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The Kolodyne Curse
“Bualpui, come inside the house, it’s getting dark,” Numi, her mother, shouted looking out of the window of her bamboo hut.
“Ina, I’m coming,” replied Bualpui turning back. She was watching the crimson sun go down behind the lush green Sabutlang Hills, which lay beyond the Kolodyne River. The clouds closer to the setting sun had become yellow in color and those away from it were black or light gray. From dark green the hills gradually turned into black and then all of a sudden they were enveloped in near darkness, with only their silhouettes visible against the emerging starlight.
Bualpui unfailingly sat on the hillock near her house every evening and watched the sunset in the hope of a new dawn, which gave her purpose to live. Each dawn brought her a new hope. The following dusk buried that hope in the darkness of the night. With a new dawn new hope was born again. And thus she remained optimistic.
“I fail to fathom why a tired sun should fascinate you so obsessively,” her mother complained when a pensive Bualpui walked grudgingly inside the house and stood silently behind her mother who turned back.
“Ina, don’t you know the answer?” she hugged her mother. Tears trickled down Numi’s wrinkled eyes and fell into Bualpui’s hair. Lost in her own thought she didn’t notice her mother’s anguish.
“Come and help me in preparing dinner,” Numi separated her unwillingly.
She wanted to hug her daughter for longer time but for pressing domestic chores. They got busy cooking rice and vegetables in separate pots. When dinner was ready the entire family sat around a large aluminum plate on the matted bamboo floor of their thatched house. Bualpui got up and closed the door. Numi put the rice on the large plate and Rimpui; her younger daughter took the relish out of the pot with a gourd spoon and placed it on another plate. A little salt was added to it. They all started eating together with their hands from those two plates.
A younger sister and two brothers were all Bualpui had besides her father and mother. Hers was a small family considering the fact that the average size of a Mara family was ten. She was very much appreciative of her parents who gave equal time to all children without any gender bias.
Her father was talking to her mother in whispers. She tried to eavesdrop their conversation but couldn’t hear anything. It was perhaps regarding her, she could make out from their gestures. Unable to hear them she abandoned her efforts and concentrated on eating, instead.
At the end of the dinner, Numi placed the leftover food back into the cooking pot for use at the next meal.
After dinner they clutched their hands and said the prayers and then went to bed. Rimpui and she slept together in one corner of the house.
Pakhai came out of the house to have a look at the animals. It had become his daily ritual and also, without fail he gazed at the sky, more out of curiosity than in awe. He saw a large expanse of sky visible north of the Milky Way, a sure sign that the rains were approaching. A little perturbed, he went around the house and ensured that everything was safe and secure. Later he too went to the bed.
Next morning Bualpui was woken up by persistent thunders. She came out of the house and looked towards the sky. Far in the distance she saw the lightning and dark black clouds, which were menacingly approaching towards Lomasu. She could sense it was going to rain heavily. Though the clouds were closing in fast, the rain was still a couple of hours away.
There was hustle and bustle in the village. People could be seen preparing for the ensuing rain. The women ran to bring the corn and rice, kept on the roofs to dry, inside. The men started putting the firewood and haystack in the barn, and birds and animals under the shelter. Everyone was in a hurry to get things indoors before the rain, which often came in heavy downpours in that season, caught them off guard.
Bualpui took a searching glance at the surrounding hills. In the midst of the undulating slopes on a hillock, shorn of greenery, a tiny spherical patch of sunshine, formed by strong rays piercing through the black clouds, shone brightly against the background of growing darkness all around it. Then the shade slowly started to envelop it until it vanished completely. On the horizon the dark rain-bearing clouds that had collected appeared to move towards the village. Sudden drop in temperature and increase in wind velocity indicated that the rains were about an hour away.
Concerned, her gaze had returned to the village, which witnessed hectic activities. Perched on top of a hillock, Lomasu was a small hamlet of about thirty odd bamboo thatched huts, housing a little over hundred people. Men outnumbered women. Population was a mix of the youth and the old. Almost all persons were Maras or Lakhers, a dominant tribe in the south. Social divide between the rich and the poor was almost non-existent. A family’s status was determined by the size of its hut and, the number of animals and birds it reared. Thus addition of a couple of pigs or fowls could enhance a farmer’s social standing otherwise the villagers dressed alike, ate alike and drank alike.
Before she was born, the village was located close to the Kolodyne River, her grandfather had told her. The locals called it the Tuipui.
In the early part of the 19th century Lomasu was situated on the eastern bank of the river. Then it was a huge village, one of the biggest in the area. On one fateful night suddenly from nowhere the flash flood came and washed away the village. Loss of human lives comparatively had been less as the tragedy had struck during the day. Still, the entire hamlet was destroyed, people devastated. Remnants of the destruction were visible till date.
The flood had forced the shaken people to leave their ancestral dwelling grudgingly and migrate to other villages in higher reaches of the mountains. Only the brave and diehard folks, like her grandfather, had stayed back.
Bualpui felt a sense of pride whenever she thought of her grandpa whose decision to stay back there in Lomasu, a scenic and beautiful place, had been vindicated after decades. From whatever little she had seen of him as a child, she knew he was never a quitter but a man of great character and tremendous resolve. Every time she looked down at the river and the old village site, she was reminded of the tragedy.
The huts in the present village were built on higher and undulating gradient, but not on the mountaintop like most Mara villages. Each hut had a verandah in front where a pile of split firewood was neatly stacked. A number of baskets were arranged around the walls where domestic fowls lay their eggs; and at the side of the house under the eves of the roof a large bamboo basket of cigar-shape was fixed where fowls every evening entered and roosted together. When night fell, the mistress of the house carefully closed the door of the fowl-house to protect them from wild animals and cats. The sliding door afforded privacy. A wooden ladder made of one log of wood with rough steps cut in it was placed. Inside, the hut had minimum windows, which were quite small in size.
Three hearths were made in each house, one in the verandah for strangers and for use when a feast was held, one in the main room where all the cooking was done, and one in the back room for heating purposes only. The young men and girls gathered around the third hearth at night, sang songs, made love, and eventually slept near it.
The hearths were made of clay about six inches in depth and surrounded by split logs to prevent them from chipping and breaking. In the center of this fireplace, three stones were so arranged that a pot could rest upon them, and between those stones the sticks could be laid and the fire lit.
At each corner of the primitive fireplace a pole reaching up to the roof hung and held a mantelpiece, called pachong, formed of matted bamboo under which skewers of meat and fish were smoked. On the mantelpiece the paddy, in a large tray, to be husked next morning was thoroughly dried before pounding. On the pachong firewood, cooking pots, spoons, etc were also kept to dry. The fire sent a weird glimmer round the hut, the smoke curled up to the mantelpiece causing the bamboo matting to become ebony black. Along the side of the hut several bamboo shelves upon which clay pots of various sizes, little bamboo baskets and various other household articles were arranged. Old women who had never been married and the widows did the pottery work. The unmarried girls and the married women never made any clay pots for they believed that they, while tapping the clay over a stone to shape the pot, might kill their husbands’ souls, which were believed to hover about their wives, or future wives. The roof was decorated with the corncobs, which was kept well for number of months due to smoke of the fire, which killed insects.
In another corner a large basket containing cotton thread, a primitive loom and a few bamboo sticks were kept. A few weapons, a spear, a dao, an axe stuck in the wall. In some huts a bamboo bed lay by the side of the fireplace, otherwise in most huts the Maras slept on the floor itself. At the back of the hut the door simply looked out into the space.
Underneath the hut the domestic animals such as pigs, mithuns, cows, goats lived. A man set up his own house as soon as his first child was born.
The village had only one piece of small flat ground over which a church was built in one corner and a school in the opposite corner. A pastor who used to come from Burma in a boat upstream the river conducted prayer regularly on Sundays. He failed to turn up only when he was ill. The villagers treated him like their own man. Anyway, the national boundaries meant little to them as they often married into the families living in the villages across the border. In fact, they shared the same clanship, ethnicity and dialect born out of centuries of shared history and geography.
Moreover, his visit was the most awaited event in there as he brought them medicines and utensils from Burma. On his way back he carried salt, a much sought after commodity in his country. For Father Domkima it was an arduous journey, which took almost one full day to reach Lomasu from his village. After the prayers he used to halt for the night and return to his village the next day.
Despite difficulties he loved to come to Lomasu for the Sunday prayers. It was always very satisfying to conduct the church services there. His pleasing demeanor had endeared him to simple Lomasu folks. The children awaited his arrival very eagerly as he brought them sweetmeats. For Bualpui and other girls he brought posters of Thai and Burmese actors and actresses, which adored the walls of many houses.
Except for him, not many people in the village were privy to Bualpui’s ordeal. He knew the trauma and tribulations she underwent. As a pastor he used to help her heal spiritually and mentally. With his concerted efforts she was trying to pick up the threads of her shattered life.
A large raindrop fell on the ground and expanded. The second one fell on her hair and went unnoticed but the third drop, which fell on her tender hand, broke her thoughts. Moments later a strong gust of moist southeasterly wind lashed at her face and unfurled her hair sending it into frenzy. She fought to hold it with her both hands and tie it into a knot but succeeded after a brief struggle. Then she looked at the valley below. The rain-bearing clouds were rushing ominously towards her.
And before she could anticipate the storm’s full fury, the rains, piggyback on the howling winds, lashed at the huts. In a moment the entire village was bathed in a heavy downpour. Nothing remained visible. It became totally dark. The thunderstorm threatened to tear bamboo huts apart. The whole atmosphere had become scary and nightmarish.
“Bualpui come inside, what are you up to?” shouted Rimpui, her younger sister from inside.
“Yeah, I’m coming,” Bualpui rushed in. Rimpui helped her to close the door, which was being pushed by the storm. Smell of the wet earth and trees had begun to fill the house swiftly.
The entire family was huddled in a well-protected bedroom. They seemed unnerved, as it was customary for them to witness such rains during the rainy season, between June and September.
Pakhai, though, looked perturbed and his tensed face reflected his stressed mind. Perhaps, he had some unfinished work in the fields and the rain had come a bit too early. He was watching the rain with concern.
“Ipa, don’t worry. These are early rains. Monsoon is still a fortnight away,” Bualpui tried to cheer him up.
“Are you a soothsayer or has the rain-god spoken to you?” he chided her lovingly but a second later, added with a smile, “I think you may be right.”
“Zoule, did you have a look at the pigs and the fowls, and given them feed?” he turned towards his younger son and inquired.
“Yes, Ipa” Zoule replied indifferently.
Zoule was a happy-go-lucky type boy who squandered his time roaming aimlessly in the village. The father disliked son’s wandering ways, for which he often admonished him but to no avail. Zoule did whatever he liked and ended up annoying his father more.
Pakhai didn’t seem to be satisfied with his son’s reply. He tried to have a peep outside the window and look at the pigs housed in a small nearby sty. But alas! He could nothing in the dark. Luckily he had repaired the sty recently and tied a plastic sheet on the roof.
He closed the window feeling relieved that the pigs were safe. The rain continued with the same intensity. He guessed it would last the entire night and perhaps until the next noon.
After the customary prayers they all tried to sleep.
Loud clucks of cocks, hens and fowls heralded the dawn. Even the pigs had begun to grunt due to hunger. Bualpui woke up and glanced outside. It was a clear blue cloudless sky. Fury of the night’s storm was gone. The village had become alive. The streets were filled with people engaged in their daily chores. The men were preparing to leave for their jhums (agricultural land) and the women to the forest to collect the firewood.
Hlycho, her elder brother was busy packing up rice, utensils, mosquito nets and other necessities in two big cotton bags, called the Burma bags by the locals. The name was derived as the bags were manufactured in Burma and sold along the border villages in the Mizo Hills by the hawkers.
“Make it fast. We need as much of daylight hours as we can get,” Pakhai exhorted his son, filling nicotine-water in a flask made out of gourd.
Her mother was busy in preparing lunch. After eating the food her parents and her elder brother put on their lakhu, hats made of dried leaves and bamboo, and left for the jhum, about six kilometers away, closer to the next village of Bymari.
“Take care of your brother and sister. And don’t forget the pigs. We’ll be back in three to four days,” her father instructed Bualpui before leaving.
She was a dependable girl and her parents always entrusted her with the household responsibilities whenever they went out.
“Don’t worry, Ipa,” she shouted behind them and saw them off. She could see many folks leaving for their jhums as tilling of hard mountain land would have become easier after the yesterday’s heavy rains.
Only the old men, women and children were left behind in the village. Ablest amongst them started repairing damaged huts. It had become a necessary ritual for them after every storm.
On her way back, Bualpui found Thako Lakher, the affable schoolteacher struggling with a wooden log, which he was trying to replace on the school hut.
“Wait a minute,” she said loudly and rushed to him. She helped him to replace the fallen log.
“Thank you, Bualpui,” said the teacher and then sat down to take a breather.
The two chatted for about half-hour. She rose to leave when it occurred to her that the pigs would be hungry. When the pigs had been fed she sat in the wooden chair and looked at the calendar, half blackened by the smoke, hanging on the wall. She got up and put her finger on a date.
It was April 20, 1971.
The date, when she had first met David, a handsome young army captain in the church during the Sunday prayers.
The tears rolled down her eyes. She clutched the calendar and wept in silence.
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