TODAY -

We shall overcome
In memoriam of the happiness we shared!

Squadron Leader Vidula Abhyankar (retd) *



"Manipur is like a bubble, ma'am it can burst anytime!"

One of my new-found friends in Manipur had told me this a long time ago when I was praising the "positive effects of community living" in Manipur. Coming from New Delhi, I was really impressed with the way the state was recovering from the forced Isolation, on my arrival to Manipur amidst the Covid Pandemic.

I started studying more about the state, its citizens and their habits and was really impressed about how different tribes were living in harmony with each other. The Solidarity of the citizens and the response of the Government authorities was, in fact, heart-warming. Little did I know that I would associate the same word with remorse and pain in the coming time I spent here.

04 May 2023: Living in Imphal valley, one can not miss the festive mood in the air as the state's pre-dominant tribe: Meiteis start preparations for the annual festival of Laiharaoba. I watched devout families preparing for the festival in the temple adjoining my house.

There is a belief among the womenfolk working in the village fields about a King Cobra visiting my garden every year just before the rituals start. And, it just happened so on the day. Due to the extreme humidity around noon, a baby cobra entered the garden where one of the gardeners was working. Habitually, we called another worker who was well-known to handle snakes alone with bare hands.

It was when he told us about being unable to come to work as he was trying to hide from some people trying to destroy houses of a particular community in his locality; that Fear started to grip our minds.

As soon as we succeeded in scaring away the snake, the local employees started to correlate what he had said with the events happening in Churachandpur, Moirang, Motbung and Moreh. Still, all of us knew we were safe in the valley and there would be nothing to fear about. And feeling so we departed for lunch.

By one in the noon, news of miscreants trying to gatecrash the MPTC campus, terrorist attacking imphal valley from all sides and manu other rumours spread like wildfire .One could in fact hear loud gunshots coming from Pangei side, inside the Sainik School Campus. Suddenly, we could also hear the loud war cries. The campus being surrounded by a porous boundary, and vacant farms, the reality of being surrounded by miscreants dawned on all of us.

The fear gripped the whole school as well as villagers of surrounding areas. Immediately, the Main Gate of the school campus was closed and all employees living inside the campus were asked to join duty. A meeting of all the employees inside was conducted and it was decided to take turns to guard the assets inside the campus.

By the time the men gathered around the perimeter, villagers from the nearby villages, from different tribes started to crowd at the Main Gate seeking refuge. Families of employees staying outside in different localities too started to seek entrance inside the gate.

By dusk, nearly 300 villagers: old men and women: some pregnant women and mothers with babies, children of all age groups with their pets had gathered inside the school campus. Fortunately, the School cadets being on a Summer Vacation, their dormitories could be used for accommodating the villagers. Similarly, some rations from the employees staying inside could be used to feed them and to make their stay comfortable for the night.

Till late in the night one could hear gunshots and loud war cries from all directions and fire on hills. The only solace we could find came from the whirring of IAF's Mighty Birds that started late in the night. In the coming days, more and more news of damages to our cadets, employees, their families, their houses and fields started pouring in.

What was more disheartening was the constant feeling of doubt, hatred and anger against the different communities that started erupting in daily talks and actions of employees for each other who had in fact lived together for more than a decade with much pleasure and harmony.

Gradually, people started moving apart emotionally as well as physically once they decided to move to their own villages or even worse, going out of the state. With the internet shutting down completely, no one knew how to overcome this feeling of fear, hatred, and anger. The schools, colleges being closed; public life coming to a standstill; this Isolation was worse than the Pandemic.

In the last one year, life has moved at a snail's pace. The school commenced in full josh and tried to keep the cadets and employees immersed in their daily academic routine to keep them away from the dullness and negativity created by the riots. Still, deep down everyone remembers their dear friends, neighbours, subordinates whom they lost due to no fault of theirs.

Every time a festival comes up, we are reminded of the happy times we spent together, the songs we sang, the pranks we played on each other, the hands we held together for the dance and the jokes we shared with each other: and then, we feel GUILTY for being alive. Till date, we have all tried to understand why these riots took place and why people acted with such animalistic intentions.

But now, what is more important to look ahead: to pick up the broom and wipe off the feelings of guilt, hatred, and anger towards each other and to start afresh. Yes, it is going to be difficult but let us begin with remembering that those who are not with us, would also not want us to lead such futile lives.

"After every war
Someone has to clean up.
Things won't
Straighten themselves up, after all….
Photogenic it's not,
And takes years.
All the cameras have left for another war….

We'll need the bridges back,
And new railway stations.
Sleeves will go ragged
From rolling them up….

Someone, broom in hand,
Still recalls the way it was.
Someone else listens
And nods with unsevered head.
But already there are those nearby
Starting to mill about
Who will find it dull…..

Those who knew
What was going on here
Must make way for
Those who know little.
And less than little.
And finally as little as nothing…..
"
-translated from Wislawa Szymborska's, "The End and the Beginning"


* Squadron Leader Vidula Abhyankar (retd) wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on May 05 2024.



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