With Badass Buddies in the Bazaar
After school, late afternoons were a good time to hang out with friends in those days. Our joint was located in a stinking alley in Paona Bazaar in the heart of Imphal. The place was called Mahesh Hotel but it was more of a stall than a hotel. In this part of the world, nomenclature is different, for instance, any eatery or a kiosk can be a restaurant. A narrow passage, dark and damp, that reeked of widdle-piddle and foul drainage led us to the joint—yet no smell could cut back the excitement and the series of adrenaline rushes we had from the daily outings, which called us forth day in and day out and much to the worries of our parents. Inside, half a dozen sets of wooden, ramshackle tables and chairs maintained it was still open. Besides us, sex-starved old men frequented with their one and only objective: to get a hooker. They would linger around and leave with a mate of another group of visitors, the hookers, who looked like priestesses with pan-stained red lips and hairs adorned with fragrant champacas, although the difference was marked in their gaudy dresses unlike the sober whites of the priestesses. Many of the old men were good storytellers and some of us would be fascinated by their tales of pleasure trips in the town. I would admit we had very different plans than being influenced by them. Anyway, in that age, who would do things what the old folks told us to or do what they do?
In a way, the Mahesh could have been doing a brisk business if the score of us ate whenever we hang around, but we were more concerned about reaching there, religiously regardless of the sun or rain and catching up with the badass buddies. We were spoilt brats who were supposed to be home and be good, do good, like the normal kids. It was, perhaps, some sort of a destiny. There has never been a logical reason on how our lives have turned out to be, when we are young or old, when we are at home or out. I always had the tendency to mingle with my older friends and in those late Nineties’ when the Rage against the Machines shared the Moreh stereo decks with the Naba Volcanos, I was the youngest, around 14, and most of my friends were three to five years elder to me. It was not my age, but my reluctance to join the constant fights and pranks that seemed to make a ‘good’ impression on a couple of them. Once Ma—— fed my ego by swearing, “Anybody dare not harm him.” He patted me on my back though all I had achieved was an inflation of my pride. He was stoic and slightly plump but he was one of the fastest runners. He added, “I would kill the son-of-a-bitch.” Then I thought he was caring but he had meant it literally, though he did care and which I understood only now. Two years ago, I heard from a friend that he had been imprisoned for attempting to murder his mother’s secret lover. Nobody can forget his three-foot long and slightly greasy chain that doubled up as his punk accessory as well as his weapon for the many brawls that took place in and around the bazaar.
The joint was pathetic in rainy season. One July noon on a Sunday, if there was any word to describe the alley, it was a shithole. Inside the stall, water was dripping from the roof in some corner to complete the mess. In our lives, any rough and hard day is always more memorable than the most peaceful normal day. That day it was raining heavily but it did not dampen anybody’s spirit to visit and hangout. Talk of the spirits and these three bloody buddies came running all doused and with uneven sprinkles of mud on their faces. They looked like buffaloes. Apparently, they had a fight a couple of alleys away. One of them narrated it was not a fight but a thrashing, as if that would make them look lesser buffaloes. La—— explained the three of them were giving a lesson to gamblers, around a dozen of them, inside a building that all of us knew was a haven for many non-natives, who lived on luck and booze. In the desperation to try their luck, they had apparently missed to see that anybody could become a moral police in the town. It is our custom to burn down houses and destroy the properties of minor criminals even if we are helpless like a mouse to the big fishes. La—— had a couple of cards on his left breast pocket and was grinning when he told us how he shoved the cards in one of the gamblers’ mouth. When he talked about a ‘plan’ I realised there had already been a talk to form a group; an informal group of loafers to protect and serve, but to put it bluntly, we had no aim but to knock down some mischief-makers, mostly non-natives that we know them generally as ‘mayang’. Some of us had evidently started the mission right away.
A couple of hours later, there were around ten of us: half of them stayed back, chalking out the things for the evening while some of us headed to Khoyathong to pick up Bo—— and Ch——. On the way, the rain had subsided and we stopped at a stall in Thangal Bazaar for a cup of tea. Ma—— wanted to have his tea a little bit sweeter and instead of asking for sugar, he kicked the table, which he later explained stupidly that the non-native stall-owner should not sell tea if he did not know how to make it. The table flew two foot, smashed on the glass cupboard, and shattered it. The relativity of our universe was revalidated when a cop came in from nowhere and while we were explaining to make a compromise, La—— hit him on his butt with a piece of firewood. Instinctively we knew it was not a good idea to let him go then, so everyone was wrestling with him from the front and rear: his rifle was snatched and hurled a few metres away; he got some blows like a boxing bag; and in a flash, we rushed towards Khoyathong individually through different alleys. I did not know I could run so fast. Despite this sort of setback, we decided to go ahead with our plan. And we did; but not before waiting long enough to make sure the cop would not be around.
When we returned to the Mahesh in the late afternoon, the guys were talking to To——, an older guy, maybe of thirty or forty, who usually mess about in the joint. Most of the time, he had two things to blab: one, about his obsession with Nitrosuns and Nitrazepams; and two, about Bombay where he had been studying or working that I did not bother to ask. Pa—— had just tried his first pills and he was telling about his experience. So, for the first time, To—— had successfully convinced the kick was good. Apparently, in those moments, we were the centre of the universe unto ourselves. We did know the centre was not absolute, so we headed to the main market area.
Soon we got down to business. So, we picked up this guy, a small-timer who knew the identity of a thief who had been on a robbing binge lately. The main market in the heart of Imphal, the Khwairamband Kiethel broadly comprises Paona Bazaar and Thangal Bazaar that cover not more than a couple of square kilometres. The smallness is worth remembering. In those days, we felt like we were saving humanity from the entire universe. Clearly there is a limit to our vanity. It was getting darker and many shopkeepers have started calling it a day, while our night was just showing up. We scoured and checked into all the market sheds, alleys and the streets. By 8 o’clock we rounded up, if I can remember exactly, eleven guys, who had great records of disrepute. We gathered them at Kangjeibung, which then was not fenced and had a wooden gallery on the eastern side (that was just before the ’99 National Games held in Imphal). In addition to being the most popular ground for polo, CC Meets and the like, in our adolescence, every fight was incomplete without calling out for an ‘open challenge’ at this historic playground. On that night, the rain had kept away the visitors except us and our ‘subjects’.
Most evenings, people of all age visited Kangjeibung with motives. The visitors can be clubbed into three categories: first, the stoners with unlimited rolls of grass, which was available behind the ground; two, the transgenders, whose group served a chain of drinking vendors, again situated opposite to the main entrance on the western side, and whom I assumed had a lot of sex; and three, the Central Reserve Police Force personnel, who used to come desperately for a hand job or a head job. It was understandable for these guys to look for some enjoyment as they had been serving their country, staying far away from their families. However, there is a caveat. These guys had had too much pleasure with their guns as much as with their cocks, which many of us has started believing that patriotism is just a business of making a living. People would swear to die in the name of the country while they would fuck up the people on and off. I’m gladly jumping to a conclusion that the world would be a better place without them. Most probably, at least we will not be living in a pretentious democracy. Once more, the right side of the gallery was for the stoners, while the left side adjacent to the BT Park, darker and more secluded, was the area for making out. There were other visitors too, like some of those people who came there for eye treats!
Coming back, a few days back, Ra——, a guy who stood an inch less than six and who looked like a monster despite his tendency to apply makeup and dress up like a transgender, earned 50 bucks for a hand job. It was quite an amount in those days. He proved that our life is independent of gender nonsense. Earlier in the day, he was looking like a real hooker with the jazzy women’s wear he brought in a bag from home. And yet, regaining his male side, he was the first badass to hit the crooks, who were standing in a line. He hit all of them with one strike each on their thigh from the back. When one of them refused to respond to the thousands of queries, Ra—— put on a lighter under his chin. It was not good. The entire world was slept and the streets were deserted but we were playacting the role of a saviour. After more than two gruelling hours, we got a name, a non-native who was, from hearsay, a ringleader and responsible for most of the crimes. We searched for him for many weeks but we had to stop when we learnt that he had moved to Moreh, located around three hours away from the town.
Nearly fifteen years down the line, things have been redone, remade and reworked entirely. A flyover has divided the Paona and Thangal Bazaars prominently. The world-famous Ima Kiethel has a complete image makeover; Samumakhong has lost its charm; Kangjeibung also has a facelift; and I’m not sure if the Mahesh Hotel is still around. I met La—— a month ago. He has long hairs, citing our forefathers used to do their hairs in similar ways. On a same breath, he talked about the futility of the existing government though he is employed in a public sector office. It was incredible to see the changes in him: never had been a Diwali when he did not spend in a lockup for so many successive years then, and now he looked like the sanest man in the world. That was another universe, another era. Sometimes it is unimaginable how life stands today for good or worse. When I asked about the badass buddies, he replied he had lost all the contacts; and this one is for good for sure. Time is changing unabated, leaving us daily with one page each of memories and oblivion.
Image courtesy: Anonymous ART of Revolution