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