Tuesday, October 03, 2006

A MIZORAM DIARY: Clouds, Christians, the Economy question... (Part II)

I'm still wondering about Mizoram. It's a tiny state in this part of the country and no longer as prone to “insurgency” as its neighbouring states. People I spoke with here don't seem to know how the economy of this place works, nor do they seem very comfortable with my enquiry. When I asked how people earned their income I was laughingly, but in all seriousness told, “Government of India!” I had thought that agriculture would be the obvious way, but it seems it's in trading and service. Which brings me to another observation: the north Indian trading communities who are all over the North East and have their fingers in all the business pies available are conspicuous by their near-absence in Aizawl and elsewhere.

The local people in Aizawl are apparently quite wealthy or well-off. The white taxis with yellow stripes, either small Maruti cars or the Indica, number over a 1000 and though their arbitrary fares are expensive they are commonly used. People are not just well dressed, they are expensively clothed in the leading brands; they have all the necessary gadgets and lead lifestyles that would not be out of place in major urban centres. Of course they must also be a fair minority among the population. Yet the EDP operator of the Indian Airlines office has a 30Gb iPod and the latest N series Nokia cellphone; his friend sports designer eyewear which is probably as expensive as his friend's two gadgets put together.

I wondered why the powers that be are doing nothing about the income earning possibilities for the folk of Mizoram. The answer came to me in a slightly roundabout way. While on my rave about the Church, I realised that they pin the loyalty of their congregation on charity. The Church's most obvious way of being uppermost in the minds of the people is to be concerned about their welfare. You will not find beggars from the local ethnic groups on the streets. Everyone, under the auspices of the Church, is bound by Christian duty to look after everyone else. Repentance and an unswerving belief in the gospel are the other buzz words. But of course all such terms and conditions lead to hypocrisy.

In other states of India, the Church has innumerable social welfare projects which provide training in skills for self-employment and honest, income generating opportunities. In Aizawl and the 36 kilometres I travelled from the airport, I saw no indication of such work. I wanted to see small- and cottage-scale enterprises like handlooms and handicrafts, apiary products and fruit growing and processing but no, nothing! The Mizo chili, a tiny round wonder of amazing pungency could well be a leading export for the state, but its availability is limited to the local bazars. The same is for bamboo, which covers huge land areas in wild abandon. Or passion fruit, squash, limes, bananas... Hence, I arrive at the conclusion that the Church does not encourage this because it would lead to a loss of control over their flock. Let them live on Christian charity and you ensure abundant loyalty.

And so, I'm led to further conclude that the same goes for the government. Provide jobs in the various departments and organisations and you have the largest, most loyal vote bank. Every family in the state has at least one member employed in the state and central governments. Even if I have no statistics to support this, I say it with confidence after talking with many of the locals.


Clouds did enter my room finally. I watch the early evening settling down as the clouds advance towards me on the balcony. Their movement seems agonisingly slow, yet when I blink or look back from elsewhere, they are so much closer. I see the houses before me beginning to don their smoky shrouds. Small wisps break away from the main body and swiftly charge about here and there. Lightning flashes in a rhythm of its own within that mass of water vapour. It now looks ominous with its differing shades of grey and though its not raining, my face and shirt become damp all of a sudden. The clouds have touched me.

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