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In Search of Sugarcane Juice

A hard shake of economy and establishment in our town

Sugarcane juice can help fight against cancer, but we are not talking about it. Leave the medicalese to the experts, and I had an urge to have a cool glass of sugarcane juice this morning just for its own sake sans any anti-carcinogenic flavour.

So, while I was returning home from Kwakeithel, I took a detour around Keishampat. I might just find a juice ‘cart’ on the way, I assumed. I drove along the Tiddim Road, the Keishampat–Waheng’ Leikai stretch and the Sagolband Road but futilely; then I remembered, there in Tera, I had seen of those mobile carts but soon I got the same result when I reached there—no cart anywhere and just as I was driving towards home with a resignation that I’d rather have a glass of chilled Tropicana, a friend—while still driving—yelled back that there is another juice cart near Ibotonsana School in Uripok. A literally sound suggestion from a ‘permanent’ Imphalite, he cannot be wrong I thought yet I found it was not right!

To cut the story short, I had to content myself with a jar of Tropicana orange. It tasted like a sour orange that we get during off-season from Tamenglong and it took a full glass of water to wipe out the lingering acerbic sensation.

Taking juice with a pinch of salt

The brief incident in the morning, it was over but it leaves me some with impressions about a state of affairs in our hometown.

Out in the valley, it is easy to find all sorts of daily commodities and those who might be unaware, ours is a real third-world town, where the rate of consumerism is picking up at the rate of, so to say, a third-world town. The Imphal Free Press is, however, not too impressed about this growth. This is apparent from several occasions on as many editorials that it would come up with very similar lines but which nevertheless tell of Manipur’s leitmotif, such as:

—Manipur’s new culture of contractor-bureaucrat-minister nexus...has thrown up a nouveau-riche class who shamelessly flaunt unaccounted wealth beyond their legitimate means of earning
—...a make-believe democracy...had laid the foundation of politician-bureaucrat-businessman nexus which ultimately threw up a political class nurtured in the culture of dependency, greed and corruption
—The rising number of government employees with accumulated wealth far beyond their known sources of incomes, is evidence of this rot within the system.

At the cost of oversimplification, we can say that this particular nexus is one of the major reasons behind the growing rate of consumerism and on concrete terms, it is evident from the mushrooming ‘glassy’ eating places and pricey showrooms that dot few pockets in the town. Among the affluent class, it has as well become a luxuriously fashionable statement to go shopping in the metro-cities nowadays. Once I had came across a sidekick in New Delhi, whose boss’ daughter was sending pictures after pictures of some dresses on his WhatsApp that she wanted him to go and buy from a mall.

The problem is, in spite of all the growth, infrastructure and services have remained as dismal as ever.

All it takes to show this prevailing situation is a glass of sugarcane juice. And it becomes even more glaring when you see it after moving back to the town after putting up at a more ‘developed’ place for more than a decade. The differences are quite stark, and it is visible from access, or rather the lack of access, to local amenities to the prevailing socio-political conditions. Who could miss these points when mainstream media would say that we are lucky if we are alive to be in Manipur?

Just look at the stinking reality. Security personnel can kill with impunity while we are diagnosed with fear psychosis and the spreading air is that of suspicion and uncertainty. In this context, when the institutionalisation of corruption and violence add up to the lifestyle of the mass, we are occupied with thoughts merely about living than about how to live. Then again, it is not unexpected to see the sheer absence of an access to a better life.

Decades of subjugation have obliterated our senses and it is no surprise to see the consequences most evidently in our messed up collective life. How long will we remain stewed up in our own juice? Instead of the negativities, a better option than the realisation is to try and reproduce a condition for the kind of life of our aspiration.

Back from the shop

A decade of refuge in a metropolitan city has familiarised me to certain luxuries of everyday life like the privilege of enjoying a glass of cool, salted sugarcane juice conveniently. No such chill sugarcane juice is available in the town! And if I change my mind and want to have watermelon or any fruit then I can just go to a local fruit and vegetable market—all set in a walking distance.

Back in Imphal, as a bonus of living close to the Khwairamband Keithel, I can go to Nagamapal or Thangal Bazaar but that still do not solve two issues: convenience and choice.

Incidentally, on June 15, all the Manipur-based dailies had published a news report about the pulling up of two fruit sellers—by the government agency of Food Safety Enforcement Wing—for adding chemicals to ripen up bananas artificially. To add carcinogenic substances, which the experts say are present in those chemicals, to earn more profits in lesser time is a crime against humanity. And I doubt sugarcane juice can help despite its anti-cancer power!

It’s a big local news.

Somehow these are universal issues in the sense that residents in metros would still complain about sugarcane juice causing jaundice out there, and food adulteration and the growing menace of engineered food items are affecting people on a global scale. But then that’s because the boundary of human beings knows no limit when it comes to greed and wickedness and that’s another issue.

In our town, it is still a luxury to dine out and it is okay, perhaps, for the sake of our culture and lifestyle; yet it is a different tale when culture meets economy. Alternatively, economy is culture, for instance, in a volume proportional to the amount of local booze available in the neighbourhood stalls and ‘village’ drinking vendors of the Kabui folks in and around the valley.

The question of economy becomes even more apparent when we consider it from tangible perspectives and a few examples would illustrate it clearly. There used to be a classy juice shop in our locality. It was too grand for the neighbourhood because in a land of ‘hand-operated’ sugarcane juice carts, such a store with glass doors might not be out of place but still it is obtrusively mismatching.

In another instance, then it took me a day or two to get stuffs after ordering from the Amazon & Co and now it is never less than two weeks and on many occasions there are limitations like the lack of cash-on-delivery feature and messages that they do not serve in a particular pin-code area.  

The ZMR effect and conclusion

Most of these issues are related to Imphal within the zero-mile radius (ZMR). The equation changes completely when we take a step out of this region.

Here it wouldn’t be hard to ignore the ‘Manipur model of development’. A ‘developed’ area implies there will be rows of shops regardless of whether it is a residential, educational or any such neighbourhood. By the way, there is no industrial area and this speaks volume about the economy. In other words, the model is based on the number of shops in a locality: the further we are away from the ZMR, the lesser will be the number of shops and the lesser the number of shops, the lower is the rate of local-specific development.        

In the last couple of decades, smaller towns are cropping outside the ZMR and this is good news. Similar to how Manipur’s fortune lies in the growth of Burma, development can take place when the neighbouring areas are also growing and this is directly proportional to each other.

To sum up, just as orange drinks can be a substitute for that of sugarcane, a better economy can, come what may, juice up our present condemned lives. The recent findings of natural resources in huge quantities is quite a starter in contrast to the State propaganda that the region is poor and needs Big-Brotherly protection and some natives would believe it but that’s another story.

- Concluded.

PS: In Manipur, it is not difficult to see the overt militaristic approaches in overall developmental works and for clarity, just consider the physical locations of army and paramilitary outposts in areas where exploration and extraction of mineral resources are taking place presently.

It will be too naïve to say that the Government do care about development per se, without considering the motives of nation-building projects. Somehow this is understandable but what is simply abominable is the complete disregard for people, by some of the elite natives to put up with their craving for aggrandisement as seen earlier from the case of contractor-bureaucrat-minister nexus.  

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