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

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