Those Were The Days

Maisnam Bomcha *

A scene from Manipuri Digital film 'School Karusi'
A scene from Manipuri Digital film 'School Karusi'

I have a feeling that the girls on their part too enjoyed it no less. Many of them returned our meaningful stares with mischievously flirting looks; few even rewarded us with occasional smiles.
Maisnam Bomcha

That simple question came unexpectedly. Late into one of those nights many years ago when we both stayed awake, unable to sleep without any discernible reason, my wife asked, "How did you know the names of all those girls?

We were talking shop in a hushed tone whiling away the ticking moments waiting to fall asleep. Far from the hustle and bustle of the day; ensconced in absolute privacy, what do a couple talk about? Well, if not always, in a happily married family, man and wife talks of silly romance too.

And well past the days of whispering sweet nothings, we were remembering those days gone by. Ah! Reminiscences. That idle night we talked about our days of a roaring romance and on being pleasantly egged on by subtly mischievous elicitations of her, I told her of those errant ways of my childhood.

Starting from how the starry eyed lad met the coy damsel. Our own saga of the days of yore; endless. Endless as love is.

So, veering slowly away from a common dialogue, on her prodding, it cornered down to my youthful exploits in the field of vagrancy. Suddenly, the floodgates of those memories opened wide.

How did I know the names of the girls? Honestly, I don't remember how I came to know the names of some girls who studied in a certain, all-girls school in Imphal near my locality. What I remember is that many girls who used to study in that elitist school were pretty and most of them were sought after by the boys of my locality.

Is there any such thing as familiarity breeding attention! These girls came from well-heeled families of the then Imphal and most of them led a cloistered life. Students even from the nearby places used to be ferried in school buses or in vehicles of their rich parents. Small groups of boys of my locality used to hang around at vantage spots en route, waiting for the buses to pass at appointed hours, to and fro.

The routine of us, silly young Don Juans, was almost like a liturgy, come rain or sun. Most of us were at our punctual best, at times, more regular than the students themselves. We knew who travels in which bus, even the positions of their seats, which remained pleasantly unchanged most days.

Those few moments of 'sightings' were reward enough for hardships we endured so willingly. After every morning and evening passages, we unfailingly exchanged notes on our observations of the day, even. I have a feeling that the girls on their part too enjoyed it no less.

Many of them returned our meaningful stares with mischievously flirting looks; few even rewarded us with occasional smiles. I can't recall what I was doing for my own classes during those days of steadfast loyalty to vehicular traffic but I seldom considered regular studies and attendance worth my while.

I had other more absorbing vocations and studies were a spare time commitment. When the exams were round the corner I would cram up taking inspiration from my cousin for whom such indulgences were strictly taboo till those idyllic days.

Saturdays were special. On this day the school buses did not ply for reasons best known to the school (few said for us). The Saturday bonanzas were in forms of the objects of desire coming to school on cycle rickshaws or bicycles. Super Saturdays were field days. All used to be present with hearts full of promises.

Again in retrospect, the excitement couldn't have been one way. I remember a particular pretty girl who had it all written in her poise that she never wanted to wear a school uniform on those Saturday mornings.

Also I know, at least, of a romance which started partly, due thanks to those Saturdays and culminated in a happy marriage years later. On the other hand, I also remember many young lads turning into sore misogynists prematurely as their terms of endearment were spurned.

The names! The addresses, even the parentage in few cases. I never found out who among us took it upon himself to find out those details. Strange, it seems now, were the ways of courting in those innocent days of writing letters. Writing a letter was almost an elaborate ritual, the first one in particular. Outsourcing never is a new phenomenon.

Imagine penning those lyrical words laboriously, in consultation and amid animated debate, to a girl who means nothing to you. And the cumbersome channel of delivering a letter. I wonder how young people express their feelings these days.

Are the young people these days so eloquent so as to say those words directly on a cell phone? Are schools still testing the students in the art of writing a letter in the grammar class? Emotions are best expressed in written words. The ways things are moving; one day even books may become a relic of the past. Before the technological pedants rule the roost, let us not deprive our children of similar joys of a Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi writing that poignant letter to his father.

Those days of Humber cycles, Keo Karpin hair oil, Ambassador shoes. The long cycle rides up even the Ngariyan Hills, on the road of only us, never tired, ever smiling. And those matinee shows at Imphal Talkies. Radio days gave us a veritable weekly Woodstock in that Tabiningba Eshei of AIR! We pranced on 'Emagee Mamou' and wonder how many homes were visited by nostalgia whenever that quintessentially romantic 'Ningsingli Meragi Thabaldo' was played; very Manipuri, very ageless.

Will today's generation even believe that there was a time when young maidens vied with each other to sweep and scrub a neighbour's courtyard in the morning unseen by the owner during the time of Mera Wayungba?

Life moved on, memories of that youthful indolence linger though and as the first sounds of the morning were heard, I smiled and said, "Do you care?"
"Those were the days, my friend
We thought they'd never end
We'd sing and dance forever and a day
We'd live the life we choose....
Those were the days, my friend - Mary Hopkin

* Maisnam Bomcha wrote this article for Hueiyen Lanpao (English Edition) in regular column 'Different People, Different Places, Different Times'
This article was posted on July 26, 2012.

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