Sedition case, radio, Khongjais and the funny times we're living today

Yenning *

Today, I met an elderly lawyer, Ukil Tangang, from Imphal, to discuss a case related to sedition concerning one of my friends. Folks call him “Sedition Expert”. He humbly admitted that in the 1980s and 1990s, there were very few lawyers in Manipur who would represent the para-military forces and the State police in human rights violation cases.

He shared, “Cases trickled to us only by the grace of close friends, mostly police officers. And every Sunday, we had to treat them at Kakhulong–Yu, Ouk and other sundry items – costing us about Rs 20 to 40 at the most. Nevertheless, we owed them for the meagre cases. Since then, we’ve been representing the forces when they’re cornered”.

A thin and lanky man, he had a soothing voice but shrill enough to beat the rhythm of the tempestuous June rain falling over his family’s 100-year-old Man-dop (so he says). I could visualise him in a Courtroom arguing cases passionately, at times waking up the Magistrate with sonorous shrills.

Covering his modesty in his rolled-up knee-length Lungi, he confided, “I haven’t worn trousers since May 3. Visitors are a luxury today. When you came here today, I thought of changing my clothes. But who cares ? When the Khongjais (literally, Kukis) can do it, why not me ? I am glad you’re here to discuss the case, and I am reminded of my mentor. Let’s call him Muchwala for his trademark moustache.

He was one notorious SP (Superintendent of Police), part of our urban legend, who was in Manipur for a long time. A fine gentleman, that he was, incorruptible, but finally, corrupted by our local officers and politicians.

He loved the company of a dragon-headed walking stick. It was his signature possession more precious than the service revolver”. In his lively banter, I guess he’d forgotten about the sedition case that I came to take counsel on.

“There was one Sunday”, he drooled, “we’re at a Kakhulong vendor. Abui, the owner was a fine violinist and Moochwala loved his fiddling. Rounds after rounds of drinks, Moochwala would request Abui to play the Akashvani’s (All India Radio) other worldly morning opening signature tune based on raga Shivaranjini that was composed by the Czech Walter Kaufmann, a Jewish refugee in India during the Nazi holocaust.

As much as Abui tried to imitate the haunting perfectly tuned harmonium tune by his fiddle stick, the sound never came out right. Still, it was as if we’re baptised by the melancholic tune of our sins. And it was a sight to behold the serene visage of SP Mooch-wala absorbed and rigid”.

He continued, “Kala, one of my friends who was studying MBBS, was the only odd-ball who loved jolly disco tunes. And breaking the Yoga-like trance he shouted at Abui to change the tune. Moochwala, furious at the ungodly interruption flew into a rage and threw up his stick. It hit the cane-matted ceiling that has never been cleaned since the day of its installation.

And soot rained down just like a bursting monsoon rain covering us, our drinks and the eatables. There was pin drop silence. But the guts of Kala! He burst out laughing as if he found the situation hilarious.

Mad with anger, Moochwala held Kala by his throat and shouted, ‘Nangdi yaam mure, nangi mingshu Kala Koure. Nang shida noklinge, eh?’ (In broken Manipuri, ‘You’re very black and your name is Kala. This you find funny, eh?’)

He took us to the Imphal Thana parading us in front of his Jonga Jeep hands tied by jute ropes in pairs while he sat at the bonnet of the service vehicle strumming the violin in wild abandon. Next Sunday, we heard Abui had sold his violin. The Sound and Drama division office at Imphal had graciously permitted his request to change his trade to playing Marcus”.

Then Tangang’s reminiscence turned to a particular incident at Tamenglong. One day, he was travelling for a case along with Moochwala . And on the way, they encountered an interesting sight. There was this young woman chopping firewood with an axe, and her husband was holding their newly born baby in his bosom and gazing at his wife lovingly.

Moochwala commanded the convoy to stop and asked the gentleman, “Nangdi kori tore” (in broken Manipuri, “What are you doing?” To this, the young gentleman coyly replied, “I’m waiting for my beloved wife”.

Moochwala was bemused, but he thundered, “Phare hujiikti mana nang ngairo, nang shing khairo (in broken Manipuri, “Alright, now you chop the firewood and let her wait on you”). The poor man had to chop a whole oak tree till dusk. And the party missed the case hearing.

After two days’ stay at Tamenglong, the party returned home. Tangang added, “You know how Tamenglong Road is even today?” Yes, I could understand. It’s terrible. He added, “Those days it was more terrible – landslides, bus accidents and deaths. So often, the villagers travelled on the roof of the bus. Its number was far more than the inside passengers.

The reason: the villagers thought they could avoid deaths in cases of accidents by jumping off the bus roof. But this logical explanation failed to convince Mooch-wala. So, he ordered the passengers to push the bus on the muddy track until they reached Tamenglong Bazar without starting the engine. Moochwala shouted, “Na-khoisu shiraroi, bus su tek- laroi. Illo illo” (This way, you won’t die, and the bus also won’t break, So, push push).

Suddenly, he seemed to remember the purpose of my visit, entered his chamber and came out with a thick volume of a law book. He read out aloud, “SG Vombatkere vs Union of India: WP(C) No. 682 of 2021, etc. order dated 11.5.2022: Stay of Section 124A IPC; no fresh FIR; all pending trials, appeals and proceedings kept in abeyance.

Next date of hearing: 8.8.2023. Central Govt is re-examining Section 124A, and consultation is at an advanced stage;. I couldn’t follow him and stared at him blankly. With a professional grin, he advised, “This is a meritless case, meaning you don’t have to worry. They should have consulted me before filing the FIR. They haven’t learned.

Moochwala always consulted me, so he was never in trouble. He asked nonchalantly, “Besides the case, any shooting today, eh? Why it’s so quiet today?” To this, I replied, “Perhaps the fighters are taking a day off because today is the June Uprising Day, June 18”.

He seemed to agree with me, nodded his head vigorously and spoke. “The Khongjais are an interesting lot, I grew up with them. They’ve a humorous sense of justice. And if five of them are together, honestly, other people cannot pass them because the passers-by knew they would be speaking some funny-truth about them.

Besides, they’d go on a naming spree and change the name of landmark places in Imphal in Thadou language. For example, they’d name Nungjeng Pukhri inside Kangla, Nungjengkim, Kangla into Kanglavai, Nongmeibung into Nongmotbung and so on. So don’t mind if they call Thangjing, Thangting. Nothing political about these toponyms unless the present generation has an ulterior motive”.

I was about to give my opinion, yet, he continued like a torrid rain. “You know, in our neighbourhood, there was this Pebam Parijat, big toes as big as polo balls, a burly criminal. In my childhood, he used to narrate me about the Meitei Labour Corps experience in Europe, how they were allowed to cook their own food, about his sea voyage and many more.

By the way the British mostly recruited criminals in 1917. And you know why the Khongjais rebelled against the Labour Corps recruitment ?

According to Parijat, who later became a Chowkidar for the Govindaji Temple Kangshi (gong), the Khongjais detested the very idea of wearing trousers. Till very recent, the Khongjais wore loin-clothes baring their buttocks, Ninggri Takhatpa, you’d say. That’s why they rebelled. What Anglo-Kuki War and all, nonsense ! That’s why we still hear today about Lungi wearing Khongjais shooting at Indians.”.

I knew by this time I had to walk away because he had touched a taboo subject. Moreover, in his garrulous mood, he started reminiscing about punishments the Khongjais mete out against ‘sexual-accident offenders’.

“The culprit’s head is shaven if he’s unmarried,and personally, he’d have to deliver 17 buffaloes to the accident-girl’s family, clan members and village chief. And about a married man who had an accident with another’s wife, the culprit had to be locked up in a big Chakshang (traditional kitchen cum dining hall) where one Laitang (sic. basket) of dried-red-chilli is burned. Imagine the smoke! Poetic justice, eh.”

I had to politely ask for leave because these are funny times. And it’s dangerous to pull a harmless joke against another community when there are serious killings and burnings. However, I resolved to listen to Akashvani’s morning tune to plunge into melancholy and wipe away the tears many shed during these funny times.

* Yenning wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on June 26, 2023 .

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