A Crumbling Memory of 'Shamu Makhong'

My granny had her tiny ‘potpham’ right beside Shamu Makhong, the most well-known landmark in the entire Kwairambandh Keithel. She used to sell mangal, chana, heingaan ladoo, heimaang matum and so on. As a child, visiting Kwairambandh Keithel with my mother was such an exciting experience, especially with this very anticipation of having ‘mayoms’ of mangal/ chana and my favourite heingaan-ladoo, often offered by ‘Keisampatki Abok’(my granny).

The nearer I would follow Mumma towards the Shamu Makhong to pay her a visit, the thuds in my heart would continuously grow with exhilaration. The crowd at Shamu Makhong used to excite me further. The ‘kwa mana’ selling non-Manipuris, the various wholesale shops of varieties of commodities, my granny’s fellow potpham fambi eney, endon and abok-like ladies, the hustle-bustles of the thronging crowd around those potphams — these are some vivid memories I often recall about the surroundings at Shamu Makhong. Sometimes, it would be yet another experience taking a close look at the unattended statue of Meidingu Bhagyachandra and his pitiable Shamu, and of course, the various posters blatantly pasted on it. My elders used to tell tales about how the great king caught the wild elephant and how in honour of his bravery the statue was created there, but I was least interested to find out the historical connotations. For me, that was one favourite spot for me in the entire Kwairambandh Keithel because that’s the very landmark, beside which my skinny granny had her ‘potpham’.

Last time, when I visited home and went to Kwairambandh Keithel, the nostalgia was inevitable. I saw the flyover, saw the renovated Shamu Makhong, the statue of Bhagyachandra was infact wearing a new paint, and his shamu was also repaired — though it has lost its charm. Now it is in such a pathetic state, there is no aesthetic value as such; possibly because of the flyover and in the increase in the level of the road. It looks just like another unremarkable construction, like a wall, rather than a landmark with historical importance. Needless to say, I felt no envy or happiness to see the renovated statue out there. I was also quite sad not to see my granny or her fellow potpham fambis around. I am not sure about others but to me this crumbling memory of Shamu Makhong somehow means a lot. The nostalgic nuance is perhaps playing its trick.

Well, there is now this newly built Ema Keithel. I did visit it once or twice during my last home trip. I don’t know why but I badly missed the essence of the same old Keithel. The women vendors looked more prosperous and swanky to me. It’s not that I wanted to see a distressed look on their faces, worried over poverty and shortage of monetary assistance. But as far as I remember the then Ema Keithel, I have vivid pictures on my mind of wrinkled faces beside dimly-lit podons/candles, who were in a hurry to head back home but were equally worried to find a discerned customer for the last mayom of maroi nakuppi.

The modern Ema Keithel flanks Kwairambandh Keithel and the view of the very Keithel from the flyover is quite endearing. I found out that the present Ema Keithel, with its East-Asian-inspired architecture is pretty decent. For the convenience of the potpham-fambi ladies, tubelights have replaced podons. There are also ceiling fans installed on the roofs. I really feel glad to know that those eney, endon or ema-like ladies will be protected from adverse weather conditions. But whenever I came across Shamu Makhong there was an agony in my heart. I kept glaring at the renovated statue. If I remember, the earlier unattended Shamu had a broken tail while this renovated one looks quite healthy, though with little value as a whole. And I just could not believe how much I missed the earlier statue at Shamu Makhong. Perhaps, it’s because a memory lane was almost demolished only to create a place that is less familiar with me for reasons more than one.

My granny is bedridden, and god knows, how long she will be among us. The last time I paid her a visit she showed signs of lost memory. It is ironical how with every ounce of her fading memory, my fondness for a place at Kwairambandh seems to fade away day by day. I will be homebound soon but I know I have lesser reasons to visit Kwairambandh Keithel, precisely because that’s not the same old place it used to be. I remember a quote by Sigmund Freud, the founding father of psychoanalysis, ‘A civilization which leaves so large a number of its participants unsatisfied and drives them into revolt neither has nor deserves the prospect of a lasting existence’. I partially agree with Freud though my perspective is confined to a particular spot at Imphal Sehar.

This article was published on 26 Aug 2012

We, The People (With No Country)

The exodus of North Eastern students and professionals from various Indian cities has thrown up many unanswered questions. It has made us doubt ourselves, quite uncomfortably, of our own nationality. It has made us wonder if the country has never been ours in the true sense of the word. Had it been, we would not have been scared or rushing for home — now the situation is like we have to show our passports for proofs of our citizenship, not anywhere else but in our own country. This is not the first time.

I personally feel extremely sorry for all those students and professionals, especially in Bangalore, who have to go through such trying times. I equally feel sorry for the Indian system that cannot bring any solution to such brouhaha. The nation seems to have been engulfed by chaos from all its directions. It would be apt to say, from the number of people in the exodus, that it resembles the re-partition of the nation. As a North Easterner and as a Manipuri, I have my own concerns about my brethren who are frightened, which the government and its law-enforcing agencies say, is only a result of rumours. Would they care to read between the lines of the exodus of more than 20 thousand people? Quite ironically, the India that once annexed us, promising our fundamental rights now fails to protect us from mere threats. The India that boasts itself as one of the biggest democratic nations has repeatedly failed to uphold its spirit.

We always had/have our own share of grievances against the system but we never imagined that our existence would be threatened by some miscreants who perhaps share the same nationality with us. Perhaps, it’s time for a serious introspection among all of us. India, are you really our country? Why has such a question cropped up?

From the context of Manipur, many deliberations are to be discussed — and like open wounds, the more we discuss about them, the worse our emotional pain gets. But it is now more than being emotional or getting excited. Let us admit the very fact that Manipur’s merger with India has aggravated the problems.

We were gifted with the AFSPA — the most unwanted law that arms the effeminate military and affects the people. The very mention of AFSPA brings along many bitter memories. There was a time when any impending combing operation used to scare the hell out of us. The sound of hammered electric posts leaves trails of those nightmares. We were scared of getting raped, we were so helpless when our brothers, fathers and uncles were beaten black and blue right in our courtyards. Some of them were arrested without any warrant or on grounds of mere suspicion. Many of them never returned home. Later we would hear about how their lifeless bodies were found at nearby turel or paathi-komthi. Fear psychosis is still the order of the day, thanks to the power which has been passed over to the state police these days. It is ironical how fear takes different shapes and roles in our society and hinders us from leading a life of dignity, all in all living in the biggest democracy of the world.

The dilemma between written democracy and practiced democracy needs to be solved among the leingaak-pathap holders. They have tried to polish the spirit of democracy but ended only in polluting it; they talk so loud about the achievements in various fields, ignoring the remotest problems at its nooks and corners. They too boast of a hollow republic concept that ensures each and every citizen to lead a free and fair life without even the ability to protect the lives of innocents. Have they realized how many of us are dying every day right in our own land? Have they ever tried to put themselves in our shoes?

I am equally amazed by our own political leaders and representatives, who hardly pay any heed to most of our grievances. But what to do, we have done the favour ourselves by electing them. And there are our honourable rebels, the motherland lovers- the so called sons of the soil- who leave no stone unturned to add more salt on the wounds of the people. Baah, Kangleipak! What have they turned you into?

If this is the norm of democracy, sorry but we would rather prefer a dictatorship by a sensible leader, who would at least be concerned about the grievances of its citizens. India, please let us have a choice. Are you really our country? Stop all these step-motherly treatments. Need I remind you again that we are not children of the lesser god; we are neither born to spend our lives with fear. Please restore us our dignity, please make us proud to introduce ourselves as the citizen of this country and if you can’t, it is better we call ourselves and take ourselves as the people with no country.

This article was published on 19 Aug 2012

If I Become the First Ever Lady Cheap Ministress of Manipur!

Politics is not my usual cup of tea. I hate everything about politics. However, if I ever have to avail myself to become the first ever lady cheap ministress of Manipur, I have a long list of political/social wishes, which if come true, would make me one of the most (un)happiest persons on earth. I know not how the leingaak-pathap holders draw the margin of state politics in Manipur. Well, never mind, let me come to the point and acknowledge you all on the strategies I have framed to work out and are planning to implement once I become the first ever Cheap Ministress of Manipur.

Good citizens disobey bad laws. Therefore, during my tenure I will encourage all the citizens of Manipur to disobey those bad laws that were forcibly passed in my state. My first concern would focus on AFSPA. This inhumane draconian law has to become dinosaurs, an extinct piece of species, during my tenure as a cheap ministress. If required, I will adopt all the cheapest strategies to pester central government to remove this law as soon as possible.

My second emphasis would be on the development of infrastructure. In order to implement this plan, I will have a look at the long list of corrupted officials in each and every department and suspend them on grounds of ‘sen-haalengdana chaaba and ekai khangdaba’. Trust me; from the top-ranked officials to the peons, they have crossed the shameless limit of asking bribe from anyone. They are impediments in any type of developmental process in our society. They will however be given a chance of improvement during their temporary suspension and if there is no sign of improvement, they will be terminated from their service. Redemption centres will be especially opened for them where they can spend the rest of their lives trying to lead like normal beings and also a bribe-free life.

My next focus would be on education sector. I will make sure all the surrogate-teachers are rewarded with their deserving posts thereby terminating the service of those who officially hold the posts but never attend the schools and colleges. On grounds of humanity, the teachers who have been terminated from their posts would however be financially assisted by the same amount they earlier used to pay to surrogate teachers.

As the first ever cheap ministress of Manipur, I will voice the grievance of our people to central government in proper Hindi or English or Meiteilon language (by seeking the help of a guide). I earnestly feel that improper communication is quite a problem faced by most of the earlier cheap ministers in our state. They had tried their best to speak up on behalf of our people. But due to their own shortcomings in communication, they had continuously failed to do so. Or maybe, their ceaseless request and begging for funds have made them too dumb to speak to New Delhi.

In terms of projects allocated from the Centre, I will make sure that every single project is delivered to the right department in a free and fair manner and sans any 10% mindset. Earlier, the projects from the Centre reached the concerned departments but were completed on haabi-jaabi grounds. I will hire a special team of intelligence who will probe into all the official matters of each and every department.

I have many more plans on my mind but I do not want to publish them all. The earlier ministers had talked so much on the growth and development and done nothing. I believe in the credo ‘action speaks louder than words’. So I better stop hammering my keyboard and rather focus on my strategies.

All the above jokes apart, let us admit that an aggravating famine has been affecting everyone’s life in Manipur for all these years. This famine is the most unnatural famine we have ever come across. It is ghastly, it is deadly and it can gradually ruin everything/everyone. Intellectuals and mindless politicians are treated at par during this ongoing famine. Though the major victims are mostly laymen like me, like you or like everyone who is lurking or looking forward to see a better Manipur (maybe on a 32nd December, eh!). Our great political leaders have given their (un)valuable opinions and (im) possible means and measures to fight this famine. And hopelessly by the end of this century or maybe next century (if there is time restraint this century), this famine shall be controlled and everything will (not) be back to normalcy. But there is my (dis)honest question: ‘Can theoretical means fight practical problems?’

This famine could be anything — a famine broken out of lack of understanding, barbarism, misused law or power or unethical socio-political norms etc. etc. etc. Consider any factor, give any name, but trust me this famine has but affected everyone’s life quite severely. We cannot be mute spectators continuously affecting ourselves with this famine. We must have a solution, we must have a means, and we must have good comrades who can help us fight this famine. The pursuit has to begin soon. Count me in for the search and let me count you all too.

PS: I don’t want to become the first ever lady cheap or chief ministress of Manipur. I just want to be a free citizen who resides in Kangleipaak without any fear of insurgency and other social, financial or political chaos.

This article was published on 5 Aug 2012

Bring home the medals: Best wishes for the Manipuri Olympians

Five Manipuris, who have given us a reason for our pride, are in London for the 2012 Summer Olympics which starts yesterday. India has sent an 81-athlete team, the highest for the country in the history of the Olympics. From such a small land battered by unending conflicts, it is unsurprising how so many Manipuris could find a place for themselves, given our sporting spirit and skills. Our best gold-medal wishes are with the stars, who will be taking part in this sporting extravaganza. We also pray that they will bring home more laurels and make us more proud.

For the record, the list of our stars includes: Laishram Bombayla (Archery) from KhuraiKhongnang Makhong; Laishram Devendro (Boxing) from Yurembam Awang Leikai; Mary Kom (Boxing) from Samulamlan, Moirang; Ngangbam Soniya Chanu (Weightlifting) from HaoreibiMayai Leikai; and Khadangbam Kothajit (Hockey) from Lairikyengbam Leikai. Of course, we know most of them don’t even need an introduction. And most are them are hopeful for winning a medal each — the more the better, the higher the best.

The Indian flag will rise high every time when one of them delivers the goods. However, there is an overt sense of gunning only for the players who hail from our state. We admit the open support because we appreciate sports and our sportspersons. In our hometown, there is nothing like only a slothful game such as cricket is the most popular game and we have a blind eye towards other sports.

Cricket, for the mainlanders, means everything. A legacy of colonialism in India, cricket is the unofficial national game of India while hockey is just for the name sake. It does speak volume of the typical Indian mindset from cricket to an NRI son-in-law — anything that is foreign bred seems more alluring to most of the Indians. Lamgi sun-na machi shaangba helle ye. Luckily, we from the North East India are game for any type of sport.

Our attitude towards games and sports is far more commendable than to the not-so-fascinating mindset of the country as a whole. This kind of representation, five out of eighty-one in different events, is also our best answer to the question of arrogance from the mainland. We can be damned but we cannot be ignored. We can play, for that matter, any type of sport without any prejudice.

We are typical; we love to eat ngaari and hawaizaar, though it may be surprising to them — we can compete with anyone at the global level. We are not the children of lesser gods. Even if we are neglected because we belong to a frontier of the country, where the military has to rule the roost, we have the guts to stand up on our own and fight in any discipline. India can discriminate us by our looks, though it is regretful many of them, the well-stocked Aryans do bear the brunt of racism on and off, elsewhere in some corners of the globe. And our stars have shown the world what we are made of.

What we eat and how we look do not count, especially in a country where we have to protest for our own nationality, not denying it but to include ourselves in. Yet the sheer discipline and passion in our chosen field determine who we are and what we achieve in life. This is the biggest lesson that our stars have taught us. This is also the same reason why we have more respect for them, why we desperately want them to bring home the medals and more medals.

Again we are extending our heartiest wishes to all the Olympians from the North East region, representing India at the Olympics. We also wish all the budding sportspersons, cutting across caste, caste and creed from the country, to rise and shine in London.

The Manipuri Olympians will always be more special than the others. May they win many laurels and bring glory to the land. Let us glorify them as much as we can. Unleash your Herculean sporting passion and bring home the medals. All the very best to all the Olympians from Kangleipak!

PS: With or without medals, they will always remain our stars. Cheers to them!

This article was published on 29 July 2012
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