Growing Historical Awareness – A Masterclass with Hannah Lalhlanpuii

By Sanjana Garg, Grade 10

Participants at the Neev Literature Festival 2023 conversed with author Hannah Lalhlanpuii, whose debut novel When Blackbirds Fly was shortlisted for the Neev Book Award 2023 in the Young Adult category. This book, set in the early years of Mizoram’s two-decade quest for independence, against the backdrop of the Aizawl bombing in 1966, sheds light on the horrific effect that the bombing had on the citizens.

Lalhlanpuii currently lives in Aizawl, her mother grew up there, and her grandfather lived there during the bombing. Growing up in Aizawl, she heard many stories about the people’s experiences through and after the bombing. This personal account helped the participants understand why she decided to write a work of historical fiction. The pride she felt in her history and the sorrow her family experienced led her to this book.

History shapes people’s fears and perspectives. Historical fiction helps us understand communities and their choices. Lalhlanpuii stressed that you cannot label people as ‘rude’ or ‘narrow-minded,’ without knowing what they have experienced. She spoke about how historical fiction can help bridge generational gaps, and help people acquire empathy, understanding and acceptance.

Historical writing can be anything, but Lalhlanpuii wanted it to be personal. According to her, when history is studied, it is extremely political. Merely learning history is not enough – you need to delve into people’s stories.

When researching to write the book, she conducted a lot of oral interviews, as records of many events from that era weren’t available. What she found is that when talking to people, you get personal stories and accounts, emotions, and details, and it can even be cathartic to the people sharing their stories.

Hannah Lalhlanpuii’s masterclass helped us understand the importance of reading and writing historical fiction – learning about people’s stories and struggles, to understand them as people.

 

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