By T. Vunglallian
It is 8:30 AM GMT and that means back home, in Lamka, it is just past 1:00 AM IST, with everyone fast asleep while, here, in the recently converted dining room, now fitted out with a complex bed-and-hoists system (provided free by the National Health Service) lies my brother-in-law, half-paralysed … but full of smiles and humour, whenever he has the strength. It is pleasantly warm inside as he rests listening to BBC News between tiny sips of milk, tea or apple juice and a half-spoon of porridge that my sister lovingly coaxes him to try to consume.
Just 5 metres away, beyond the walls of this cosy 200-year old brick & mortar home runs Lacey Green’s smooth black ‘alcatara’ road … a road that crosses the busier Manchester airport road. Though a very important road it is broad enough for two vehicles, one up the other down and divided by a white continuous line. Interestingly there is only a single red, orange and green traffic-lights post on the airport road. All day, and late into the night, i can hear and see all the cars and SUVs of my Autocar and Overdrive fantasies, swiftly powering their busy and swift ways. Yet i can bring the speeding Audis, Beemers, Fords, Mercs … all to a halt by pressing the “pelican crossing’s” button. When my light turns green – there’s will be red – all vehicles will stop for all walkers, or i alone, to cross! [Ahh … this is the kind of power, freedom and respect for, of and by the individual that i’d like us in Manipur to have.]
There is another kind of crossing, simply called “pedestrian’s crossing”, where a box of white lines is marked across a road (often onto an island on bigger roads) if the “pelican” system is not installed or integrated. In this type of crossing all one has to do is step onto the boxed section and traffic will come to a halt! The pedestrian is king … and no one will honk or give a ‘gali’. So so unlike … you know where!
But very significantly, if a cyclist or a pedestrian is seen to be wishing to cross a road, the beauty and wonder is that it is the duty of the motorist to stop and wave them on! Believe me for much to my embarrassment – or ‘kisuanglahna’/‘inthlahrungna’ – it has happened to me 3-4 times. Not only that, the other day i walked ahead of an old lady who signalled she did not need my assistance at a small depression. i enjoyed some window-shopping before coming to a busy road whose designated crossings were 40-50 metres away to my left and right. As i had time to stop, stare and admire the cars and bikes zooming by i waited for traffic to thin. Then someone shuffled by … and the old granny of 20 minutes ago passed me and coolly stepped onto the important road in the middle of Wilmslow town! But lo and behold, the motorists stopped! No one honked! No one said anything! She was the queen of the road! I was so surprised i couldn’t follow to cross!
Now, most significantly, in my week so far, in England, i have yet to hear a horn sounded! In fact, i can put my hand on the Bible and say … motorists here never – yes NEVER – sound their horn! That one ‘never’, believe me, makes all the difference!
[Methinks: ‘no sounding of horns’ is one absolutely no cost habit we can and have to adopt back home, the sooner the better].
From an hour ago when i came downstairs for tea and biscuits in the cosy drawing room, it has been – like every other day – a truly lovely English summer morning with birds chirping and twittering from tall leaf-laden trees all around. In this pleasant setting – though personally a sad one – i am trying to put my impressions of the past week into an article or two.
Right now U Richard is being groomed for the day by two efficient and cheerful ‘carers’ – not nurses – who come in every morning for an hour. I must say the infectious smiles and light-heartedness of Emma and Katie would make anyone’s day … especially for anyone critically ill!
[Methinks: the inculcation of good manners, politeness, cheer in thought, word and everyday deed is a very vital habit, again at absolutely no cost, whatsoever, that we need to adopt in Manipur … and India.]
So i cannot help wishing that back home … our carers, nurses and doctors; our teachers, professors and principals; our clerical staff, our suited-booted bureaucrats and our ‘netas’ turning our corridors of power into their playgrounds and backyards; our general duty policemen, traffic cops, commandos to high security officials; our church-goers, choirs and reverends and including our very own dear mothers and fathers … i truly and wholeheartedly wish they could simply smile a little more. Smile to one and all, not only our typical hints of a smile reserved for family, friends and bosses.
Please note i am not suggesting or asking for the impossible. Everyone does it here to everybody, including – very importantly – to strangers! In fact, it is so well ingrained in their culture that it is second nature among the old and young, women and men, but not so much the children! (This i hope to take up in a later article).
So believe me when i say … everyone i’ve met, walked by or sat near in a coffee shop in England – so far, everywhere and every time – have shared a smile, plus a cheerful word or two, even if it were a Mr. Bean-like intelligible warble. I recall the other day’s old man hobbling his way towards me step off the pavement to give me way while i was debating ‘should i or should i not?!’ As i smiled a thank you he added: “My dear man, isn’t it a lovely day?”
Or the persons – young or old – responding warmly from behind the bank, post office or sales counter appearing so helpful and friendly as if willing to give you a loan without any collateral; from the extremely rare cop cruising by in his patrol car (i hope to write something on the police, later), or standing hesitantly at the road’s edge, and then a pony-tailed blonde halts her Porsche, smiles and waves you on, as if saying: “Please cross…i will hold up the traffic for you!”
[Methinks: If, back home, each one of us could insert a daily total of 2 minutes of smiles and a cheerful word or two … i promise you … it’d definitely change Manipur and India forever! At no cost!]
On the 7th of August i left my village, Pearsonmun and Lamka town, around 10 AM to fly Indigo to Kolkota. There the call to collect my visa led to hectic ticketing and at 4:50 AM of 8th i was aboard a Qatar Airbus 320 flying Kolkota-Doha, en-route Manchester. This flight was made most memorable and champagne-heady-like, not because the plane rose into glorious sunlight, but because the In-flight Supervisor (of an international airline) was none other than my student of 12 years ago … Jennifer! My flight and day were made. The crew, from Captain to the youngest flight attendent whom she proudly introduced me to as her teacher-second-father, and many passengers around me, must have fondly recollected their own happy school-days, their class-mates and their teachers.
[This i can now claim … to be able to walk down memory lane joyfully is a sum total of the smiles, cheer and kindness spread long long ago … without ever thinking that there would be immeasurable rewards of pride and joy many many years in future!]
The Kolkota-Doha flight had taken off 40 minutes behind schedule and that led to a mis-connection as my connecting Doha- Manchester flight left per schedule. I was stranded in foreign soil! Worse, i carried only Indian rupees, having been dissuaded by the long queue at Kolkota’s lone exchange counter. But worst and most-national-pride hurting of all was that, in Doha, no one wanted our rupees … even the bellboy of the luxurious hotel i was put up in was reluctant to accept the tip of Rs.100/- i proffered. He’d been, i’m certain, anticipating dollars when i pulled out my wallet to signal him i was going to give a tip.
[Methinks: India … we’ve a long long way to go before becoming a superpower! Because i am going to include one vital criteria to judge our real-time world status, achievements and claims … by seeing if every coffee counter in an international airport, or a bell-boy in a hotel ; by every Thomas Cook office advertising cruise holidays … or every bank in a foreign country … are they happy to touch our rupees … ready to exchange my still brand new 1000/- rupees notes for the currency of my choice!? Till that happens, i think we should not talk …]
I was very upset with there being no other flights to Manchester from Doha that day because of a critically ill brother-in-law. However, once i was resigned to my fate, i had to call up hidden energy-cum-enthusiasm reserves to deal with a rarest of rare opportunities viz. an international airline putting me up in luxury at their expenses and sealing it with gastronomic international delights. So there i was, an afternoon and night in a luxury hotel topped up with three chances to stuff myself recklessly (without my wife’s stern eyes) and shamelessly (i’d never come by again! Luxurious hotel in Doha? Kahan se!) with three international buffets – breakfast, lunch and dinner. Each meal was beautifully and lavishly displayed … cuisines from east, west, north, south and middle-east ; vegetarian and non-vegetarian; breads, meats, both hot and cold and ice-creams and sweets to delight a child … all on three long fully laden tables, with a Chef to talk to and praise! A gourmet’s and greedy person’s delight!
And so the bonus was spending a little over 19 hours at a truly colossal ultra-modern air-connectivity hub called Doha, the capital of Qatar. True, my body clock was completely topsy-turvy, no doubt helped by starting one’s dawn with champagne, and now desperately fighting sleep as one wanted to take in every sight and sound of a 21stC version of an exotic and dreamy land of the Arabian Nights of lore! And so i slept little as i prowled about among soaring buildings not too far from my hotel – my passport half-sticking out of my breast-pocket – and enjoyed the gently warm yet almost strong breeze till almost midnight.
Doha is an engineering marvel in the middle of harsh, hot desert sands. It is, no doubt, funded by for-now-endless-oil-money. But let’s leave that, because the more important thing is, when you see first-hand a desert developed and blooming here and there through sheer money-power that is proof of a wealth of clear vision, wealth of ideas and wealth of deep love for an otherwise inhospitable homeland … with gleaming and glaring – almost white – punishing sands. From horizon to horizon.
[In sharp contrast my still-green Manipur is proof of lack of vision, lack of ideas and abundance of lip-service love … in an otherwise fertile watered land whose landscape is gentle on the eyes and could so easily be so in our minds too!]
I requested and was welcomed by the driver to sit in the cab for the 20 minutes drive to our hotel. As the Mercedes mini-bus sped, in 5 minutes i was overwhelmed by the lovely leisurely sweep of gently curving, rising and falling roads that joined long straight stretches … stretches that were like black rivers cutting through a desert landscape, interspersed every now and then by clusters of orderly, low marble mini-Taj Mahals … inhabited by residents who were indoors under an already searing hot 10AM sun.
[I could not help thinking … if the world could ever be one, Qatarians and Manipurians , for instance, could all live in natural greenery in Manipur, and workers from both communities – in shifts – could fly to work the oil-fields in the desert. Oh…Manipur would surpass Switzerland by far, and Qatar would not have to spend untold billions to manufacture water and create conditions to live, work, sleep, and even park their SUVs in air-conditioned halls … or spend tens of thousands to keep a tree green and leafy! By making the natural green greener and cleaner, and leaving deserts as deserts, just think … the world would never have to worry about global warming and climate change. My mind’s eye swam in Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ and Jackson’s “Heal the World”& “We are the World”. … i know … i know, but it is a lovely thought! And the dreamer that i am … i am just waiting for this idea’s time to come!]