I found the Mizos practise honesty and trust effortlessly. Why don’t we give it a try?
“Sir, Do you know what they’re announcing?” My office driver was asking me excitedly.
“What?” I asked.
It was a beautiful December morning. The sun was at its brightest, yet couldn’t wipe out (didn’t even try) the chill in the air. Christmas celebration was thick in the market.
Mizoram celebrates Christmas not just on December 25 but the whole month. The December market in the second largest city Lunglei in Mizoram wore a festive look to the hilt. People were buying all sorts of things — dress, Chinese gadgets, utensils, tools and whatnot. The whole city seemed to be in the market. It was amid this ordered clutter that the driver was referring to the announcement made over the public address system in Mizo language.
“Sir, they are announcing that someone had purchased a T-shirt, paid for it, but absent-mindedly left it at the shop itself. They are calling that person to come and collect it!”
I stopped in my tracks. What? There’s a limit to being honest. My first thought after I recovered from my surprise was, will it happen in my place?
Central government service is a boon as well as a curse. Boon, because you get to see different places in India free of cost. Curse, because you have to be away from your family. It was 10 years ago that I was posted to Lunglei for a two-year tenure.
There is a lot of misconception about the North-East in many parts of India. That people there are “culture-less tribals, head-hunters, that they eat wild animals,” etc. In short, there is a definite, palpable and unmistakably condescending attitude towards the people of North-East in the mainland. The general apathy and animosity sometimes manifests as hostility we see elsewhere.
Initially, when I was called a mainland Indian I was irked. Why should I be singled out? Are they not Indians? Soon, I realised there’s a Himalayan difference between ‘them’ and ‘us’. I experienced this the day I set my foot on Mizoram.
As I was travelling from Aizawl to Lunglei, which is 235 km down south by a Tata Sumo (the normal travel mode), we stopped by for tea en route. Being the “superior” mainland Indian, I was a little troubled to take tea from a shop run by a tribal. Yet my stomach won out and I grudgingly ventured into the shop. The shopowner, a woman, smiled disarmingly and asked pleasantly, “Kapu, do you want tea?” Tea was only so so. I gave a 10-rupee note and expected the balance amount. She vigorously shook her head. “No change. Do rupyaa!”
I, too, had no change. The driver, a Bengali from Silchar, was impatient back in the car and horned. I felt awkward. Then she smiled and said something in Mizo I couldn’t comprehend. She waved me towards the car. Then it dawned on me: she simply forsook her two rupees, yet she smiled! I never thought a paan-stained-teeth smile could be ever so beautiful.
Today, I could imagine what she might have told me. These people are unpretentious, honest and simple.
My professor friend (a Tamil from Nagercoil), who is settled in Lunglei for more than 20 years, told me that it is common for people to travel to Lunglei with heavy luggage. If they can’t carry them home as they alight from bus, they would simply leave them at a corner, or beside any shop at the bus stop itself. They’d collect them the next day. If they don’t find them there, surely, the nearby shop-keeper would have kept them inside his shop to protect them from rain!
And when you ask for the luggage they will never ask for your identity or to prove yourself. They simply trust you and hand over things. Phew! They implicitly trust others!
I felt ashamed when I remembered an episode back home. I was angry at my wife once. The bus conductor had to give her a four-rupee balance. He gave her four big round coins.
Obviously, no coin was 50 paise size. I was sure at least 4 rupees were there, otherwise more. Yet my wife counted them to ensure that all were one rupee coins. I was upset with my wife’s foolishness. If there were not one rupee coins, then they must be two-rupee coins. In that case, we stood to gain. Doesn’t she know? Why did she count them in front of him? We’d have lost the extra money had he found out. It was sheer stupidity, I had thought. Today, I hang my head in disgrace for being ‘smart’!
The Mizos celebrate Christmas as a society. Everybody contributes money. Vehicles passing through their areas are stopped and occupants, Christians or not, are asked to contribute. Once you donate, they give you a flag (a piece of yellow/green cloth tied on a bamboo stick). If this flag flies on your vehicle, they don’t stop the vehicle again.
My fellow mainland Indians settled there were put off by this Christmas collection. They felt that being Hindus they need not donate money. But they may be subjected to harassment by drunkards. So they came up with an ingenious idea — they simply put up their own flags on their vehicles (jugaad!) without paying money.
While I am not surprised by my compatriots’ ability to fool others, I was touched by the sheer innocence of Mizos who never suspected such behaviour and would smilingly wave us away. Every time my friend laughs victoriously, I would burn inside. Is this the way of civilised people? Does being smart mean the ability to deceive others?
This is not to simply sing paeans to the Mizos. They have their own foibles. Many of them drink or chew guthka. Drug-addiction is rampant. Teenage pregnancy is common. Women, more so spinsters, face harsh treatment from society. Yet. . .
Yet, people-to-people they practise honesty and truthfulness as a trait. They honour their word. Crime is unheard of. It was my experience for 10 years in Mizoram.
My fellow Indians from the mainland have long had a grouse that Mizos haven’t tried to learn Hindi or assimilate with Indians. I differ. Let them be Mizos, be honest and truthful. Let us not corrupt them. Maybe, Mizos too have something to learn from the mainland. Let good things be exchanged. Not guthka or cheatsing.
If someone has to change, I think it is we the mainlanders.
The Mizos simply showed me honesty begins as trust. Trust others implicitly. Where the trust is reciprocated, honesty flourishes. Is it so difficult to practise honesty in everyday life? We don’t need Team Anna to do that. Gandhiji’s example looks tough and difficult to practise. But I found Mizos practise it effortlessly. Why don’t we give it a try?
‘Ka lawm e, oh’, Lunglei (Thank you, Lunglei).
(The writer, an assistant engineer at the DD Kendra, Chennai, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)