Past two weeks I have been working/hanging with a bunch of youngsters. Read that as, my entire time and existence engulfed in hyper energy, chaos, hormones, irreverence and lust confused as love. The number of love songs and corny love quotes I hear in an hour these days is more than the rate of India’s population growth per minute. Fortunately (?!), my youngsters are comical. In fact too comical even to my only-absurd loving self. I have not been able to have a ‘serious’ conversation for longer than two sentences in past few days without somebody saying something funny followed by hollers of laughter. And I am not complaining…
So I am in Mizoram, based in a place called Lawngtlai, travelling to places called Thaltlang, Sentetfiang, Sangau, Siachangkawn, Vartek. If you try to check these places up on the map (assuming you know where Mizoram is) you won’t find them. They are so far away from the world’s understanding of the world that (I think) they have managed to escape Google and CIA altogether. In the southern most part of Mizoram, these villages lie hidden near that imaginary line called the border between Myanmar and India.
Along with Google and CIA most of these places have also escaped things called road, water supply, electricity and sanitation. You do get mobile phones. Although you don’t really get to use them for their purpose of existence - namely calling and receiving calls. What they have in the name of roads are spaces that have been cleared of forests and curved into steep faces of rocky mountains thousands of feet high. If travelling is supposed to make you wise, the only wise thing I am learning from these travels is that may be it’s not so wise to travel here. It is for sure not wise to do so when you are being driven by nineteen year old youngsters with so much hormone that even the vehicles can run on the overflow. You can save your diesel for the future.
What however keeps me from going insane and dying of heart seizure from the fear of dying is the constantly running comic, thanks to the hormones. It is like living in the cartoon network. And things don’t die in cartoons and everyone is supposed to be mad, no?
My CN characters are a bunch of 5 boys and a girl. All on that wrong side of 25 when high speed bodily fluids direct everything physical in life. The mind has not been discovered yet. And they all watch so much animation that they have actually renamed themselves after popular animated characters forgoing the names their parents spent so much time finding when they were born. Their latest favourite is the Kung Fu Panda and so I am right now working and travelling with Master Sifu, a panda, a duck, a monkey and some other kung fu performing Chinese (I suppose) speaking animals that I can not identify.
Here is a sample of a regular conversation on a regular day at work when we are not travelling:
I am working when one of them approaches me.
“Miss, it’s too hot to wear shorts.” - The shorts wearing duck tells me, flapping its wing kung fu style.
I look very serious in front of the laptop and pretend I did not notice the kung fu flaps. - “Why, what do you want to wear?”
“Hiiiaaa hu (a kung fu style cry)! I want to wear only my undie. When you are not here we wear undies only. It’s too hot.” - Duck takes a different kung fu stance.
“Ok. You can be in your underwear if you want to. I do not mind.” - I show no signs of being surprised at the prospect of wearing undies at work. (I believe in bodily comfort and liberty after all and am also afraid SPCA might get me for forcing animals to wear clothes in this tropical heat).
Hearing my reply, the panda, the monkey and Sifu the master, all come out and stand in front of me, bow kung fu style and shout - “Khaaa ching!” (This, I have learnt from observations, means OK or happiness when wishes have been granted).
Fortunately it started raining soon and even the kung fu animals realised shorts are better than underwear because rain brings mosquitoes and other insects. I also have this sneaking suspicion that when they took the same plea to my other colleague from the world, she refused them the right. She is probably not aware of animals’ rights.
After a few days of meticulous logistical planning, designing researches and assigning responsibilities thru duck flaps, monkey jumps, panda rolls and kung fu master’s wise body contours (all done in Chinese and with appropriate kung fu chants and stances) we set for the mission. To deliver food supplies, seeds and money to the villagers beyond Google and CIA. At least that’s what I thought. What it turned out to be is a frenziedly animated comic strip where I was the only non-comical character. The only thing my character demanded is keeping a straight face. Sounds boring? I wonder how I turned out to be this way! Imagine keeping a straight face, when a 22 year old two legged panda is carrying you on its shoulders shouting ‘hiaa hu and heeii’ to pacify you (under normal circumstances you are supposed to be the boss) because you are angry that he has not done what you asked him to! Well, I can do that these days.
From the starting of the journey, the nineteen year old driver (who is just hired and not yet corrupted by popular animation) kept his head turned towards my side and had his eyes fixed on me while the winding mountain road remained unnoticed in front. After about 5 km, out of fear that he will either twist his neck or drive us down the steep crag, I asked him what was wrong. “Miss, I love you.” - He declared with absolute lust in his eyes. I sat back shocked, examining my own behaviour which might have given him some wrong signal. Am I sitting too close to him? Should I not have worn sleeveless shirt and shorts? Did I make the wrong decision to take the front seat? (Surely I did it purely out of self-preservation? Back there it is an animated zoo and I was sure one of them would have eaten me up). A few extremely moralistic questions ran thru my mind. I do not know which was more shocking. His declaration of love or discovering my own moral hang-ups. I remembered to keep a straight face and asked one of the boys to tell him to concentrate on the road and not to talk rubbish. I am older than his mother, he should know.
“Khaa ching!” - came the reply from the ninjas.
Quick exchanges were done in Mizo and kung fu. The driver straightened his neck to the road.
“Miss, don’t worry. We tell him he must not say like this to you. Otherwise master Sifu will punish him by giving him the ninjatsu treatment.”
I murmured a thank you and tried to look more serious.
After that there was much singing and clapping in Nepali with kung fu ‘hiaa hu’ and ‘aieech’ punctuations through out the 8 hours drive. I do not know from where the ninja gang learnt a shoddy Nepali song with so many opportunities to fit the kung fu cries perfectly in. It went something like this (the parts in italics are the kung fu cries and the Nepali is not exactly correct) –
Gali tere… koti ramro cho (aaa...hu)
Gali tere gapi-kapi
Tere lago aho (aaa…ho) (eeyy ho)…
The only time, I noticed, the animals would become boys is when we passed a village. They would stick their heads out of the windows and shout – “Chass! Chass!” (Translation –“Chicks! Chicks!”) and smile very broadly at the girls. Sometimes they would tell the girls how beautiful they (the girls) were. Sometimes they would tell the girls where they (the boys) were going. The good part is, the girls smile back. The bad part is, that triggers unbearable cries of boyhood lust and animated kung fu warriors.
Every time we passed a dog, they would shout, “Catch it! Meat!” followed by loud kung fu cries. The dogs, chickens, pigs and children would all scatter away to save their lives.
They do eat dogs in this part of the world and it seems to be quite a favourite. Every time I visit a village, they kill a dog in my honour. I but with all my radical ideas have not managed to digest the idea of a dog on my plate yet. And the horrifying stories of how a dog is killed and cooked are not something I want to talk about. All I am going to say is that I live petrified when I am served an elaborate meal and behave like a non-meat eating Brahmin these days. Along with fears of being eaten by animated animals, flying off mountain faces, having to be the object of a 19-year-old’s lust I also live with a constant fear of having to see Puchki’s face on my dinner plate. (Puchki is my much loved pet bitch. Fortunately she is dead now). So I have sent strict instruction before hand (although I hate sending instructions) that no one is to kill any dog in my honour when I am visiting. They can do that when I am gone.
We reached the village very late (around 8.30pm!) in the night. The whole village was dark and quiet. In the faint light of a quarter-moon, the silhouettes of the bamboo houses on stilts against the high Blue Mountain (highest mountain in Mizoram) looked like a picture from the jungle book. I felt the goose bumps coming from the chilly breeze and the smell of the forest mixed with pig sty odour. But only for a few seconds. Before my goose bumps could get into full bloom, kung fu cries shattered the silence of the night and peaceful sleep of the villagers. They were greeting the family of the volunteer in whose house we were supposed to stay. When I saw the startled faces of the volunteer’s old parents, smiling thru their shock, believe me, I wished I knew that death trick that kung fu masters can perform by which they can blow people into tiny pieces of nothingness.
Over the next couple of days we distributed food to hundreds of people; tediously collected innumerable signatures in return, socialised with the villagers while trying to fill undecipherable research formats and had lengthy conversations with village elders about life and politics. The ninja warriors kept their cries high and their stances agile. They lifted 50 kg bags, filled out forms, took photos of children and flirted with each and every girl that was of flirtable age in the village. They would carry water for the family and help the women cook at night. They made me innumerable cups of tea and served them with appropriate kung fu etiquette each time.
At night we would walk along the mountain watching the moon wash it over. Of course the animals in them would cry out animated expressions in Chinese (I suppose) when the whole feel got too good. Sometimes towards the end of the trip, I started feeling these strong emotions towards them that I often feel at the sight of real animals. (You know that feeling when you see a tiger cub?) My perfectly serious face must have slackened for a moment. Just then came a flying panda, taking a kung fu stance with a bent elbow, folded wrist, standing on one leg asking - “Miss, they kill a dog in your honour. Don’t want some?”
I got the straight face back and said, “How did you kill it?” - As if the method of killing might decide whether I want some or not.
The panda said, “Like this.” - Hitting his monkey friend on the shin and toppling him over, both breaking into hysterical kung fu cries and ruckusous laughter.
And I am glad they did not tell me the real story.