While the Manipur Tourism department is still in a euphoric hangover over the recently concluded Sangai Tourism Festival 2011, what it now needs to do is some serious thinking and reality check on what it now flaunts as a demonstration of the tourism potential of the state. The tourism festival was indeed very well attended in all of the days it lasted, including most importantly on the day there was a bomb attack near the gate of the festival site. But the crowd turnout may not have all to do with tourism and by that virtue would be greatly off the mark to presume this is an indicator the state is ready for a booming tourism future. In more likelihood, this was more an indication of how starved of entertainment outlets Imphal and indeed the whole of the state has become in the past few decades. In the rural areas, where is life a little more paced out this starving need for release from routine life may not be as much, but in Imphal, which is today acquiring all the characteristics of a city, with shrinking living spaces, crowded streets, and an ever increasing pressure to find livelihood, the need is mounting each day. While it is growing in size and pace of life, it desperately lacks avenues to wind down at the end of each week of hard work and at the end of each day of grinding routine.
This is so especially in the still fledgling but nonetheless burgeoning private sector. No need to be modest about this but those who work, really have to work hard, and most often for salaries that are far from hansom. In this ever growing sweatshop, what are pathetically missing are avenues for quality time after work hours. Acute power shortage has ensured the state is plunged into virtual darkness after daylight hours, which in winter is as early as 5pm, making any possibilities of extending waking hours into the evenings. By 7pm, there is nothing very much left to do in Imphal city. Even at homes, there isn’t much scope for the families to sit together in front of their TVs, or in reading rooms, talking and winding down, for there would invariably be extended load shedding. If outlets for outdoor unwinding from work tensions built up during the days or weeks are dead, so are they inside homes. Added to this, a puritanical culture of austerity enforced by many “governments” in the name of a skewed sense of morality has murdered openness in the society which gives individuals moments to strip themselves of extremely conservative social expectations and be themselves. Under the circumstance it is only but natural that there would be a desperate universal thirst for any offer of a release. Fairs and fetes such as the tourism festivals become precisely such opportunities, therefore the frenzied rush for them. Come to think of it, this entertainment starvation is loudly visible even in crowds that form to watch earthmovers at work or electricians on mechanised lifts repairing street lamps. At Moreh a familiar remark often heard amongst residents is, even Tamu, though for long under a military regime, offers more quality time after work than their own hometown, supposedly in a free society and polity.
This is however not to say the government should not be delusion about Manipur’s tourism potential. It does have it. What we are suggesting is for it to be realistic in its assessments and not be swept by false euphoria. In the effort to improve Manipur’s tourism potential, there are a lot more other things to be accomplished, including very mundane and seemingly insignificant considerations. As for instance, no tourist is going to be coming to the state with their own transportation facilities. Starting from the airport where they land and for all the days they spend in the state sightseeing, they would want to hire taxis. Journalists who constantly receive colleagues from other parts of India and abroad know how much of a problem this is for visitors. While there are taxis and auto-rickshaws for hire in the city, their fare structures are not regularised. Those who hire them would have to literally bargain and haggle with them. For visitors from outside the state who are unaware of the rates here, this is a source of immense irritation. Why cannot the government for a start, regularise the taxi service in the state, making it strictly a licensed profession, entitled to subsidies and taxes alike, with a standardised metered fare structure? More than the even the tourism festival, which is more of a large scale local fair meant for local consumption, even a routine thing like standardising taxi service would do much more towards welcoming tourists to the state.