TODAY -

A personal reflection on loss and grief

Monica Konjengbam *

 Vegetables planted next to the community ground by the
Vegetables planted next to the community ground by the deceased :: Pix - TSE



Human experiences of death in the family are undeniably challenging, especially when the cause is a tragic event such as a murder or an accident. The pain that deaths in such circumstances instil in the bereaved often goes beyond the grief related with natural deaths.

I have experienced the loss of four family members, each succumbing to different causes. The first was my grandfather (Pupu), a man etched in my memory for his meticulous nature—always keeping things tidy, dressing in a refined and polished style, sporting a cheerful smile, and possessing beautiful handwriting.

He earned a degree from Dibrugarh University and served in the Manipur Rifles. In his time, those with such qualifications were highly respected. His father, my great-grandfather, was a celebrated Nat Sankritana singer of his time, and Pupu probably learned religious practices from his father. Pupu fervently followed Vaishnavism, engaging in daily rituals.

He wore a tilak, was dressed in clean attire, and offered prayers to Lord Krishna, Balabhadra, Jagannath, and Subhadra, accompanied by fragrant flowers and incense. Only after this ritual did he have his lunch. His meal comprised a variety of dishes, and as the youngest grandchild in his direct lineage, he would playfully hand-feed me daily, a tradition he shared with his other grandchildren also.

The second loss was my grandmother. She possessed a spontaneous and organized nature, adept at managing her family with precision. Growing up in the Hamom family, where many were involved in or connected to the arts, particularly music, she showcased her love for music by singing during events like Yaoshang (Holi) and Rath Yatra (Kang).

She grew up alongside a Brahmin (Bamon) family named Anoubam, immersed in daily religious practices and cooking techniques. Despite the limited educational opportunities for women during her time, she could read and write in Manipuri script. Recounting her school days, she expressed gratitude to her older brother, Hamom Pupu, who carried her piggyback to school every day, enabling her education.

Her death hit me harder than my grandfather's, and it made me realize the depth of emotions associated with losing loved ones more than ever before.

The third loss was my Bachou (father’s older brother), which occurred in the last year of my college. I remember him as someone who enjoyed teaching me Math and Physics, often praised me, and delighted in hearing me sing songs. With a deep love for arts and culture, especially music, drama, and theatre, none of us pursued these professionally, unlike my great-grandfather. Bachou often encouraged me to sing during our evening walks in the courtyard. He led a fulfilling life with a good job and was the most sociable among his siblings.

The most recent and devastating loss is my cousin brother (Dachou), whose murder has left an indelible mark on our lives. The shock and trauma persist as we grapple with the reality of his untimely demise.

Ever since I laid eyes on his lifeless body at the JNIMS morgue, sleep has eluded me, and nights have become a relentless struggle to blink. Unlike the first three experiences of loss and grief, this one, which became public with his death, is markedly distinct and is hitting us, as a family, the hardest.

The eagerness of an Indian digital news publication to secure interviews has resulted in them weaving narratives with their own preconceived notions, depicting my cousin's life as if they were intimately acquainted with him, surpassing their understanding of him compared to ours. Another well-known Manipuri live streaming blogger displayed audacity by visiting our grieving families and boasting about his popularity and channel.

This behavior was in response to our refusal to allow live streaming of our grieving families. This has prompted me to delve into contemplation, questioning whether the family's privacy is genuinely being respected.

Can stories be assumed and narrated arbitrarily, attaching labels to my cousin to suit the media's narrative ? What if their account is untrue ? Why is there a tendency for people to speculate and create their own narratives about a person's life and associate them with the cause of their death ? Can we accurately represent and speak on behalf of the deceased without proper understanding and evidence ?

With my cousin no longer alive, there's no chance for him to rise from his grave and correct any misrepresentation or falsehood about his character.

The news of my cousin's death was delivered by my mom on 5 December early in the morning around 5. In a state of disbelief, I initially thought I might have misheard her, hoping for a repetition as she tearfully conveyed the news. Upon the second utterance, the reality of the sorrowful news hit me, and I began to shudder in my bed. In my room, my parents, equally devastated, silently shed tears.

As much as I hesitate to bring the nuances of my late cousin's life into the public sphere, there is a need, as a family who shared in his growth and experiences, to revisit those moments that shaped him into the person we all knew.

This is particularly important because the media and individuals who did not experience his upbringing as we did may not portray his life accurately and might only present it through a narrative they perceive as the truth. I can sketch an approximate life journey of how I knew my cousin by dividing it into three phases of my life:

First, it was during my childhood. My cousin, a rock music enthusiast, adorned his room walls with Bon Jovi and other rock band posters. During his time, cassette tapes were all the rage, and he had tons of them in his room. I learned about the music of Scorpions, Aerosmith, and more from him. I usually saw him wearing a leather jacket, jeans, and boots.

He rode a Yamaha bike. And that hairstyle – a bit longer than the norm, styled to perfection, echoing the spirit of those Bon Jovi days.

Second, during my college days, he was working in a 3-star hotel in New Delhi. Our encounters were sporadic, fleeting moments during visits to my cousin sister's place or those rare vacations. This time, I didn't get to know him as intimately as during the carefree days of my childhood.

Then the third act after my college when he returned home after working many years in Delhi and engaged in private jobs in Manipur. I will always remember him during this phase as someone who devoted much of his time to social work, participating in community volunteer service, and showing a keen interest in gardening.

Picture this: in the aftermath of our Meitei traditional moonlight dance, the 'Thabal Chongba,' in the early morning, he would be the lone soul cleaning up our entire neighborhood. And when families were called upon to send a representative for community service, he was always the first to step forward.

He may be gone, but his vibrant touch on the land lives on in these images. This brief reflection is how I will remember him forever. He dedicated much of his life in social work in the neighborhood, which shows that he was a social-minded person. As a person of the kind that he was, he must have certainly been moved by the current Manipur crisis.

However, our families have no information about whether he was affiliated, as suggested by some, with any group or organization. What we can affirm is that there was no visible indication of this in his lifestyle. His way of living remained consistent in the last few weeks or months. We don’t think he was more than who we know him to be, while we may be wrong.

My cousin was a good man. His voluntary social and community work speaks volumes about that, though we don’t make it a point to say we are proud of that because youths doing voluntary social work are commonplace in Meitei society.

We find solace in knowing he was a good man, a good human being. What he did in the last few days of his life was something of this sort—taking steps towards community welfare. We, as a family, feel good about it, though the cost, his death, traumatizes us. There is no other him. It is a permanent loss.

Dachou, may you find eternal peace. It's sad that I can only say this much for you, and hope for timely justice for you and other victims.

(A grieving cousin sister of Konjengbam Medhabanta, who was among the 13 young men from the Meitei community killed in a jungle in Manipur’s Tengnoupal district by suspected Kuki insurgents in cold blood.)


* Monica Konjengbam wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on December 27 2023 .



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