E-Pao! EI - Sleepless In Shillong : Madness In Manipur


By: Hopson Sapam *

'Chechou' got married some years back and I felt sorry for not attending her marriage ceremony back home due to some very unavoidable circumstances. She rang me up when she was in Bangalore with her husband getting my assurance that I should be in Bangalore for the reception party to be given by her in-laws there.

I belong to a very small family but I have two extended families. One is the family of a very good old friend whom the world called James. He doesn't have the face of James Dean or the character and guts of James Bond but I am pretty sure that he got a must bigger heart. The other one is the family of Anil, 'Chechou' being his eldest sister followed by 'Cheyai' who is very chirpy, very lovely and very beautiful.

I am very much at home when I am with the members of these two families. 'Chechou' love and like James and me as much as she cared for her own brother Anil. 'Chechou' is a doctor and I feel during her P.G. course she might have met her husband, a typical, vegetarian South Indian doctor settled in Bangalore.

I met Anil and James way back many years in school. Our friendship is a kind admired by many and praised by millions. During the heydays of our teen age when we were absorbed with girls, affairs, movies and matinee yet we never forget each other. But after school we went different paths. Anil went to Bangalore to study management and after some year he headed for Liverpool on a scholarship. James studied B.E. and now works for Indian Navy in Mumbai.

One important reason which tempted me to attend Chechou's reception is because she told me that James is also coming and above all Anil would be in India.

Anil got a job with one MNC there in Liverpool We two are constantly in touch through E-mails and phone, while James is a little reluctant with replying mails a little faster. May be he is having a hectic schedule. Nevertheless they are the friends I always have in my mind and the last to forget. We have grown up together amidst many a tempest, amidst life's trials and tribulations. They are the people I can always go for a shoulder to cry on. And we three shared many common feelings and passions.

I boarded Bangalore Rajdhani from New Delhi Railway Station. Bangalore is a place I always love to visit with many friends and acquaintances. Its climate is one important reason I prefer Bangalore to Delhi. On my previous visit there I met 'Chechou' briefly when she was staying at a Doctors' Hostel. I didn't have any problem on the journey and reached Bangalore Station safe and sound.

Anil and James are waiting for me at the platform. Something in my shoulders cry, and felt tear drops in my eyes seeing these two guys after so many years. Had I been a girl, I would have cried but you know boys don't cry.

Just giving each other a tight hug, we boarded a taxi and reached 'Chechou's' in-laws at Jaya Nagar. Seems like I was on the set of 'Monsoon Wedding'. Everyone appeared to busy themselves more than demanded or required. The whole family looked very cheerful and gay. I met 'Chechou' with a red vermilion on her forehead but wearing a 'phanek' and when I inquired why she was wearing that, she replied straightaway that she didn't care at all and we two laugh heartily in front of all the people who didn't understand our language except it was some 'Chingchong Pangchong'.

The next person I met was her husband a tall dark fellow but not so handsome honestly, as he didn't look like Joaquin Phoenix or a Brad Pitt but he is a fine gentleman with broad shoulder and manly looks. It doesn't matter as beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. Ain't it? And above all everything is fair in love and war. He introduced me to her younger sister saying that I came all the way from Delhi for the party. Wow!!! a Bengali Bombshell look alike down south, a dusky damsel, a sexy siren. I cannot take my eyes off and flirted. James saw all these developments and he is not happy, must be jealous of me hah! hah! Poor James!!

I took a quick shower and we three came out for an evening stroll to check the dazzling crowd at M.G. Road and Brigade Street. We had dinner at Rice Bowl, Brigade Street and planned for a movie and checked Galaxy, Symphony and Rex. Finally we settled for 'Dil Chahta Hai', the Amir Khan starrer. Like the three friends in the movie we have our own tears and fears, the highs and lows, the agonies and ecstasies.

On the reception day 'Chechou' looked a thousand times more beautiful than any other given day with a million dollar smile wearing a traditional Malayalee attire. I wish I could see her in a 'Poloi'. The whole Anil's family was also present and its like a huge family reunion. Having a few pegs I whispered to Anil and James that we can find a Beauty and a Beast, and we laughed.

The day to leave Bangalore came so soon. I met 'Chechou' and her in-laws. Her mom-in-law gave me a Rs. 500 note to keep it which I denied. She insisted telling me that its a 'Shagun' and I took it without knowing what the hell this 'Shagun' is going to do with me. I also met my dusky damsel. She took my phone number, my Delhi address and everything saying that she would be coming Delhi soon. And I flirted... "at your majesty's service, my lady".

At the Bangalore station Anil proposed that if possible we three will meet next summer in Imphal and we will do a 'Dil Chata Hai' trip to Shillong by a personal car. I left Bangalore by Bangalore New Delhi express. Bye Anil! Bye James! Bye 'Chechou'! Bye my Lady dusky! In Delhi, I busied myself with my daily domestic time table. Anil sent mails from Liverpool mentioning each and every mail that we should be home next summer for the trip to Shillong. Time ran so fast that I didn't even know when the rain set in, the winter passed and arrived that 'next summer'.

He came by a British Airways flight to Delhi one fine day. He had also somehow convinced James to be home the following week. He stayed together with me at my place in Delhi for some days, met his old friends, partied a lot and by Guwahati Rajdhani we headed home.

I love to be home for an ocean of memories is always there but I never loved or liked the state affairs which is so deteoriating and disgusting. No pleasant conduct of law and order always prevail. Many a times have been there to change the existing state problems but always concluded a Sine Die.

Whether it is the state government's effort or Central Government's initiative to negotiate with the banned outfits or the terrorist (a term given by Government of India under POTA) it always ended up with no substantive result. Whatever the problem might be, common men like me always suffer. Even knowing there is a disease within the state or body and yet knowing the disease within the body is more dangerous all the Manipuri people are helpless.

All the talks and persuading people to shun the path of terror bears no fruit. According to one recent interview of Hon'ble Home Minister SHIVRAJ PATIL, he said, "We will try to check terrorism with economic packages. And with the help of law we can stop it." July 12 2004, INDIA TODAY.

I don't know how far I can go with his words when my state is having huge overdraft to pay off and my mom not getting her salary for quite a few months. Thanks to the NSCN (IM) ceasefire which helped Nagaland to receive a mammoth economic package. This is a lesson I would love to learn from them whatever it takes. Hell and Chaos rule my state with brilliant politicians, witty pundits and amazing press discussing the sate problems with words... only words, more words and mere words but little action.

Every now and then I heard about Killings and Kidnappings, about extortion and extremist all over in my poor state. This trend of mindless killings and kidnappings along with extortion will end only when we debate and declare a common policy on dealing with any such crisis. We must create an algorithm to deal with such issues and then stick to it without any subjective element creeping in the assessment of the situation.

As for the media, various activists and organisation that continuously carried details of dying in a fruitless cause, its time to cover local heroes' and victims stories as well but doing something substantial for a better tomorrow. This is not an attack to the medias and various activists but a proposition so that their valuable works do not goes to prove how hollow and useless our values have become.

Talk about gut issues and forget the most confusing and contradictory discussions or talks between politicians pundits and press. It is only you and me who can change the existing norms and for it we have to make a try and give our best shot to make our state a place where the mind is without fear and the head held high because we are having a classic case of hypocrisy at present and a life on credit. This job is to be done hand in hand as we all now it takes two to tango and two hands to clap. so Hello! Are you with me???

Anil and me reached home one Sunday morning. Everyone was home and I received a warm welcome. Rang up James and knew he reached Imphal the day before yesterday. We three met in evening and had dinner at 'THE HOST', a restaurant where all the memories are alive and kicking. We planned to start our journey some days later as we heard of National Highway 39 blockade by some organisations for some ridiculous cause. In Manipur we expect all such great minds at work for bandhs, blockades, strikes, 'Khuthang Charahanba' and everything.

Time and again, everyone in Manipur have experienced the stinking result of all these bandhs and blockades. Killing Drivers, burning oil tankers, kidnappings, extortions are all in vogue for Manipur till date only for some petty matters. To have a debate on all these bandhs and blockades here is not a new thing to start all over again. I can never understand why the people of Manipur is so dependent on strikes and Bandhs even for making a fart.

I think we all are very much impressed with Gandhian ideologies, modern Indian history, freedom struggle of India where Gandhi used non-cooperation and civil disobedience as his most effective tools to attain India's freedom. One thing I always ask myself is about my own doubt of whether we are strictly following the non-violent path of Mr. Gandhi. I am not a big fan of Mr. Gandhi even though I admire him for his godlike stature who inspired millions, yet I never forget all those bloody riots during his prime time if history is to believe under his able leadership.

Destroying public properties, burning government vehicles are not justified way to protest. To whom shall I blame when I destroy my own properties. To whom shall I go for justice. To whom shall I go for compensation. All these questions must be remembered and given a second thought next time before destroying a public property. If we find a solution to the problems, lets burn everything to ashes, if not, live and let live.

I still remember that June 18 uprising regarding the territorial integrity of Manipur. Honestly speaking I do protest with a devout and devoted heart but I have to make a painful apology here that I never went there to sacrifice my life. Now I make a conclusion that all of us who went for the protest are all cowards except those eighteen (18) who sacrifice their lives for 'Ema Manipur'. Had I gone there with an honest heart to sacrifice my life for the cause or had I died accidentally or fortunately I should be called a martyr. And I am very sorry to miss a martyrdom for it comes once in a lifetime. I never wanted myself to be called a coward for a coward dies many times before his dead. Whatever may be, that protest made tremors and tremble the political stalwarts and bureaucrats, yet I would like to term it as a mind-blowing, effective and an unorganized protest.

Mom was so scared when she came to know about the trip to Shillong. She tried to persuade us a million times to cancel it only because of the present anarchy in law and order but we never lent our ears. Instead we look for the car in which our voyage is to set. We like to have a car which could rev its little engine up like the one James Bond has. A '55 sexy Chevy, a ferocious Ferrari, a majestic Mercedes, a bold BMW or atleast a cool Cadillac with a Jacuzzi in the back, but Alas! We didn't have any of these cars so we look for my father's decade old Maruti 800, Anil's Papa's Maruti Gypsy but finally we agreed on James' big brothr's 1996 Blue Maruti Zen whose chassis is a little classy and could win hearts on the run with a Kenwood music system inside.

We started our journey one Monday morning. Had a few pegs of 'Sekmai Chamellei' which is far better than a Johny Walker Blue label, a tequila shot or a Vodka Martini on the rock. We were having lunch at a Sekmai Hotel when I saw many people coming by passenger buses. Some are having moments of gaiety, some are sober and serious, some are worried, some are carefree, some Romeos and some Juliets, but of all these characters, the most fascinating and interesting group is of those 'Aboks' and 'Ebens' who are on the way of pilgrimage to Brindavan by a bus. These motley pilgrims of Brindavan clearly reminds me of Geoffrey Chancer's pilgrims in 'Canterbury Tales' which comprises of all shades of life in the society. I even notice one 'Abok' with a working stick who is so weak even to board their bus. I don't know what she had got in her mind for the journey yet I admired her enthusiasm to carry on the pilgrimage and taught myself that this is what I need to know by 'Pilgrims' Progress'.

There were also some very smart guys with this group of 'Aboks'. They did not wear a 'Pheijom' or a 'Kurta' but plain clothes like a layman. May be, they are also going with a true and devoted heart to pray the lord but I can never forget to remember about 'Ganjas' and 'marijuanas' smuggled from Manipur and sometimes caught by Narcotics Department from buses bound for Brindavan. Who knows this particular bus might also have such fate. And who the hell cares!!!

We came out after lunch with a cool head. James drove the car. He had more pegs but I was very confident of his driving as he is the first mentor of my driving lessons, while Anil can be compared to a Michael Schumacher or an Ayrton Senna. I lay down at the rear seat and had a quick nap. It was at Tadubi when James stoped the car and I woke up. There was a long que or jam of buses, trucks and other vehicles. When enquired, we came to know that an oil tanker was stuck in mud at the middle of the road blocking both sides of the road. Everyone was helpless except those BRTF guys working hard to pull the tanker out of the mud. I don't know whether those BRTF guys in mud and rain understood that we also suffer who only stand and stare.

After sometime the Brindavan bound bus carrying 'Aboks' arrived. As soon as they arrived, they started cursing everything under the sun including the then Wahengbam Nipamacha government, Radha Binod Koijam and 'Thikadars' whom they thought were responsible for the present State and National highway conditions. I just stay dumb and listen obediently to their debates and discussions regarding the law and order problems, NSCN (IM) ceasefire, all the strikes by brilliant students' unions, all about bandhs, blockades and BITUMEN ROADS.

'Bitumen' - as I learnt in school, is a black sticky substance obtained from petrol, used for covering roads or roof. I also heard that if doesn't last very long with too much exposure in rain. And Manipur situated in a region of high rainfalls, Bitumen roads didn't last too long here in Manipur especially in the hills where the rain falls persistently throughout the year. I wished we had some Manipur PWD guys and Engineers who could explain more precisely to these 'Aboks'.

Many governments come and go, promises made and broken, manifestos printed and torn. 'Aboks' in the bus knew it all and when their journey is halted, and being an ardent voter, they hurled thunderbolts to the state government blaming for the stinking law and order problem in the state, and now for the oil tanker stuck in the mud blocking their path to pilgrimage. Maintaining National Highways might be the task of Ministry of Roads and National highways, yet one thing I knew confidently is about the difficulties for the 'Thikadars' in getting work orders to maintain these roads.

Only to have the orders he has to cross many a hurdles including the shares he had to spare for him, for her, for this party, for that party and … blah… blah… and finally to find a tactful way of how beautifully to maintain the roads after taking a lion's share of his. To speak on how 'Thikas' work in Manipur, I am not a qualified person to be the mouth piece except to tell you that presently it is full of confusions conflicts and contradictions.

BRTF guys had successfully cleared the highway and we resume our journey. We reached Khuzama village, then Kohima and finally at Dimapur we had tea and snacks. Now Anil got the keys and he drove full speed until we reached Jakhlabanda around midnight and had dinner there. Early morning we reached Guwahati and it was at a hotel near Manipur Basti where we had our breakfast. Seeing the Manipuris or the Meiteis in this Basti, I felt, I would love to write a book on Manipuri DIASPORA one fine day and rebuke NSCN (IM)'s demand for a Greater Nagaland of all the places and regions occupied and inhabited by Naga diaspora. And as a conclusion in a mock-hearted way I would like to raise an issue of a Greater Manipur for all the Manipuris scattered outside the state. Wouldn't it be a best seller? Huh!! What do you say dear? Never mind I am just kidding.

After a few hours drive we finally reached Shillong, a dream cherished and nourished a year back in Bangalore, a dream made from the movie 'Dil Chahta Hai', a dream of freedom friends and freaking out. We checked in a hotel near Golf Link. We came out by foot to have lunch and a few pegs. I still remember that there was drizzle of rain-drops. James pull up the collor of his black 'Kurt Cobain' type leather coat and looked like a mafia chief, while Anil in his favourite Manchester United official replica jacket never cared the drizzle.

I was in my old blue 'Lee' Jeans and a windproof Jacket wearing a black Sicilian cap on the head. I know I am not a Greek God but still I believe I can look like an Italian descent. We three walked down the pavement and found a restaurant-cum-bar called 'The Highway Star'. Suddently I remembered Deep Purple and its popular song 'Highway Star'. After a few pegs of portwine and Virgin Mary and flirting the sexy 'Khasi' Bar-tender, we clearly experienced smoke on the water and fire in the sky.

Driving in Shillong is awful with many one ways and narrow lanes. Tourist like us always have problems with the traffic police ready to make 'Chalans' for reckless driving but somehow we sail through with care and caution. We went to meet a friend of mine called Linda who studied with me in college. She was surprised to find me in her city. She was still smart sweet and sexy. Spent till late in evening with her and after having dinner with her family at their home we returned to the hotel.

In early morning of the following day, we hire a guide and went to visit tourist spots all over Shillong. We went to the enthralling Elephant falls, splendid Shillong Peak and many others and finally we come to Ward Lake where I found many love birds in cosy shades with romantic Poses. Seeing the lovers I remembered her and wished we could be there together. It was very nostalgic to remember you, to recall how much you loved the old shania Twain Country Number "we'll have a little girl, a little boy, a little Benji, we'll call Leroy". I still remember how badly we fought. We both knew, we had a love, a love you and I won't find everyday. Did we take for granted or were we chasing the rainbows blinded by the sun. One thing I realised lately was ... the clouds we didn't see were raining on our love.

Coming back to the hotel, we had dinner in our room. The hotel boy got us a Smirnoff Vodka. All three of us were totally exhausted and after having a few rounds, both of them fall asleep while the bottle of Vodka still lounge in my hand and some memories gave me nightmares, I stayed sleepless.

The Next day we checked out after clearing the bills. James gave me the keys and I drove while I made up my mind to visit Shillong again. We were driving at the side of exotic 'Bara Pani' when James played Richard Marx. It seems Bara Pani was singing the song 'Wherever you go, whatever you do I will be right here waiting for you'. And we headed home silently with an ocean of memories enough to last a lifetime.

Hopson Sapam writes regularly to
You can contact him at [email protected]

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