Mizo WriterI had first met Prof Laltluangliana Khiangte in April 2012, when he had come to Guwahati to take part in a workshop for translating folk stories of six different languages of the Northeast. Over the past seven years, I have met him again several times, and have also spent time chatting in his chamber in Mizoram University, Aizawl. And, every time I meet him, I get to know yet another aspect of Mizo language and literature, of which folklore attracts me the most. In February this year, when I went to see him in the University, he gave me as a gift a copy of Folktales of Mizoram which he had compiled, translated and edited in 2017. Going through that book on my flight back from Aizawl – through Imphal and Kolkata, because the direct daily flight between Guwahati and the Mizoram capital was suddenly withdrawn in February this year – I was simply carried away by the 66 folk stories he had included in that book.

Back in Aizawl for a two-week teaching assignment at the Northeastern Region campus of Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC) earlier this month, I wanted to see him again, and congratulate him particularly for the wonderful book that he had compiled. “Oh, you should go and see his library,” said my old friend and host LR Sailo, former Director of Information & Public Relations, Mizoram. Sailo, winner of several national awards for the amazing kind of public relations that he had done during the difficult days Mizoram had passed through, is himself a wonderful storyteller. A great photographer who had learnt the art of capturing images through the camera lens from the inimitable Ahmed Hussain of Shillong, Sailo was with All India Radio for a couple of years in the late 1960s when he had had the opportunity to type the manuscript of eminent broadcaster JD Baveja’s The Land Where The Bamboo Flowers, a book on Mizoram whose Foreword was written by the then Assam Chief Minister Bimala Prasad Chaliha. Having retired as Mizoram IPR director, Sailo is currently regional director of IIMC, Aizawl.

When I called him up for an appointment at his home, Prof Khiangte said: “You can come any time before 11 pm.” That left me wondering what he meant, especially knowing that Mizos have a very early dinner, almost immediately after sunset, though most of them generally do not go to bed before nine. And, when I reached his place, at Mission Veng, a posh locality in the heart of Aizawl, one of the first things he told me was that while he goes to bed exactly at 11 pm, he does not mind guests till that time. “I do not get disturbed by guests and visitors,” he said, as he took me down to the ground floor, where the walls of every room comprised only of bookshelves. “I have a little more than 15,000 books, which includes at least one copy of every book written in the Mizo language, apart from most books about Mizos and Mizoram in the English language,” he said with pride, as he took me around his library. 

Laltluangliana KhiangteBorn in 1961, Prof Khiangte himself has quite a number of books to his credit. He has authored 38 books in the Mizo language and 23 in English, written more than 30 plays in Mizo, and edited 34 books in English and Mizo, apart from also writing 27 booklets on various aspects of Mizo language, literature and culture in the two languages. What is more important, Prof Khiangte is also the most-read Mizo author outside, the reason being that at least 14 of his Mizo books have been translated into English, Hindi, Assamese, Bengali, Bodo, Khasi, Manipuri and Garo. The senior-most professor in Mizoram University now, he also has another record of sorts – the Mizo Lehkhabu Zempui (A Compendium of Mizo Bibliography) brought out by the Mizo Department of the University in 2005 has placed six of his books among the top 20 books in a list of 100 best books written so far in the Mizo language. No wonder Prof Khiangte has won a number of awards and recognitions, which again makes quite a long list – the Rashtriya Lok Bhasha Samman in 2003, Bharat Adivasi Samman in 2005, Indian Tribal Drama Award in 2012, Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 2017, the K Zawla Memorial Award in 2007, the Khuangchera Award for drama in 2008, the Pu Buanga Award in 2010, among others. A PhD from the North Eastern Hill University, he was given the Padma Shri for his contribution to the field of literature and education in 2006, when he was just 45 years of age.

My typical question: What made you a writer? “Sometimes I think I got it in my DNA,” he said, remembering his grandfather Rev Liangkhaia, a pioneer Mizo author, who had won the Mizo Academy of Letters award in 1979, his father Tlanghmingthanga, a music teacher who had written five books, as also his father’s elder brother L Biakliana, who is remembered as the first novelist in the Mizo language. He also showed me a copy of Biakliana Robawm – Treasures of Biakliana – a collection of all poems, novels, short stories and essays written by his uncle, including Hawilopari, the first Mizo novel. And then my next question: When do you write and why? Prof Khiangte says he does not have a fixed routine as many writers do. “I have to find out time inbetween teaching, guiding research scholars and attending various administrative meetings in the University, apart from attending various literary and social events. I am somewhat of a multi-tasking person, somehow able to carry on with my literary pursuits even when I have guests and visitors. Yes, I work till late, up to 11 pm, but then that also includes helping other people in correcting manuscripts, recording plays for All India Radio and so on,” he told me.

What however struck me most is the various collections that he has in his library apart from the books. In one shelf he has a number of small bottles, each one having a distinct label. “This bottle contains water from the Tiber in Vatican, this one of the Irrawaddy in Myanmar,” he said, as I tried to read the labels – Singapore, Wales, Geneva, Kathmandu, Gangtok, London, and so on. “I don’t know why, but I am always fascinated by rivers. Hence wherever I go, I carry a few small bottles and collect water from the local rivers,” he said. That reminded me of Durlabh Bora, a former ASEB engineer, whose museum Uttaran, in front of the Talatal Ghar in Sivasagar, has a collection of water from all the pukhuris (tanks) built by different Ahom kings. Prof Khiangte also possesses over 500 various documents pertaining to the emergence of Mizoram, which includes among others the original copy of the order appointing the first Mizo as a pastor. He also has diaries of several eminent Mizo officers, booklets, pamphlets, church registers, rare photographs, and the first edition of several rare Mizo books. And then, as he took me to one corner of his library – nay, museum – he showed me another interesting collection – walking sticks of over a dozen Mizo authors who are no more now, as also their spectacles, pens, diaries, watches, notebooks and a few magnifying glasses too.

Any regrets in life? “Yes, and no. Yes, because I have not been able to make my three sons writers. While this has remained my regret for the past several years, I would now rather say No, because my youngest son Fima is beginning to write. He has already written a few stories and poems. I hope he will carry on the family tradition,” Prof Khiangte said. As I bid “Mangtha” – goodbye – to him and also tried to say “Kalawmhlemai”, meaning ‘Thank you very much’, Prof Khiangte gave me a copy of his latest book, Mizo Natak, a collection of Hindi translation of 11 of his plays. 

By: Samudra Gupta Kashyap

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