Biak asks my permission to turn on the music system in the car. Since the drive to Lengpui airport from Aizwal, Mizoram's capital, is nearly 90 minutes, I am hesitant to do so. Though I like the music, I know I will not understand the lyrics of the Mizo songs he would play. I keep quiet. Fifteen minutes later, Biak repeats his request. Not wanting to appear rude, I ask him to go ahead.
Imagine my surprise when Abhijeet's voice fills the car. Biak, my Mizo driver, begins to hum along as Abhijeet sings Chand taare tod laun from the Shah Rukh Khan film, Yes Boss. A Mizo listening to popular Hindi songs? At best I would have expected Biak to listen to Britney Spears or Madonna. But Abhijeet?
Recovering from my initial shock, I ask Biak what cassettes he has with him. He hands over at least half-a-dozen for my inspection. Four of them are Hindi songs ranging from the Kaliyon ka chaman remix to Salman Khan's Tere Naam. The other two cassettes are by the latest Mizo craze, Vanlalsailvo, who's been dubbed the state's Robbie Williams.
"You like Hindi songs?" I ask Biak, a pleasant young man who stopped studying after class 10. "Yes, I like them very much," he replies in heavily accented but correct Hindi. He then lists his favourite singers -- Abhijeet, Shaan, Sonu Nigam, Sunidhi Chauhan.
"Don't you like Mizo songs?" I ask.
"I like them but not as much as the Hindi ones," he replies.
"Did you stay outside Mizoram during your childhood?" I continue to probe.
"No, I have been outside Mizoram only once," he says.
"So where did you develop an interest in Hindi music?" I ask.
"Oh, I listen to the radio and watch [television channels] B4U, Zee Music, MTV and Channel V," Biak tells me.
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It has been 17 years since the Mizoram accord was signed between the then underground Mizo National Front and Rajiv Gandhi. Since then, this tiny picturesque state has witnessed a sea change. For one, more people are willing to go out into the plains to work and do business with 'outsiders'. As a result, more and more Mizos are trying to pick up Hindi and Hindi films have become de rigueur. As a matter of fact, the best example of Mizos having mastered Hindi came when a Mizo lady read the Hindi news on Doordarshan's national channel for a number of years in the mid-1990s.
Hindi apart, the other great unifier is cricket. For a state that is mostly hilly and is in love with sports like hockey, football and boxing, to even have one full cricket team was a dream. This time, I was pleasantly surprised to see a cricket tournament going on at the only decent ground in Aizwal, the 1 Assam Rifles ground in the heart of the town. More surprisingly, the tournament was organised by the Young Mizo Association, an influential NGO that boasts of over 40,000 members across the state. Some cricket enthusiasts have even gone and formed a Mizoram Cricket Association and have plans to apply for affiliation to the BCCI in the near future.
What has brought about this change?
Dr Sangzuala Pachua, a doctor at the Aizwal Civil Hospital, reckons many of the Mizo children whose parents stayed outside the state while serving in the All India services have returned and brought the spirit of cricket with them. "Some of us who studied medicine in Assam in the late seventies got to know about cricket and retained our interest in the game. Of course, the live telecast of matches from across the globe also helps," he tells me a day after India is walloped by Australia in Bangalore.
National integration is a much abused and much misused word in India and its official proponents are too overbearing in promoting it through slogans and clichés. But the change that is evident in Mizoram today -- where outsiders are not gawked at as they used to be, say, 20 years ago; where Hindi film music plays easily alongside Mizo songs; where some of the ladies have started wearing salwar kameezes ; and where Hindi television news channels like Star Plus and Sony are not banned like they are in neighbouring Manipur -- are all signs of the much-vaunted national integration.
The bottom line is: All this has happened because peace was bought in by all concerned. Peace is the prerequisite for any society to flourish and nowhere is this fact more evident than in Mizoram today. As I take off from the swank new Lengpui Airport, I wish all the other states in the region decide follow Mizoram's example.
Illustration: Dominic Xavier
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