fireflies in the dark…

Its been more than  a year but those fireflies still follow me…  last year when in Dhubri I saw a million of them…  as close to my hair and till as far as I could see… I knew… ‘that’ moment was special… I cried… like a child… out of happiness… sheer unadulterated happiness … that touches you very silently n takes control over you…

That day in Dhubri started as being one of my scariest experiences so far… when I felt absolutely unsafe, in secure n trapped…  one of the darkest of my days… until I saw those fireflies in the dark… and that day stays with me all the time as a memory, as a reminder for the all the bad, dark days that at the end I am going to see those fireflies and cry… out of happiness!!

And that’s exactly how’s it been ever since… all the dark gloomy days invariably brighten up, I see a ray of hope, I see “things will get better”, “this too shall pass” moments coming true…

They keep me happy… so happy… so sooo happy… so so sooooo happy…

My limited vocabulary and indianised grammar permits me no other way of expressing in appropriate words THAT kind of happiness!

Life came a full circle and I found myself in the north east after exactly a year from when I started last year… of course there were other trips in between… long ones… with a sprinkling of a few days/ months that I spent back home… but its special when you finish a year… that first year… in a place that you start realizing as your second home… I long to call this place “HOME”…

Some day I will find that firefly too!!

This year took to me some absolutely stunning remote places in Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Meghalaya and Assam… and very recently and finally MIZORAM…  for a person who grew up in a small village in Punjab far removed from a typical urban life and the usual romantic ideas of adventure travel… every and any part should be remote…  but the North East really did open those remote hinterlands… for the first time… when I said I travelled to remote parts, I really was in remote parts…

I had some cynical lot who sent me letters/ e mails saying what I call remote is not really remote… they grew up in majuli so for them its home… its not remote…  but a girl from a remote village in Punjab called Jalalabad which rarely finds a mention on the map… will definitely find it remote.

I urge such people to understand the difficulties, passion, motivation that goes behind exploring the subjective unexplored… cynicism is appreciated as long as it brings in positive results… they should again be like those fireflies in the dark… they should bring in new ideas… break old norms… then they are constructive… then that cynicism will bring in happiness… and that I WILL love!

Another thing I absolutely love is… serendipity!

I reached Mizoram, as always with no contacts and no research (because there is none anywhere)… I met up with this lovely family at electric veng(mizo for locality) and hit it off with them instantly… partly because they seemed to be the only ones you could talk in english. Mizoram has almost no English or hindi…all the television channels play Korean films and television series dubbed in mizo… which is also the reason why there is a strong Korean influence in the fashion sense here… the hairstyles, the shoes, the clothes, the walk, the smiles… everything aims to be a bit Korean… n if you happen to look a little cool that day… you are instantly labelled… KOREAN… 🙂

Thanks to my size and shape… I never qualified to be a KOREAN… no matter how much I tried! FAT is so WRONG in Mizoram!! And everyone looks so stylish…

my favourite flowers in aizawl

But yes communication or rather conversation is quite an amusing prospect there if you don’t know mizo which is why I had to pick quite a many mizo phrases and words in a very short period… asking for basic tea/chai is also an issue so I learnt to ask for THING PUI.. and I would instantly get my tea. I first realized that learning mizo will be very necessary when the very first day in Mizoram, to communicate to the maxicab or shared sumo driver that “please don’t keep any bag on top of my bag because there is a camera in it” I took about 20 odd minutes… with gestures… pushing… nudging… laughing… we finally could communicate… and it was sort of fun!

My first day in Mizoram opened up a whole dream like world of beautiful textiles… MIZOs are expert weavers…  I went to the market  to get an idea on the kind of textiles and weaves that are done by mizos… I was very impressed with the weaves but saddened by the fact that again like all the other regions, all these beautiful weaves are being done on acrylic or Thailand yarn…

I did meet a designer or two from aizawl, who seemed to be working with cotton but their designs had only a hint of the traditional mizo weaves. I was missing the bright colours, the stripes, the various motifs… they seemed to be basic plain cottons that are simpler and easier to weave on frame or fly shuttle looms with just basic mizo motif as borders… these were definitely those mass production pieces and lacked the traditional characteristic feel of mizo textiles.

The hunt for weavers who could weave these beautiful patterns on cotton and only on loin loom took me to various remote villages in Mizoram, but like always almost none agreed to work on cotton till I found this very humble and unassuming  person in the textile village of Mizoram. He was a friend in an instant.  I reached this village only to find that the contacts that I had collected for this place were going to be a difficult source because of the language barrier. They just didn’t know hindi or English. I figured from the village council that I could meet a guy who might be able to help me out, because his mother is handling a textile unit but on a very small scale.

I took my backpack n water bottle and purely out of impulse reached his small humble shop…  the moment we met, and exchanged general pleasantries, I was asked if I knew anyone else in the area or if I have a place to stay.  I didn’t have an answer and he figured. After a quick conversation with his mom, I was asked to stay at their place.

That absolute casual courtesy resulted into a pleasant friendship and now we are working together. We bonded on everything… the love for textiles, the adventure, the mizo food, the chutneys he and his mom made, the old musical instruments, the jewellery… he supported me in my quest and I was overwhelmed.  We spent days exploring  that region of Mizoram and even met this spiritual leader with around 70 wives and about 200 odd children who live in complete harmony in a small village of Mizoram. It was an exciting trip meeting this man who could manage well with so many wives. Note- age group of wives- 18 to 60 plus and still getting his wives pregnant at an age above 70. We went to see the beautiful waterfall around…  attended a funeral ceremony full of hymns and songs being sung to the sound of drums, saw young mizo association building home for an old lonely widow completely as a voluntary project, and in the midst of all of this, we discussed the possibilities of reviving the weaves on cotton.. silently!

I found a family in Mizoram just like that… silently!

When I left the house… the father called me his daughter and said he would love to have me over again because I am just like THEM… see that’s what makes all this special… I really WAS THEM!

I do miss that family fondly… but I know there is no way I won’t be going back there! We have struck a bond that will stay… through those many evening we spent laughing on the errors of our miscommunication because of broken hindi or English or mizo, or learning and exchanging recipes, or by aunty taking out those old pieces of her jewels and sharing her old world with me, or by uncle telling me those old folk tales, or the hours spent playing with the young kids teaching them “Charlie chaplin went to france” moves, we did sword fights, we ran around the house, we screamed, I taught them English, helped them with homework… just many of those beautiful memories I gathered in few days…

I found a family and at that point that’s all that mattered… when I spoke to mumma, she said the same… its not the work you do, the money you make, the challenges or difficulties that you come across, the accolades that you get for your work that you have really accomplished… the fact that I could find a family sitting so far away from home was what she thought made everything so special.

My mother just knows how to put my mind to the right perspective.

Yes, she is right! This is really all that matters!

So I bid a sad “so long” to this lovely family and moved further down south Mizoram…  which is where my hunt for traditional jewellery and musical instruments began. ..

I met a chieftain’s grand son who had about ten odd darbu(s) with him in all sizes. darbu is a collective name for MIZO music instruments. i heard the sound of this massive pongmong darbu… a disc like instrument made of metal which is either beaten with hands or sticks… and makes a gong like sound. different sizes obviously make a symphony of sounds. I was in awe. I loved the sound so much so I spent many hours sitting there. The chieftain gave me 3 of his darbu because he felt I will not sell them further. And THAT is true… I love that sound, how can I attach anything commercial to it. I came out extremely overwhelmed and happy carrying my 3 darbu pongmongs that were aged atleast a 100 years or more.

WILL CONTINUE THIS SOON… mizoram is going to be one long story 🙂

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7 Responses to fireflies in the dark…

  1. poonam says:

    loved reading every word….u r amazing, girl….love u….

  2. A beautiful read.Some of your lines gave me goosebumps 🙂 Ah the thrills of backpacking, remote places, and unforgettable acquaintances!

    • ambika… i still get goosebumps reliving those days… thats how i cant stop going back there again and again… and it surprises me everytime… with more happiness, more contentment, more peace!

  3. Akkta Panwar says:

    simply wow.. what intrigues me more is that i was actually living every word and moment you spent there. Perhaps, someday…
    waiting impatiently for more.

  4. Arundhati says:

    Loved your article, Ritika! It arouses my wanderlust again!

  5. Hi Ritika,
    You have a wonderful way of writing. When I read this I felt that I was in Mizoram. Keep Posting. Great work.

    — Thiyagarajan.

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