A blue-grey haze covered Aizawl town and the hills around. The morning sun shone through dully, like an orange ball enfolded in gauzy cloth. The smell of smoke hung in the air.
Charred-black hillsides lay naked under the April sun, waiting for rain. As was the normal annual practice, the forests had been slashed and burned for cultivation.
Sunday morning church-bells pealed. In different tones and rhythms. Some chimed a musical ‘Tong-tee Tong-tee’, some clanged a hurried call like school bells, while others boomed a dignified bass. They rang out from all directions.
People of all ages hurried towards their churches, going up or down steps on the hillside, depending on the location of their houses. Men in suits and ties, women in tops and colourful puan. Older women with hair tied in a bun or cut short and curled. Younger women in high-heeled shoes, long hair let loose. Little girls in pretty dresses, little boys in shirts and pants.
A few well-to-do were dropped at the church gates by cars; most walked the distance from their homes. None had to walk very far as each locality had its own church. “Chibai!” men and women greeted one another as they met. They walked along in twos and threes, chatting.
“The rains are late this year.”
“Our reservoir is empty. With the government supply not at all regular, water is a big worry.”
“Cultivation can’t be done without rain.”
“They’ve all finished lo hal. It’s high time for the spring showers. At this rate we could face another famine…”
Others discussed the political situation.
“The peace process is not moving forward. After the new government came to power at the Centre, it has slowed down and then stopped altogether.”
“True. We are all longing and waiting for peace and yet…”
“If only the leaders would bring some solution! We are all tired of the unrest and the army operations.”
A young couple was heading towards Mission Veng church among the others. The man, in a medium-grey suit and matching tie, walked a step or two ahead of his wife with long, easy strides. He exchanged pleasantries with some people in a cheerful voice. The woman, moving along silently behind him, was struggling to keep step with her husband. Her high-heeled shoes made the walk down the slope rather difficult. Her petite figure was clad in a brown puan with geometrical designs, and a lime-yellow top. She had straight, fine black hair, blunt-cut at chin level and parted in the middle.
An elderly woman turned, offered a hand to the young wife and said, “O, Sanga, here, let me shake hands with the new bride. How should we call you? ‘Zorami’, or ‘Pari’?”
“Most people call me Zorami,” the young woman said, smiling, as they shook hands.
“So we’ll also call you Zorami. We could not come to the wedding because my husband was down with fever.”
“That’s too bad. How is he now?” Sanga asked.
“His fever is gone, but he’s at home. He doesn’t yet feel well enough to come to church.”
“I hope he gets well soon.”
“He should be fine in another day or two. So, you’ve got yourself a pretty wife after a long wait!”
“It takes patience to get the best things in life!” he said with a smile.
“You’re right,” the woman smiled back.
Inside the church, the singing started with drumbeats. Those who were standing outside, conversing, moved in. They passed the open porch and entered through either of the two doors. Inside, the wooden pews were arranged in three sections – two of them close to two walls, lined with windows, and one in the middle, all facing away from the entrance. Two aisles divided the sections. At the far end, opposite to the entrance, was a raised platform, on which the pulpit stood. On a chair right in the middle of the raised platform, in front of the pulpit, sat the chairman, facing the pews. There was a small lectern to his left. On the right and the left sides of the pulpit, on separate small tables, stood big brass bowls of skilfully arranged Easter lilies.
The worshippers poured in, rapidly filling the pews. The singing went on until the wall-clock struck ten. At the same moment, the second bell rang out. The chairman stood up and announced, “We now call on our tantu Pi Rimawii to open the meeting with Bible reading and prayer.”
A middle-aged woman came forward. She stood behind the lectern to the left of the chairman, placed her Bible on it and began reading in a clear voice: “The Gospel according to Luke, chapter thirteen, verses ten to thirteen.
“One Sabbath day as Jesus was teaching in a synagogue, he saw a woman who had been crippled by an evil spirit. She had been bent double for eighteen years and was unable to stand up straight.”
Zorami kept very still as she listened. She was sitting in a pew at the back-most row. She and Sanga had been married in this same church four days ago. “I, Zorampari, take you, Lalliansanga…” she had vowed. They had both sworn to have and to hold each other until death should part them.
This was the first Sunday they had come to church together as a wedded couple. They sat apart on different benches. He went to sit with his friends some rows ahead, while she slipped into one end of the last row. Next to her sat a young couple with a baby. The woman held the sleeping infant, wrapped in a floral blanket, on her lap. The fragrance of baby-oil and baby-powder drifted towards Zorami. The father seemed unable to keep his eyes off his sleeping child.
“When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said, ‘Woman, you are healed of your sickness.’“
The reading continued.