By Vunglallian Tonsing
Behpa told me you are visiting in a few days before filing your nomination, and that during the feast in your honour you are contributing almost everything … starting with 5 quintals of the best Moirang Phou and, of course, the mithun and two singtaang suum sagih pigs (black desi/hill pigs of seven fist-measures) for the whole village to feast on. He has proudly whispered to one and all that you are presenting your village two brand new solar street lamps, and that our new VA Member, your youngest brother-in-law, has brought the long overdue sanction order for repair of the small wooden bridge over the seasonal nullah at the village entrance. This is a timely sanction because with the entire village working overtime you can be sure your convoy of vehicles can reach the village quite easily. And make it back to Lamka-khopi before 7 pm.
Now, MP Pu, let me stop beating about the bush and tell you why i am writing this letter and hoping you get to read it before you visit the village.
Actually this letter is to tell you that my entire extended family that happens to make up about 30% of the village shall not be voting for you, or your party, this time. We have been with your party for more than 50 years. Half a century! Still, believe me when i say you will get the majority of our village votes … because our chief, your eldest brother, now living in Lamka-khopi, will surely be here with his kids and your volunteers to ensure maximum votes are cast for you.
Now you might wonder why i am still choosing to be on the losing side. Why i am not being practical … and so on?
My reason for moving away from you is not because of any big thing. It is, let me guarantee you, not because you did not help my vualphalou son-in-law get that reserved for dis-abled peon’s job. Nor is it because the Shaktiman you promised me six years ago went to your nephew. And so on. My change of heart is not because of these ‘small’ things… the very things that i once thought were big and all-important.
Yet my reason is not a small matter at all. Because today I’ve realised that the difference between ‘small’ things lie in ‘serious thought’! Earlier, and for several decades, winning for you and your party was the serious and only thing that mattered … a thing that came with a huge prestige and a big fun part. Prestige, because we from a small remote village started getting a ‘new respect’ from many government officials! A ‘respect’ we enjoyed so much that it so got into our heads we did not realise it was hollow! Fun, because of the series of huge feasts celebrating victory … celebrations that lasted about 2 full months, with each spreading into the next day, or even the next night and day! Till we thought it would never end …
Then we started seeing and hearing less and less of you … because you our MP as good as migrated to faraway New Delhi. And all of a sudden, almost five years later, we are beginning to hear more and more of you, and will surely see more of you … till …!
To cut a not-so-long story short, i must admit i started thinking ‘seriously’ when my youngest grand-daughter – remember little Hoihnu? – now studying in Lamka-khopi attended a National Voters Day function on 25 January this year. She represented her school and even won a prize!
Well, she was here for two weeks for the rest of the winter vacation. Besides the joy her presence gave me, I learnt a lot from my favourite grand-daughter! She … yes she enlightened me about the value of ‘votes’. Something I thought I knew very well. But through her I realised I had been wrong all along! She actually started making me think seriously about votes and voting and the real expectations we should have from the person, or party one votes for. Imagine all that from a 14-year old! In fact, you know, I started realising that the young these days know so much, want to do so much … if given a chance, if given space and not dismissed in the first place!
I remember, in great contrast, thinking that we were happy to cast our votes believing that we were doing the right and good thing for the party in power, and, in the last elections, for our own village`s first ever research-scholar! Yes we were very happy. Then with the years your new power, distance and great national events changed you. While we did not change! Today i see our village life, our future remaining unchanged and un-hopeful as ever … after half-a –century. A very long time indeed.
No … no, no … don’t get me wrong! I am not going to stand for elections.
How could I? You know too well how much you had to borrow, even bandha and make promises to money-lenders for your MP-ship! Agreed it was not as much as the others, but it was not less than 15 lakhs either. And till today I do not know from where the money came, or how you repaid! So, lack of money bars me straightaway.
In fact, if I may say so … elections are fought only by moneyed people, like contractors, engineers and retired government officials. Certainly, by sitting MLAs/MPs; former MLAs/MPs, or even one-time/two-time/three-time losers: and of course their wives, daughters or sons … or in-laws. You know … like in a thriving family business where spending of 50/100/500 lakhs are a calculated investment … and a way of life for them!
Anyway the thing is, this time we are looking for someone else – even an outsider – who may change the face of our village and villages of the region, within 3-5 years. We are on the lookout for a candidate who will ‘change’ many things … from the VIP culture that all citizens are now fed up of … to our roads, schools, PHCs, water supply systems, our power needs and so on. Yes, change our futures that we shall pass on fruitfully into the hands of our daughters and sons. Our … our … Oh you also know it very well … because once upon a time you and i did talk of such things till, for some reason or the other the very persons empowered to be change-makers forgot common dreams somewhere down the line! We in the villages, however, still remember them, with nostalgia. And bitterness.. Sad … no?
Now, please do not try to convince me otherwise. Because even you in five years … or your party in thirty/forty/fifty years have been “unable” to bring the changes you have personally seen elsewhere – along with your family as shown in a CD you sent to our Chief three years ago. Yes the whole village watched the CD a hundred times. In fact, through your family holiday your villagers too saw Kashmir, Simla, Ooty, Sikkim, Shillong and neighbouring Mizoram and Nagaland!
What I am trying to say is you were not “unable” to bring change. You did “not want to” bring change! You see, “unable” has an element of circumstances beyond your control. Whereas, “not wanting to” … means you had the chance(s) but for 5 years you deliberately did not bother! You did not care. Do I sound too harsh? If I do, I do not mind, because the cruel realities of our hope-less village lives compel me choose my words intentionally, with much bitterness!
Many, I know, will be whispering to you that I am being most ungrateful. That you changed my family’s life with your 21” Sony TV you presented me after you bought your 48” wall-mounted 3D Samsung. Please don’t get me wrong. I am grateful for the Sony you presented me. As well as, over the years, other things that brought in some changes to my common room.
What I wish you can get right is that I am no longer looking for that or those kinds of change/s. Therefore, please don’t ask me to look around the village and count the number of mobile phones, TV sets, inverter sets, generators, motorcycles and the Chief’s silvery Bolero. Oh yes, there was a time I would have done so and been very impressed. But not now! In fact I am no longer impressed by the government’s MGNREGA even.
About MNREGA, you know why? I have come to realise it has slowly but surely killed my village’s work culture … something we were once very proud of! It has made us get paid for cutting grass and clearing ditches we used to do so cheerfully and voluntarily in two morning shifts. It now takes us four to six days, and that too shoddily! Worse, it has made us learn to fudge facts and figures. Something we never ever did. Not us ever. Not our fathers and forefathers ever. Ever!
Still worse, it has made the Chief, almost all our VA members and our once good teachers migrate to Lamka Khopi. Today, in a village that is one-third of what it was when you got your BA degree, only the ones with no hope are left. Mostly, old folks living in the past. Or, middle-aged unhappy people – like me – looking much older than our years.
Plus a lot of disgruntled youth. Youth who have no dreams! Imagine that! No dreams!?! Here, one of the reasons is that our original good school teachers are now settled in Lamka Khopi and their poor ai-kal, or ‘substitutes’ are members of the disgruntled youth hanging back in the village without any hope. In fact, with the princely 1500/- to 2000/- they get for ‘substituting’ they have been condemned into a hope-less comfort zone! They look Korean, flash fancy bright mobile phones they have to climb to the top of the ridge to use. Yes, they have condemned themselves unwittingly and ignorantly into a very base form of corruption and self-deception … along with the acutely corrupt original teacher doing God-knows-what in the second town of Manipur!
I hope you get my meaning and what I am getting at … that with all your ‘power’ you’ve been ‘not wanting to’ make the much needed change/s! Because of which, in my state of penury I have to struggle, even make back-breaking ‘sacrifices’ to help my children and their families – yes, Khen, Lian, Jempu and Muanni, now all married and having to live in Lamka Khopi so that they can educate their children, my grandchildren!
Because of my youngest grand-daughter I am now looking for a change, or changes that will trigger many more changes in our villages, in the lives of its young and old, girl-child or boy-child, its women and men-folk, especially the aged and marginalised. What makes me see red now is that 5-6-7 years ago you and I talked of changes late into the night. Now it dawns on me we only talked. Nothing has changed. If it has, it has been for the worse. Remember the school you started education in and where during all your holidays – from the time you were in Class-VIII at Lamka till your BA – you used to help because some teachers were out-dated – your words … well it is now ‘student-less’ and, actually ‘building-less’ today! The same is the case with that old PHC, with the village water tank and pipes, with the electric poles that were then falling and are now fallen and rotted. You name it, every … every … everything has collapsed! Disappeared! Missing!
So now when I talk of change i am trying to talk of real change(s) of true value, and that too in real time. And as I do not expect you to be the change-maker I must not vote for you or your party. Though, I must confess, there isn’t even one candidate who comes within 05% of my new expectations. In fact, I really don’t know why there is no option of a vote rejecting all … or have the power to recall! Things I learnt of from my grand-daughter. Surely several rounds of that and we’d get ideal leaders. But that is all wishful thinking.
So dear Bhai … remember we called each other so … we must part. Yet even though I will not be voting for you … I still want you to win … for old time’s sake! And because there isn’t anyone worth my vote! Knowing you, I know you will want to talk about all this. Perhaps, within a few weeks I will write again with my ideas about the changes I expect and even how to go about it. And, just in case you win again and, maybe … maybe … consider my views as your own! After all, Bhai, that was the way it used to be when i used to come for my annual leave … excitedly filling you with descriptions and ideas from J&K, Himachal, Punjab, Sikkim, Visakapatnam or Jharkhand … during my active service years … Perhaps …
‘Perhaps’ is the only hope I have. And I am alone in that because the rest of the village have stopped hoping, or even thinking. In fact, they will be ok with exchanging 300/- to 500/- for their family’s votes!
And as you and those in the family business know … life and votes are still pretty cheap in the hills! Soory bhai, I could not end with a salutation.
(Vunglallian Tonsing is an educationist and social worker of renown.)