TODAY -

Whatever happens to the royal roads in Imphal?

Yenning *

BT Road Flyover
BT Road Flyover



The irony of travelling in Imphal in the last few months is no more than a feeling of being guarded, which one may still take for security. This is again no more than a feeling of familiarity which is unfamiliar to us. The city has suddenly been transformed into a village and yet this is the city that we have known for long as one. The winding roads of the new itinerary in the city, like the narrow dark streets of the village,carry us through familiar sights and localities.

And yet, it has become so unlikely for us to expect that we would be travelling in such an unexpected journey in a city of our own. The uncannyness of travelling in this city, of vising this city may not be a result of suddenchange but rather eventuality of change itself. Travelling on the roads in the city is interestingly uncanny on two counts.

We may begin with this. We are travelling on the roads we were not supposed to trade in normal times. We have a particular road to follow if we are to travel in this city. And this is why the government has traffic points and traffic lights (though not working condition forages) to direct us through the "ornamented" road-side lakes, which are attractive as well as traverse through the scary police and military garrisons, camps and stations.

We may also think about those policemen dutifully excoriate everybody that do not fall into the line. Certainly, they must include those selling on the roadside pavements (just for a living), those who ride motors vehicles with suspicious faces, those rickshaw pullers and auto drivers who do not respect the traffic laws only for the reason that there is no such law in practice to respect in the city.

This was the city on the road to travel as we saw everyday in the past. But not anymore.We no longer see the familiar sights but they still remain and they do not vanish even if they have disappeared. They are not gone. Instead they are suspended from the travellers' sights in a matrix of illusion - of security and development. The only thing that is now happening is that we are not shown of them. In the new itinerary of the city goers and commuters, new sights are emerging in place of the old ones. So your gates are the city roads in themselves: if your home happens to be located on the developmental map of the planners and the implementers.

Your neighborhood club platform is just like the traffic island that stands so prominently in the heart of every road in the city. Interior roads are now hugely loaded passage of the city traffic. Maybe because there are new constructions, or if you like new developments in the official version, as well as the primal wishes of the government and the bureaucrats at the helm of affairs. These sudden changes are happening and it could probably take, we are told, a few months or so to get back to the "normal".

But the question that we need to raise here is this. How is it that the normal time slips into the exceptional time, in the city, in our daily lives in the city, into the abnormal experience of the city itself? This is not a difficult question to answer since we have a habit of asking this every moment and we are also not accustomed raising it.

The new itinerary in the city today and the new sights that emerge along with it are, thus, a part of the normal - the usual, the expected and the obvious in this land. So the question of exceptional is normal for us. Take for instance, the Armed Forces Special (Powers) Act has become a normal one not only in the eyes of the rulers but also certainly to the eyes of the larger populace.

There is no temporary as there is no issue of familiarity and there is no consistency, normal and unfamiliarity either. This is the uncanny scene, sight, journey and road through which to experience the city of our own as we always believed we have one. We have already borne the burden of change that we seem to have sensed only today when two important bridges connecting two equally important halves of the city have suddenly undergone changes.

To move to the next, we may begin with how secure we feel when we are guarded while travelling on the royal roads in the city. These men, with arms or without but always in combat uniforms, are dutifully doing a routine and unfailing check (frisking) in order to ensure anti-social elements are not present in the public places, most particularly on the roads.

That's why we encounter every day, at any time of the day (including the night) uniform personnel kicking atthe belongings of the pavement sellers (illegal?) at Khwairamband Bazar. It does not matter to them whether they are kicking away the vegetables or the scales or the vendors themselves. At any cost and on account of the illegal tags carried by these vendors, the roads have to be sanitized.

On other occasions, perhaps, one might have observed, security personnel frisking motorcycle or scooter riders, especially the youths, at the height of rush hours. It does not matter to them whether such acts are causing a nuisance to others. What is important to them is "sanitise the roads in the Imphal city of the social germs"! It does not end there. Frisking and checking for "security" measures anywhere (especially in Imphal) and at any odd hour.

What adds spice to the grand spectacle is the olive coloured uniform wearers such as the personnel of the Assam Rifles or the Border Security Force blowing whistles at the top of their breath when their convoys move and scuttling away the pedestrians and vehicle users alike as if we are like cattle in the pastures of Bihar or Uttar Pradesh. For them, such acts are akin to sanitising the roads of insect and vermin who could infect them!

Thus, the answer to the question of how secure we are in the midst of these security personnel is an obvious one. However, believe us or not, just feel it. It is the feeling of being surrounded by security personnel, just the feeling, which is more important. They are a hindrance. They are the parasites. They are the demons reincarnated. But just treat them as our "guards", as our protectors. And this is a wonderful way of introducing Manipur to the believers of democracy, freedom and liberty.

We may now then see the spectacle of the city roads currently transforming themselves as he "royal road" to the official sterile version of development. While we travel we sense how uncanny the journey has been made to be so and yet this uncanny is never so for the "officers" who believe that no matter you travel or not, roads are for connectivity promising development or rather roads are development. But we can always remember that we can travel in any way and that is potentially our conviction to try for another road.

At the most mundane level, let us understand roads do change and are changing. We are also made to change along with them. Take for instance, we do not see what we have seen or we want to see. But we are made to see what is expected to see. But we do not forget that we will see all that we have seen very soon. It is about giving a try, giving flight to one of our infantile whims and fancies. But if we remember in history (not in historiography per se), roads were not built in a day by the believers. Patience, resilience and conviction made roads for dreams of the "convinced" and "dedicated" to travel. Not for development's sake.

Roads whether we travel or not, or the one that must be taken or not, as Robert Frost has poetically put forward, are no longer a matter of choice today. Call it heroism or foolhardiness, the thin line that divides between the two, are no longer a matter of choice or of rather fate. In fact, as the construction of the Sanjenthong Bridge has proved, certain routes have become inevitable.

And encounter of the security personnel is a must, something one can never avoid. Yet, we can always construct a road and roads that we dearly love and ensure that certain memoirs can continue to linger on. This is the historical being, be in Manipur or elsewhere, under test, under the encroaching tentacles of dual entities we call the State and the corporate giants.


* Yenning wrote this article for The Sangai Express as part of 'Hoi Polloi And Mundanity'
The writer can be reached at yenning05(at)rocketmail(dot)com or visit hoipolloiandmundanity.blogspot.com
This article was posted on June 08, 2014.


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