Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Day We Danced the Streets into History

Friday, March 12th, 2010. What a day it was. And you had to be there in person to savour the euphoria, exuberance and carnival atmosphere of it all. Chapchar Kut it was, traditionally an agricultural festival during a short layoff period in the heavily laboured lives of our ancestors and always celebrated with a work hard, party harder attitude. Considered a heathen custom with the advent of Christianity, and ousted from practice. Also no longer applicable in today's largely desk-bound Mizoram, especially in the urban areas, except as a governmental cultural holiday. This year, the powers that be decided to take a leaf out of neighbouring state Meghalaya's flirtations with Guinness records and arrange the world's biggest and largest ever gathering of the traditional Mizo dance, the cheraw.

When Mizos get high on something, we don't do things by halves. Everyone gets into the mood, young, old, rich, poor. We tend to all want a piece of the action and have our say, whether positive or negative, helpful or completely irrelevant. Friday was Christmas, New Year's Eve and FIFA World Cup final day all rolled into one. From 9.30 am, the AR Grounds where the main function was held, began to bring in participants for the dance. By 12 noon, on the streets, where the dancing was to spill over out onto, vehicles disappeared: traffic was closed and rerouted. People took over. Endless processions of dancers in traditional gear and excited revellers in everyday wear walking towards the Lammual.

We had been informed the dancing would stretch from Sikulpuikawn in southern Aizawl to Chanmari kawn where I live. I had thought I'd just walk up the couple of yards to our locality's buzz point and take in the action from there. But then my neighbour whose teenaged son was to beat the bamboo staves said the dancing was supposed to begin a lot further away. Disappointedly I decided to watch from my brother-in-law's place bang in the middle of the bazar area. I also took my much maligned camera along.

By the time I left the house, all the dancers were arrayed on the streets with bamboo staves in place ready for on the spot rehearsals. There were bull horns tacked on high posts all along the way for the music feed. The sound was tinny and unimpressive though. And the crowds. Oh, the crowds. They filled the sides of the roads so you had to jostle your way through. Some watched from rooftops and high-rise windows. There were waves of them walking south. Waves walking north. Incredibly, even during the actual official Guinness performance, there were still waves moving north or south!

I squeezed southwards too, thoroughly enjoying the ambience. Everyone smiling, excited, expectant, animated. The dancers took breaks in between rehearsals, eating hurried lunches, prepacked soft drinks, ice lollies. Most were school children who'd been practising since the beginning of the school year. Many of them looked of pre-pubescent age. Under the bright March sun, they sportingly swayed and skipped and weaved in and out of the bamboo in tandem. Hundreds of photographers, some with sophisticated expensive equipment, some with rather rudimentary cellphone cams, snapped pictures and shot videos by the truckload. Carpe diem.

And what a day. Certainly the poor will remain poor, the rich will stay rich. Life will go on much as before. But we created history and gave ourselves an unforgettable experience on a beautiful, sunny day when our hearts were collectively one. The day we took colour and movement and music to the streets in the name of culture and a place in Guinness. And most importantly, I was right there in the middle of it all, wooohooo!!!