Zorami: A redemption song
When folktales become history
A Book Review
I am happy to present a guest post today, a book review by Sam N Jacob of Bangalore, India. More about him you can read in the Author bio column.
The chain reaction from an innocuous looking act disturbs the peace of a whole village and engulfs it in violence. This is the substance of a folktale ‘Chemtatrawta’ that every Mizo hears as a kid. Another tale ‘Chungleng leh Hnuaileng’ tells the story of how a foolish act of bravado by an unthinking tortoise done at the instigation of a cunning deer gets the animal and bird world in a no holds barred war. These two Mizo folktales seem to have played itself out in the history of Mizoram, during a violent independence struggle of the second half of the twentieth century.
Malsawmi Jacob’s debut novel ‘Zorami: A redemption song tells us the story of Zorami an innocent girl who comes of age at the beginning of the armed struggle for independence by Mizo National Front. She was violated as a young teenager by an Indian army man. It not only affects her personality but also her marriage with Sanga later on. Caught in the vortex of the violence and the resultant social and psychological trauma, the people of Mizoram suffer immensely from Indian Military might and also the ‘patriotic forces’. Lives lost, families displaced and emotionally disturbed, the close-knit society gets fragmented but tries to cope with it through its age-old philosophy of ‘tlawmghaina’ a form of stoic resilience. But how long can they hold on to the stiff upper lip and the camouflage of laughter before they breakdown? The story of Zorami explores this and goes beyond, looking for an answer for the individual as well as a society caught in such a situation.
Malsawmi Jacob beautifully interweaves the story of the young girl Zorami with that of the Mizo people and they merge into one in the process. The folktales introduced to the reader as part of the growing up of Zorami in a serene village atmosphere that slowly gets affected by the politics of violence. Almost imperceptibly, the reader is absorbed into the unfolding of folktales into Mizo history and Zorami the young girl and Mizoram become one entity that seeks redemption from the cauldron of violence and retaliation.
The non-linear narrative style adopted by the author, symbolic of the chaotic political situation may distract some readers to think that many individual unrelated stories are put together in it. But they all work together to create the atmosphere of moral degradation that a protracted period of violence can result in. The story of Ralkapa is a case in point. He starts as a teenage patriot and degenerates into a self-serving power monger who revels in inflicting pain on others. This is contrasted with others who, caught in a similar situation, break away from the pulls of the slippery slide to evil. Many such stories or side plots add to the color and depth of the story and the times.
The use of water imagery running throughout the story adds another layer to the narration. The story begins with a near drought situation and the people waiting for rain. We see the same situation leading to the personal tragedy of Zorami. But she seems to be kept alive in the middle of her nearly four decades of trauma through the expectation of the abundance of water at a distant waterfall brought to the reader through a dream sequence. That dream, at last, becomes a reality and the personal redemption is the result. When the personal redemption of Zorami becomes a reality one is led to the feeling of expectation that the land also could experience the same.
The story deviates from the folktale towards the end of the novel. In the ‘Chemtatrawta’ story the violence ends with the punishment of the one who started the chain of violence. But the author deliberately moves away from that and works on the possibility of redemption from about the middle of the novel. A few such stories of individuals in the middle section points towards the possible ending, though in the personal life of Zorami redemption comes very suddenly at a point of total mental breakdown. Though this makes one feel that the story ends abruptly, a discerning reader sees the subtle change of mood that is built into the plot earlier to bring in a sense of hope.
The Mizo society and culture may be alien to most of the English reading people. But Malsawmi Jacob’s vivid description of Mizo culture and practices helps one get an inside picture of the working of the society. Many Mizo words used in the narration, though understandable from the context are further explained in the Glossary. Use of songs, probably a story telling technique of a pre-literate tribal society, gives one a feeling of the hills reverberating with the sound of music. One wishes, the songs could also be heard while reading the book.
In all, it is a skilfully and beautifully crafted historic novel.
You can buy this book from Amazon.com
The price in India is. Rs. 399/-
Kindle price is 199/- ($ 2.94)
Related link: Read Another Review of Malsawmi’s book by the blogger: A PUSHKAR PANDIT’S TRYST with GODZorami: A redemption song When folktales become history A Book Review by Sam N Jacob Click To Tweet
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