Spring 2022, Mizoram
‘I suppose I need to take the chance to try and cross over.’
Standing at the edge of the river he kicked pebbles into the water. The mountain ranges of Myanmar loomed in the far distance. Blue and grey in the evening sky they looked alluring and menacing at the same time.
Thanga, his driver was mortified.
‘Sir, that is not possible. It’s a different country across the river.’
He shrugged nonchalantly.
‘I just need to get hold of someone in the village with a boat. You can leave me at the village and return to Aizawl. Tomorrow morning I will make the crossing.’
‘No sir, please don’t do that. A newly-wed couple from Kolkata on their honeymoon attempted that last year. They were arrested by the border police and spent two nights in lock-up before we were able to contact their families and get them released. And this was before the military took over. Today if they catch you they may even shoot you suspecting to be Rohingya.’
‘Why would they do that? I am an Indian tourist, not a refugee. ’
‘A lot of drug smuggling happens across this river. And Rohingyas use boats to cross over into Mizoram. The Myanmar military police do not hesitate to shoot Rohingyas using the excuse of smuggling. The ethnic cleansing process, you know.’
He thought over for a minute.
‘But I have to scale those peaks. Or else my trip here will amount to nothing.’
‘We have nice peaks close by that you can climb. I will take you to Phawngpui, the Blue Mountain. It even has a better view.’
‘I scale only the tallest mountains. The Blue Mountain doesn’t fit the bill.’
Thanga shook his head. All along he had thought the man odd, but he was now convinced that he was also crazy.
‘Ok, we will return to Aizawl tomorrow, get you a visa and you can cross over on a canoe from the border post in Zokhawthar. For now, let us please return to Sangau before it gets dark. These mountain roads are treacherous during the day, but at nights positively suicidal.’
He smiled, despite his disappointment. ‘The boat ride was sure to have provided some fresh excitement.’
Slowly they began the trek back to the car.
A month into his stay in the capital Aizawl, he had chosen to explore the less travelled routes. Still in India, he felt he was thousands of miles away. Everything was different; the people, their features, culture, food habits, lifestyle, even their attitudes. He believed he must be as much out of place as a Mizo might be in any Indian city. But while he was being ignored by the locals largely and not necessarily in a rude way; a Mizo with his mongoloid features had to bear with a stare or even a disgruntled comment sometimes.
He had no complaints against the locals, just that they were too preoccupied with their affairs and showed zero interest in him. Which had suited him fine initially, but of late he had begun to feel a bit lonely. The lady who owned the home-stay where he put up rewarded him with a genuine smile only when he went to pay her the weekly dues. He suspected she was feeding him dog meat passing it off as chicken and had started avoiding eating meat altogether. It wasn’t entirely her fault – in the first week of his stay he had burnt her geyser. He forgot her warning about the automatic switch-off button being faulty, and to put it off within the hour. His memory not being too great recently, he had started to forget many things. That night he had suffered muscle pains, a sequel to his recent attack of Shingles and wanted a hot shower, but then forgot to put the switch off and went to sleep.
His journey to the state of Mizoram began with the unexpected discovery of a postcard dated 3rd September 1985 in his home upon his return from Munnar. It had a picture of a hilly town on the back of which was printed Champhai, Mizoram – a village that he had often dreamed about in the deepest recesses of his mind.
It was astonishing even to him how well he remembered those moments that had taken place nearly four decades ago, even as he struggled to recall what he had eaten for breakfast every morning.*
*An excerpt from Chapter 3 of A Final Waltz. CLICK HERE to read the prologue
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Artwork courtesy yellow_kettle_illustrations
Next: Maiden of the Mist
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