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E-Pao! EI - A Manipuri in New Delhi - How, when and Why?

A Manipuri in New Delhi - Nine years of friends, fun and little bit of study

Alberto Mangsatabam *



This is the story of a young man who left home for New Delhi some fourteen years back looking for big things to happen. I have to confess that young man was none other than me. With already the status of high school dropout, troublemaker, I was in late teens then, I hit off on the road all alone to see the world outside home, family and relatives.

As usual with strong opposed from my mother, I won the battle with my usual freewheeling one-sided stubborn decision, I have to go. I took some advice from a friend who already had some pretty good experience from his early schooling from Delhi. As he told me, I reached Calcutta by air, now Kolkata, and landed at Manipur Bhavan and met Mr. Benerjee whose job was mainly booking ticket with some extra perks from the travelers. I asked him for a ticket for Rajdhani Express to New Delhi. Some hour later he came back with the ticket but instead of Rajdahni Express he got me a Toofan Express. I was a little bit confused but Toofan sounded quite fast too so I agreed with it and proceeded with the journey next day. Later I realized that was the slowest train I ever board; it took me almost four days to reach Delhi.
And so I landed up at Delhi.

First day itself I had the opportunity to witness the historic Red Ford for the first time, crossing Chandni Chowk, the India Gate on way between old Delhi railway station to the place I was supposed to be landing, where a far relative lived there. I reached the room without much problem. It was just the size of a modern day bathroom, a little bit bigger and to my surprise some eight guys were already sharing the room. With me the room was almost bursting open at the seams. Every morning to defecate or to take a bath I have to wait in a long queue for more than an hour or so. First few weeks; I started learning the basics of cooking and picked up some pretty good Hindi specially names of the vegetables. I didn't move out much other than some few nearby places: Defence Colony, South Extension and little bit far area like Central Market, Lajpat Nagar.
While doing some evening walks in these areas, I sometimes lose direction and it used to take me hours to find the place I was staying. I also got admitted to a private school as a private candidate so that I don't have to attend classes regularly as I didn't take much interest on those matters, as usual.

So, first few months other than those guys in that room, most of whom were senior to me, I didn't make much acquaintances. Most of the time, I was alone. Eventually I met an old friend, Johny, he too was fresher in Delhi at that time. He was there for his admission at Delhi University for his graduation. Somehow he got admitted inbto a college in South Campus. His subject: English honours.
In fact, his books on English literature and a few American writers were my first interest in reading novel. In my leisure time I started giving a try at his books. I remembered reading Jane Austin's Mansfield Park, David Copperfield, The Adventure of Hukleberry Finn and one of my all time favourite Emily Bronte's The Wuthering Heights, the novel that stills fascinated me.

After a few weeks of our meeting, we have decided to take a new room and so we shifted in a new room at South Extension Part-II. Since then we made a very good combination. We were both painfully thin, he was tall six footer, with carefree attitude, aiming high, enthusiastic and both of us are into music very much, hard rock, heavy metal and so on. We never missed any rock concerts and festival in and around Delhi, campus rock, IIT festival and all.

For the next few three years we lived together changing our room many times at many places in and around New Delhi. Also his hindi was far better than mine as he did his schooling from a hindi oriented background. Most of the dealing especially with the house owners; he did it all the time.

During this time we encountered some of the funniest, stingiest and typical house owners at Delhi.
I can still remember that old lady, standing four feet and nothing tall, the owner of the South Extension flat. She resembled popular yesteryear's hindi film bad lady Lalita Pawar. From a hundred feet away, I could see her front tooth stained with years of chewing tobacco which she kept on munching all the time. Every time the post man came for us she just pops up from nowhere and this she manage to do despite her old age weakness and losing agility to move fast. Whenever she saw the money order form she was happier than us for she knew she is getting her monthly rent.

Another case is Mr Aggarwal, owner of the flat at Arjun Nagar. He was quite impressive the first few week. He pretended to be an English speaking gentleman, who doesn't bother much about rent, money and all. He kept on enquiring about our studies and welfare and all. His limited English vocabulary with lots of 'OK' and 'NO PROBLEM' within each sentence as he spoke.
We were so comfortable with him that Johny even agreed to give tuition to his obese daughter. He was a banker working for the State Bank of India.

Few months later his true colour came out; he was a man who thought nothing else but money. Next to his wife and children it was money all the way. I realized later that from the first time we entered his house, he had been seeing us not as human being but rather some sort of human check or draft.
Since meeting him, I have never been able to keep faith on any Aggarwal I have met till date.

And then, the last but, mind you, not the least, the owner at Satya Niketan flat. That was the room I stayed longest at, sharing the room with Johny. He was the type of owner we have never encountered. A persion with attitude. At that time he was running a private detective firm. He resembled the famous fiction detective character Sherlock Holmes. Rain, sunshine or chill of the winter he was always wearing a black overcoat. He seem to carry a gun all the time although I have never seen it once. He didn't talk to us that much. Once in a while he did talk to us, he never spoke in hindi but always in English though I never heard him saying a complete sentence in english - two or three words, thats all. Anyways he was the best house owner we have ever encountered.

And so life goes on like that. Apart from all these happenings and incidents, we lived through many interesting and unforgettable moments. Many times we were in the habits of blowing up our pocket money at the start of every month. The taste of hot and fresh sausage burgers at Kent Fast Food corner is still fresh with me. Going out for late night movies at Priya cinema complex and Chanakya hall, hanging out at the popular hangouts spots. Sometimes when we came back home late at night the gate has already been closed and locked and we had no choice but climbing up to our room through the toilet pipeline.
At the end of every month we were completely broke and we just stayed inside the room bored and sometimes even without food or taking solace at some few friend's places who were more economical, studious and managed well at that time.

During this period of complete footloose eventually I made lots of new friends from all over India, especially from North-East states and particularly from Manipur. Most of them were sons and daughters of big shots; they went to or were passed out from the finest schools and colleges of India in and around Delhi. Some of them even with their own bikes and cars. Some even have their own flat at Delhi. And so, late night party, discotheque, girlfriends, group fighting, lots of happenings. In fact, during this period I have experienced the real taste of youthful hypocrites, boys and girls of my age really acting smart and cocky, specially girls from North-East and particularly from Manipur, complete vanity fair, boys like me are snubbed most of the time. But in reality they were so na´ve and credulous. Nothing much in them accept some good accented hindi and english. Anyway that was all part of the fun.
So, after all those years of complete footloose and freewheeling, I somehow started getting sober.

And then one fine evening at Priya Cinema complex I met one of my old schoolmate. He already knew I was in Delhi and my conditions so he told me, "you were not that bad in schooldays, even better than me, why waste your time, do something, it's already late but not too late, what about giving a try on computers." At that time he had just completed a course on software and all. With these few words of encouragement from him the next few days I started mulling over it and rejuvenated somehow. For the first time, after all those years of chaos, I did make good firm decision, a positive one.

I joined an institute for a course on computers and software. I got along with the course very well. Next few months I spent most of the time at the labs. Day and night, sometimes even without food, developing software, designing database, programming using C, C++ then Java, Applets, Socket programming and so on. With full concentration I excelled in most of those stuffs; I even topped most of the subjects.
At the end of the course, some good software firms at that time offered me to join them but I declined. I still don't know why I did that, might be some hangover of my old stubborn habits still hanging on, at that time. Next few months and years, I didn't do anything much other than some freelance software development. Some times I am in Delhi and some back home at Imphal. Eventually I settled down back home at Imphal.

Most of my earlier friends during those period are settled down at home in Imphal, some went abroad, some were working at MNC in and around Delhi and other major cities, few of them joined government service and to my surprise some remained in Delhi doing the same activities and routine we did all those years. I still wonder how they manage this long.

I have been to Delhi again recently thinking if I could start something new and fresh. After all it's home away from home, but due to some health problem I came back home again at Imphal. During my stay there I had some opportunity to revisit most of the places I had stayed and the old hangouts - all alone - like a mad man doing his routine walks looking blankly at those places sometimes for hours. Some even gave me goose bumps.
The meaning of life, youths, friendship, humanity, love, hatred and so on, all jumbled up in my mind.

So here I am back home at square number one eventually becoming a writer with a hole in my pocket. Still single I spend most of the time alone at my room writing the songs of life with my cheap overused pen with nothing or no one accept my old V.I.P briefcase which is my only constant companion of all these years, with stickers of capital letters 'A' and 'M', short form of my name on it, old and dirty with cracks on it. Inside it, some of my credentials remained, though not worth that much. I am still surviving with few assets inherited from my late father and two square meals a day luckily still sponsored by my old mother. For most of you the general saying goes that 'life begins at thirty' but for me, thirty years seem too long.
Yes! too long.

I am signing off for now as usual with these few lines from the American/British singer/poet and social activist Bob Dylan:
"Mama, take these badge off me
I can't use it anymore
It's getting dark, too dark to see
Feels like I am knocking on heaven's door
Knock, knock, knocking on heaven's door."

Alberto M: This write-up is dedicated to my late friend Thokchom Ramesh ('Yambi' or 'Yamba' to friends and family). He was such a fun loving person with extreme sense of humour, easy going type of guy. Together we did some of the most interesting and daring things in life. May his soul rest in peace.


Alberto Mangsatabam, a resident of New Delhi, writes regularly to e-pao.net
You can email the writer at amangsatabam@yahoo.com
This article was webcasted on 10th December 2005.


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