Musings on a decade

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Chitra Ahanthem

The beginning of a “New Year” inevitably brings a stream of “best wishes for the year ahead” which happens every year. It is not quite certain how the advent of a New Year was celebrated or whether it was celebrated at all in Manipur. To keep things single, we are talking of the New Year that falls on January 1st every year so one does not get confused about the Manipuri New Year that starts on Cheiraoba. My father’s generation ushered in every ‘new year’ by cycling down to Sekmai with bare utensils, mostly relying on locals for them but it is not clear whether the generation before my father did anything about the year beginning. Was there any fuss on the scale that we see now with group sms that keeps popping into the mobile which are totally impersonal on one hand but makes you feel almost obliged to reply?

Yes, the beginning of a year does feel different, leaving one with a sense of looking at what the future may hold. It is mostly filled with the hope that things will get better and while that is a good thing to do, yours truly end up going back to what has led to new beginnings. Thus, when 2010 got over and 2011 started, it marked the end of a decade. 10 years is a pretty long time and we can see the changes the years have brought to the landscape of Manipur: more traffic congestions, landlines going out of fashion, more police on the roads, more load shedding, more rubbish lying around. Fortunately, everything was not negative: we have had more achievers from the state making a name for themselves in sports, academics and in various other sectors.

For me, it has been 10 years of writing for Imphal Free Press and it has been quite an experience: from having to run for internet connections while traveling to increasingly having to now call up people and asking if the power is on at their homes or office so I can go over and then charge my lap top to write FOOTNOTES! A decade is a long time, long enough to have tried out various things which have happily left me more amused than angry or pessimistic about life and people in Manipur. While it is true that I have mostly slogged it out in the NGO sector as one more staff member, a worthwhile experience indeed though it still left me with more questions about how people work in the sector than results or answers on the ground, there have been other kind of assignments that happened along the way: the kind that gave a whole new meaning to freelance work, where you work for free!

The first instance was in 2000 when a well known person in political circles (not a political person though but rather one who has connections with a national party that has not made much inroads in Manipur except for being a coalition partner while the national party was in power in the Center) who also dabbled in journalism (he said that and disappeared from media circles soon after) approached me for back ground work on a police officer (a non Manipuri) who had been killed in Imphal . I ended up getting skin allergies for a week from having to scour over very dusty newspaper archives in the Manipur Central Library which has since been burnt down but no payment was given to me! It is difficult to write chronologically about the various assignments that left me unpaid or grossly underpaid but since we are talking about a decade rewind, we may as well read about what is an accepted practice in Manipur: where much respected people expect you to give time and quality effort and yet, leave you unpaid or pay paltry amounts. There was this time I was paid a hundred rupees for translating a radio play by an award winning author: of course, I was expected to understand that authors in Manipur did not make much money but what about trying to understand that one’s efforts have some worth? There was a time when I was being approached for compeering shows (which did pay me!) and events and while I did take up arts or cultural events, it was my choice not take up the various ‘Miss’ so and so events. Compeering shows meant having to wear traditional dress (which meant wearing make up and unfamiliar territory!) but when my male co anchors ended up wearing non traditional dresses, event organizers would get harassed with my questions on why I had to wear phanek and half saree as traditional wear which is actually not the correct form (the traditional wear is the ‘innaphi’ wrap) and why the men could get away with what they wore on stage. Then there was the other time I was called in by a well known Manipuri journalist now based outside the state in a senior position of a National newspaper, who asked me to be a contributor: 3 stories with my by-line in a National paper was a huge source of pride for my mother who had the whole newspaper to show to her friends but there was no money coming my way and that was the end of that.

End-point:

Of course, there were people who I was happy to work and associate with regardless of whether I was paid or not. One was the late G. Narayan Sharma who wanted to make a feature film (70 mm) and who wanted to raise money: he had a bound script that used a lot of colloquial Manipuri words. The film never got made but the year before he passed away, he came over to my house and gave me Ningol Chaak-kouba gifts. But besides this film that never got made and another Doordarshan serial for which I did the sub titles, the film industry again let me down when it came to payments: till date, I have done sub titles for 2 Manipuri digital films but no money again!

With a new decade beginning, I fervently hope people look up in the dictionary and realize that working freelance does NOT mean that you get people to work free of charge. Amen!

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