Kimi and her friends impatiently rushed to the locality’s Community Hall after school to practice a celebrated Mizo traditional dance, ‘Cheraw’. They were thrilled to finally have an opportunity to perform in front of a crowd on a prestigious event. This time they will be performing on Young Mizo Association Day, as junior members of YMA or YMA ‘chhang’, as they were fondly called, and the thought of dancing in a full traditional attire excited them.
As YMA chhang members, they were taught at an early age, the importance of partaking and fulfilling their duties to the Mizo community, and to cherish the values of YMA. One of the songs they have learned and kept close to their hearts as Mizo children was a song about respecting elders in the Mizo community. On certain occasions they would sing with all their might,
“Ai a upate zah thiam in,
An thu te awihin zawm fo rawh
Pi pute ro thil hlu a ni,
Ai a upate zah thiam rawh!”
(Show reverence to your elders,
Pay heed to their words and follow them
This is a treasure of our forefathers
To honour and respect your elders!”)
Kimi and her friends relished singing and practicing traditional songs and dances. They thoroughly enjoyed swaying their bodies to the beat of ‘Khuang’, a drum made locally from hollow tree trunk bound tightly with cowhide, and the rhythmic beating of the bamboos, skillfully moderated by the boys seated on the ground. As female dancers, they were required to have a perfect sense of timing, having to dance gracefully while stepping in and out of the moving bamboo staves. One of Kimi’s friends, Puia, a young energetic boy, was in charge of beating khuang and he was accompanied by Terini, a slender looking girl, who was skilled in playing ‘darbu’, a set of three different sizes of brass gongs, two tied to her body with a rope, and one that she held on her hand. Though young, they were not bothered by the crowd as they would immerse themselves fully in their performance and would not miss a beat as they danced and chanted occasionally, in the most energetic spirit. That day, the dance practice ended before dinner time, and the kids dispersed for home drenched in sweat, some still wearing their school uniforms.
Just a stone’s throw away from the gate of the hall, was Pi Hmingi’s shop, located beneath a public water tank built with bricks and cement. One has to bent to go inside, but despite its size, it was vibrantly packed with all kinds of local and cheap imported goods. Pi Hmingi was known for her fresh and carefully prepared ‘kuhva,’ areca nut wrapped in betel leaf packed with ____ to add flavour. It was a common sight to see the small shop crowded with men after dinner, as they wait to satisfy themselves with a smoke and Pi Hmingi’s kuhva. Though it was already time for dinner, Kimi and her friends loitered in front of the shop, searched their pockets to check if they have any luck finding coins to buy different flavoured ice popsicles of fun colours, packed in plastic tubes that cost them just one rupee per pack.
The next day started with a loud announcement from the community information-center. A young energetic voice called out all members of YMA to take part in the ‘hnatlang’, a joint public work or community labour, which was announced as part of observing the approaching YMA Day. YMA chhang members were also to gather at the community school ground early in the morning to clean and plant trees at the local cemetery. The week leading to YMA Day was usually packed with a series of activities that would involve different kinds of games and sports and end in a grand celebration on the Day, accompanied by a feast in the evening.
One of the main highlights of the week was the local football tournament. Each day of the week, the field would be swarmed with people of all ages to watch local football stars maneuvering the ball like professionals. The experience was priceless both for the players and the crowd as it offered them an experience that was no less-greater than the World Cup. The year was 2002, a year that witnessed the excellence of top goal scorers like Ronaldo, from Brazil and Oliver Kahn, the indomitable goal-keeper from Germany. The football players of Kimi’s village weren’t off the pace when it came to following the trends of the time. Many players were seen replicating the rather bizarre haircut of Ronaldo, with a triangle of hair left on the forehead and the rest of the head shaved bald. On the dry sandy jagged football ground of the village, the names of star players around the world were sported at the back of jerseys, and others who could not afford jerseys would paint numbers of their favourite stars at the back of their t-shirts. Many families would lock their doors to support their teams; the more enthusiastic supporters would bring “khuang”, and women, irrespective of their duties at home, would bring their young ones to the field. Some would carry their babies with “puakpuan”, a long-woven piece of cloth tied around as a sling to carry a baby. Nothing could stop these from having their share of fun in the field.
Children would also be enjoying the dynamic atmosphere surrounding the game. They would often give the linesmen a difficult time, as they would be engrossed in their own games outside the field, running around in the sand, mindless of the official football match that was happening inside the field. As Kimi and her friends were in their early adolescence, they preferred sitting amongst the crowd away from the small kids. They always made sure to reach the field early in order to get the best view of the field. Sometimes they would be lucky enough to find a place under a tree where they would place an old cloth on the ground to make a comfortable seat under the shade. They particularly loved the local gossip among grown-up women during the game, especially when there were young players with striking good looks, that loved to display their physical stamina as well as pay extra attention to their looks, to impress the female spectators. Kimi’s brother was one such emerging player with a look to compliment his talent. On the final day of the match, he was pushed by his rival near the goal post as he was about to score his dramatic last goal of the match. His rival was instantly sent off the field with a red card but some of his angry teammates squabbled with the referee as they knew they would lose with the penalty awarded to their opponents. This later turned into a fight among the players, which then, eventually end in the crowd taking sides and creating commotion outside the field. Kimi stood motionless praying for the safety of her brother. She was relieved to see the elders of the community quickly intervene to settle the arguments with the spirit of brotherhood and understanding. The match resumed; the atmosphere was intense as Kimi’s brother stepped out to shoot the penalty he had earned. The huge crowd gathered in anticipation around the field, and all the while Kimi and her friends closed their eyes praying for victory. Suddenly, there was wild cheering from the crowd and Kimi knew that his brother finally had his moment of glory. As the referee blew the final whistle, the winning team and their supporters who had coordinated with flags and posters, carried on with an excessive celebration, some singing victory songs, some going a little overboard dancing with their shirts off inside the field, and the resounding spirit of celebration continued from the field to their homes.
It was finally 15th June, a day Kimi had eagerly been waiting for, as she and her friends would finally be on stage as performers on a significant event. She went through the dance steps once again in her head and had one last look at herself in the mirror before she headed out. She felt powerful and elegant in her vibrant Mizo traditional attire. She wore a top called ‘kawrchei’ that she adorned with her mother’s ‘thival’, a traditional Mizo necklace, and ‘hmaram’ which she draped tightly around her waist and wore as a short skirt. Since they were still young to carry the weight of ‘puanchei’, which was the original attire for grown-ups performing Cheraw, they had to dance in Hmaram. Kimi was particularly honored to wear ‘vakiria’, a unique and intricate head-gear decorated with bird feathers and beads. She carefully placed the vakiria on her head to complete her look, pinned it tightly on her hair, and stepped out, owning her Mizo identity proudly.
It was almost ten, and the Hall was already packed with beautiful faces of YMA members, all dressed with whatever Mizo traditional costume they have for the event, both men and women alike. The children who were seated at the corner of the Hall watched the adults keenly as they came pouring in. Kimi and her friends were thankful for the opportunity to be among grown-ups. They quietly watched women entering the Hall in full traditional attire, beautifully adorned with traditional accessories. They could not wait to be part of the event as YMA members.
The day passed by rather swiftly as local singers and dancers were invited in between speeches. There was also a choir competition among YMA members coming from different areas of the locality. Although the competition was held in a light and festive mood, one could see that the performances were a result of months of preparation. The YMA chhang members who performed in the morning session were praised for their discipline and their ability to perform a difficult dance with such ease and grace. They were encouraged by the YMA President in his speech, to continue to treasure Mizo tradition and to carry on the torch by being loyal members of the Mizo community through acts of learning Mizo customs and values, and cherishing Mizo traditional dances and songs. Being part of YMA Day and being recognized as YMA chhang members promoted a sense of pride and belonging to their community and the readiness to be part of YMA.
As noon approached, the aroma of cooked meat entered the Hall and the thought of a rich feast made everyone excited. The kids were called out first to line up for the feast. Participating in YMA Day was now the highlight of their lives, and as they went home, Kimi and her friends could not stop talking about the event, the adrenaline rush they felt while dancing and to top everything, the grandness of the feast, particularly how they enjoyed “Sawhchiar”, a special Mizo dish prepared by boiling rice and meat together, often chicken or pork. Boiled pork with ‘antam’, mustard leaf, was another luxurious dish they relished, as it was a dish often saved for Sundays, the most special day of the week. It made them value the local feasts where the most sumptuous local dishes were served. The fun that went in the process of preparing the feast could not be overlooked and it gave these kids another chance to witness what could be achieved through a sense of togetherness; a special trademark of the Mizo community.