By Chitra Ahanthem
Two Sundays have gone by without this column making it to the pages of Imphal Free Press or on the web page of www.nezone.info, a popular web site that has for some years been carrying news, features and photos from IFP. Mostly, it is the erratic power supply that makes writing difficult: it is never easy to think at leisure and develop the spontaneity that is required at a stretch when the mind is occupied with lap top battery power that decreases as one types in words and attempts to capture transient feelings. At one point of time, there was such a thing as writing by hand and journalists made do with typewriters. But the winds of change and habits are such that once computers made their presence, it has become difficult for most people to write long notes by hand. It is amusing too, the way we all tend to wail and sigh over “the old times” at one point of time or the other while we subtly get seduced by the technology and fast pace of our lives.
A two-week get together of my siblings who like most other people left home for better avenues of life and careers to leave behind empty beds in the house saw an overkill of nostalgia and musing over “the old times” at home. A home coming of all siblings after 3 years meant revisiting elaborate dishes being prepared instead of the usual fare of Kangshoi and Eromba. Along with the presence of the entire family came delectable dishes and side dishes like chagempomba, utti, nga khabak, paknam, ushoi kangshu etc on the dining table. Though these dishes and items are not fancy stuff, it goes without saying that working mothers prefer not to take time out to prepare them in the kitchen as everyday fare and more so if there are just 2 adults and one kid in the family. One sibling scoured the market to get the typical Meitei thum (salt) plates while another sibling waited at the neighbourhood pan dukan for the ‘king bon’ (the common term for the poorer version of cream buns, a traditional English bakery/confectionary item: on another tangent, is the ‘king bon’ something that came in from outside Manipur or a common and poor legacy of the British Raj in Manipur?). Yet another sibling had to taste “OK chicken” at any cost. And yes, the full fare of keli chana, singju, kabok muri.
With me it is the other way round. I have lived all my life in Manipur except for 3 years of college life and naturally, every annual homecoming saw me gorging on local delicacies then. But because my daily life is rooted in the sights, sounds, feel and taste of home; my trips outside the state comprises of jaunts to coffee cafes for chocolate desserts and gelato ice creams and other items that one does not get to sample here (besides a trip to a movie theatre to catch the latest Hindi movie…just to get back for the ban on Hindi films back home!). A case of “the grass is greener on the other side?” but definitely more than that. My rush for all things that one doesn’t get to see or sample back home reflects me straining against the limitations of my existence back home while the rush for all things familiar by my siblings and the many others who have settled outside of their roots reflect a journey of rediscovery: something more deeper and ephemeral. It is a time of reclaiming their sense of belonging despite having opted for physically cutting themselves off from their homes.
A trip down “the good old days” won’t be complete if we don’t touch upon what has changed and is changing. The children of today are the best mirrors of bringing the marks of change in the ways of our lives. And if at the other end of the prism we pitch the generation of our grand parents, the gap between the two is stark. Extended family get togethers following the return of my siblings brought home my maternal grand mother (in her 80’s perhaps) who recounted for us how she had been carried on the back of a family member during the wake of the Japanese bombings over Imphal. As my younger brother posed for photos with her all the while remarking on the photo display over the best picture captures, I ended up asking her whether she remembered her first ever photograph taken of herself. That one question led to an interesting capture of perceptions: taking photographs was not common then. She said she was at one of the receptions of Jawaharlal Nehru (no, hers was not a political presence there but an event where she and her friends had gone to see the handsome Prime Minister of the country!) where their group had a photo taken with someone in the PM’s entourage who looked sinister (am racking my head over who that could have been).
When we asked whether that photograph was still around, she left us flabbergasted when she replied saying rather off handedly that she burnt the picture after Nehru died. Reason? She feared that his death was an omen to all the people with whom Nehru had been photographed! Another gem of information from my grandmother was that weddings were not supposed to be photographed even though cameras were in existence. She went into a short rant over how weddings at present have become photo opportunities for everyone to the extent of leaving out family members and friends from seeing wedding rites properly despite being part of the ceremony. “Nowadays, those who attend the weddings also miss out on the ceremonies because everyone with their cameras block the view,” she said. And then I see my six year-old son insisting that he wants to check on every picture that I click of him, “so you can delete the ones where I don’t look good (or “yo” enough!)” and I see that the only constant thing about life is change.
Seeing two different ends of change is a funny experience and more so because I, and others of my own generation hold the in-between. Even as we grapple over the way life has changed, our children will only know that change but not the life before them. We cannot fault them for being born into a changed world but at best, give them a sense of the journey that their elders ventured. I speak for myself here: for a long time, I would be ashamed whenever my parents tried to speak in Hindi or English with non-Manipuri friends. I cringed every time they mispronounced something or voiced a grammatical error: not anymore. I realize now that because of their own limited exposure to education and social interactions, they have made us more exposed to the world. And I know that what we will give our children today would be the legacy of having the best of what change brings to their lives.