Wednesday, April 16, 2008

To Own a Soccer Ball

During the years in Junior Basic (JB) School, some boys had the habit of fetching soccer ball from the neighborhood, which, of course, belonged to the village Youth Club. And that was a dangerous bet. For the wrath of the Youth Club Games Secretary/Captain, who was responsible for the up keep of sports related properties, as and when such incidents came to his notice, was unavoidable.
Every time he caught us red handed, the seniors had to rein in his anger with all their might. Tingtangh would gather his wits and say, “Come on even I was not happy about those boys. You know they just started all these. Any way even we are youth club member, huh, huh?” Then his friend Samson would flash a stack of tobacco mixed with ganja from his trouser pocket, rolled it on a piece of paper and asked, “ Mei na nei hia Jor” (Do you have lighter/matches Pal?). Even though the Captain’s anger got somehow checked, he refused to compromise with his dignity on such occasions. Tingtangh was thoughtful.
Combing the Cornfields
One Friday afternoon, I was informed that all boys should come for a meeting in the morning the next day. His close associates, like Damdiai had indicated that it’s a plan to own a ball. And that everyone should carry a sakhau (bag).
“Vaimim sangh zong di hiveh” said Naisu with disdain. (It’s for the purpose of gathering left over maize from the cornfields).
The culture of maize farming was in vogue in my village from the time I could recall to the early 1980s. During the early 1970s a young boy had gone to Kohima to study Science. His education heralded in the new awakening. He brought back a handful of branches of a root-based plant called cassava or tapioca. Elders in the village named it “sing kolkai”. Within a very short span of time, the plant was got multiplied and by the first half of the 1980s, cassava plants replaced the erstwhile cornfields. And the extremely heavy roots came to be trailed, more and more, with a wheel based hand pulled cart called thela gari, which was itself manufactured in the village. That is why, Ukampi, the manufacturer of the thela garis in use, had to keep in mind the size of the 5 feet wide suspension bridge, which was constructed with the connivance an MLA representing Churachandpur Assembly Constituency (My village comes under Saikot Assembly Constituency).
Instead of Zenhang Bazar, Lamka, the village produce had since been marketed in new destinations like Moirang Bazar and Ningthoukhong Bazar. With the new horizons opened up, the revenue earned had also increased. And by 1985, my family, with the fund raised from cultivation of cassava, had switched over to eating meals from a dining table and steel plates. Previously, food was served with a large aluminum plate and the entire family dined from the same plate laid on a cane basket-turned-up side down.
Even though maize, along with other cereals like sorghum and millet, is still used by our ethnic brothers, still living in Upper Burma, for the people who settle in the Indian side of the border, rice is the staple food. In villages located in the semi plain area like ours, houses are constructed on the foothills thus leaving the plain area for cultivation of rice, and the hill slopes are used for cultivation of other crops like maize. A good number of households carried on cultivation of maize as a necessary supplement to their cash requirement. The maize, with slightly better taste, is more or less similar to varieties found in the mainland India like Delhi.
The next day we set out towards the cornfields. It’s not so productive to harvest from the harvested fields. We carried a handful of maize each as we return from our first venture. The exercise continued for another day, some more boys joining. On encashment, the money was still short of the required amount.
Angling, the alternative gamble
Damdiai put forth the idea of angling. If at all the quantity of maize we had gathered led us nowhere, there was no likelihood that this exercise be any different. However something is better than nothing. And the enterprise had taken off. We just can’t call it off. Tingtangh and Samson deliberated upon the feasibility of such a project. Firstly there was a pressing question staring at us; who would buy the fish?
Fish was in abundance at that point of time, at least in my village. Bawmdoh, a term used to describe catching of fishes by laying a bawm (cylindrical bamboo basket) at the exit point of waters of the paddy fields, was very common. Even families, who didn’t catch fishes by that device, were not starved of fish due to its abundance. Sharing was still prevailing as a custom. Selling, on the other, though not a total embarrassment, was entertained only as an act of benevolence.
To the extent I could remember, there were a handful of Government servants residing in my village; at least three were working in District Hospital, one was in Education Department, Pusuls father and Uchinpu were working in the Junior Basic School in the village, two were working in Malaria Department, there were some police personnels and some VLWs (I guess that’s short for Village Level Workers). I also remember some retired army men and a good number of them still in service. In spite of the absence of Gazetted Officers, the village, of sixty plus households, was packed with salaried people. The problem didn’t lie in who would be able to buy, rather who would be willing to pay for a commodity, which, at that point of time, was not rare. Tingtangh insisted that since Samsons family or Damdiais family had men in uniform, either of the two or both families should be approached. But neither Samson, nor Damdiai was ready for that plan. It was resolved that since Uchinpu was good natured, and had connections with JB School, whatever catch we would make, be submitted leaving to his discretion what amount of money he would shell out in return. And there was a stern order: every one should be present in the earthworm (used as fish bait) gathering session. Next Saturday.
The appointed day was blessed with a fine weather with blue sky. An uncle of mine had once said that fishes feed under a clear blue sky. Even I had had enough experience to not venture out on cloudy days, especially in moonless days. I was lucky that my sister had no proposals for works relating to her handloom weaving. My family members were oblivious of the ongoing efforts to own a ball. But a sister, who kept tract me since day one, asked too many disgusting questions.
We set out after morning meal around 8 o’clock. In all we were eight anglers. Plus camp followers, who never ever tried angling, just followed us out of enthusiasm. They were excited and noisy.
We first dip the bait nearby the village bridge. While other floats were motionless, I began to engage with a fish. Three minutes later, I pulled out the carp with much fun fare. Tingtangh responded with a throaty celebration, “Ehe! Damdiai what happen. The smallest boy overtook us all, huh?” Samson said coolly, “Don’t you know he is a regular here in this trade”.
In fact angling was my passion. With the passage of time, the river was plundered with dynamites and other chemicals. Thenceforth no fishes of considerable size and quantity were available in the river. My favorite hobby had since become redundant.
Others shot witty comments like ‘hey this boy must have a certain kind of relationship with the swimming community down there’. Even after we shifted to new locations my line still continued to attract various kinds of fishes. The camp followers were rallying behind me waiting for their respective turns to unbuckle the fishes from the hook.
We decamped with a huge cache of catfishes, carps, eels, etc. at least 50% contributed by me. As agreed we headed towards Uchinpu’s.
We waited outside as our representatives entered the house with the catch. We didn’t know whether Uchinpu himself was in the house, whether our representatives had a warm reception, whether any bargaining took place or whether the customer was not ready for on-the-spot payment. With hopes and dreams, we waited with bated breath.
As Tingtangh and Samson emerged from the door, they looked partially relieved. They strolled out chit chatting and took no notice of us. We trailed behind as they walked on. Samson said, “So, are you suggesting we go fishing another day?”
“We may be able to catch a bucket full of fishes. But who will buy?” said Tingtangh with impatience. The problem lies not quite in catching fishes as much as it lies in marketing.
“Why not make contribution of one rupee each to make up with the fund crunch. We can get number three,” said Samson as he inserted his hand inside his trouser pocket. By number three he meant a small sized soccer ball. Deep in my mind I wished that some one refuted the idea. Because I was not sure I could contribute one rupee. I was too ashamed to voice such a concern myself.
Tingtanghs was a joint family. From his grand father down to all his uncles, there was no salaried person. However, being industrious, the family had a bag full of green vegetables to sell every morning. His grandmother would catch the early bus from Kwakta, on their way to Lamka bus terminal, where they would contest for peak time slots. Such buses are called Kwakta Busi by ladies folk. Due to her craving for the lean passesger Kwakta buses, Tingtanghs grand mother was given a nickname of Kwakta Busii. Samson, on the other hand, had a brother working as Grade IV in a Government establishment and two brothers in the army. Besides his father was an industrious farmer too. As regards Damdiai, he was from a family of nine brothers and two sisters. Two of his brothers were in the army during that time and his eldest brother was by occupation and by conviction a farmer. Similarly others like Naisu, Dildee, Mang, Noldre, Thang or even Thasun had some source or another to finance the paltry sum. Naisu, who had an army retired-still-working father, contested the idea of cash contribution.
“Where will all the money come from?” he question. Even though being branded ladylike, he was straightforward in his approach. Inspite of his faminine antics he was so good in combat that the combine of Thang, his senior and Noldre, had lost a fight against him.
“Comeon Dads pay day is due” said Dildee, his younger brother.
“Naisu, your father could have presented each one of us with a number 5 football” said Samson as he caught him by the waist.
“ Naz… Hon ngap maw Samson pengpung ? (Your … Do you challenge me you rounded Samson?” Naisu was not scared of any one. His words were always loaded. He was not scared of even Samson, the number two fight, next only to Tingtangh. Samson deeply giggled, his eyes almost disappearing beneath his face.
Apart from this there was no disagreement. The suggestion went through.

The Extent of Cashlessness
I was piling against my father who sat by the fireside. Both my sisters were present. Some lenglas (guests) were sitting at various corners of the room. At the center of the room a lantern was burning. My mother was sitting next to it spinning cotton thread. I had an agenda and I wished there were no ladies and guests at that moment. But if I postpone my agenda, I may forget it altogether till the next day by when my father and other family members might be out of bounds. I have given in lots of contribution in terms of kind. Contribution in cash might be closed by the next day. I just couldn’t wait.
“Pa cheng khat na nei hia (Father do you have one rupee?)” I said. My father was stoking the fire. And he did not seem to take interest in my query.
I was party to the team and I still want to remain as such. So I just couldn’t give up my agenda. So I followed up my query with a tag, ‘Maw Pa’ (Do you Father?) Probably my father knew what I said.
He responded, “Chiang khat e (one stick)?” Certainly he felt so helpless that he feigned ignorance. The others were giggling. I did not feel like laughing. It’s official. I failed to avert typical intervention of ladies folk.
“What’s that for?” came the first query from my mother.
“Kuva man di hia (You want to clear your credit with the Pan seller)?” my eldest sister teased me. Pan is a betel-based delicacy chewed with tobacco by adults. There followed a chorus of laughter. My other sister was still listening.
My father, who was completely awakened by that time, asked “Money for what?” Now the time for disclosure had come.
“Kathoh di (contribution)” I said looking at the other side. There was silence for some time.
Ladies were always quick on their heels.
“Contribution for what?” queried my mother. All eyes were focused on me. My sister, who had been silent till now, had been keeping tract of every effort made by the footballing boys through my participation. After two days labor was put in, I had to brief her about the entire exercise. While answering questions I avoided her eyes. But this time I was sure that she would prevail. As I said, ‘for purchase of football’, she rose from where she was, and therefrom was blown the impending announcement, “They had had social work for two days already. Today, being the third day, he left with a fishing rod. May be they are still sort of the required amount”
“That’s enough” judgment was final “how can you contribute one rupee after giving in so much labor. No need to give. We have no money”. My father had no money. That’s it. I wanted the money and they had no money. There’s just nothing they could do.
Ever since I could remember, my father had grand plans to own fish farms. His endeavor to benefit from Government Schemes had never materialized. The officials required cash advance, and my father had to sell paddy, sell off cattle or plots of land against all opposition from my mother and sister. At other times, some one or the other came up with news advertisements on Grade IV posts lying vacant in the various departments of the State Government. All these had adverse consequences on the finances of the family. And by the time I reached the 4th Standard, we had been stripped of most of our cattle, and in the year 1985, a discarded naughty boy shoe I picked up and used as school uniform, snapped at the sole as my foot had outgrown it.
It made no sense asking for non-existing money. They told me to withdraw my share of the money if I wouldn’t be in the team. That never happened. Still I was out. I was not invited in football matches during recess periods in school. As such I had to join the spectators watching the football matches. As the ball’s color and signs of freshness wore off, the ball turned public and eventually I joined in the matches. And we played on till the ball was completely damaged.