The Imaginary Homecoming
Somewhere in Imphal: The laid-back attitude is getting right under my nose, since I left New Delhi for good a year ago. Now what I care for is my profession, and a bit of homework for helping family and friends in the coming times. I'm subsequently wont to rise early, on the dot when sweating or mugginess used to wake me up in days gone by. When I remember those days of chapatti, samosa, gulab jamun, milk tea, I'd go to the leikai tea-stall – where old men anatomise the morning paper over a cup of tea and nurture the good old memories of those dates-in-the-garden; Dev Anand and company; snatching-and-marrying girls of their choice; and those idyllic time before RK Sanayaima, A Somorendro, N Bisheswar and their ilk took the centre stage in the region's politics.
As the month advances into the middle week, I don't worry about Bunty Booree, my former landlord in Maharani Bagh, troubling me for the rent anymore. This dickhead, who would always show up in the early morning around mid-month, was a real pain in the neck. He always took light years to help me fix a broken tap or a defunct switch-box but he was always on schedule to collect the payment. I could notice his rapacious eyes, which sparkled if the monthly electricity bill showed a higher remittance... just because he was getting more Mahatma Gandhi notes. And how I hate him when he came delightedly to inform me that he was raising the rent! No more I'm preyed on my mind by his piggishness these days. Incidentally, he was my second landlord, and the previous one in Malviya Nagar – a subjugated, aged man, whose grumbling wife would henpecked him many a time in front of us – was no less worse.
Yet I feel sorry that I have got these scumbags, in the first place, to rant my vitriol. But they didn't seem to care how much I had made an effort to get apposite accommodation – each episode teaching me the value of time and money in a hard way. I had to take help from friends and brokers to find a pad where: the lessor is not nosy; I have the liberty to cook fish, chicken and pork or delicacies with ngåri and soibøm; I can call my friends for a night stay; and so on. Thank goodness, both of these owners gave me ample freedom but it was their Scrooge character that put me off. For this matter, I take pleasure in the sojourn at the Akriti Hostel in New Friends Colony, where I stayed for two years during my master's degree. I didn't have the luxury to cook or invite my friends, but it was ideal in the course of my study. I also met a lot of great friends who have become so close as much as my leikai-, school- and college-friends. In these days of Facebook and Twitter, the real-time distance is apparently a misnomer.
Just miss a beat on my profession in this confab. As you know, there is no probability of an Anil Ambani or a Narayana Murthy putting money into our state. However, I have managed to get my hands on a coveted post in a fortunate stroke of serendipity. Don't get me wrong here, I have got this job on account of my merit alone and not through some backdoor selling and buying as is customary and revered in our holy land. For long, I have mulled over pursuing a profitable merchandising activity rather than putting our ancestral paddy on sale for the rarely available, clerical vacancy in a nearly defunct workplace. Government offices are supposedly obsolete, maybe the miseries affecting the state, have also bogged down its employees. As of now, what I want to flaunt is my set of skills that I have acquired in my 21 years of formal education and a couple of years' experience in the industry, but not my social standing in a dreadfully sick society, where cheap money can buy you anything that a dozen of MasterCard could not even afford elsewhere.
All of us are responsible for the atrocious condition we are in today. When we become informed electorates we can have a meaningful society. This is not oversimplification though it seems so, since we have lost count of the thousands of invocation through the media. In retrospection, our predecessors are more suited to gossip in a leikai tea-stall than to see the light of contemporary Manipur. Some few of them, who have the privilege to attend college and hold office, are instilling the art of corruption whilst the commoners are complying with the dictates as if this was the providence.
My generation is also picking up; now we are coughing up for the job we want, and it will not be unexpected in the coming decade when we outsmart the old-timers. Despite this, we are not dumb clucks like them. There is a good chance though it will not be possible in, at least, another two hundred years, about people returning back and bucking up the economy. Alright, let the younger generation abuse us too. Reverse brain drain or brain gain – you call it any name – is possible, provided we get rid ourselves of the intense animal instincts in us. And the political masters are also inevitably coerced to appreciate that we cannot be taken for granted eternally.
Take me as a simple human being with simple tastes. I don't bear anyone a grudge, what you sow you reap; the social mores only define your judgement of the world at large. And there is no question of selling myself off in this situation, for I would have stayed back in Delhi if I had not gotten this shot. As luck would have it, I'm destined to be here. Now it's no more a hassle to go to the office. I commute on my own and don't have to wait for a cab, in which I was once loaded with colleagues in the same way as commodities are conveyed on a lorry along the highway.
Oh, those sickening feeling in travelling for an hour when the temperature hovers at 45℃! I took pity on those guys, who had to travel across three states from Noida to Gurgaon via south Delhi for work. I can recall those days of sweltering heat, which no fan or cooler could hinder on occasion. It's perspiring when I look back on.
Today when I leave home for work, I'm neither bothered whether I have locked my door or not. I have always enjoyed my work. From my previous job, I learnt so many new things in the professional front, grasped the inside knowledge of the market, and have matured into a man. Though I loathed the tasks of pencil pushers that we were occasionally burden with. I long for responsibilities, which are appropriate and are up to my abilities. But then, work is work – you are perhaps a nerd if you think it's worship. William Faulkner, the noted American writer, described the eight-hour regimen in an interview in 'Writers at Work': "One of the saddest things is that the only thing that a man can do for eight hours a day, day after day, is work. You can't eat eight hours a day nor drink for eight hours a day nor make love for eight hours – all you can do for eight hours is work. Which is the reason why man makes himself and everybody else so miserable and unhappy."
Imagine Faulkner's ire if I tell him I had worked for ten hours a day. Wait, I buy Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000-hour rule. Investing time on our subject of interest in the office would be itsy-bitsy for the simple reason we are not paid to do what we desire. Yet there is a silver lining in working anywhere that we are devoting our time, at least, on the profession of our choice. What matters is, in the end, how much we are becoming proficient in our trade and we are adrenalised to perform our duties.
"See, Eepu Faulkner, it was a corporate canon," I'd convince him. "That's the norm and presuming I spilled the beans about the wicked schedule, they would simply hand me the pink-slip... Human resources are not as scarce as cow dung, like the folksy saying in our town. I had a shift work from 12 noon to 10 pm but luckily I didn't have a night shift, the murderous graveyard shift. After all they paid me good, and it's quite a formidable time for me to learn the tricks... so I didn't mind."
I'm earning half the salary I brought home previously, yet I can save twice the amount I used to in a month. That's the way of small-town living. I love it and hate it simultaneously – but then, the issue will only bring in the merits and demerits between a life in the metro and that of a teeny municipality. I get better facilities and easy access to services in Delhi still the comfort of living in Imphal, with my own folks in the familiar environs, has its own fascination. The most peculiar thing about my hometown is the break I have got to enjoy the sight of breathtaking natural landscapes. The so-called wonders of the India Gate and Qutub Minar are completely down six sets to love in a match against the curling Khonghampat road having picture-perfect views or any of the mysterious hilly terrains with heartfelt ravines across the state.
The weekends might be lifeless as the Elephant and Budhachandra of Samumakhong, nonetheless, the renovated Khwairamband Keithel, Mujikhul (read the local wine vendors) and the various local joints provide a worthwhile sanctuary. Needless to say, there are other hot spots, including the NH 39 (upto Sekmai), Moirang, Churachandpur, Moreh, the Tamenglong route, Kangchup, et cetara; these places are viable, seeing that we can return back home in a day's time.
I have only a few alternatives, alas, when the entire state is a forbidden area – which they tagged it as a disturbed area in bureaucratese. And it is regrettable we have reproachable creatures in the form of paramilitary forces and delinquent rebels to breed more agitation.
Utterly confusing it is sometimes, whether we have traversed 21st century or are hemmed in a time warp. The daily load shedding for long hours makes the eyesight painful. For the pathetic electricity, we can go to the power office and the concerned, or rather the unconcerned ministry, both of which have ready-made answers to cite inadequate supply from the projects. But the grievance notes have been buried under the debris of Loktak and in Yurembam long ago. No more have the people felt the need to protest but to suffer in silence. In fact, we can see in this darkness that a life is far more important than electricity. What we do most of the time is distract ourselves from the avaricious eyes of bloodshed and drug addiction and extortion and hostilities.
It's not surprising all the rubbish will pelt down like a June downpour, when I mention a problem in Manipur, because no system is working in tandem here and we have fucked almost everything up. Insurgency, underdevelopment and conflicts are conspicuous throughout and in their shadow lies the administration that has gone haywire, the complication of transport and communication, a deplorable education system, insubstantial healthcare, dismal infrastructure, a chaotic social order and what not. And their genesis is multifaceted too, with the geography, economy and history of the land, twisted in such a way that the search for a solution to these problems is only as good as waiting for Chaisra to reciprocate Sandrembi's feelings. Time has certainly gone ahead of us in our march towards enlightenment. Remember, time has not even spared us.
In this degeneration and plodding social movement lies my life. I give a damn about how much O Ibobi-bozo has amassed wealth from the government coffer or how many civilians are the gun-toting thugs going to murder. I'm least worried how many times people will rape Manipur and taint the record of the land with barbaric crimes. Call me selfish, I don't mind either – I'm a guy who love rock n' roll and simple, beautiful things in life. So it's maddening to contemplate, when all I long for are peace, and a little bit of freedom to go where I'm pulled and do what I'm good at. Unceasingly, I'm so annoyed to feel shackled.
I've been trying to break myself free from these manacles of a primitive lifestyle. Presently I get the kick out of reading good books, visiting new places that I have not been before, watching movies and catching up with friends. It's a boon to be away from the hot spell, which makes me go bananas, in the capital city; albeit the winters were fine, allowing me and others to roam around anywhere. Be that as it may, Nikhil's has replaced the momo kiosk in Lajpat Nagar now, so have the Orchid and neighbourhood hotels taken the place for Al Bake and the Aggarwals. When I wander nobody asks me if I'm from Nepal or China anymore and I'm quite relieved, being exempted from those ridiculous queries like how far Kathmandu is from Imphal or how we manage to catch and eat snakes.
Considering this cultural generalisation, the mainland Indians are seemingly so engrossed, hankering after the acclaimed IITs and IIMs that they have ignored geography and sensitivity completely. Or maybe they are plain idiots, ignorant of the world outside the number theory, trigonometry, the business management principles. There was once a halfwit guy, who lived in the adjacent building to where I stayed. One day, I heard him complaining to Bunty Booree that he had found big animal bones on his terrace – exaggerating the size with his hands and repulsive eyeballs that almost popped out from his disgusting face.
"Moron," I thought, "You better join some Love Beastie Boys and Legal Bestiality dot-com." But he was drunk and I ignored him.
This kind of bigotry is prevalent throughout and the best remedy I found was to make the other fellow understand. Understand who we are exactly and tell me what's our problem. Here and there, I had to take a pen and a piece of paper to draw the Indian map and locate where Manipur is. It was obviously annoying to be profiled in such a narrow sense, but then theirs is a land where caste makes the country count backwards. In another incident, one of my Northern friends disclosed he had never seen an exposed female leg above the ankle in his life, and no wonder during his first few days in Delhi, he ejaculated whilst gawking at mahilas in shorts. He was of course talking about girls in general; however, this is also a fact that the people look at the North-Eastern chicks as easy and sensual. But that's another story. All the people, however, are not like my distasteful neighbour or the buddy with out-of-control feelings. I'd also met many individuals and groups who know and are eager to know about us. The bottom line is to speak up. "Blockhead, now you understand Manipur is not a district in Assam?! Wise up, else your arch-rival dragon will flood the market with giveaway Viagra and let India screw itself up with population explosion."
Back to where I belong, and nothing can be as good as the feeling of attachment somewhere. I long to bask in the balmy winter sun; watch the colourful skies of spring and its pristine greens; hear the torrential rain singing in chorus on tin roofs; and visit unknown, unspoiled countryside to gaze at uninterrupted views across the lush fields and blue mountains. I want to stop the apathetic time. I want to move ahead in life.
Fallout of the reverie I'd love to travel across the world instead of staying back at home. But I don't think it's a Catch-22 situation or anything like that... The thought of enjoying vacation in my homestead always fascinates me but that's not the only thing/place that I draw my motivation from. I've been striving and the dream that I'll ever be victorious in this struggle fuels my existence. What is there beyond our existence, anyway?