I tried looking at the sky, but couldn’t. You really had to squint your eyes to look through the blinding rain, which had continued through the night.
My kind host had just woken me up with a smile. And a cup of hot tea. “bābu, uṭʰ jāiẏēⁿ, sāt baj gaẏē hæⁿ,” he had said. Sir, it’s already seven, wake up. It’s “already” seven. For a person staying in a western Indian city, seven was not so early. But for people staying far in the remote villages of the north-east, it’s apparently late. Late enough to wake up your guest, who had nothing to do the entire day but wait.
I mentally noted the stark difference of the local time with Mumbai, apparent even in this unrelenting weather. My mind wandered to the obscure pieces of news articles I had come across in newspapers, reporting the claim of the northeastern Indians for a separate time-zone. The reality hit me now.
While having breakfast I asked them about how I could fix my situation at the earliest and leave for my destination: Lunglei. I was told there wasn’t much to do unless the rain relented, which would be when, no one could tell. It’s not quite unusual for a few days of rain in the winter, they said. And the nearest town, where I could hope to find a mechanic to fix my car, was close to fifty kilometres away. Unless the weather cleared, there was almost no hope of receiving connectivity over phone to inform my colleagues. People back home would also be worried, however mad.
After years of working in the IT industry, I had left my job and was giving a shot at content writing. My parents were furious, my partner on the verge of abandoning me, and there was no certainty of how I would do at my job. It was paying me much less, but challenging me much more. I was starting from scratch, but I had lots of opportunities to learn, glad to have been offered it in the first place. Plus, I had to finish my novel.
I was sent on an assignment to Mizoram. After hiring a car from Guwahati, it had been a long ride over the last two days. I had entered Mizoram the day before, crossing the Barak valley, and after passing by the small capital city of Aizawl, carried on over the route leading to Thenzawl. Then I got caught in the torrential rain. As if to tell me that life could get worse, my car broke down in the middle of nowhere. Abandoning my futile attempts to diagnose the situation, I abandoned my car in desperation and started walking, hoping to find the nearest human settlement before the Sun went down. Thankfully, my fortune turned and I came across a man carrying wood. After I told him of my predicament, he happily agreed to host me. And here I am.
It had been only a few years that electricity had reached this village. It seemed to me that it was tucked so far away in the world, that forget phone connectivity, even the troubles of the world could not reach it.
My guests sensed my anxiousness of not being able to inform anyone, and the longing to carry on with my unfinished journey. They smiled and told me, “āp kō tʰōḍā gʰumā kē lātēⁿ hæⁿ bābu, cāliẏēⁿ.” Come let me take you around the village for a while, Sir. Was this guy mad? In that rain? I wasn’t going anywhere in that rain. But then, what fun just staying inside and sulking? So I decided to go.
He led me around a grassland where I saw children playing football in their traditional wear and soaking in the rain. I had my raincoat on, and was thankful for that. I passed a village school, a small hospital, a church. And then, my host led me proudly to the post office. He said, it had opened two years back and was open 24-7 during demonetization. When I asked him more about the national event, he casually mentioned that life in the village was not affected much during that time. The villagers live on local harvests, and that season had been exceptionally good for the crops.
We were passing a marshy pond, when I saw four children emerging out of the thick water-plants wearing their traditional piece of cloth, driving a canoe, and holding an umbrella each over their heads, made of leaves of a tree I could not recognize. They had an unadulterated smile on their faces, and happily posed for my camera. On the other side of the pond, there were two more kids sitting on a log that emerged from the pond. While one held a banana leaf over their heads, the other held a fishing pole from which a piece of narrow thread calmly hung over the water. They waved at me and smiled profusely, and I recognized their faces from the evening before. My host’s son and nephew. They had helped me get my belongings from my now-stranded car to their home, in the torrential rain. I waved back in gratitude, and thumbed up their endeavour.
On my way back, my host wanted to show me a “pākkā bāḍi.” A concrete home. Belonging to the richest in the village. The only home that was built with cement, in the whole village. Painted too, he said. His pride in telling me that such a thing existed in their village and not in the neighbouring ones, knew no bounds.
Surrounded by trees, it had a well on its eastern side. A small well, but with stairs around it. As I peeped in, I found four kids having a blast swimming their lives away. They weren’t wearing anything. But they looked happy.
My poor luck the previous day made me spend the next three days in a remote village of north-eastern India, interacting with locals, living off their crops, doing nothing “productive.” I soon came out of the terrible anxiousness of being entirely cut off from the only people I know, and embraced the peace. My thoughts were not distracted for long hours, broken only by another gesture of kindness from my host. I was not bored, not even from the rain. When it was time to go, I realized that happiness is derived out of simplicity. Sometimes, all you need is a football.