Our days are mainly filled with news about violence, scams, protests and most things negative about Manipur and it is safe to say that most of us have become hard boiled cynics going on about with our day to day lives. We become insulated in our own worlds and do not realize the little things that go towards making the place we live in a better one. And because we remain in our own orbits, it becomes all the more important that we stand back and applaud when certain individuals give us reason to believe in the good of life: honesty, integrity, concern, a bit of humanity.
Meet 26 year old Konjengbam Soniya, a parking attendant working with the North East India Security Services that is responsible for the safe and correct parking of vehicles on the Paona Bazaar road stretch. Why Soniya? Because she went beyond her call of duty and ensured that the belongings and vehicle of a now grateful young man remained safe and reached the rightful owner. According to the young man who does not want to be named, the incident happened on 27th January about 2.30 pm when the person in question was in the Paona Bazaar area to attend to a particular job. He got a parking ticket and simply left a brand new UPS with his vehicle, an Activa casually asking Soniya to keep an eye on his belongings. The work that he had come for took longer than expected and when he came out to collect his vehicle, it was off duty time for the parking personnel. “I did not see my vehicle at the place where I had originally parked it and assumed the worse when I found that the UPS and my helmet was not there. Just as I was cursing my carelessness, I saw someone from a nearby shop gesturing at me. I went towards him and after he had confirmed my identity as the owner of my vehicle, he gave me back my belongings, which Soniya had entrusted to him for safe-keeping. I also found out that I had left the vehicle key on!”
The young man in question went back the next day to thank Soniya and gave her a small token of appreciation, which she brushed off first. When this experience was put on the social networking site Facebook, it led to a barrage of comments from people across the world appreciating her honesty and concern. The most common refrain amongst the comments from people born in Manipur or living in the state was that the incident gave back faith in the people of Manipur. And therein, lies the area where this column is dedicated to her and many others that we take for granted.
This Saturday, I accompanied the young man as he went to the NEISS office at Paona Bazaar to give a flexi print out poster of Soniya’s photograph and the comments of people from Manipur spread across the world. She kept looking down whenever the camera tried to capture her face, insisting she just did her duty. “I lost two very cheap mobile phones earlier and I know how it feels to lose something and the despair it brings,” she said. As a parking attendant, her responsibility for loss of vehicle and belongings of people who have taken a ticket from her ended at the time that her duty hours ended (4.30 pm) but as she put it, she knew how it felt to lose something.
Hailing from an impoverished family, she gave up her studies when she reached her 9th standared and did odd jobs to make a living. The eldest of three siblings living with her maternal grand-mother, Soniya could have easily walked off without a care but chose instead to stay on for some more time to see if the vehicle owner turned up. “I waited till 5 pm and was getting late, so I had to hand over the vehicle keys and belongings to a nearby shop but I kept worrying over whether they would reach the rightful owner. As soon I came the next day, I went to check with the shop owner but his shop was still shut. Then the neighbouring shop keeper told me that the things had been handed back.”
When the vehicle owner came searching for her later in the day, “my first reaction was that he could have lost some of his belongings” says Sonia adding that she did not expect to be lauded by people she does not know and vice versa. Talking of her experiences as one of the many parking attendants who have to be on their feet from 9 am to 4.30 pm after a daily office reporting time at 8 am, she says that it is very common for “respectable looking people” often being the ones who flout parking norms. “They park their 4 wheelers in places marked for two wheelers and talk down to us when we try to request them that they park in the correct places,” she rues.
I went to meet one role model but to my delight met another unsung ‘hero’ when Soniya told me about the “BT Road hero” a sobriquet that sits comfortably on the shoulders of one of her colleague, Tamphamani. “ She caught someone who was trying to make away with someone else’s vehicle. Tamphamani raised a hue and cry and the person ran off but she chased him down riding on an auto-rickshaw. He was later handed to the police,” says Soniya, laughing at the memory.
As I came back from meeting the girls whom we get to see everyday and take for granted, it struck me that while the roads and lanes strain under the onslaught of vehicles and unruly drivers who don’t give a fig for driving or parking norms, if there is one area that has brought a bit of cheer to vehicle owners in Imphal area at least, it is that parking has become relatively easy to live with because of the parking attendants. The least we could do is to acknowledge this and give them the respect that is due to them.