By: Yambem Laba
This story was originally related to me by the late Larry Byrne, elder brother of Daniel Byrne the current Principal of Tiny Tots High School. It took place one laid back afternoon in Delhi University`s Gwyer Hall, sometime in the 1970s and it reflected upon the bygone golden days of Manipur revolving around two institutions which played a not too small role in the daily life of the Manipuris-notably the Imphalites. These two institutions being the Imphal Talkies and the Mapal Kangjeibung. Larry whose father-tongue was English, however spoke Manipuri like his own mother tongue-complete with classical remarks delivered in its most chaste form.
According to him the story relates to two elderly Manipuri gentlemen who were sitting in the Mapal Kangjeibung or the polo ground like hundreds of others who would make it their daily routine of relaxation. Mind you the Mapal Kangjeibung was as the name Mapal suggests a big open space connecting directly to the B.T. Road, with no artificial structures like Dukan Plots obstructing the open view and it acted very much like the city lungs-enabling the people to breathe freely.
The view was that of the Imphal Talkies towards the northern side and the huge poster from RKCS announcing to the world the/movie currently being screened. The two elderly gentlemen were sitting and keenly looking at the poster, when one of them beckoned to the other and said, Tadhan, let us go and see this movie, I think it will be nice . How do you know ? Queried Tadhan to which he replied look at the actor-don`t you recognise him it is Bus Lokeshwor? The Tadhan adjusted his specs and said yes you are right it is Bus Lokeshwor indeed and the two then proceeded to book their tickets for the 7:30 P.M. show and enjoy Bus Lokeshwor acting on the big screen and forget about whatever daily woes they might have been facing then.
Then it became my turn to ask Larry, who the hell is this Bus Lokeshwor, to which he smiled and replied without batting an eyelid-it is Burt Lancaster-who we all know is that legendary Hollywood actor-so it was the case of Burt Lancaster being transformed into Bus Lokeshwor in Manipuri-but all the same it reflected an era of compatibility and openness of mind and space-which can be said to be the golden days of Manipur.
I remember as a young lad reading in Class III, running along the footpath that used to devide the B.T. Road from the Mapal Kangjeibung, enroute to the Children`s Library then located in the building opposite the Sir James Johnstone Higher Secondary School now being occupied by the Manipur Bridge Association or players. Yes, there was a full fledged children`s library where children of all hues and colour would line up to borrow and read books and return then in time. Yes, I grew up in that time, when happiness came in small measures.
One such measure of happiness was lining up to but Keli Channa from that fat lady somewhere form Kangjabi area I am told-she used to position herself at the entrance of the road that connects B.T. Road and the Assembly road via the Family Welfare Office. Her channa was just a simple fare of semi-boiled peas/mangal but there was magic in it and you could never get tired of gulping it down. As amazing as her product so was her sense of memory-she would collect all the money from each customer present and then dole out product according to the amount collected from each customer out of memory. Her clientee then included Mrs. Bimala Raina, wife of the then Chief Commissioner Mr. Raina Lodged in the present Raj Bhawan. She is gone today, but the area where she used to occupy now has two or three others ladies selling the same fare, under the brand name of Keli channa-very much like the Kentucky Fried Chicken of America now available even in India.
After consuming the Keli Channa, then one would head for the Imphal Talkies, which used to screen the very best of English movies in the entire Eastern India-then buy a Front Ticket for 50 Paise for the 7:30 P.M. show and in winter time one had the luxuries option of carrying your own Meiphu-to warm yourself as you watched Bus Lokeshwor and John Wayne riding into the sunset.
Then came the 1970s, when some mad cap civic authorities decided to erect wooden stalls along the B.T. Road thereby creating a Berlin wall almost keeping the people out of access to their beloved Mapal Kangjeibung, thereby throwing out countless number of senior citizens from their resting place in the evening of their lives. These stalls initially sold second hand clothes covering to the majority of the havenots of the state.
I did not remain a silent spectator but in my own small way made my moves and counter moves to re-liberate Mapal Kangjeibung from the Upu-Dukan culture. I almost succeeded in 1994, which we still remember was the year of the Presidentâ€™s Rule under Lt. General V.K. Nayar as Governor of Manipur. It was in the month of November 1994, that I was able to convince the General about the need of the people of Imphal City to have an open space where the people can just go and relax, which could lead to reduction in social tension too. I used the example of the Maidan in Kolkata, where more people than the entire population of Manipur get and get out of buses at Dalhousie Square and yet the city having great open green space of the Maidan opposite the Chowringhee, serves as the Lungs of the City.
The idea was to relocate the Second Hand shops elsewhere in the city and leave the space vacant and connect the Mapal Kangjeibung with the B.T. Road once again. The General gave his nod of approval and then turned to Shri P.P. Shrivastava, who was then his Advisor and said can you look into Laba`s request? Then straight from the Raj Bhawan, we went in a Gypsy which was driven by the then Principal Secretary Shri P.L. Thanga IAS with P.P. in the front and I in the back with no security escort or even a PSO. The idea was not to just vacate them but to relocate them elsewhere. The first area we thought of fitting them was near the Bus Terminus at Dewlahland. Then, I came out with the idea of relocating them on the eastern fringe of the then District Hospital to which it was agreed. Unfortunately the President`s Rule soon ended and so also my dreams. I thought I had lost out altogether when during the Nipamacha days, the wooden stalls were turned into RCC structures into regular Dukan Plots.
Then came the Ibobi Juggernaut rolling and after sweeping out the RCC Dukan plots from the North AOC Area suddenly announced that the shops on the southern side of the B.T.Road would have to go. And then came the Bulldozers bulldozing the RCC structures that had for over the last many years stood like the Berlin was came tumbling down. It was almost like old times when I walked amongst the pulled down structures, but my old Mapal Kangjeibung still had a five foot wall separating it from the main B.T. Toad. This wall must also come down so that our elders can have access to the haoolwed grounds and sit out in the evenings of their lives and wait for Bus Lokeshwor to return.