February 22, 2020
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The Lord's Day

The Lord's Day
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The signboard at the airport is unsettling. 'Foreigners and Outsiders' are to report to a particular desk in the arrival lounge. Though it turns out that I don't need an Inner-Line Permit as I'm an Indian coming to Mizoram on official work, the 'outsider' tag remains, like a badge pinned on my shirt, through the following week. We've landed at Aizawl's Lengpui airport in a 50-seater propeller plane, after flying over stunningly green hills. I'm looking forward to seeing this part of my country. Ahead lies an antidote to the crowds of Calcutta, and the relentless monotony of the parched north Indian plain. The taxi ride from the airport to the tourist lodge in Chaltlang takes us an hour-and-a-half, past hill-station scenery and some houses on stilts.

At about 4 am the next morning, a cock crows. By 4.30 there is sunlight and the crowing has achieved the momentum of an express train. The creature isn't going to shut up, so I get out of bed, planning revenge. Chicken curry for dinner! I'm in Aizawl with two colleagues to oversee my university's entrance exam, being held here for the first time. Our examination centre is the local Kendriya Vidyalaya, a set of aluminium-roofed sheds on a hilltop, decorated with wise sayings and garish portraits of national heroes. (I collect slogans. My favourite was on the wall of the Shimla station: "Let us all, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Hindus unite for the sake of our Motherhood.") It has the peace and quiet of a school in holiday time. There's a panoramic view of the town. Aizawl is about the size of Shimla, with houses crouching above one another, as if about to tumble down the hillside.

Two of our exam sessions are on a Sunday. A parent tells me this is inappropriate. I explain, ineffectually, how difficult it is to schedule 78 question papers in 63 exam centres. Driving through Aizawl's main market afterwards, I understand the rebuke. Every shop, without exception, is shut, and there is hardly a taxi to be had. Everyone goes to church here. The Christian societies I've seen in Europe and America—or on TV—have been secularised. This is quite different.

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