Translated by Margaret L Pachuau
I wasn’t feeling too well that night and so, had stayed back in the hostel. Alone. While all my friends had gone to Church for the Sunday Mass.
My roommate, Lalhluna, had offered to stay back to give me company but I had declined, saying that my condition was stable enough. In truth, I had also wanted to use the time to study. After everyone had left, there was only the haunting silence for company, and the only light in the entire building was from the bulb in my room. Through the window, the sight of the moon bathed in all its splendour made me nostalgic. I filled a glass of water from the bathroom and placed it on my table.
I don’t know why but while in the bathroom, ancient tales about our hostel sentinel came rushing to my mind and my hair stood on end. Admonishing myself for letting such thoughts overpower me, I latched the door. Spreading a fresh sheet on the bed and placing a pillow, I lay down on it and began to read the chronicles of the Sepoy Mutiny.
The Sepoy Mutiny of 1857… also called the First Indian War of Independence. Undoubtedly, there has been a sea change in political thought, for during the British rule the event had been described as one that had done away with rebels, wicked murderers and thieves. Foreign authors had presented sordid tales of Indian and their atrocities. The present political powers, however, glorified those “rebels” as martyrs to the cause.
Just then the sound of people opening and entering the gate interrupted my thoughts – probably my friends returning.
Suddenly, I could hear someone running, and then a scuffle.
“Whatever could be the matter?” I thought, listening intently. The footsteps hastened, as others followed. It stopped outside my room.
Suddenly, a cry pierced through the air, “Ka nu… I can’t take any more of this.”
Another voice said, “Stab him!”
“No, no, please don’t stab me… please let me go,” the first person said.
Silence. And then the sound of someone being stabbed. As I jumped up to intervene, full of anger, I heard a voice saying, “Let’s put him in here.” Then the sound of fleeing footsteps.
When I opened the door, a handsome youth stood before me – his sparkling eyes, aquiline nose and wavy hair enhancing his looks. I could not help noticing that the suit and the bow tie he had on were however, a bit old fashioned.
“Who was stabbed?”
“Ah, it was me,” he replied simply.
“Where did they stab you?”
He mumbled a reply indistinctly. I thought he said, “Right down my heart,” I wasn’t sure I heard it right.
He stood there seemingly without a trace of pain, but I could have sworn that it was a murder I had overheard. “Are you hurt?” I enquired.
“Well, yes.” He quickly added, “Do you have any water?” Noticing the glass on my desk, he picked it up and gulped down the water.
“Why were you fighting?”
“Ah, it’s a strange story, but if you want to know I’ll tell you. I have a girlfriend, nay, let me call her wife… her name is Laltinchhingi, and this is her photograph.”
She was a sensuous young woman who seemed to epitomize feminine radiance. Her beauty had a magnetic appeal and I gazed at the photograph much longer than I had actually intended to. They made a fine pair indeed.
“Well, so, there she is…my girl, whom I truly love. What’s more she loves me too. We were engaged last week. But there were a few others who desired her as well. Their love going unrequited, they plotted to kill me.”
“Wait,” I interrupted anxiously, “let’s attend to your wounds, let’s have a look at it… Shouldn’t we send for a doctor?”
“No, thank you, there’s no need. But pardon me, I don’t know your name as yet. What’s your name?”
“Liankhuma,” I replied.
“I see… well, Khuma, sit down. What are you doing here?”
“I’m a student, and this building is a hostel.”
“Oh, I know that. I stay here too. My room’s just across the landing.”
“Ah, then you are a new resident, aren’t you?”
“No, no, I’ve been staying here for quite a while. But I haven’t really made many friends, so very few know me.”
For a while we both gazed at each other silently. Then he said earnestly, “Khuma, the world is a terrible place to live in.”
“Why do you say that? Young men like you and I should not have any such problem.”
“Yes, it should be that way but envy and malice make it appalling. Ah, envy…why is there so much of it in the human heart?” he brooded.
I had no answer.
He continued, “Khuma, allow me to confide in you.”
“Yes, please do so. A burden becomes lighter when shared,” I urged.
Holding his handkerchief against his face he said, “Love is what gives pleasure to life, isn’t it?
“That’s right,” I said.
“Or rather, our loved ones are the source of our happiness. Greater than any other pleasure in the world is a life together with our loved ones. Every man’s dream is to marry his beloved and live in idyllic splendour. To be pampered by them, to lean on them… could any man wish for more? Is that not reason enough for love?”
“That is so,” I replied. His words belied his youthful demeanour.
“Our parents shower us with love, eagerly waiting for the time when we will spread our wings. They make tremendous sacrifices, sending us to places such as this hostel by the sweat of their brow. They wait for us to mature and make a definite mark in the world. The tremendous anticipation that emerges from parental love is unparalleled in this world.”
“Ah, to betray that hope… that trust. Is it not the most disgraceful thing in the world?”
I was so engrossed in his words that all I could do was to stare at him in awe.
“What opinion would you have of those who have deprived me of such a love?”
I was unable to comprehend what he was saying.
“I mean, what can you say about murderers?” he persisted.
Well, they are abhorrent criminals who very often do not get the punishment they deserve.”
“That’s right. Very often they escape penalty.”
We were silent for a while, then at length, “Khuma,” he said weeping copiously, “I find it terrible that I’ve been snatched away from the company of my beloved. My fate has been most tragic and disheartening.”
“Hey, didn’t you say she reciprocated your love?”
“Certainly, she loved me too and has endured many a hard time for my sake, shed many a tear for me. Khuma, no fate is as tragic as mine.”
“Wait a minute… why should your fate be as pathetic as that? Handsome men like you should not be prey to such a destiny.”
“Ah, but fatal are the wounds of envy!” saying this, he clutched at his heart and doubled up in pain.
“Hey, where is the wound? Why didn’t you say so before?” I sprang up to hold him.
“Sit down, Khuma… thank you for your concern, but now it’s too late.”
“Show me where they’ve stabbed you.”
He then got up, took off his coat and unbuttoned his shirt, showing me the knife wound running down his chest. I winced at the ghastly sight. Panic seized me.
“Here, let’s go to a doctor, why didn’t you mention this before?”
“Khuma, doctors won’t be able to help me. Don’t trouble yourself.” But I was determined and started getting ready to go to the doctor.
At that moment, I could hear the sound of my friends returning and my mind was more at ease.
“Anyway Khuma, let me go to my room briefly.”
“All right,” I said without looking at him, engrossed in dressing up. He left the room. Then I heard my friends thumping on the door.
“Come in,” I called.
Irritated, they yelled, “It’s locked from inside.”
I was still putting on my jacket when I glanced around and saw that the door was indeed locked from inside.
I opened the door and said, “Get ready, we’ve to go to the hospital.”
Lalhluna replied in jest, “Why, aren’t you well?”
“No, it’s not about me. That young man there has been badly wounded. We’ve to take him to the doctor.”
“The one who came out just now.”
“From this room.”
“We didn’t see anyone.”
Lalhluna grabbed hold of my arm and said, “What’s the matter with you?”
I was annoyed. “I am telling you, this isn’t about me.”
“Then what is it?”
I could sense that some of them were a bit amused.
“That young man who came out from here just now was stabbed and we’ve to take him to a doctor.”
They looked at each other in utter consternation. Then it dawned on me… my door had been bolted from the inside all the while!
Horrified, I checked the glass of water, but it was still on the table, full to the brim. I rushed outside to where I had heard the sound of a scuffle but a vacant lot was all that awaited me. I was stupefied.
Alarmed, my friends hesitantly suggested summoning a doctor. It was then that I disclosed what had taken place. My tale was received with shock and astonishment. Some felt that a trick had been played on me. I realized that there was no way I could prove the reality of the incident. We made a thorough search of the entire hostel, going to the extent of checking out all the guests. Our search prove futile.
Our aged hostel chowkidar, whose quarters were located towards the main gate, appeared. We enquired if he had seen such a person.
Astounded, he looked at me. “You say he was in black?”
“A handsome, wavy haired youth?”
“Ah, that’s him all right… the hostel sentinel.”
Then we learnt the whole story. As he had told me himself.
“What happened to the murderers?”
“Well, they were never caught. His body was found in the nearby well. It was a long time ago for, as you can see, the well too has dried up. I remember when we were young we could still draw water form there.” Coughing loudly, he rasped, “When the body was discovered, it had decayed beyond recognition. Everyone, of course, had their suspects but nothing definite came out of it and no one was convicted.”
We stared at him mutely.
“How long ago was this?”
“Ah, a long time ago. My father was a mere boy then and it was he who told me about it. They say that every twenty years he wanders about this hostel trying to find his murderers.”
And indeed, it must have been a long, long time ago, for our chowkidar himself was bent double with age… his sideburns graying. Wearily, he sounded the gong, shut the main door and stooping, he proceeded homewards.
That night, thoughts of the youth haunted me. Though nearly a century had elapsed, curses formed afresh in me … in sheer condemnation of those who had snuffed out so cruelly the glory and splendour of youth.
KC Lalvunga wrote under the pseudonym,
He wrote both novels and short stories, besides several articles and essays, which he published in various journals and periodicals. He has fifteen poems and two songs to his credit, which have been compiled together in a volume entitled Zozam Par. He was the recipient of the Academy Award (Posthumous) by the Mizo Academy of Letters (MAL) in 1995 and the Writer of the Century award given by the Mizoram State Government. The first Mizo to qualify for the Indian Foreign Service, he was the Indian Ambassador to Zikpuii Pa. Venezuela, Colombia, Oman, North Korea and . He also taught at school, dabbled in politics and edited a newsletter Zoram Thupuan, before joining the civil services. He died in 1994. Jamaica
Margaret Lalmuanpuii Pachuau teaches at the Department of English,
. Mizoram University
The Hostel Sentinel was first published in Mizo as Hostel Awmtu in the Mizo Students’ Association Monthly Magazine, March – April, 1960. This translation was published in English in The Heart of the Matter (KATHA, New Delhi 2004).