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E-Pao! Incidents - Mama - Precious Memories How They Linger

Precious Memories How They Linger

Dear Epao team, I thank you for providing this intelligent and positive forum in a time of blinding chaos. I offer some of my simple memories of Manipur, jewels that no amount of time abroad or disaster at home can tarnish.

Once upon a time when I was a child in Churachandpur, I lived in a magical world. My best friend was from another tribe and we spoke each other's language fluently. I admired the grown ups' ability to understand so many more dialects than I could and I would practice fragments of sentences to try and get the accent just right. Today I have forgotten every word.

I went to school in a bright green tunic with a shiny white ribbon in my hair. The red tie added the Xmas tree touch. Sometimes if we were lucky, my mother would give us 5 paisa each to buy nuts at school. An extra special treat was a bubble of bombay mithai which I rediscovered many years later as candyfloss. We were lucky children indeed. We went on to many other schools from there but nothing has ever come close to the wonder of those days.

I remember the guavas from the neighbour's garden, their rosy pink deliciousness that no canned variety can ever hope to capture. I remember the crunch of the sugarcane straight from the fields, the sour grapes growing in the doctor's garden, the precious papaya tree in our backyard. Best of all was the iruonba and changalhme. I remember the taste of Manipur.

The river that ran near our house absorbed many experiences on its way to the sea. Once to my horror it whisked my baby brother's shirt away while I was doing the laundry. The riverbank provided us with clay to fashion into missiles for our catapults and a spring to fill up our pots with. I liked fetching water and dreamt of the day when I would be skilled enough to balance a big pot on my head.

There was a cemetary on the other side of the river and funeral processions would regularly troupe past our house. Hindu cremations were held on the river bank and further up near the hills would be Christian graves. Regardless of what religion the deceased belonged to, I saw that the rain came down each time, turning the path into a sea of sludge. It is the sky weeping for the dead I was told.

Sometimes when there were no adults about we would prowl the cemetary in search of wildflowers and trying to avoid the tiger ghost who lurked about waiting to devour naughty children. Who could be afraid with such beautiful flowers as those that grow in Manipur? Nevertheless we made fast getaways once the precious flowers were in our little hands. In the evenings fireflies and folk tales kept us enthralled until it was time to go to bed. My sister went for a while to a boarding school where she claimed to have been bitten in the night by a ghost. I reckon it was a rat.

Music was the best thing. Melodies and words that pulled at the heart were part of the fabric of daily life. The most haunting sound at night was not the howling of wolves in the hills but the distant call of amplified music on a clear winter's night. My father wrote many songs and we all knew the words to the prettiest ones. Even better was hearing someone with a beautiful voice singing those very songs.

Visiting our grandmother meant walking miles to her village and crossing a rickety swing bridge. What a relief to get to the other side! Fields of yellow flowers would run beside us the rest of the way to the old bamboo stilt house where my sister was born. I remember the bamboo water jars, the built-in bamboo beds and the bamboo floor through which we would peer at the chickens fossicking about.

The hospital near our house fascinated me. It had a lovely big lawn in front of it and I once found a beehive in a hedge bordering it. I was lucky with only three stings to show for my curiousity. Inside the hospital's seemingly vast caverns, I would visit the new mothers and examine each infant before pronouncing it perfect. Once during my patrol, I saw a row of dusty yellow jars high up on a shelf in a lab. As the afternoon sun streamed in through the windows I thought I could make out tiny baby shapes in the jars.

Today so far away and so suddenly alien from Manipur, I feel as though my memories are like those vague shapes in the jars. I have a million questions and no answers to the calamity that has befallen the great state of Manipur.

Perhaps because I am a simple tribal, I am unable to understand how the rich tapestry of my homeland has unravelled into a nest of blinding hatred. How proud I used to be each time I explained my exotic origins to foreigners and how great the sorrow now that we have descended into a dark age.

I have treasured shawls from different tribes to keep my family warm and to remind us of home. I look at their exquisite patterns and take pride in my fellow countrywoman's craft. I think of my childhood best friend and hope she is safe and surrounded by love.

But what will I teach my children about the place of their mother's birth? Will I tell them it is so and so's fault that greed and intolerance have taken over and that only 'our' people are innocent? I think I would rather share only my precious memories and hope that by the time they are my age, the light of peace will shine again on Manipur.

By: Mama


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