Thursday, February 5, 2009

How Grandpa Got His Name

I never really knew Grandpa all that well, because he lived in far-away Lawngtlai, and died when I was about six or seven. I do have vague memories of him being wracked by violent fits of phlegmatic coughing, lying in bed in our home at Aizawl, always very quiet and uncomplaining; I would venture near his bed out of curiosity to have a better look at this tanned, thin old man who spoke Mizo infused with all the unfamiliar nuances and cadences of southern dialects. Always, when I did that, he would tell my mother, "Don't let the children come near, they might catch what I have." So I would slink guiltily away, thinking that I had somehow offended him, my childish brain unable to comprehend his concern for me. What I do remember very clearly though, is his name, for Grandpa had been given the uncommon and slightly alarming name of Thatchianga. For those who do not follow the Mizo language, 'that' means 'kill', and 'chiang' is 'plain, distinct, clear, certain, obvious' according to J.H. Lorraine's Dictionary. So, his name essentially means something like "one who kills/ killed with certainty". Quite a name.

When I was in Pre-University an aunt asked me why my Grandpa had such an odd name. By then, having gathered a few hazy facts from my mom about the genesis of the name, I easily replied, "Well, he killed this vai (non-Mizo from the plains) chap and so they named him Thatchianga." It took a few seconds for that to register, but when it did, she asked me, "But what was his name before he killed this fellow?!"

Anyway, here is how the story goes. My great great grandfather, Hnawncheuva of Tawihpui village and his friend, Dokulha, were warriors. This was during the Raj, and even in far-flung places like Tawihpui, petty officers of the government did what they could to take advantage of and harass the villagers. Among this lot were the non-Mizo Circle Interpreters, called Rahsi by the Mizos. These people had frequent interactions with the locals, especially the men, many of whom they employed as coolies. Apparently, they would greedily demand chickens, rice, vegetables and other hard-earned produce from the villagers anytime they had the whim. The villagers, fed up of this kind of behavior, asked Hnawncheuva and his friend to get rid of them, asking them why they, so-called warriors, were such cowards as to let these vais get away with such atrocious behavior. Not only emboldened by their entreaties, but by now seeing it as their bounden duty to protect the interests of their people, these two gentlemen ambushed and killed one such officer.

Having made no attempt to conceal their crime, they were duly captured, and a trial was conducted in which the verdict was that they should be transported to the Andamans to serve their term in prison. As they were bound and taken on the long trek towards the nearest port, they refused to be cowed by their captors and would not walk despite threats of the vilest kind. At a loss as to how to proceed, their captors decided to carry them piggy-back style on the torturous mountain roads. Not content with having to be carried thus, these brave warriors would suddenly make a lunge for freedom, and many times both they as well as the men carrying them would tumble down the steep inclines along the way. Needless to say, it must have been quite a journey they undertook. When the captured men resorted to suddenly biting their captors with ferocity, their teeth were all pulled out to teach them a lesson.

They eventually landed at Andaman Cellular Jial and served their term. When the time came for them to go home to Mizoram, Dokulha, in a flash of ill-inspired brilliance suggested that since they were going home anyway, they should kill at least one more vai for good measure. My great great grandpa must have resisted the urge, but the temptation was too great for Dokulha; he went and knocked off an unsuspecting vai who was basking in the sun, enjoying the peace of a beautiful morning. Alas! He was captured yet once more, and spent the rest of his life behind bars in the Andamans. Parting from his friend with much sadness, Hnawncheuva eventually reached home and was reunited with his family. It was in memory of this that my granpa, his grandson, was named Vaithatchianga, later shortened to Thatchianga.

A decade or so ago, my sister, who was then working as a missionary in Arunachal Pradesh, happened to narrate this story to a male colleague of hers. She told the story with relish, and concluded by remarking that had Dokulha not been so foolish, he would have gone home too. Her colleague, Dingtea, with a wry grin, said, "You're right. We've always wondered what would have been his fate had he not made that disastrous decision. You see, Dokulha was my great great Grandfather." Small world, eh?