A Voice From Khurkhul

A *

 Khurkhul village in July 2017
Khurkhul village in July 2017 :: Pix - Daniel Chabungbam

As usual, it was a normal day, I was getting ready to give breakfast to my nine-month-old son and three-year-old daughter while she was trying to help me in every possible way. Normally, once I put the boy in his highchair and the girl in the chair, I would video call my parents and aunty so they could talk/see each other. So, 7.00 AM Central Time, USA (5.30 PM India time IST) was our video call time.

And it was supposed to be me who initiates the calls as they did not want to disturb my schedule. However, that day my mom kept calling me despite I kept canceling. So, I picked it up on her fifth call, once she was online, she said, "Nanao, I did not want to disturb you mentally or emotionally, therefore we were trying not to inform you what is going on here but now I had no choice left.

Your elder brother, uncle, and many more who are in Leimakhong, Chingmang, and other villages which are within 2km from our village had fled from their homes as the Kukis started burning down their houses. And we fear our village might be their next target".

While talking to me, I could hear gunfire in the background, my mom was breathing heavily as though she was on a marathon. "Mamaa are you running?" I was trembling, I couldn't feel my knee or talk.

"Yes, we all are running towards your aunty's home since her house is a bit inside the village, we thought, even if they burn those houses nearby the road like ours, we could borrow some time to think and run again". At the side, I could hear my younger brother screaming at my dad who had a knee problem and could not even walk properly.

"Babaa, you need to run faster, the sound of gunfire is nearing, and the flame of burning houses is getting bigger".

I did not know whether to scold my younger brother for disrespecting my dad or feel sorry for him trying to protect his family with a kitchen knife.

Once they reached my aunty's place, I told my mom to hand over the cell phone to my elder brother who fled from Leimakhong, and I blasted at him, "How do you allow this scenario to happen? As you already knew that there is ongoing conflict in the rest of Manipur, you should have been prepared or at least come home days earlier, instead of fleeing in the middle of the night. How dare you risk the lives of your children?".

I know my tone was high and my words were rude. But deep down I know, I was not angry at his action but the fact that I am helpless. The feeling that I can do nothing to help them despite knowing that their lives were in danger sucks.

"If I knew, we would have been prepared. As you too know that we have been co-existing/living together in harmony since we know. Additionally, the Army officers of Leimakhong held many table meetings between us, and we were assured that we would not get involved in this conflict and be in harmony as usual. The representatives of Kuki even said that Leimakhong should be the starting point to spread harmony to the rest of Manipur.

In fact, one of them texted me the day before yesterday remaining us that we must not involve in this conflict. So, we trusted them and did not prepare to defend ourselves. No doubt I am angry that they burn down everything I had worked for, every inch of my house that they burned was my heart and soul earning.

But I am angrier that they were shooting at us while we were trying to evacuate from our homes because they knew very well that none of us had any gun or any type of weapon. So, they intended to wipe us out of that place completely. Unfortunately, one boy got shot. And the most disturbing part of that shooting was it was from the school where my daughter goes, the school which is like a temple for my daughter".

I can understand why my brother or the rest of the people trusted them. While growing up, we saw how our grandparents would give so much importance and value to a social relation called ngai sannaba. It is a social relation between people in Khurkhul and people who are inhabited nearby hills. The main function of this relationship was sharing love and physical help.

For instance, during harvest, they would come to help, and when they return home, our grandparents would give them rice, hentak (a kind of fish paste), clothes, and so on. Similarly, our grandparents would go to their place to help them harvest, and they would receive vegetables like pumpkins. What confused me in this social relation was minggou (the address term) they used for one another i.e., ingai.

It is the address term used to address the mother-in-law/father-in-law of our daughter/son. So, when I was young, once I asked my grandfather about it. He said, "It is the ONLY address term in our language that is not based on blood relation, yet very strong because it is completely based on only love and respect.

But if it breaks, it directly affects blood relations as well. So, we always take extra care that we don't make any mistakes in this relationship, a small mistake could cause a total breakdown for everyone involved in it. Also, if we rely only on blood relations the world would be in chaos, and everyone will stop appreciating the value of 'love' and 'respect''. I did not understand what he said by then.

The next morning, when I rang up my mom she told me, "I thought you will never hear us again, God forbid, so I decided to call you despite knowing you will be disturbed. Because I don't want you to live your life in regret of not hearing us for the last time".

She continued, "Now, every night is a struggle, we don't know when and how they would attack us, or our property. We have not slept or eaten properly for days now, even your nephew who is just four years old stopped smiling". The pain my mom shared breaks my heart and I could do nothing more than listen to it.

Though I stay far away, my village Khurkhul which is one of the villages located at the foothills of Manipur is always on my mind. It used to be the epitome of the beauty of Nature back in fifteen/twenty years. In fact, once one of my best friends who came to visit me said, "Nao, the beauty of your village, the hills behind it could easily defeat even Switzerland".

I know my aunty who is crazy about nature would agree with him. Especially when the rice plants in fields are about to mature, but have not turned yellow, however, the heights are the same, and she would stand for hours just to view nature.

And she would often compare the 'air breezing through the tops of paddy rice, creating an upward movement towards the hills' to the 'walk of Phou-oi-bi ima (the Goddess of field/wealth) who hurried to reach the forest'. And for her, the lights from ten/fifteen houses on the hills were the buds of flowers that were ready to bloom.

Unfortunately, the current generation of Khurkhul people is no longer blessed with this beauty. The only thing they see is TONS OF HOUSES on the hills. Some people might say that we cannot expect them to remain within those ten/fifteen houses as we continue to produce our offspring. I totally agree with that, however, my disagreement is with the 'speed of expansion'.

In the case of natural expansion, it takes decades to notice the changes. For instance, the villages like Konchakhun, Khongkhu that are inhabited by Naga did not overflood, whereas, in other villages inhabited by Kukis like Karakhun, Hangoipat, and specially Waiphei, the expansion is tremendous.

Regarding this one of our grandmothers who had ngai (see above) in that village said, "We congrats our ingai when he shared that his son is getting married to a woman from Burma/Myanmar. Then soon, he told us that some of her daughter-in-law's relatives would be settling down with them, and within ten/fifteen years, they not only covered the whole hill but also began to extend at foothills".

The deforestation to construct those tons of houses has not only caused a shortage of water in Khutrkhul, but the culture of rearing silkworms which used to be the primary source of income for Khurkhul women is also on the edge of extinction. It is unfortunate because it is considered the finest and most expensive silk found in Manipur.

But due to the lack of space for mulberry plants on the hill because of over-flooded houses, the Khurkhuls find it very hard to provide food for their silkworms. To be honest my heart breaks that the hill once compared to Switzerland now looks like the bald head of my father which he hates so much.

And the people who are responsible for changing such a beautiful place to my dad's bald head, burning down properties, or shooting gun from school campus must be enjoying their chai and samosa. Either it is Meitei or Kuki, it is the innocent people who suffer.

And I am sure those chai and samosa groups of people must have started waiting for relief funds to receive from concerned authorities to fill up their pockets. What they care about is only their pockets.

They must know that the grandmother I mentioned above would only congrats her ingai when the son of her ingai married a woman from Burma/Myanmar because she does not know our so-called 'illegal immigration', but YOU who is in a position and have the power, as well as responsible to stop/monitor it, was so corrupted that their entry to Manipur cost them only five hundred rupees.

You should be ashamed that due to your five hundred rupees, the harmonious relationship that has been maintained for years is at stake making innocent people suffer worse than hell.

* A.... wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The identity of this writer is not shown as family and relatives are still in the conflict zone
This article was webcasted on 03 June 2023.

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