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