Monday, October 26, 2009

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Dust Will Return To Dust


I DON’T MIND extending visits to my home state Manipur by a few days. Everything I value comes free of cost here: good water, clean air, meeting people who speak my mother tongue, Paite, and those who mean no harm. Since I am hopeful that my ailing mother will respond positively to medical treatment, I find the extension a treat.


These days, the streets of my hometown, Churachandpur, also affectionately known as Lamka by the original settlers, are not at their best, even as NREGS patches are visible here and there. I am, however, feeling quite okay. The quiet town that’s not always peaceful, is far removed from the madding crowds of Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai. Despite the water logging and flooding caused by the rains, everyone here is in high spirits and seems to be engaged in constant cellphone conversations with friends or relatives who could be anywhere in Manipur itself, in Bengaluru or in Europe. With regard to the movement of conveyance, even in times of bandhs and strikes, people find ways of reaching Imphal by various means, like displaying Press stickers on their vehicles, for instance!

In Lamka, notorious for its population of drug users and for other vices, people just refuse to wilt under pressure of the rotten system. They have learnt the art of acclimatising. And the resolve of well-meaning citizens gets hardened with each passing day. But nothing, it seems, can entirely kill their spirit.

I recently witnessed a Bible Quiz, conducted by the youth wing of the Evangelical Baptist Church. I was excited by the participation of boys from my village, Saikul, where the youth wing was born about 40 years ago. These boys, who are still studying in higher secondary schools, had buried their faces in their mothers’ bosoms in fear, when militants had gunned down 12 innocent villagers and burnt down half of the village in 1997.

It’s true that the mind sees what it chooses to see. On the day of the Bible Quiz, I saw a picture of resilience in the faces of the boys standing on the stage facing the packed crowd at the Youth Conference Hall in Lamka. They were hoping to bring back the long lost glory of Saikul. The quiz was based on the Book of Ezekiel. And behold, they stood first! The triumph of the villagers was the culmination of a series of unprecedented achievements made by them since that terrible day in 1997. In a sense, I perceived the win as a testimony to the administration of justice, the quintessence of the church, which is run on tithes collected from members.

Later, as I walked around the back alleys of a commercial complex, I saw a mayang (the term used to refer to mainstream Indians). I recalled hearing one such mayang in Delhi proclaim that churches in India received huge donations from abroad. Unfortunately, the fact that mission workers, who have helped produce educated and honest citizens, are starved of cash, has been ignored over the years, even by church members. Mission workers often have to supplement their paltry income through cultivation and from gifts received from committed Christians. Even the top executive of the church owns no luxuries, not even a befitting car. If a dollar had come to the church, it was probably invested in fixed deposits for redemption post- Judgement Day. If not, some of the mayangs might have evidences to depose!

Now that even the mission schools have become financial white elephants for the church, the setting up of colleges or universities is out of the question. The parents of most of the village children are in dire need of an additional hand to supplement the family income. Thus, from the Youth Conference Hall the boys shuttled back to their paddy and jhum fields. The Biblical saying, “Dust will return to dust”, seems set to be fulfilled even during a person’s lifetime.


From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 6, Issue 42, Dated October 24, 2009

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Bird Trust

FOR ALL OF us kids, the hot steaming meal at 8am was the first big hurdle in the day’s journey. Strangely enough, by sundown, the same food would have become cold and have turned into a delicacy. My friend Lumpoo and I liked eating it huddled beneath the elevated floor of my old house.

Later, we would stand at the gate as a battery of barefooted friends charged towards us in a cloud of dust. Then, from across the grassy lawns of the school, Mangpi would materialise from his house. Dalpu, who lived next door, would quietly join us too. Only then would we proceed to the fields to gather the grazing cows. It all coincided with the airing of western music from All India Radio Imphal.

One friend, Lingngam Sood, used to have agendas that became executive decisions. Only in case of extreme doubt would the reflective elements within the circle have a closer look at his ideas. It was around then that we had formed ‘a bird trust’ whereby all catches of bird by members were roasted and pooled in a container. For a long time, due to the absence of a good slingshot, the number of catches remained frozen at two — until the arrival of Qam.

Qam was related to Mangpi, who had a rich father and knew English — enough reason to command the group’s respect. He had, however, earned membership of the trust through his friendship with Sood. Lumpoo was delighted with the entry of the new member.

One day, as we were trooping away to the cadence of ABBA’s One of Us, Sood suddenly threatened: “If Qam is in, I am out”. He wanted to restrict the trust to cow owners. The resourceful Qam was not a cow owner and, moreover, came from a locality where cows followed a different grazing orbit.

It seemed that though Qam had become a part of the group through Sood, there had been a falling out. Even Mangpi made no effort to retain the sharp shooter. Thus, a member who hardly knew his alphabet by heart had blackmailed us. Alive to the implications of such threats, on such occasions, Dalpu used to implore Sood to be more responsible.

As usual, the silence that followed the threat of resignation was broken only when Dalpu initiated dialogue.

“I am not against you,” said Dalpu to assuage his cousin who was becoming more and more resolute “But you must have a good reason”.

At this, Bel, who was a close friend of Sood, butted in: “Yes, a good reason as to why you dislike your own decision so soon?” Sood blushed. The rest of us giggled nervously. There was a brief period of awkwardness. Soon, though, all our friendships were back on track.

By the early 1990s, my friend Lumpoo was drinking large quantities of country-made liquor. It was the only variety available in Manipur since 1991, when the sale or consumption of liquor was officially prohibited. This resulted in large-scale bootlegging with revenues going to underground outfits in the state. Lumpoo used to get wild during the winter holidays, when his buddies in the army would bring back Indian Made Foreign Liquor. On one such occasion, he told me about his grand ideas. He had been dying to re-live the charms of our childhood through gettogethers. He insisted, though, that the members of the old bird trust should avoid pushing their personal agendas.

One night, Lumpoo was dead drunk. “The magic has gone,” he lamented “The more I tried, the more we seemed to drift apart.” When I asked if he was interested in eating a cold lunch, he became emotional. Eyes streaming, he burst into gales of laughter. As he rubbed his tear-soaked eyes, I said: “Now, you have become the child that you once were”.

As he settled down, he confessed that his heavy drinking had affected his health. “I’ll be seeing you in heaven,” he said.

He died soon thereafter.


From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 6, Issue 23, Dated Jun 13, 2009

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Thy Will Be Done


videoIt had never occurred to me that being a CISF jawan could be life threatening. I'd seen death bodies of CRPF jawans in Imphal. I'd seen policemen senselessly murdered. In the God forshaken state of Manipur, no body right from the vegetable vendor to the Governor is safe. But the thought of a Maoist raid of a CISF outpost in the Hindu heartland of AP, Orissa, Bihar or West Bengal endangering the life of A Friend (AF) had never crossed my mind. Untill the friend called up to tell me he could have died.


There are somethings I remember about the Naxal infested areas. I had just received an offer of appointment in Lok Sabha Secretariat when I got calls from the Indian Institute of Social Welfare and Business Management for interview to the post of Assistant Commissioner in Coal Mine Provident Fund. By virtue of my still being working in Armed Forces Headquarters at that time, I received a valuable advice of a Colonel hailing from Bihar; mining regions are not the best place to be. Therefore my brother and me decided that a job in Parliament of India was more than enough. That was 1998.


AF started the cell conversation by asking me if I knew about the recent Maoist attack on his unit. I could hardly remember the place of his posting-Orissa. But that was it. All I need I have- his contact number. Just in case. So I asked him straight away where exactly he was posted. But his voice blurred into something like Dhanamanjuri.

"Dhana Manjuri?" I repeated to confirm that I didn't get it wrong.
"Comeon I'm not in a college (DM College is the most prominent educational institute in Manipur). I'm earning a living here in Damanjodi" the stern voice from the other end carried through the airwaves. Immediately I googled the word and found thousands of hits on the net. This time I got it right. Damanjodi.
AF was patiently telling me that it was in Damanjodi where 7 of his comrades were killed in the gun battle on the fateful night of Sunday the 12th April, 2009. And I realized that call could be an emotional one.
AF with a comrade was sent for duty without arms while 3 other comrades from the Quick Reaction Team remained at the post. And behold! the battery of highly motivated naxals cadres stormed the place. All of his comrades stuck in the post plus 4 others from the same unit died and the naxals decamped with a huge haul of arms, ammunitions and explosives. I could only plead that AF needed to thank God for sparing his life.
Later I found out a PTI report from internet. The report shows that the well planned attack on NALCO, Asia's biggest bauxite mine on Sunday night was aimed at disrupting the upcoming Lok Sabha (Lower House of Parliament of India, seat of lagislation for the largest democracy in the world) polls and loot explosives. Grand Agenda ofcourse!
As for me I could merely say TGMFIOK! Thank God My Friend Is Ok.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Monday, March 30, 2009

Monday, March 9, 2009

Monday, March 2, 2009

How My Story Finally Got A Space in Tehelka

Half of the village was torched one year after the apocalyptic reign of terror started in 1997. Yes everything else got burnt in the flames of hatred that had been waiting for a spark in the heat of Corruption, Neglect and Non-Governance. The word ‘burnt’ had become predominant in my consciousness. I recalled a phrase indicating burnt maize used by a childhood flame. And I had a story already drafted in mind. Before that I reached the editor, Tehelka magazine to find out if the magazine has a space for my kind of stories. In one line I had mentioned the structure of the history that I proposed to write. The response was positive. As soon as I knew that the people in Tehelka were interested in my story, I drafted a story and mailed it to Lealyan Thomte, who is in Copenhagen, whom I trusted more than myself in the field of writing. As a matter of fact I had asked him to make improvements in another story about childhood brawls, on which he found no scope for improvement. But this time I prevailed upon him to devote sometime on my and to make it more presentable:
Lealyan promptly applied a hand and returned with following additions/changes:
-(approx. 2 ½ feet in diameter- where the rice would be placed on the sides and the vegetables/meat would be at the center, and the family would circle around it- eating with our bare hands). I did not feel hungry. So.when every one was seated around the hot steaming rice
-Feelings of nostalgia overtook me and tears welling up began to daze my vision.
-fighting for its space amidst overgrwon weeds and grasses
- an elder sister
-At this she became serious- rooted as she was, she retorted,
-And with a typical sense of humor and a dose of unhidden pride, she continued
-The other options available as of now, and may well be when he is turns an adult is to join the military service
Accordingly on October 8, 2007 I sent an improved version of the story in 1104 words which was still too bulky for the dedicated for the purpose. So on October 23, 2008, I further reduced the story to about 960 words and sent it once over again along with digital pictures of the Tuitha Bridge mentioned in the story as:
This time too I received no communication from Tehelka. Somehow I was disappointed. However given the fact that even I have first hand experience in publication/editing work, I still refused to admit the role of prejudice in my piece being not published. I presumed that either there were more than enough submissions of write ups for personal histories section or the staff in tehelka were looking at their own. Therefore when I re-send the story I was extra careful; I sent a hard copy of the story:
DESTINYS CHILD
Thirty long years had gone by. Yet I still remember Thian as a child, not as a housewife, as she is now. We had been together roasting maize. Thian’d stammer and say “a tangtawp” by which she actually meant to say “a kanggawp” - meaning the maize got burned. The word ‘a tangtawp’ has since been used as a standard terminology in the family circle
As Headmaster of the local school, Thian's father had to move to various places to teach in the network of mission schools run by the Church. From my village he was transferred to Khuangmun village, where there was no Government run school.
One cloudy evening my sisters laid dinner in a large aluminum plate (approx. 2 ½ feet in diameter- where the rice would be placed on the sides and the vegetables would be at the center, and the family would circle around it- eating with our bare hands). I did not feel hungry. So, when every one was seated around the hot steaming rice, I asked my father from behind, “Pa (Father), let’s migrate to Khuangmun”. My sudden proposal was greeted with bursts of laughter from my brothers and sisters. My eldest sister said, “You are love struck baby”. Some one said, “Write a song”. I was flabbergasted.
I visited my village during the winter of 2000. After 48 hours chugging in Assam bound train, I had to take another eighteen hours bus ride through the National Highway No. 39 to reach Imphal in Manipur. Since my village is situated in Manipur’s Churachandpur district, I had to take yet another 2 hours bus ride southward along Teddim Road. The road, that stretches from Imphal to the town of Teddim in Myanmar, en-route Tollen village, was dusty and the journey- bumpy. A visitor or a tourist could easily have thought that the Government had plans to abandon the road.
Even from Tollen village bus top, I was still short of reaching my village, which is tucked away 1 kilometer off the east, across the river Tuitha, that runs parallel to the Teddim Road in that region.
Through a cloud of dust, I could make out a number of boys, as dirty as when I was a child. Dewy eyes began to daze my vision. Stroking my tousled hair, I appealed for their help. Surely they sense that feeling of nostalgia for they readily helped with my luggage.
The village suspension bridge was as weak as ever. Dangling precariously across the almost dried up Tuitha rivers, it still swayed in the same rhythm it had swayed 30 years ago.
As I stepped over into solid ground, I saw high-tension electric wires zigzagging over the village. Pyramidal towers erected at various intervals supported the wires.
The high-tension lines, completely dwarfed the string of electric posts lined up all the way from Teddim Road, across the banks of the River, through paddy fields and finally to the heart of the village. The wireless posts, which once supported low-tension electric wires and served to illuminate the village, had since been best utilized to convey coded messages by tolling them.
The village already shrunk by communal tension and unfavorable infrastructure facility was further devastated by the intra-tribal conflict that erupted into a full-scale war in 1997. From a family of 60 households during my childhood days, the number had since declined to less than 25. And the handful of inhabitants whom I still recognized looked worn-out. The only visible symbol of governance there was the Junior Basic School, run by the State Government. The tin roofed building of the school, had been reduced to a third of its former size, fighting for its space amidst overgrown weeds and grasses. And the once well-maintained roads had since been reduced to narrow footpaths.
Since I left for Delhi in 1996, an elder sister had been taking care of the ancestral property. Visibly disappointed over the flight of most of the villagers elsewhere she said, “ They seem to have renounced their sense of ownership,” By some reason I found myself advocating the case for migrating: “They may die with that sense of ownership here”. At this she became serious and she retorted, “So are you too going to die one day - with or without a cause”.
My sister was relaxed only when I inquired about the Mission School. She told me that the routine anti-government protests and strikes, that choked normal life in the state, had no effect on attendance in the school in the village. On hearing the word ‘children’ I'd instinctively turned to her 3-year-old son, who was all excitement due to the birth of a new calf. Obviously he was trying to tell me the number of cattle owned by the family. He counted his tiny fingers when his beaming mother flattered him on his ability to take part in farming works like transplanting and harvesting of paddy (rice). And with a typical sense of humor and a dose of unhidden pride, she continued, “And in another two years he might well takeover the ploughshare from his father!” Still I didn’t have the urge to laugh.
I was sure that even if her son becomes a graduate by some miracle, he had to either grab a Central Government job or become jobless; its not very likely that one get a job in the State Government unless one has the money to pay for it.
The other options available as of now, and may well be when he turns an adult, is to join the military service, or continue traditional subsistence farming. If these two options failed to attract him, he will be left with the last option, i.e., join any one of the insurgent groups operating in the region. That’s his destiny. I just had no idea how the system would heal.
Then someone shouted from the kitchen 'a tangtawp'
The story when finally published in Tehelka February 28, 2009 came to hardly 700 words:
THIRTY LONG years had gone by. Yet, I still remember Thian as a child, not as a housewife, as she is now. We had been together roasting maize. Thian would stammer and say, “a tangtawp” by which she actually meant to say, “a kanggawp” — meaning burned maize. The word tangtawp has since been used as standard terminology in the family circle.
As headmaster of the local school, Thian’s father had to move to various places to teach in the network of schools run by the church. From my village he was transferred to Khuangmun village, where there was no government run school.
One cloudy evening my sisters laid dinner in a large aluminum plate (two-and-a-half feet in diameter, where the rice is placed on the sides and the vegetables at the centre. We would eat off it with out bare hands). When everyone was seated around the rice, I spoke to my father: “Pa, let’s migrate to Khuangmun”. My sudden proposal was greeted with laughter from my brothers and sisters. My eldest sister said, “You are love struck, baby”. Someone said, “Write a song”. I was flabbergasted.
I last visited my village in the winter of 2000. After 48 hours in an Assam-bound train, I had to take another eighteen- hour bus ride through National Highway No 39 to reach Imphal in Manipur. Since my village is situated in Manipur’s Churachandpur district, I had to take yet another two-hour bus ride southward along Teddim Road, which stretches from Imphal to the town of Teddim in Myanmar. Even from Tollen village bus stop, I was short of reaching my village, which is tucked away a kilometer to the east, across the river Tuitha.
The village suspension bridge still swayed over the almost dried up Tuitha in the same rhythm I remembered from 30 years before. As I stepped onto solid ground, I saw that the wireless posts, which once supported low-tension electric wires and served to illuminate the village, had since been utilised to convey coded messages. The village already shrunk by unfavourable infrastructure facilities was further devastated by the intra-tribal conflict that erupted into a full-scale war in 1997. From a family of 60 households during my childhood, the number had declined to less than 25. The handful of inhabitants whom I still recognised looked wornout. The only visible symbol of governance was the Junior Basic School run by the State Government. The once wellmaintained roads had been reduced to narrow footpaths.
Since I left for Delhi in 1996, an elder sister had been taking care of the ancestral property. Visibly disappointed over the flight of the villagers she said, “They seem to have renounced their sense of ownership”. For some reason I found myself advocating the case for migration. “They may die with that sense of ownership here,” I said. After that, my sister relaxed only when I inquired about the Mission school. The anti-government protests that choked normal life in the state had not effected school attendance. I turned to her three-year-old son who was trying to tell me the number of cattle owned by the family. “In another two years he might well take over the ploughshare from his father!” his mother said. I didn’t have the urge to laugh.
I was sure that even if her son became a graduate by some miracle, he would have to grab a Central Government job or become jobless. It was unlikely that he would get a job in the State government unless he had the money to pay for it. The other options would be to join the military or continue traditional subsistence farming. Or else, he would be left with the last option, which is to join any one of the insurgent groups operating in the region. That’s his destiny. I had no idea how the system would heal.
Then someone shouted from the kitchen, “a tangtawp”.
And behold, I got a break! God is great!


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ecological Poem



Once upon a time in the West
A war broke out between metals and trees
the entire world of matter was polarised
Into the metal camp and the trees camp
The metal camp emerged victorious in the war
Trees and its camp followers who lose the war
Like the grasses, weeds and oxygen had to leave
And relocate in a place where they would be safe
In Japan they were not even allowed to shop
Korea had no more space left for more greenery
Malaysia and Indonesia was being swallowed up
By the merciless club of Steel-metal conglomerate
Russia was full of radio-active material
Upon the shores of Hongkong they lose heart
With the sound of a trumpet they gathered
The Chief Mahogany addressed the gathering:
Children of the greening fraternity,
Today I stand before you in all humility
When the House of Mahogany was bombarded,
I exhorted you to join me in the good fight
I had implored you to be strong till the end.
But now You have nowhere else to go
Except the regions beyond Thailand.
Me and my family are bound by a holy duty
To go back to the land of our ancestors
To pay homage to the Oxygenatorial Warriors
Who died fighting trying to save us
In the very land which was threatened ,
And live in the biting cold of Alaska.
Till the melting ice caps uncover our veil.
Alvida! Alvide!

Friday, January 2, 2009

Exit the 8, Enter the 9

New Years used to remind me of dusts and puddle I once onsidered part of my childhood life. Incidents of fights that happened then had, by the grace of God, never left permanent scar on me or my opponents.
I'd revered people who have the courage to face situations all alone. And I rated myself as one of the boldest and most stupid fight. My early days in this world was marred with fights I never wanted to take at first instance. Such fights, for me, were just ego fights than physical ones; if I cringe in fear I'd have to bear with punches from my back anyway. Which is why I prefered to take punches head on. And I fought on. Secondly I took fights because I didn't want to be labelled a coward. Actually I didn't want to suffer the punches from my back of someone's elder (by hardly two year) brothers and close relatives. The irony was that I just couldn't consider them as champions. Therfore I had to swallow the hard fact that a third, fourth or fifth party's merciless punches or fancy side-kicks, would eventually conclude the fight whatsoever. Before accepting the challenge. My immediate sibling is a sister who is senior to me by about 4 years. She was seldom aware of the fights I used to be in, nor did I want her to know. She used to talk. I'd rather fight my own battle.
Even in the midst of coward challengers there were a handful of relatively bold and beautifuls. I still remember some of them as much as I remember the C-y-Bs (Coward yet Bellicoses). A name that deserve mention in my personal pages is a certain Mister Hangbo. A scoundrel, hand-to-mouth existence type of person, I supposed. I knew very little about the dirty fellow. When we both were grown up I used to spot him atop rock-laden Shaktiman trucks. Yes he must have been from a really really poor background. And we exchanged customary 'dammaws' gestures.
It so happened that a plot of swampy barren land was wrested by owner of the adjacent land by constructing a brick fencing. The children used to walk upon the brick fencing. Even I sometimes walked on the fencing wall. And there a quarrel broke up between me and that son-of-a-bitch. Not a very honorable thing to do. Also I was reluctant to pick a fight with some one whose credentials I knew not and who looked more like a street urchin than a school kid. Yet I challenged him from a distance upon an elevation which was dry. He wanted the fight to be held near the fencing. I wanted him to come over the elevated surface. To my relief I failed to summon him to where I was. I returned home unscathed, unstained.
As I compared the challengers I came across in my village and the current challenger, I figured some distinctive feature in him; he didn't seem to count on rations of helping hand. The challenge was spontaneous and the decision, independent. Only that the challenge took place in his territory.
Three Weeks Later
On the request of a certain aunty, I went to buy mix (a mixture of buzia and bunia) from a restaurant. Chin a class III student was with me. Someone I didn't know, was following me. After I ordered the mix, he began to present his point. "Lawmpa zanlama ka lawmpa toh nang ki hau hilou maw? Tun amah zong a um vele" My friend if I may remind you, you have had a querrel with my friend some days back. See that boy is ready now. The boy stood by the door of the restaurant. I was feeling uneasy.
Eversince I came to Lamka to study, I never engaged in serious quarrels because I came across there just about the same tribe of people I had encountered in my village - bold in packs, coward and dangerous. And if something happens my parents would be in jeopardy.
The medical treatment involving intravenous injection of penicillin was going on. And my arms still ached with pain. Besides I was accompanied by a minor boy. If I had a choice, I would have opted out the smart way. But the fact that I was in a fix didn't lessen any chance of my being labelled a coward if I surrender. I had to face the challenge. Still I was working on ways to avert the fight.
Hoping that he could be scared away, I raised a finger infront of him and growled as threatening as possible, and said, "Did you really mean you challenge me to a duel".
I was close enough to sense the heat of his body. He was muscular, taller than me, and dark. But I reckoned that in case of losing a fair fight, he might not come back with a brother or a relative. Something I was sure of: his friend wouldn't help him. Eventhough it would be quite a task flooring him. I liked him!
The fixer led us to a tiny open space close to the fencing where the querrel started. I pressed the two packs of mix in Chin's hand and instructed him to make up any story about me but not to mention the ensuing fight to ladies folk. I was feeling sorry as I watched him run obediently.
The challenger was removing his shirt, trouser and shoes. He just put them behind him. His friend was standing at a distance betting with a grown man who happened to pass by and took interest in.
Like a pahelwan wrestler, my opponent was naked except the underpant. And he took position like a kungfu artist. As I stepped forward he lifted his foreleg, stepped back a pace, and again advanced forward. Inching closer I made a circular movement of about 35 degrees to my right, to put us in a more even surface. As always the first punch came from my opponent, a direct hit on my left cheek. The momentum was remarkable. But he didn't hit my eyes, so I was saved from experiencing balls of sparks flying off. Thereafter he, like any other amateur fight, swung about in an unorganized rhythm. I was able to deliver blows just enough to assert myself. While he hit the air with zips of hysterical fists, I happened to step on a pot hole. As I lean forward some his punches landed on my face. Immediately I stepped back, held him back and landed him a punch. Then and there his unbalanced torso fell forward. And then lo! and behold! He nosed the ground with a thud.
At a time policemen in Hindi films would have reached the spot where incidents take place, ladies folk, some with combs still stuck in their hair, others still holding rubber mugs arrived. And I found myself in the arms of my sister.
Eventhough my opponent fell down on the ground, I had a bleeding lip. And so the fixer declared his friend a champ.
The man who passed by and witnessed the fight disagreed, "Azou hih e"
"Azou e"
"Azou hih e"
"Azou e"
"Azou hih e"
video