Monday, January 12, 2009

Kawlbem, Mizoram - First hand experiences as a 5 year old kid

My first experience flying in an aeroplane was in a Vayadooth (remember the small 25 seater aircraft that wobbles a lot in the air as if you were riding on a potholed road and the engines sounded so loud you could almost not hear the person next to you). The flight was from Silchar to Imphal... It was (I don't remember the year - maybe 86-87), but we (me and my parents) had gone to Kawlbem - a small village in Mizoram for my cousins tombstone laying ceremony. My cousin (brother) had died in a Jeep accident a few years back...

We were done with the ceremony in Kawlbem and were on our way back home to Imphal. We decided to take the plane, though we traveled by bus on the forward journey. This was because the previous bus travel was particularly hard on me (nausea and vomit). I was very excited to be on a plane for the first time. I don't know why but the plane was very empty, in total we had just 7 people on board including the crew. So, the plane was all for us and I moved from window to window looking outside. Just before the takeoff, dad had to firmly tell me to get seated and put on my seat belts. I do not really remember the 20 odd minutes we were on the plane, maybe i slept off or maybe I was feeling nausea. Just that we reached Imphal really fast... compared to the bus :)

Enough said about the Vayadooth travel. Let's go to the Kawlbem experience. I vaguely remember the long ride to Kawlbem (from Aizawl - the capital of Mizoram - courtesy a relative who generously loaned us his Gypsy) through the smallest of bends and most uneven paths. Paths created by men (and animals) on their way to the next village.. helped by the free flowing rain water. 

Kawlbem at that time consisted of a little less than 100 families/houses. Many of the houses had thatched roofs, though some of the newer ones had tin roofs... most of the houses were elevated from the ground by wooden logs which form the basic foundation and structure of the huts. So, the occupants were actually not touching the ground, but the floors were made of wooden planks or bamboo mats. Each hut had a fire place and above that was called a khin-tung. This khin-tung was used to keep various delicacies - smoked meat, sathu - fermented fat, etc.

Recently a colleague of mine in office had seen people (in some south-Asian countries) keeping pieces of meat near the fire place for months together. She was curious and shocked to know that they actually eat them later on. I believe it is the same kind of preparation i am talking about in Kawlbem. In villages where they do not have regular supply of fresh meat and no cold storage, this was one of the best way of preserving meat (done traditionally).. and believe me they taste just fine...

Everything was new for a small-town boy like me who has never seen the real village life in the hills. I have fond memories of waking up early in the morning and taking long walks in the jungles surrounding the village, eating berries and watching birds dance... I was sure that people in Kawlbem have never heard of He-Man, the Master of the Universe. So, one fine day, this proud little boy went to atop the village hill and shouted out "He-Man, Master of the Universe"... Some people who heard may think that I was crazy.... but it was fun. Remember "I am the king of the world" shout in Titanic, it was something like that.. :)
Traditional Go-Karts ran from the top of the village-hill to to the bottom of the village... I tried them, it was pure bliss... The only downside was that the driver had to carry his Kart back to the top after each exhilarating ride downhill. The whole structure was hand made from sticks and bamboo. Even the wheels were round pieces of tree trunks... Also, one Go-Kart was meant for one person only. Maybe there are bigger more advanced versions of them that I did not see during my brief stay there.... Anyway, while riding these machines, you control the direction with your foot while holding onto the strings attached and pray that you don't encounter a bump or hole in the road..

Getting lost somewhere in the small village was a thrilling experience... These were always chances for more discovery... The people who predominantly spoke Paite, my mother-tongue were very friendly.. And there was nothing to be afraid of..
I remember singing a solo(Mara mun ah dang takin.. tui riuriu) in the small village church and getting a gift - a simple flower, a decorative item from the church... Well, it must have been something, because i remember it 20+ years later...

Also saw a full length tiger fur...the Tiger was supposedly shot by my hunter uncle... And huge horns of a buffalo and trophies of other wild animals were decorating the chief's house... I saw first hand how people survived the cold winter on logs of wood collected from the jungles..

In my society, any community event is a time for feasting... So, during the tombstone laying ceremony, we were supposed to have a feast... And any feast is incomplete without a four legged animal... This time it was the turn of a huge Buffalo.. The Buffalo was tied with ropes on all four legs and fed salt (these animals liked salt - don't know why)... One hunter got his rifle and shot at the beast between the eyes, but the bullets just caused a bright spark and bounced right off its thick skull.. then it ran off, breaking all the ropes... straight into the jungles... A few brave men followed in hot pursuit... If they did not manage to nab it, then its goodbye to feasting (heard that this had happened sometime back in some other village too).. After some hours and a number of gunshots later, we heard that the Buffalo was killed and the whole village could return to its feasting ways.. Well I don't really like Buffalo, but that was quite an adventure don't you think...
Another memorable event was shopping in the local bazaar... I remember my aunt buying me the best shirt available - a red checked one.. I loved it and i treasured every moment of wearing it... Maybe that was the only shirt that I got from my aunt before she left for above.. I still love her and think about her... (The pic on the right has me wearing the Red Checked Shirt)

Those were the highlights of my Kawlbem visit... I would love to see the place sometime again, hope its still as beautiful as before... Latest news: Heard that past residents of Kawlbem and adjoining villages had a re-union... my dad went too.. but not very sure what came out of it.. feasting was one definite thing.. but this time no Buffalo running off in the jungle.. :P