The Chakkawar (Burnt-rice)

Henkhokai (Kakai) Singsit *

Like dogs we fight, shoving and jostling for that piece- tearing one another apart. The tussle was nasty and brutal. This unearthly behaviour was the norm, whether it was during lunch or during dinner. There was nothing strange or weird in this fight. But to the normal eye or from the perspective of outsiders it was something bizarre and repulsive.

Hunger had driven us to this madness. The need to keep your stomach replenished was the preponderant factor where one has to abandon every refined manner and reticence. The man with the largest chunk was the hero of the moment. Shameless and unearthly as it seems but this was a fact and a normal routine that was witnessed invariably in my hostel during meals.

Yuck! is the catch word pertaining to the food and cuisine of boarding or hostels. But the irony is that everything taste exquisite whether it is watery Dal soup, cabbage, pumpkin, potato or whatever on is laden on your plate.

Dishes that one would normally dump into the dustbintastes superb and you’ll invariably devour them till the last crumb of rice or dishes on your plate. Licking the brim of the plate is a normal sight here. Second serving is rare so your stomach gets filled rarely. If done at all only stone-hard rice is serves without any curry and as such needs an enormous effort to push them down one’s gullet.

My experienced of hostel life dates back from Nursery till the completion of my masters’ degree. Succinctly put, I would say I spent more than half of my life in the hostel- shifting from one school to the other and according to the whims of my parents. I must be the person in this earth whohas spent the lengthiest of time in the hostel.

Though of very tender age, I protested when I was told that I will be sent to churachandpur for my schooling. My mother too, strongly remonstrated to the idea. But it was presented to me as a fait accompli and there was no rolling back.

It was a decision of my father and all my uncles who were under the impression that being the eldest son of the clan I need to be properly educated in one of the premier schools of the state. I hated the proposition.

For a kid who has never ventured out of the village, any existence out of the bounds of my village was hazy and unknown to me. Tuck away from the outside world my village was in the interior part of Tamei Sub division.

Loaded with my bag and baggage, me, my mom, my dad and my uncle boarded the Tamei- Imphal bus and arrived at Imphal, a distance of more than one hundred kilometres from my village.

I was so amazed at the number of people and the multi-storeyed buildings that I kept on staring and staring. Wow! from where do so many people come and converged here, I wondered. Everything was strange and with people talking strange languages I couldn’t comprehend.

The food at the hotel was exquisite and I was especially drawn by the samosas during tea. After shopping for all my requirements we left for churachandpur where I was admitted as a boarder.

I poignantly remember how mother was profusely shedding her tears when I was pushed into the hostel. She turned around and hid her face but I could poerceived her eyes were welled with tears to the brim. As for me I was too dazed with the new experiences that was just introduced to me that I just stood numb and baffled.

And starts the veritable hell of hostel life where you are treated as a nondescript of and no importance. Life was regimented and you have to follow all the rules and regulations laid down, to the letter. Any deviation or slight lapses was punished with cruelty.

English the medium of communication was alien to me and had to be walloped many times for speaking Thadou dialect. You have to wake up early, sleep at the appointed time, do everything as was preordained for you.

Sleeping alone on a single bed was one of the most difficult experiences I had to over endure. Plus, I was home sick and badly missed my mum. Afraid and homesick I sobbed myself to sleep. One senior who was sympathetic to my plight took me under his fold.

He used to help me in washing my clothes and other chores. Every student studied in the same hall whether boys or girls. After night study was the homily and chastening hour where rule breakers were punished and chastised.

Out of the litany of complaints the quality and the quantity of the food was one are which invited serious castigation from the students. But no voice of complaint was audible, at best it was murmurs. The quantity served was measly and the quality was appalling.

One senior student who was aware of my naivety duped me into exchanging all my mattresses and blankets with crumbs food. The deal was – he was to provide me some extra rice every meal and I was to give him all my mattresses including dunlops, blankets, quilts, bed sheets and bed covers in exchange of his tatter and worn out ones.

Mine were all brand new. The duration of the deal was not discussed and was to be at his whims. After robbing me of all my belongings, he eventually stopped his side of the deal. I wanted to protest but couldn’t do so asI knew he would beat me up.

My parents came to know of the shenanigan and the matter was reported the matter to the proprietor of the school who eventually referred it to the hostel warden. The transgressor was summoned and flogged like an animal.

After my parents left I was summoned by the warden who accused me of sullying his good name and canned me more than 30 times. I was so petrified that I did not even utter a sound of pain when I was flogged.

My whole body from the neck to the toe was coloured with dark and blue out of the scars of the lashes. The pain was excruciating and I was bed ridden for weeks. But no succour came from either the warden or proprietor. I had high fever and my whole body was aching with pain.

I wanted to cry but I was too terrified to do so. Unattended, I was left at the mercy of God and could have yielded my life had not my parents visited me out of the blue.

Normally, my parents used to visit me once a month but they had already done their part for this month. But after the duping incident they must have portend that something was going to be wrong with me after they left.

As unexpected they made their unannounced visit. On seeing my condition my mum erupted into wails. My furious father swore that he will see that the man who did this to me did not go unpunished. The proprietor and his wife were profusely pleading forgiveness.

On being questioned how it happened I was too terrified of my warden that I remained taciturn. On removing my shirt it came to light that my whole body was bruised by the beating. Some of the bruises had developed puss on it while others still bore the remnants of the scars.

This was the most harrowing experience I encountered during my stay in the hostel. I still hadn’t forgiven the man who had done this to meand given the opportunity I will definitely give him a piece of my mind. Shifting to a new school by the end of the academic calendar had become an accomplished fact as my gullible parents believed in whatever piece of news they heard about a new school.

By this time passed I became au fait with all the intricacies of hostel life- its mischiefs, routines and complications. None will beat me in feigning sickness and truanting classes. Gradually, I mastered in breaking every rule in the book.

I took a bizarre pride in not wearing uniform and being flogged at every morning assembly. I was the epicentre of the clique. I was admired among my peers for my quirks and stubbornness. And life became easier, henceforth.

But the food conundrum was the most insurmountable problemand I remained half filled and un-satiated. Nothing sounds sweeter than the food bell. As the bell chime, everybody dashed to the dining hall so that one can occupy the front portion of the queue with a plate, a bowl, and a cup.

There are guys who had waited hours earlier in front of the Dining-hall so that they can be in the first queue. Queue hopping was regarded as a cardinal crime. But for the boss there’s always an exception. Foods are served thriftily and you have to beg hard and plead for few more morsels.Everyone was at the mercy of the cooks and currying favour with them became all-the-rage.

I find it inexplicable why everyone in the hostel remains hungry all the time and why swill tastes mellifluous. Since second serving is rare one has to wait and brace up for the baked residue of the rice or chakka.

In the meantime, ravenously, we devoured up every serving on the plate. Now that the cook has started scrapping the bottom of the pot the time is nigh for the prized-Chakka.As the empty pot is taken out of the dining hall it was followed by a pandemonium outside.

The chakka war had just begun which was accompanied by loud noises and clanking. Man! it was a shameless affair but the tussle was ferocious.

One’s hand has to be quick and stiff as Iron. Precision is highly demanded. Amongst the numerous hands inside the pot you have grope menacingly and once you laid hands on it- grab and duck for safety. Or else you’ll be trampled to death.

With crumbs of rice smeared everywhere on your face you can now enjoy your prized catch with someone you care most. Gladiators who are fortunate and could lay hand on bigger chunksnormally revels it with their Girl-friend. Girls normally stay out of the scuffle as it was a fight meant for the more macho ones. If you are besotted to a girl in my school you don’t need silver and gold or heart-rending love letters, Just give her a palm size chakka and she’s yours. Quirky but it works better than a love potion.

On one occasion we managed to push a kid inside the rice pit who almost choked to death in the ensuing mayhem. On another occasion one Ashikhofrom Paomata roll up the whole chakka and fled and a crowd in hot pursuit behind.

Strange, but true, he pack the whole chakka inside his suit case and locked it up.

* Henkhokai (Kakai) Singsit wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is an alumni of Kangpokpi Mission H/school run by Manipur Baptist Convention
This article was webcasted on May 02 2019.

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