My Mini Manipur
I love to describe my locality as "My mini Manipur". You will find people from the valley and hills living together in this area called Lamphel. I have been living here for the last twenty-four years.
Our neighbours are from Ukhrul, Tamenglong, Chandel, Moirang, Kakching, Heirok, Khongjom, Senapati, Churachandpur, Moreh, Singhat, etc. You will also find people belonging to other states of India. I had a Bengali neighbour who was from Assam. We will be staying here till the next posting or retirement. Some of them had left for their villages after their retirement and we get new neighbours who come from different districts of Manipur. Our next-door neighbour is from Tamenglong. When the family first came here the children except the eldest boy who was studying in a school in Imphal, neither spoke nor understood Manipuri (Meiteilon). Now I hear them sing Manipuri film songs with their friends playing the guitar on Sunday evenings and the youngest son and daughter shouting at each other in perfect Manipuri.
When she was about six, my elder daughter startled me one evening when she said “Mangfa” (good night in Kuki) to some of her friends. She perhaps picked up the word while playing with the neighbourhood children. She also picked up some Tangkhul words. I wonder if she still remembers them. Both my daughters picked up Hindi from a young age when they mixed with our non-Manipuri neighbour who too had two daughters. Both the daughters spoke fluent Manipuri without accent while the parents did not even know the basic.
During Christmas and New Year our neighbours displayed colourful stars in their courtyards. My daughters insisted that we too displayed one at our house. I bought one and displayed it in our drawing room. When one of my neighbours, a lady doctor from Ukhrul, visited us, my elder daughter pointed at the star and proudly told her, “We are now Tangkhul”. We both laughed uncontrollably.
Minlal, a small Kuki boy who lived just across from our house would come to our house on Diwali every year to eat sweets and play with fire-crackers and light the candles with my daughters in the evening. He would be at our house till very late and not listen to us when we told him to leave. His parents had to drag him from our house. He went home crying. I do not exactly remember the year but Minlal must be about seven or eight years old. We were startled when we found him standing near our gate as our daughters exploded fire-crackers to celebrate New Near on the stroke of midnight. I do not know how he managed to come out of his house. He simply loved fire-crackers. They left their quarters a few years ago as his father was posted at New Delhi. In the last few years I see some Christian families in the neighbourhood light candles in their houses during Diwali and their children play with fire-crackers. Minlal must have grown up now and I guess, must be celebrating Diwali with fire-crackers in Delhi.
My neighbours always share vegetables and fruits they bring from their villages with me. Now I know the difference between the taste of orange and yongchak (tree bean) grown in Tamenglong, Ukhrul and Chandel. My neighbour from Tamenglong often brings me U-Morok while another from Ukhrul gives me long red chillies and lemons.
What is common among some of my neighbours is that they often have a large number of visitors from their villages. Their relatives or friends often stay at their houses for days and even weeks especially when they come for treatment in hospitals in Imphal. I appreciate their cooperation and help to their friends and relatives. The Tangkhul family who lives just across our house recently shifted to their newly constructed house in Tarung. A new family has moved in the house.
Apart from the daily interaction with my neighbours that enriches the experience of living in "My mini Manipur", many women hawkers from several parts of Manipur come to hawk their home-grown products, and some of them left a lasting impression in our hearts and minds. Among them was this one Anal woman. She was a small and thin woman who would always carry tapioca and sweet potatoes with some vegetables in a plastic bag. She would knock on our gate and shout at the top of her voice “Inao Nupi, Inao Nupi, pot khara leibiyo”, (Younger sister, buy something). I could never say no to her but buy whatever she brought me. Sometimes I saw her on the roadside sitting among the women vendors, selling vegetables placed on a dirty piece of cloth. The moment she saw me she would call out to me and ask me to buy some vegetables.
Never did I ask her name nor she mine but she would regularly come to our house to sell me what she had. All I knew about her was her husband was no more and she lived on her own. Despite the hardships she faced she was always smiling. Suddenly she stopped coming to my place and I did not see her on the roadside where she used to sit.
While many women hawkers from several parts of Manipur continue to hawk different products, Muslim women are conspicuous by their absence in this neighbourhood. Earlier they used to bring us eggs and many products including bed-sheets, towels, etc., but I have not seen them in this area for the last many years.
On a rainy day I bought many different orchids from a young pregnant tribal woman with a small child on her back because I took pity on her. I don’t know what went wrong none of the orchids survived despite my care.
Living in the same neighbourhood we all face the same problems – the frequent floods, the deplorable condition of roads, the impact of bandhs and blockades, drinking water scarcity, price-hike, etc. This is my mini Manipur!
(The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org,email@example.com).