Personal Histories: Lianpu Tonsing

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|Memories of Manipur|

Illustration: Uzma Mohsin

THIRTY LONG years had gone by. Yet, I still remember Thian as a child, not as a housewife, as she is now. We had been together roasting maize. Thian would stammer and say, “a tangtawp” by which she actually meant to say, “a kanggawp” — meaning burned maize. The word tangtawp has since been used as standard terminology in the family circle.

As headmaster of the local school, Thian’s father had to move to various places to teach in the network of schools run by the church. From my village he was transferred to Khuangmun village, where there was no government run school.

One cloudy evening my sisters laid dinner in a large aluminum plate (two-and-a-half feet in diameter, where the rice is placed on the sides and the vegetables at the centre. We would eat off it with out bare hands). When everyone was seated around the rice, I spoke to my father: “Pa, let’s migrate to Khuangmun”. My sudden proposal was greeted with laughter from my brothers and sisters. My eldest sister said, “You are love struck, baby”. Someone said, “Write a song”. I was flabbergasted.

I last visited my village in the winter of 2000. After 48 hours in an Assam-bound train, I had to take another eighteen- hour bus ride through National Highway No 39 to reach Imphal in Manipur. Since my village is situated in Manipur’s Churachandpur district, I had to take yet another two-hour bus ride southward along Teddim Road, which stretches from Imphal to the town of Teddim in Myanmar. Even from Tollen village bus stop, I was short of reaching my village, which is tucked away a kilometer to the east, across the river Tuitha.

The village suspension bridge still swayed over the almost dried up Tuitha in the same rhythm I remembered from 30 years before. As I stepped onto solid ground, I saw that the wireless posts, which once supported low-tension electric wires and served to illuminate the village, had since been utilised to convey coded messages. The village already shrunk by unfavourable infrastructure facilities was further devastated by the intra-tribal conflict that erupted into a full-scale war in 1997. From a family of 60 households during my childhood, the number had declined to less than 25. The handful of inhabitants whom I still recognised looked wornout. The only visible symbol of governance was the Junior Basic School run by the State Government. The once wellmaintained roads had been reduced to narrow footpaths.

Since I left for Delhi in 1996, an elder sister had been taking care of the ancestral property. Visibly disappointed over the flight of the villagers she said, “They seem to have renounced their sense of ownership”. For some reason I found myself advocating the case for migration. “They may die with that sense of ownership here,” I said. After that, my sister relaxed only when I inquired about the Mission school. The anti-government protests that choked normal life in the state had not effected school attendance. I turned to her three-year-old son who was trying to tell me the number of cattle owned by the family. “In another two years he might well take over the ploughshare from his father!” his mother said. I didn’t have the urge to laugh.

I was sure that even if her son became a graduate by some miracle, he would have to grab a Central Government job or become jobless. It was unlikely that he would get a job in the State government unless he had the money to pay for it. The other options would be to join the military or continue traditional subsistence farming. Or else, he would be left with the last option, which is to join any one of the insurgent groups operating in the region. That’s his destiny. I had no idea how the system would heal.

Then someone shouted from the kitchen, “a tangtawp”. •

Lianpu Tonsing is 34. He is a junior government officer based in New Delhi

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