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Monday, May 04, 2020

Chp 811. Information system in Mizoram

"The British are coming, the British are coming!" shouted Paul Revere on a horse clutching a lantern as he hurriedly rode across the town of Lexington on that cold night of April 18, 1775, warning all the colonists about the incoming Redcoat army during the American War of Independence.

Except of course, Paul Revere never actually did shout those famous words in public, and his warnings were apparently done in a more discrete fashion. But his actions were highly exaggerated and romanticized in movies and TV shows to depict his heroism and symbolism of rebellion.

This dramatic overemphasis of what Paul Revere did (especially when immortalized in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem) highlighted one fact though, and that is the importance of announcing vital information to the townsfolk.

Even long before the medieval age, town criers or people designated to announce important information to the public had always been an important fabric of society. There were no television, radio or WhatsApp back then, and so the people of a village or town depended on such people to get the latest news and announcements.

Fast forward a couple of hundred years later, and technology has now ruled the market. From Tier-1 cities like Delhi and Mumbai to Class-1 towns like Kalimpong and Tinsukia, a large percentage of the population now get their news and information directly on the palm of their hands, in the form of mobile internet.

In fact there are currently 629.2 million active mobile internet users in India as of 31st March 2020. When most of us can receive and forward news and information in a matter of seconds from our mobile phones, you might think it would be pretty ridiculous and pointless of someone to go around the town or city announcing information to everybody, right? Like, you'd probably peep out from your high-rise apartment window to look at the "madman" shouting in the street below and laugh at him, correct?

Well, in Mizoram, that is still in practice as of today :)

[a sample announcement, on a painting by Pu Tlangrokhuma]

I mean, Mizoram is now much more advanced than in the painting above, and people don't walk around on the streets shouting out important announcements either. Now that would be a funny sight indeed (if you want to see funny town crier moments, watch this animated TV show called "Disenchantment", created by Matt Groening, the same guy who also made "The Simpsons" and "Futurama", and it is super hilarious).

Instead, in Mizoram, all public announcements are made through loudspeakers.

Every locality in Mizoram is governed by the Local Council (political group) along with the YMA (non-political group).  Both the LC and YMA have their own information loudspeakers installed at every section within a locality, and announcements are made by the respective "tlângau", who is the official person designated to make such announcements.

The tlângaupa or tlângaunu, depending on the gender, is what we would call our modern day town crier.

My locality Chaltlang is divided into 6 sections. While our LC tlângau sits at the LC office and has the option to announce at all 6 sections at the same time or just a particular section by simply controlling a switchboard, we have six different YMA tlângau who sit at their respective sections.

All government related information are announced by the LC tlângau, and all YMA related information are announced by the respective YMA section tlângau

Example of LC announcements are the distribution of gas cylinders, rice ration, kerosene etc. for a particular section or for those people with serial numbers from X to Y etc., prohibition of parking vehicles on the road during the night, or the release of pet dogs on the streets without the owner leashing it etc., (as my friend Muantea told me, you'll hear that ting ting ting ting doorbell sound before every LC announcement).

Meanwhile, examples of YMA announcements are: Announcing the sad demise of somebody from the locality, or section related group work like washing blankets and clearing farmlands (the money earned goes to the YMA section), or even emergency call-to-arms announcements, like just last month, our locality YMA suddenly announced over the loudspeakers that all able-bodied men were required to put out a forest fire at a nearby mountain, and every young men rushed out from their houses and hopped into their vehicles to put out the fire immediately!

Imagine if such announcements were made over WhatsApp groups, there would be many people who didn't see the message and hence didn't rush to the venue. But the announcement made over the loudspeakers ensured maximum participation, and the forest fire was extinguished by nightfall.

Religious activities like wedding information, church services etc. are never announced from any of the loudspeakers, probably because there are different denominations and Churches within each locality.

Both the LC and YMA information teams are there for each other. Like for example, in my locality, if a YMA announcement has to be made and one of the loudspeakers isn't working, they simply use the LC speakers, and likewise the LC also uses the YMA speakers if one of their speakers isn't working.

All announcements, whether it is by the LC or YMA, are always made in Mizo, as there are just a handful of non-Mizos living in our locality, and since they don't take part in any YMA activities, there is really no need for them to understand most of the announcements.

But then suddenly, on 21st March 2020, exactly at 6:25 PM, for the first time in history, our Chaltlang locality tlângau made announcements in Mizo, English and Hindi!

I still remember the date and time so well because our childhood gang of friends was immediately talking about it on our WhatsApp group. The announcement was about CoVid-19 and the dangers of it, along with lockdown rules and instructions on how to take precautions etc.

To suddenly hear the announcement being made in English and Hindi as well, felt so grim, like as if we were in one of those war-time scenarios, you know, like the bombing of London by the German Luftwaffe during WW2. It felt so surreal, and there was that weird, tingling Kafkaesque vibes all around us…

In a way, it felt relieving to know announcements were made in English and Hindi for the very few non-Mizos living in the locality, but at the same time, it also revealed the gravity of the situation we were in.

As the lockdown started, everybody was tensed in my locality, especially since Mizoram just had its first CoVid-19 positive patient. We remained locked inside our homes, fiddling through different WhatsApp group news here and there. One of the people responsible for bringing so much calm and assurance to the public had to be our Chaltlang locality tlângaupa Duhawma.

Oh he was a hoot (and still is). He kept all of us entertained with his regular announcement over our six locality loudspeakers. Sometimes he would announce important information like what time the LLTF were allowing shops to be opened and which shops were opened, and other times he would scold people that were found roaming outside.

And by scolding, I don't mean just announcing on the mic about people on the street, nooo, he would literally pinpoint them out, describing them in detail right from the color of their jacket and pants to their hairstyle! :D Sometimes he would give us useful information and update about CoVid-19, and other times he would call the virus with pet names that made all of us laugh.

Perhaps what he is best known for is the way he announced things, like his choice of words were extremely hilarious, and many of us would just record a video on our phones the moment he was about to speak. It's one of those "lost in translation" moments where you can't translate what he said to English because it would lose its charm and humour.

In fact, he became a celebrity during this lockdown period as many people forwarded the videos they recorded on WhatsApp, FB and IG. Even people from our neighboring localities like Ramhlun North, Ramhlun Venglai and Bawngkawn would eagerly wait and listen to his announcements.

We are so lucky to have him with us during these dark times, and he definitely does shine a light in our midst with his gift of the gab entertainment. Here is a big kudos to tlângaupa Duhawma, the proclaimer of news, the harbinger of calm.

[Duhawma in proper Mizo traditional attire]

Ending this post, I just want to mention that I really love the way things still function here in Mizoram. Some may consider this whole "local public announcement" and town-crier system pretty "old skool", but it is highly effective, and I don't think you'll find that many places in India that practice this method as of today.

Of course we all have our mobile phones with good data network here in Mizoram, and information is transmitted all the time, not just to our phones but through newspapers, televisions and even radios, but all those medium do not guarantee that everybody gets the message. However, a 100 decibel loudspeaker does. :D

Cheers for now, everyone. Take care.


Mapuii Ralte said...

Ziak ngaihnawm in a bengvar thlak thin e

Andr3whiho said...

Duhawma, a hming ka hre ta e. He deserved the highlights. Chhiar a nuam țhin khawp mai.

Mizohican said...

Ngaihsanawm tak a ni. A hmel en phei hi chuan rinloh deuh a ni an ti vek zel, upa tawh lam daih ni tur hian mi in an ngai thin a.

Mizohican said...

Thank you :)