The Day Aizawl City Went Up in Flames

Dr. Laltanpuii

That little thing they say has bombed Aizawl, and me I’m lost and so helpless’.

The only city the Mizo people called their own, loved by every Mizo child born of Chhinlung.

I believe it was February 26, 1966 while sitting in the Class VII room of Govt. High School when my dearest friend Kimteii said to me, “My Dear, my Dad said that the MNF Volunteers are apparently attempting to seize the Aizawl Assam Rifles and U Tlana has also gone with some others towards the Chite river” that my young heart of fourteen years was filled with joy, excitement and apprehension. All the more so because the autumn of the previous year, I had bunked my classes at Saitual ME School to help out at the feast on the setting up of an MNF Volunteer Battalion.

Then from the night of February 28, 1966, Aizawl began to be filled with the sounds of gunfire and bomb blasts. Everyone stayed put in their houses, looking for a haven of safety and the hazardous and difficult process of relocation had already begun. There was no longer any thought of School so along with my friends Kimi and Vani, we set out to help the volunteers in any we could. We went over to our assigned task of cooking for them at Govt. Boys M.E. School and found grown men, young men and women there. While we busied ourselves with our task, there were some who were happily singing with their guitars and dancing in joy. Words cannot adequately express the emotions of joy and anxiety mixed in our hearts during those precarious times. The time had apparently come for us, like it had for others in the outside world to find and identify ourselves with a political movement.

While we young people were busy with our assigned task, there was another time evolving, a more hazardous and perilous one. A powerful Fighter (F 104 Phantom Z) had reached the Aizawl skies and was hovering above us. After a few turns above, they began pelting those places they believed housed volunteers with bombs and other ammunition, with absolutely no restraint. Everyone ran amok in fear, looking for a place where they might be safe- I also found myself in a few life-threatening situations! As they were fleeing, my uncle/grandfather called for me to follow but I said, “ You run on to safety, I will follow with my friends at the end, but do find a way of letting me know where you go.”

There were hordes of people fleeing Aizawl from then on. We somehow found ourselves going towards Dawrpui from Tuikual side to find my family had already left. They had left a letter saying, “Tante, We are going down to Chite and will go on to Saitual from Zokhawsang and Seling. Follow us as quickly as you can.” I then knew how I was to follow them. My friend Kimteii’s family had also left but they had gone down south to their families there. All this while Aizawl was already groaning in fear and trepidation, with her people abandoning her for safety. It was then that it happened, this Zawlkhawpui we loved was burning, there was nothing to see but flames all around. My only lot was to cry 'That little thing they say has bombed Aizawl, and me I’m lost and so helpless'.

Burning Flames! Dead Bodies! Kimteii Passed Away!

With My Dear-i (Kimteii), my dearest friend in this whole world, I got ready to flee Aizawl with the rest to find us a sanctuary from this madness. On the road towards Bazar, we did see a few corpses on the way and all this time, the Fighter was hailing down fire at everyone and everything on land. At Tuithiang, we saw the dead bodies of cows and pigs and decided that we would avoid the Dawrpui road and walk on towards the west of Aizawl because the fighter frequented the eastern parts of town more than the others. When we saw the corpses of two teenaged girls lying together on the steps between two houses, we were filled with pity and touched to our cores. But knowing that this could be our fate too in another minute, I covered the bodies with one of my ‘puan’s (a type of sarong, the traditional wear of a Mizo woman) and we moved on.

As we were passing over the western road, we saw the body of a young man lying atop a small mound. Tired, we hurriedly lay down on a lowland. Then Kimteii, in an attempt to cover the body of that young man with her puan crawled towards the mound. There was a sudden machine gun fire from the A.R. compound and Kimteii cried out just as she covered the dead man’s body. When I turned at the sound of her cry, I saw the gun had caught her right below her breast, the bullet had come out through the back. Blood was coming out in splashes. She was tossing and turning on the ground. With all her strength she was shouting, “Tante, my dear, I’m going to die, I’m going to die. Run quickly, they’ll shoot you too…” I held her in my arms and cried, “O, my dear, Kimte, Kimte, how can I go on without you…? Never fear, I will die here with you…” And with her dying breath, “Tante, Tante, I’m now going to give my life for our land. Mother..Mother…Father…Father.the pain..” I prayed so that she might feel comforted, and that I might die there with her. In between her cries of agony, “Tante, take my notebook too and please continue to study…fulfill the dream we both had of becoming lady doctors” and soon after that “Mother…Mother…My King, take me into your arms… Dear God..I’m coming to you..” My Dear-i’s face began to change. She moved in fits, she stretched in pain, she groaned, and then she was no more. She was no longer there to speak to me. “My Dear, Kimte, open your eyes, speak to me” I repeated myself over and over again but she did not answer again nor did she move.

O my dear, Kimte, Kimte,

You have now given your life for our land and our people;

My friend, my friend, my love, my greatest love!

Your parting words..my misery..but Kimte,

When will my soul come to be with you..?

O Kimte, goodbye…goodbye…

were the only words I could cry out. But even then, I was strangely comforted. In the autumn of 1965, Pu Lalchungnunga had held a Salvation Camping at Saitual and we both had offered ourselves up to God in prayer then. That is why Kimteii had cried out to her Saviour with her dying breath.! The God of Grace would surely have embraced her and welcomed her into his loving arms. Also, Kimteii had fought for our land and our people. A person with so much love, she had seen an unattended corpse and had gone ahead to cover it with her soft puan, knowing it was dangerous to move out. She was not afraid to die in fulfilling our traditional show of love and concern! As long as the Mizo people live, we shall remember Kimteii. Kimteii has died, but she continues to live.

Then I covered her body with my best puan, the Ngotekherh and laid her beside the body of the young man she had covered. A young man came by just then and shouted to me, “Why are you still here? Run quickly”. Then over the body of my best friend, the friend I’d been with since I was a kid, the one I always studied with and one I would never forget, over Kimteii’s body I prayed. Having ruled by the Creator of heaven and earth that we must part, I had to bid her farewell even against my will.

O my dear Kimte, from whom I never wished to part,

But fate has ruled that I live, aimless in my loss!

I cannot accept, I do not know how to

Till when we find complete and everlasting rest

Goodbye…goodbye

…so crying I picked up her notebook and all her clothes in a bundle and ran off in a hurry with the young man towards the west.

After a while we teamed up with a family that was fleeing and somehow managed to cross Aizawl from the south. I had become so tired and hungry that I often stumbled and fell on the way. The young man would pick me up and hold my hand and he gave me all the remains of his bread. He then went on to Muallungthu while I stayed the night at Zokhawsang where my family had been. Then with some others, I moved up to join them at Saitual. At that time, Aizawl was no longer a city- it was just a big fire. With flames and smoke, with corpses on the streets, it had become a battleground like other places in the world.

From my trials to victory

My father (Thangvula, Arunachal Sub-Inspector for Education) came over from Manipur to Saitual to take me and we left for Manipur after two weeks at Saitual. My trials may have been a pittance compared to what others went through, but for me, it created a sense of victory in my heart. That also became the core of my life’s purpose. I went through life in health by the grace of God, doing well in my studies but my beloved Kimteii was no longer with me. I felt alone and forlorn many times. But she had gone on to the Saviour she had accepted, to a place where she did not have to study nor toil in hard work. I shall also join her and rest with her some day soon. The dream I had shared with Kimteii since we started High School, the dream she left me with in her dying moments became ever more precious! My father’s parting words as I was to leave for Bombay Medical College were so beautiful to me- “Tante, go in good health. You are to study to become a Doctor just as your friend Kimteii wanted you so remember that you are a Mizo wherever you go and remember to trust yourself in the Lord always.

Looking back on the times that have gone by

How nostalgic I feel as I look back on my life! Where are the friends with whom I had shared such a happy month (February 1966) in the Class VII room at Government High School, without any fear that they would end so soon? O how I wish I could have just one day of the happy times I spent with my Kimteii at Aizawl! I can never forget Kimteii-her body given in sacrifice, the blood she shed, her last words spoken. How my tears fell the day I heard that I had passed my M.B.B.S. from Bombay Medical College, remembering the dream I had shared with Kimteii! I felt she came to me in spirit repeatedly saying, “Tante, how happy I am for you! I have now rested, Tante, it is up to you to use your skills for our land, for our people.”

After covering her body with my Ngotekherh and kissing her cheeks as I left her, Kimteii’s physical body has forever been lost to me! And how can I forget the young man who held me as I stumbled tired and hungry, the one who gave me his bread to eat, what is his name? Where might he be? And what about the family I detoured Aizawl with? And how precious for me the old lady in whose house I stumbled in at Zokhawsang, the one who cleaned me up of the clothes covered in Kimteii’ blood! And I remember the kindness of those I went with till Saitual and how they cared for me. And priceless is my father who came all the way from Manipur to take me to safety. Had he not come, I would have been caught in the terrible madness at Aizawl and where then would I have been? On the day I was filled with such memories.

“ When I look back on the times gone by

how I miss the friends who’ve gone

comfort me now

o land where there are no goodbyes”

and

“The years of our youth, the good times all gone

Are you only to be the past?

As I collect the memories of those times

How melancholic and wistful you make me feel"

This is a Mizo article published in 1980 in the ‘MZP Chanchinbu’. The then Editor of the magazine, Dr. J.V.Hluna has included the piece in his book which is named after the title of this article. No further information is known of the writer and the author of the book expresses his deep desire to know who the writer, and who her ‘My Dear Kimteii’ are. This is an almost literal translation of a piece that brought tears to my eyes the first time I read it - tochh_shrugged

  • Chhinlung’ is a crevice on the earth
  • the word used here is ‘Pu’, a word used both for a grandfather and a maternal uncle.
  • Zawl’- Aizawl, ‘khawpui’- city or capital.

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