The reporting plan for the coming days is crystallising. I will leave Aizawl on Monday and go down to Silchar for a couple of days. And go from there to Manipur after a small trip to Delhi. Leaving Mizoram will tug a bit. I have enjoyed my two months here.

Also, this blog is providing a pretty random introduction to Mizoram. One post on running. Another on houses. A third on fairness creams. A fourth on the drug trade...

What you should really know about Mizoram is, perhaps, this.

In just 100 years, the state has transformed unrecognizably. Like Daman Singh writes in The Last Frontier: People and Forests in Mizoram, “Social and cultural change in Mizoram has proceeded at a tremendous pace. Its people entered the twentieth century as little-known, but feared tribes; animists whose lives were ruled by sacrifice and superstition; wanderers through the hills with no permanent home, with neither plough, nor script, not currency. Nearly a century later, 46 per cent of the population lives in urban areas, 83 per cent are Christians, and the state has an impressive literacy rate of 81 per cent, and even more strikingly, a female literacy rate of 78 per cent.”

These are very large shifts. Take religious beliefs. Like Singh writes, before the missionaries arrived, “Belief systems in pre-colonial Mizoram were shaped by the animistic religion which conferred supernatural powers on the elements of nature. Man was subservient to the evil spirits embodied in the elements and was engaged in perpetual efforts to appease them.”

Christianity, Singh says, placed man and nature on an equal standing as creations of God. She marvels at the speed of this transformation. “It meant a complete wrench from an accepted view of the world and its creatures, society and the individual, customs relating to birth, marriage, and death, and manner of dress, amusements, social interaction, and individual behaviour. It is difficult to imagine just how this reversal came about so completely and so rapidly.”

I don't know her name. This photograph was taken near the town of Lawngtlai in south Mizoram. She was breaking stones for the Kaladan highway coming up. It will connect Mizoram to the rest of the world through the Myanmarese port of Sittwe. Officials hope the project will throw a lifeline to the fragile state economy. That, I should add, is sunblock on her face.

I have written about the Mizo notion of Tlawmngaihna – or selfless service– earlier. Shortly after I reached Aizawl, the state celebrated the spring festival of Chapcharkut. This, I was told, had fallen into disuse but was now being re-imagined back into popular use.

Something similar had happened with Tlawmngaihna as well. Writes Singh, “Christianity had a tendency to loosen community ties and promote the individual route to salvation, with the result that several group rituals, sacrifices, celebrations, and even everyday pursuits were discarded. Nevertheless, collectivity in social interaction and resource use survived, and even play edits part in propagating the new religious culture. The spirit of cooperation was already codified in the moral code of Tlawmngaihna. Although it tended to fall into disuse among early converts, it subsequently regained the veneration of the people and found new ways of expression.”

In that sense, the reversal was not as complete as it seems. Much of that, she writes, is due to the formation of the Young Lushai Association in 1935. Renamed the Young Mizo Association in 1947, this is a voluntary body which engages in religious, social and cultural activities. Maitreyee Handique, a senior colleague, has written a good account about the Association's self-imposed mandate of protecting the Mizo way of life. Which ranges from the good (emphasising community service) to the bad (vigilantism, minority baiting, etc).

At some point, writes Singh, “The association assumed the task of reviving the pre-Christian cultural traditions of the Mizos, notably festivals, songs, dances, as well as Tlawmngaihna, all of which had been relegated to obscurity by the church.”

Vanlallawma Khiangte. The solitary medical officer at the civil hospital in Chwangte, Chakma Autonomous Council Area. Lawma, as he is called, was a month-old when he lost his father. He and his sisters were brought up by their mother. “Every morning would start with us working in our farm. We would do that after school as well and do homework at night.” But he studied long enough – in Nagpur, Assam and Tamil Nadu – to became a doctor. He has been in Chwangte for 8 years now. He wants to study more but is unsure due to family responsibilities – he has two kids. Also, with few doctors willing to work in the Chakma area, he sees the importance of staying here.

The pace of change in human societies can be quicksilver. In 2008, while doing some rural research, I had tried to create a history of the village where I was living. Nothing fancy. Chats with village elders about the largest changes they – and their forefathers — had seen in the village followed by ritual dips into district gazetteers. I finished that exercise marvelling at amount of change Tihi, the village, had lived through in just 100 or so years. So much for unchanging, eternal rural India.

That certainly holds true for Mizoram. About 200 years ago, the Mizos (and related tribes) were spread over Cachar Hills, Manipur, Mizoram and parts of Burma. At that time, this region was sparsely populated with large intervening spaces between villages – all covered by thick forests. Then come the British, around 1850. A set of skirmishes and battles follow. The British finally take over the Lushai Hills by 1898. The missionaries follow. With the British taking over, Mizo society transits from a world where the village was sovereign to colonial rule. Customary laws, etc, change as a result.

By 1950, 80 per cent of the state is Christian. After independence, Mizoram is placed as a province under Assam. This results in a secessionist movement which starts in 1966 and runs on for 20 years. Writes Singh, “Ambushes and retaliatory operations disrupted normal life, and all development programmes came to a halt... long hours of curfew were frequently imposed. Periodic respite from violence was followed by fresh incidents, as negotiations with the Mizo National Front proceeded in fits and starts.”

At this time, the Indian government did something which is very akin to the Salva Judum camps. It relocated remote villages to sites where security forces were present. The idea was to “cut off food and shelter provided, willingly or otherwise, by the people to the insurgents”. This programme started in 1967 and ran on till 1969. 516 villages were evacuated and relocated in 110 existing settlements.

This, writes Singh, affected as much as 87 per cent of the population.

Between barricaded villages, frequent checking of identity cards, searches of homes, restricted movement, alleged abuses by security forces not to mention the IAF bombing Aizawl there was immense resentment towards the Indian government. Social relations too were upset due to the sudden influx of different communities into these 110 villages. Jhum farming was dislocated. People struggled to rebuild their lives. Gradually, they left the camps. The 1970s and 80s, she writes, became a period of internal migration.

This relocation also strengthened patterns of urbanisation in the state. In 1972, Mizoram became a union territory. In 1987, it became a state. Since then, other narratives have unfolded. Government-based welfarism. Conflicts with migrants. Cultural influences from as far afield as the Indian cow belt and Korea due to mass media, what have you.

Evan C Lallianbuanga. Farmer, secretary of the south section, and executive secretary of the branch YMA, in Vanhne village near the town of Lunglei. I met him while working on a story on the government programme on jhum farming.

How is that for change? 50 years under the British, featuring social and religious reengineering. And then, as a part of India, seeing such political upheaval.

Societies are complex adaptive systems. They change in response to external forces. And they have, to varying degrees, resilience the ability to absorb shocks.Mizoram certainly demonstrates both traits.

Singh's book was written in 1991. A new book on Mizo identity – Being Mizo: Identity and Belonging in Northeast India is just out. Am waiting to get my hands on that. It would be good to read more about how this society is changing.

I also need to find good Mizo fiction set in this eventful century.

Any leads?