Food for Thought

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The ongoing Chinjak Festival at the Iboyaima Shumang Leela Shanglen, organised by the Innovative Youth Society, deserves a standing ovation, and more importantly public and statutory support. In particular, the state tourism department should have everything to want to support the effort. Those who know the psychology of tourists will know that one of the first things these visitors look for in a new place they visit are local cuisines, which exactly is why major tourist destinations in the world, in particular the South East Asian countries have several extremely lively food courts which are always bustling with life through night and day. These are places where visitors can sample different varieties of local food and those fortunate to have travelled to these destinations would vouch that they swarm with tourists, especially in the evenings. It is unfortunate that Imphal, and so too the other major towns of the state, do not have even one of these. Visitors here have to go to the eating joints where bus passengers and truck drivers eat to get a sense of local food. These eating places are often so aptly, though hilariously, declared as “rice hotel”, “meat hotel”, “Sharma hotel”, “Muslim hotel” etc by loud signboards. The most interesting of these are at places like Sekmai and Andro, where traditional local brews known as “Ashaba” (alcoholic drink distilled from rice) are distilled at home and served to guests. In these villages and townships, prohibitions both by the government as well as their underground counterparts have not worked and therefore apart from the food, tourists can also have a taste of local brews. Any connoisseur would also vouch these are not bad at all. If treated to tone down their sharp alcoholic odour and sting, and bottled attractively, many have expressed their opinion that these can have a wider market even outside the state, like their close relatives Japan’s “Saki” or the Goa’s “Feni” or the Nepal’s “Rakshi”.
But it is not just tourists who are drawn to the events such as the current Chinjak festival, but also very much resident sampler of food in Imphal. This is important for very few in Imphal for instance know very little of the delicacies and food specialities of the districts. Hence, it will be noticed even at the ongoing festival, families come out of their homes in the evening to have a taste of foods of the different communities and districts, and from their countenances it is also clear few, if any, ever return displeased or dissatisfied. In this way, these festivals are also a way of bridging the cultural communication gaps between the different communities, arguably even more effective than the now clichéd approach of staging festivals where folk dancers showcase their arts on stage. We are indeed hopefully in the not so distant future permanent food courts would come up, first in the Imphal area, and then spread to the other districts as well. In this enterprise, we hope the government would not shy away from pitching in its mite liberally.
Imphal is such a dead city today. In the absence of an open atmosphere, many tourists have difficulty keeping themselves either busy of enjoying themselves for more than three days. A dry state with no night life at all surely would be a strong deterrent for any tourist. It is with this in the backdrop that we are of the opinion that the initiative of the enterprising group of young men and women, Innovative Youth Society, is like the first refreshing showers of April, awakening the hibernating roots within the soil, and beckoning them that winter has receded and they can begin sprouting. Imphal must be allowed to wake up from its forced hibernation too and begin sprouting with the life it once had till the 1970s. Today, its lack lustre visage becomes evident by contrast even after a visit to the neighbouring town of Tamu. Despite its remoteness, the sense of openness and jest for the good things in life in this Myanmarese border town becomes painfully prominent for those of us who live in Imphal. While in Imphal, people rush home to be closeted indoors before sunset, in most likelihood in pitch darkness of power cuts, towns such as Tamu begin acquiring a new life of their own, with people thronging out of their homes to relax, discover eating places, and perhaps chill themselves over a drink of beer to unwind the day’s tension in preparation for a tryst with another day’s work the next day.

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