A life: people to people

_*lun thianglal*_


_(Excluding historical incidents and personalities all other incidents and events described are not real, and the people have no relation to any living individuals. The opinions expressed aren’t necessarily that of the writer.)_


So many things happened, and the things that happened become memories. When you have too many memories of your life you become old. The thing I hated most about memories is that some of them make you feel lonely, guilty or sad. Yet, memories make life, without them we would be just some dumb animal. Sometimes, the way you remember things altered to accommodate your present views. Some sweet memories became sour with the passage of time, and some memories are sweetened by it. Memories are not a part of the past only; they are of the present and for the future.


In the years I have spent, so many things happened! The first incident that I could truly remember was the assassination of Indira Gandhi. I didn’t know she was the Prime Minister or there was a Prime Minister. I saw the elders huddling close to the radio, listening for any bit of information. The phrases that I could pick up were ‘killing for a cause’ and the “If I am to die” speech. Punjab and partition, Punjab and Indira Gandhi. Heartlands and political landscapes – how often painted in red! In the land of Sizo-changal-mepawk we awake to find ourselves forgotten by history, thwarted by fate and cheated by destiny in the twilight of the Twentieth Century. Rip Van Winkle awake to a more pleasant reality.


So many things happened! Life brought changes, changes define us. We as a people are waking to a brave, new world - thanks to the generation leap through modernization. What Europeans took more than 900 years to achieve; we did in a single generation. Though, we have the Europeans for guidance, credit should also go to us. We still have to catch up, but we are gaining closer and closer, faster and faster, centimetre by centimetre, often in reverse gear, but we are getting there, we will be getting there. Rip Van Winkle may not be the only one, after all!


So many things happened! The Great Berlin Wall could not withstand the sentimental graffiti written there, it crumbled reuniting a nation. The Great USSR could not curb the free will of the people. It collapsed. Causes and effects. Ever changing, ever going back, ever new.


I look at life. I felt the swift passage of time. What seemed yesterday had become years and even decades. I still see vividly the truant child dragging his feet to school.  I look at the people around me leaving the safety of their nest and chasing dreams, striving for a living.  Minthang and Thiampi were childhood friends. They had gone to live in a remote village after two years of their marriage. They opened a shop there. I often ran into Minthang, when he comes to buy supplies for their shop. He told me he was making good profits. I am happy for him, but could not help feeling sorry for those people who have to pay exorbitant amounts for the goods they purchased. In these remote regions prices were often control by the moral strength of the traders. Most of the time traders cited a well-prepared speech for the validity of their prices. We are the sports of men!


Thuamlal, a classmate, married at the ripe age of seventeen: feeling he will never be able to live without Neikim. After the first passionate years of marriage, he complained that he regretted having married Neikim. He narrated all their incompatible points to everyone who cared to listen. One day I had to listen. He also wanted a consoling word. I felt sorry for him: he expects so much from his marriage. Maybe, he has too many expectations which dampens the marriage; but I was not about to give advice beyond my experience.


The next day, I ran into Neikim, “What did u-Thuamlal said to you, yesterday?”

I looked at her, “We were just gossiping.”

She gave me a stern look, “He must have said something about me! He goes around traducing me these days.”

Luckily, we were joined by Malsawm – who took off the heat from me. Neikim said she wanted to call it “quits”. I dissuaded her saying that their children would bear the brunt of their separation. Malsawm also lectured on the ill-effects of divorce saying that the children would be like orphans.

An angry Neikim said, “So what, there are many orphanages now –a – days! The children could always stay there.”

Malsawm became apologetic and blurted out, “Yes, there are many orphanages. People are making a living out of it. Orphans are a problem, but orphan-less orphanages are a disgrace to our society!”


After Neikim left, Malsawm invited me to attend their church the following Sunday. A famous preacher will be coming there. He said, “At least, come and see the girls.”

I laughed at his statement; but then there is nothing spiritual about a beautifully dressed-up woman going to church on a Sunday morning. Woman eyeing each others’ dresses and stealing glances to see the effect they made on others as they walked to church. Attending church has become a vogue, in which you could show yourself off. It has also become a means for climbing the social ladder.


Some months later, I met Hatcha and Boinu while I was shopping. We shopped together, and then went to a tea-stall. We catch up with each others’ lives. There was not much to report from my side. Boinu and Muanlal have one more child and they are working hard for a fairy tale ending. Hatcha is still waiting for the knight in shinning armour. I hope that knight made his appearance soon. The “waiting beauty” looked her 30 years with faint crinkles around her eyes and more prominent laugh lines. She once explained her dilemma to me, “Suppose, I marry just about anybody and then shortly after that - what if the perfect man just comes by!”

Let’s wait and see the dreamer is often a fool before the realization of the dream!


I walked them down to their bus station. They told me about Ngaiting’s elopement with a young man. Ngaiting’s husband, Mangcha, had died leaving two small children and a wife. The elopement, which takes place three years after the death of her husband, was the topic of every conversation in their village. It was the re-enactment of the story of Liando and his mother; a tale told to emotionally blackmail woman, and which highly became popular in a patriarchal society. We lived in a society that supported re-marriage of widowers, but could not tolerate re-marriage of widows. We expect widows to sacrifice their whole lives; while widowers are encouraged to start a new life. Life is not fair, and our society proved it.


 It was a cold winter morning. I went to buy coal for the chullah. I was looking at the sacks of coal near the bus parking. I saw Minthang sitting behind a half dozen sacks of coal. He was sipping a steaming cup of tea. He said he was selling the sacks of coal. He told me he had to close his shop and moved to another village as the village-chief was becoming jealous of his business profits. The re-settlement impoverished him; he was not able to set up a store again. He said, “Chieftainship is the biggest tragedy in all our villages. It hinders development of the society.”


It was autumn of the following year; Lianpu visited me and informed me that Neilam was dying. His words stirred memories to life again. I closed my eyes, and there she was standing before me - laughing gaily. She was so full of life and she always could cast a spell on me – at least before her marriage. I was too proud to make contact again after the marriage dissolved. Lianpu asked me to go see her and make a final peace!


I walked through the gate. Shalom – Peace! I don’t like the kind of peace it suggested. I saw her mother. I almost didn’t recognize the skeletal figure on the bed. She was always slim, but never emaciated. Her mother greeted me. We never did like each other – her protective maternal instinct and my predatory instinct clashed from the first moment we met. How long ago since I last saw them - six or seven years – in that time her mother had become old, and Neilam dying.


I sat on the bed and took Neilam’s hand. I called her. Her mother looked on gratefully; in another time and another situation she would want to kill me, but now she was thankful for my show of affection. Neilam opened her eyes briefly, and then closed them again. I talked to her, not knowing whether she understood me.


I stayed with them the whole day. Her mother and I quickly became friends. She disclosed her fears for her daughter’s eternal destination. Neilam had refused a pastor’s guidance during the early stages of her illness. I told her that there was never any need for a middleman between human and God after Christ. I also would not seek the help of professionals – I have known professionals who tried to make you feel guilty in order to extract some material form of atonement from you. It was so contrasting to the first preaching, which was about forgiveness and through it a life free from guilt.


I took my leave in the evening. During my stay, Neilam never gain consciousness. I planned to visit her again. She died the next afternoon. I attended the funeral. After the interment, I slowly walked home. So, many things happened and so much had changed. Thangboi and Neikim are about to split. Mangcha had died. Minthang is leading a hard life in a remote village, subjected to a tyrannous rule. Hatcha is dreaming away her life. Neilam is dead – it is almost impossible to believe that that bright, beautiful young woman could die. And I … I lost my star. I have been to Herod’s palace and since then there has been no illuminated guide and no rectifying dream! I ended up editing other people’s lives!


Three days later, I went to visit Malsawm. I knocked at their door and pushed it open. I stood still. Lemkim was standing there! Dark brown eyes stared at me; then that old crazy grin lit up her face. It was then that I realized – so many things happened, yet in your heart of hearts nothing ever really changed!