fun when other Mizo students studying in Kodaikanal Public School, St. Peters Hr Sec School, Kotagiri Public School, etc., were in the same train. :)

But there were times too when it wasn't possible to book tickets together due to different reopening dates, like when Stephen and I were in class 9, it was our seniors James and Franklin who chaperoned the two of us all the way from Aizawl to Yercaud. We stayed for a night in a hotel in Chennai. Oh we were so cool back then :D :P

 

We even found the time to quickly chill at Marina beach in Chennai before catching our connecting train to Salem.


So yeah, once we reached Chennai, it was another 7-8 hours or so train journey from Madras Central to Salem junction. We would usually take a short break and book a room at one of the hotels opposite Madras Central to regain our strength.

Since we weren't staying for the night, the hotel owners usually allowed all of us to book just one room. There were usually around 10-15 of us Montfort boys including a few girls from our adjoining girl's school Sacred Heart Convent, Yercaud (SHY) like Dorothy, Maria Grace, Joy, Becky, Christina etc. Maria Grace and Joy were infamous for drinking toilet water, as they reminded our "Yercaud Mizo" WhatsApp group about that many times :D :P

From Chennai, we would usually take the "Kovai Express" as it stopped at Salem junction for the longest duration. It was a "Chair Car" train.

Below is a picture of Salem junction when I was in class 10, where my seniors Hruaitluanga, Margaret Khuma, Mildred and I were trying to figure out how to transport our luggage to the opposite platform because there was a long freight train blocking our path, lolz.


We eventually passed our luggage one by one between the carriages to the other side. Here is Hruaitluanga Ralte and me posing with our coolie (who was reeking of alcohol by the way). I was so extra even back then :P


From Salem Junction, it was another hour's drive by taxi, climbing up the winding Shevaroy Hills with 20+ hairpin bends and precarious cliffs. Your body better be accustomed to the quick change in climate as that meant moving from a hot and humid Salem which lies at 300 metres above sea level to a really cold and frigid Yercaud at 1500 metres above sea level!

Before entering our school, we would usually chill one last time at the restaurants nearby, as once we were inside, we weren't allowed to leave the campus. Hotel Murugabhavan was one of our favorite restaurants, and their "Kothu Parotta" was to die for!


And so that was our long journey from home to school, and believe me, it was extremely tiring! In a way, it really made us look forward to reaching school as quick as possible, lolz.

The most memorable travel experience I had between Howrah and Chennai was when I was in class 12. I was finally one of the "seniors" leading the other juniors back to campus, so I was no longer the designated luggage guard :D :P

It was fun because I was with my Mizo batch-mates (who joined in 11th standard) and we all stayed in Mizoram House, Salt Lake, for the night.


What made that journey even more precious was that our dear friend Francis Lalhrilhtluanga was still with us then. Oh those happy times! :(


Even though the journey between school and home was terrible, at least doing it in a group with friends and seniors was a silver lining.

Today's generation is really fortunate because the price of air travel is quite affordable now and there are so many Mizo students going back to their hostels in South India or North India on a direct flight in a matter of hours. I just feel a bit sad though that they would never experience what we did as kids, as those were memorable moments and they gave us something to talk about even till today. :)

So adios for now, my friends, hope you find this short train journal experience of mine interesting, and let me know if you too had experienced anything like this when you were little in the comment section below. I'll see you again in my next blog update.

Cheers.


Friday, May 15, 2020

Chp 815. The Long Train Home


Today is Day 52 of a Lockdown in India, and Day 55 of a Lockdown in Mizoram.

With Mizoram now currently a CoVid-19 free state, our borders have started opening again for Mizos outside the state to come home to their families. Various groups of Mizos, mostly students and migrant workers, have been returning to Mizoram in busloads almost every day, straight to the designated Government Quarantine Centres.

In fact, just this morning, a 1000-strong contingent of Mizos arrived at Bairabi train station in Mizoram from Chennai, Tamil Nadu.



The Chennai Mizo Welfare Association (CMWA) had been exemplary in their work since the beginning of this lockdown. The organization was all over the news when they managed to arrange an ambulance to transport the remains of a fellow Mizo who had passed away in Chennai, all the way to Aizawl.

And these are just some of the news you might have read about on social media. There had been many other instances where their work had gone unnoticed, like how they would donate large sums of money to various charity organizations in Mizoram every year, or how they immediately got involved when random Northeastern people were detained by the police to prevent "Tibetans from protesting against the visiting Chinese Premier", thus ensuring their immediate release.

In fact, I feel the word "Chennai" in CMWA is a misnomer because they have been taking care of not just Mizos in Chennai but all across Tamil Nadu as well.

And all this is possible because of their great leaderships. CMWA leaders like Avena Renthlei, Lalmalsawma Pachuau, Lalnuntluanga Colney, Michael and his brother Gabriel, and many other Mizos from Chennai have been working around the clock to ensure that all Mizos are taken care of.



All images below are from Gabriel, Michael and Avena.

Malsawma, Tluanga Colney and Avena had many meetings with different nodal officers and various corporations to arrange transportations and manpower, and as a result, around 50 buses were provided by the Tamil Nadu Government not just within Chennai but across Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry to transport Mizos to Chennai Central, the main railway station in Chennai. Avena also added that numerous cabs were also hired for those who couldn't be picked up by buses.









Mind you, the process of sending back people to Mizoram is not an easy task. Right from the beginning, various CMWA leaders like Tluanga Colney and others had been collecting the list of names through a portal created by Malsawma, and sending them to Mizoram and back and forth and so on.

And of course many of the forms were filled incorrectly and could not be verified, and so they spent a lot of time speaking to such people in person and correcting their forms as well. In fact, Tluanga Colney even went the extra mile of helping the Sikkimese people with their list! :)

There was proper large-scale planning and coordination done in advance, like what time Mizos from so and so location were to be picked up by so and so bus, and people waited obediently on those given time & location.





This applied to not just Mizos within Chennai, but across various cities in Tamil Nadu like Salem and Coimbatore (my two alma maters!), Kanyakumari, Rameswaram, Nilgiris, Madurai, Tirunelveli, etc., including Pondicherry as well. A big thanks to all the DCs of all these districts too for ensuring a hassle free travel to Chennai.





According to Avena, Tluanga Colney literally stayed at the corporation offices while all this was taking place to ensure that things were going smoothly according to plan.

Sir Avena in action.



Gabby coordinating the incoming crowd.



And so, people lined up to enter Chennai Central…



As you can see from the above three images, daytime quickly changed to night while the people were still standing in a queue. This was because there was a medical screening done for every passenger before they could enter Chennai Central. However, taking photos were strictly prohibited at that section. All registered Mizos for the journey were also screened at Government hospitals on the previous day as well, and according to Michael, nobody failed the screening.

Chennai Central was quite deserted except for a small police presence.





Even the Chennai police were amazed at the amount of discipline Mizo passengers displayed. There was absolutely no need for the police to get involved as everybody politely formed a queue. There was no pushing or jostling or fighting among any of the passengers like you might have seen elsewhere on TV or WhatsApp forwards, and this was a new experience for the police.

The line slowly started moving…











There were make-shift counters to record all the tickets, and passengers also had to be grouped as there were also a few passengers bound for Sikkim and Assam.



I've been to Chennai Central many times (read my next blog update on those experiences) even back when it was known as Madras Central, and I have never seen the platforms this empty!



Gabby and other CMWA leaders along with Railways officials were busy directing and redirecting passengers to various coaches.



The person in light blue formal shirt is Shri. Shunchonngam Jatak Chiru, IAS, Commissioner and Secretary Tamil Nadu and the Nodal Officer in charge for all the North East States.





Thiru Avena and Thiru Malsawma overseeing the whole process.



Tluanga Colney (holding the water bottle) in the pic below. By the way, Tluanga Colney is also a fellow blogger and he blogs at miyzone.blogspot.com.



Here are two samples of the train tickets issued. The price printed on the tickets had been completely borne by the Central Government and Tamil Nadu Government! Rombo nandri!





It must be mentioned too that there were a couple of people who had lost their tickets, lolz, yeah, it happens, but thanks to the involvement of Avena and Malsawma, nobody was left behind.

Once everybody was on board, it was time to leave.



Goodbye Chennai Mizos.



Here's the amazing CMWA team that coordinated this whole process. A big shout-out and kudos to them all!



Apart from those mentioned in this post so far, there were a lot of crucial CMWA members who had worked hard to make this successful, like Mamboihi from Siaha, Rintlaka from Champhai, Kaitea from Chanmari West (who even travelled along with the group), Hruaia from Champhai, Mapuii Tochhawng from Chhinga veng, Muanpuii from Ramhlun South, and of course Bena Sailo, my dear senior from Montfort School and PSG Tech. Well done to all these people indeed!

Michael and Gabriel in the pic above are both sons of Pu Lawmsanga, IPS Rtd., who was the Founder and former President of CMWA. He had already done a great deal of work for our Mizo community in the past. From setting up the working model of CMWA to its constitution, it is really good to see his sons following his footsteps and utilizing all the important contacts he still has with different top authorities in Chennai.

I mean, Mike and Gabby had been in Tamil Nadu for so long that they used to correct the locals whenever they made a Tamil grammatical error :P And Avena had been such a stud that even when he was posted in Hosur, all the cops used to fear his name more than they feared the name of Pu HT Sangliana :D :P And as for Malsawma, while all of us were playing basketball back in Montfort School, he used to sit at the side and study, and when we asked him to join us, he would say, "No! One day, I'm going to become an IRS officer and help Mizos in Chennai who are stranded due to CoVid-19". :D

All exaggerations aside, these people are an amazing bunch of leaders and Mizos studying and working in Tamil Nadu are really lucky to have them.

Managing a crowd of this proportion must have been a gargantuan task. There was even this funny viral message of one of the passengers describing about how they all kinda resembled the Exodus of the Tribes of Israel led by Moses from Egypt to the Promised Land, because there were all sorts of people among the crowd, from small children and old folks to pregnant women and adolescent students, carrying all types of luggage from suitcases and jute bags to water canes and even pet dogs and birds! :D

Here are pictures of the famous birds and dogs :D







And with that, the people continued with their journey. Seeing all their happy faces really melted my heart.













Reading about all their experiences and seeing the pictures made me reminiscent of my past too, back when we used to travel by train from Howrah station to Madras Central during our school and college days, but I'll post about that in my next update.

One thing is for sure though, these people will not be experiencing any of the regular "incidents" we used to experience on this same route, like the early morning wake-up call of "chai chai kaafi kaafi" holler from tea and coffee vendors, or the invasion of transgender who would not leave you in peace until you gave them some money :D There wouldn't be any of that because of the lockdown and all other stations on the route were closed.

Michael told me that there was no pantry car on the train either, and instead, the train stopped at designated stations along the way where food packages and water bottles were already placed on the platforms, arranged by the Railways department.

The food was edible, and free of cost.



There were a few minor incidents, like there was no running water after some time in some of the coaches, but a quick call to Avena or Malsawma solved those problems.

The train stopped once at Sikkim and Assam each for the respective passengers to off board, and after that it was straight to Bairabi, Mizoram.

Meanwhile, in Mizoram, Bairabi train station was prepared for their arrival.





Instructions were given to the various bus drivers, conductors, health workers, medical staff and other volunteers on what to do and what not to touch etc.



Multiple counters with medical staff were set up on the platform.







And soon, the train arrived, as people all around cheered and welcomed them.



Once all the passengers were in the buses, people bid farewell to the smiling and cheerful train driver :)



The train reversed, and so some of the people asked if he was going to go in reverse gear all the way back till Chennai again :D Ah, gotta love Mizos.

The buses were also modified so that there was minimum contact between the passengers and the staff.



Soon the convoy was on its way to distribute the passengers to various destinations.



According to officials, the number of passengers were distributed as - Aizawl (346), Champhai (69), Lunglei (50), Serchhip (34), Khawzawl (20), Saitual (37), Siaha (136), Lawngtlai (46), Hnathial (20) and Mamit (82).

Meidum VLTF and DC Kolasib district welcomed them with fresh refreshments.



A heart-warming welcome from Bairabi YMA.



The pic below is the most recent photo I received of the bus convoy entering Aizawl.



They were all driven straight to their designated Quarantine Centres.

Last week, I wrote a short piece on the Govt Quarantine Centres here in Mizoram, about how we seemed to be managing well so far… but now that the volume of incoming returnees has increased multifold, various Church community halls across Mizoram are now being transformed into Quarantine Centres as of tonight.



We are so lucky to have important leaders among our Mizo community who could make this happen. But while we praise them, let us not forget that there are thousands of migrant workers across India who are not as fortunate as us. They had to walk all the way to their home towns across multiple state lines, braving the blistering heat, and suffering and dying not just from hunger and fatigue but even road and train accidents!

Let us continue to keep all of them in our prayers as well.

Now that our Chennai returnees have all safely reached their quarantine destinations, the next step is to ensure that we all take extra precautions, as the chances of infection are higher than before now.

I know some people are skeptical or have mixed opinions about having an influx of new arrivals during a pandemic, but do know that these people are helpless and shit scared too, and the only solace they will find is in Mizoram. Being selfish, is not the Mizo way of life. We never abandon our brethren, especially in times of war. That is how we were and that is how we will always be.

Will end this post for now, so here's to prayers that all things will end up well. Once again, a big thank you to all the CMWA members and their leaders, both the Tamil Nadu and Mizoram state governments along with their respective state Nodal offices for facilitating this journey smoothly, and all the bureaucrats involved in making this happen from the CS and other Central & State service officers right up to the Church authorities, Medical staff and Bus drivers. God bless you all.