Monday, October 31, 2016

Zawlaidi: the Story and the Book

Spent the weekend reading a new novel Zawlaidi by Lalengzauva, a fellow rabbi at a local college.  I don't normally read books in Mizo, not because of any cultural snobbery but simply because I grew up reading in English (the reason why being another story altogether), and while I can skim a page in English and several key words immediately pop out, not so in Mizo. My brain process works ever so slowly when confronted with a page in Mizo, so I tend to mostly avoid it altogether.

This particular book was pretty much foisted on me by our Lit. Club kids at work. They said they would get to earn a small commission for every sale they made so I was happily suckered into buying a copy. Flipping through the pages, I was delighted to discover it to be about an old Mizo story that had fascinated me since I’d first heard about it a year or so ago. One that I thought would make great copy as a poem or short story. A story of illicit love, incest to be specific, of a young girl who falls hopelessly in love with her brother under the influence of the fabled zawlaidi (magic potion), and flees home the evening her brother marries another woman to presumably weep their nuptial night away on a sheer rock ledge since immortalised in cultural legend as “Zawlmangi Khum” (Zawlmangi’s Bed).

Quirkily enough, this book, while basing its plot on the legend and crafting a fictional narrative of its principal characters, actually debunks the traditionally romanticised claims of zawlaidi. And it's a minor, albeit intriguing, character who blows the zawlaidi myth out of the water: the precious potion he gives the leading man is really the crushed, dried powder of a common plant. Literally all that ensues is stage-managed by the wily sister who has all along nurtured an obsessive crush on her rather clueless brother.

Or does she? Is it rather perhaps the mysterious stranger who perceptively guesses the sister's true feelings for the brother, and in true Machiavellian spirit, manipulates the consequential chain of  love, hate, intrigue and inevitable destruction of one of the major players? Is there a deeper, hidden truth of a man born with razor-sharp wit and intelligence yet bearing the appearance of a brutish oaf deciding to play God with human dice? Idk.

While I enjoy the creative spin on the story immensely, I'd have liked the writer to provide a slightly more substantive reason for the sister's obsession with her sibling. Sisters and brothers don't normally just bend that way, do they? Or at least those that might, grow out of it as they mature, so some kind of psychological cause and effect would have given greater depth to this otherwise highly engaging book.

In all, a good read.

(Yay, I just reviewed a book!)