Today was a day filled with Guardian Angels. It all started at 2.30 am. I was woken up then by Cheena saying that the Sumo taxis are ready to leave. Without a brush or a wash, I put on my sneakers and loaded my luggage into the car. I could not meet the Pastor to wish him. At the place where I met up with the Sumo taxi Cheena asked me if I could accommodate another passenger with me, and said that I would require his assistance on the way. I was reluctant, but a gut feel made me accede to the request. With this Cheena was my first GA of the day and Suan, the passenger, was my second.
I followed the Sumo through the last village on the Mizoram side, Khawkhon, and across the River Tuivi. Technically I was in Manipur territory then, which is when all the troubles started. There were no roads, only thick jungles with truck tracks with stones and dirt piled high in the middle of the road. With great difficulty, and with Suan walking in front of the vehicle guiding me, I drove about three kms when Suan reported the first ‘puncture’. And what a puncture – the tyre had come out of the rim. The place was slushy, pitch dark at close to 4 am and without any mobile contact. To my utter horror I found that the two jacks I carry in the car do not work. Despite that Suan tried his best to position the available equipment and get the tyre changed. Nothing worked and Suan was carrying a bleeding injury on his left heel. Suan suggested that we walk a few kms ahead when we would probably be able to get the mobile signal. I got a faint signal and was able to inform my contact in Ngopa of my condition.
Suan and I must have walked slightly over a km when his sharp ears picked up the sound of an approaching vehicle. It was a truck going to Ngopa. The helper of the vehicle jacked up the car and changed the tyre in less than 15 minutes and left – another GA. With the spare tyre fitted I moved ahead some more and I was confronted with the most impossible road condition. I tried to navigate it as best as I could and then I was ‘guided’ to take the most prudent decision I took today. I decided to turn back with the feeling that retreat is, at times, even victory. Within ten minutes of turning back I had my next flat. This time air was escaping from the edge of the rim – the rim had got slightly bent. There was nothing we could do but wait for the next vehicle to arrive. By this time it was daylight, around 5 am.
A convoy of three trucks arrived from the Manipur side, on their way to Aizawl. After inspection of the site and lots of discussion amongst themselves, it was decided to inflate the tyre temporarily to park the car to one side and permit the vehicles to pass. Suan suggested that he would go with the tyres to the village, fix it and bring it back. Instead I told him that we could go together with some of my luggage and the two tyres to the village, repair the tyres, find a mechanic and get back in a hired vehicle. The truck guys agreed to my proposal – a host of GAs. On the way to the village I found Kham on his bike, with a mechanic, on the way to the site. The mechanic got into one of the vehicles and Kham stayed back at Tuivi. Back at the village, the guy at the tyre shop repaired the bent rim and filled air in that tyre. He said that it would help to bring the car back to the village. The second tyre was useless – it was split in a couple of places. The mechanic, Muan Pu, and Suan left with the tyre after making me comfortable in Muan’s house – he said, “Use it as you would your own”. This Manipuri, who had lost a leg in the civil strife in 1997 and is fitted with one artificial leg, was my next GA.
When Muan left at 10 am he said he would be back by 1 pm and that I should not worry at all. He was only a half hour later than his promised hour. Frankly, I did not expect him to be back with the car in working condition. Not only that, he did further repairs to the suspect rim and one disc before he certified the car fit to move to Aizawl. He only wanted me to keep on filling air in the repaired tyre in villages along the route to Aizawl.
During the day time, when I moved around the village, I became an Uncle there. I had many cups of tea, boiled eggs, namkeen and biscuits in the ‘Tea Hotel’ in the village over the hours spent there. Cheena’s family took me to their house and we talked for a while. By 3 pm I was ready to leave NE Khawdungsei for Ngopa, where I had decided to halt the night before proceeding to Aizawl. Many goodbyes and photo sessions later I visited the Pastor to take leave of him and his wife. Kham escorted me back to Ngopa and I got diesel filled up at the same shop where I had yesterday.
While waiting for the diesel to be filled I met Thomas Mathew, a teacher for the past 22 years in Ngopa. He came to me, curious about the registration of the car. He later came to the house of my contact in Ngopa and took me to his house to meet his wife, who has also been a teacher here for the past 16 years. While Thomas, who belongs to Ranni, teaches Science his wife, who hails from Chengannur, teaches Maths. Mrs Thomas is the last non-Mizo to be employed as a teacher in Mizoram. This couple lives in a rented accommodation near the village square. Their daughter is in second year of Bsc Nursing in Hyderabad and their son is reading in the 11th Class in Kerala. A very unique couple, they are the only Keralite residents in Ngopa. But they maintain strong contacts with Keralites in Aizawl. I was shown a ‘Keralite Club Directory’, which listed 91 members in the last edition. Onam and Christmas are celebrated by the Club with fanfare.
Thomas confirmed that the Young Mizo Association (present in every village) and the Synod (in Aizawl) are the most powerful influences on society and politics. The YMA collects Rs. 30 as contribution from every family annually. When a member of the family passes away, YMA makes available the coffin and the burial is done by the Church without any cost to the family. The cemeteries are common; unlike the practice elsewhere, all churches provide a common burial ground. Every earning member in a village contributes a tenth of the earnings to the Church as tithe. The Church accounts, published annually, mentions all the contributions made. Besides, the Church also collects voluntary contribution of rice from families, auction it and replenishes the church coffers. Thomas and his wife are booked to go to Kerala, via Hyderabad, next week for their long vacation. In Mizoram, the school session is from the middle of January to the end of November. Thomas put me in touch with Anil in Aizawl, who could help me with tyres and servicing of the car. Despite the offer of the Thomases for dinner and stay, I returned to the house of my contact for dinner.
Dinner was with my contact in Ngopa and his comely wife, Rebecca from Pasighat in Arunachal. The conversation over dinner was about the social processes in the villages, tribal customs and traditions, etc. The quantity of rice that I ate was excessive as compared to what I normally consume. The hospitality was such. Islam, from Karimganj, who cooked the meal, and my hosts were upset with me for eating less than I should, according to them! The support and encouragement I received from my contact in Ngopa, his wife and Kham were exceptional, to say the least. I am most thankful to them. I was booked to stay in the PWD IB in Ngopa. The IB is located on a small hillock and the accommodation is quite comfortable.