Yaoshang like any other festival has two faces. In this sense, it will not be misplaced to say that the just concluded Yaoshang was something to talk about and thus memorable. But at the same time, to a larger majority, although a memorable event, the festival was a kind of mask worn to hide pain and agony. From the encapsulated varied hues, Yenning would like to begin from the familiar and obvious facet of the recent festival taking into account one’s exploits and escapades i.e. to talk about. A drinking binge or a high was accompanied by exhibition of a youthful look followed by escapades involving the opposite sex (unless one is unisex) would form chief characteristics of the first aspect. For example, such traits consist of colouring the grey(ing) hair, slipping into counterfeit branded clothes or perhaps, brandishing Nokia or Motorola like Chinese mobile handsets (talk loudly, too) and wooing of the vulnerable maidens (young housewives aka mou nahas included). These observable traits were exhibited by wannabe contractors (hereafter Thikadaar as it sounds more authentic), administrators, those who have the fortune of enjoying the Sixth Pay salaries (mostly sepoys and clerks) and finally, the “ever-earner-anywhere” – CDOs and IRBs.
The just concluded Yaoshang was a week of fun and frolic where the above mentioned categories of people made rounds of visits to houses of Sirs (in case of the contractors with “gifts”) and others to houses of the friends and relatives just to have a good time. Even in this case, the categories of administrators and Sixth Pay salaried personnel were overshadowed by the antics (ludicrous or grotesque acts) of the CDOs and IRBs and the Thikadaars. As far as CDOs and IRBs are concerned, it was a bonanza time for them. Their visits mostly included houses of the Thikadaars for sumptuous food, a bottle of economy class liquor, pocket money, future promises (read protection) and so on. Moreover, for those sub-standard personnel, any teetotaller is a living witness to the happenings in the popular Zu vendors located at places such as Mahabali, Andro Parking at Konung Mamang and others in the Greater Imphal area. One is reminiscent of “rent” and “protection” collections undertaken by mafia in movies such as the God Father trilogy by Francis Ford Copolla or Satya by Ram Gopal Verma. Here we are not including popular exploits by them like taking up the role of traffic police and demanding money over helmet, license and registration paper, etc. and show of strength at the Thabal Chongba grounds. However, adventurism of this kind undertaken by this segment of people (in the categories of parasites) is not a recent phenomenon; it is as old as the year the Special Forces were created.
What captured Yenning’s attention was the exploits of the Thikadaars. In terms of the clothes, they can easily put to shame shiny-bright-metallic coloured attires of silver screen mega stars. In terms of the vehicles, they can easily beat the neo-rich Jats and Gujjars of Gurgaon who have sold their agricultural lands to the realtors to cater to the ever multiplying MNCs. The only difference is: our local Thikadaars drive No. 2 vehicles smuggled in from Delhi, Mumbai and other metros with fake papers and altered chassis and engine numbers. An obvious similarity shared by them is the gap between material advancement and mental development (including rudeness and bravado, regarded as killer instinct which their occupation demands). We’d be pushing over the limit if we assert that none of the local Thikadaars would be reading this piece even for time pass; talk about knowledge and mental development.
On this Yaoshang, we were enthralled by the sight of Thikadaars making beeline at the residences of the MLAs and ministers with gifts ranging from imported fruits and sweets to single-malt whiskies. Equally spell binding were the sight of State security personnel escorting them but some say they were also Thikadaars of a different kind. We truly believe the days of presenting gifts to MLAs and ministers by officers for favourable transfer and promotion are over. You simply need to approach a Thikadaar. Yenning could not refrain from humming the popular lines of Bobin, “Doctor, engineer pamja-de, oihan-gani icha-di Thikadaar” (loose translation: I do not desire doctor or engineer, will surely mould my son to be a Thikadaar).
It was not uncommon to sight emerging contractors parading beside MLAs and Ministers while attending sports meets. The day is not far off when Thikadaars would be gracing functions as Chief Guests or Guests of Honour. However, one cannot deny how their presence spiced up the gatherings. For example, in our sleepy locality, Thikadaars Don Quixotic style announced cash award of Rs. 100/- each to participants in a game of tug-of-war between mou nahas and the maidens or throw dinner to the volunteers of sports or Thabal Chongbas. To elaborate our amusement further, we encountered a fine-looking Thikadaar leading a woman into a closed (on account of Yaoshang) car showroom along the Dingko road to make her pick of choice and promise her that the delivery would be made once the showroom is open! We do not know about the willing woman but overall, ill gotten is an uttered word during Yaoshang, perhaps in the spirit of celebrations. Just as we welcome an openly corrupted minister or MLA with a red carpet, one does not question the source of income of a “donator” (read donor) during Yaoshang as long as the kids, Sirs, folks of the leikais are pleased and have a good time. Or perhaps, conscience and virtue were once again subdued by poverty (both mind and material) as have been happening in Manipur since ages ago.
Indeed, it was interesting to hear list of “donators” (read donors) whose names got amplified on the public announcing systems and again resonated and magnified by the Lamda wild wind during the sports and Thabal Chongba events. Thikadaars and people in the first category topped the list in almost each and every locality in the valley. It seems as if they got the chance to flaunt their wealth and popularize their names. Who knows they secretly nurture the ambition of jumping into politics as a future career and a means to further their wealth. But Yenning cannot help to “think”: how the hell these fellas would build a prosperous Manipur when we cannot use a road or bridge they have built few days ago? We are afraid; Manipur would surely collapse like a bridge or a building they have constructed at minimal cost.
The Other Side: Mask of Misery
If the just concluded Yaoshang stood to symbolise fun and frolic, it will not also be far fetched to affirm that it was also a festival that brought out misery from majority of the populace. This is the other face of Yaoshang similarly witnessed in other festivals, too. And perhaps in this sense, it was a festival that masked pain and suffering for the larger populace. Let’s face the reality. First, we had a delayed monsoon the previous year that played havoc with rice production. When one was struggling to adapt to the increase in prices of rice as well as paddy, Manipur once again had the misfortune of delayed winter rain, which led to sky rocketing prices of vegetables. Thanks to the irrigation system in Manipur, there is not a single irrigation canal worth mentioning that could stave off suffering of the farmers and the consumers. Once again, thanks to the middle-persons in every chain of supply (as well as value chain), be it in fertilizer, pesticide, insecticide, award of loans and credits and supply channel of goods. They are the culprits who’re drinking blood of the farmers as well as the consumers and responsible for failure of crops or increase in prices of goods (agro and horticultural products in this context).
Second, to compound the misery of the common mass, there is an ongoing general strike by the State Government employees over implementation of Sixth Pay norms and award of arrears since year 2006. Shrijukta O. Ibobi might have proclaimed that Manipur cannot let suffer majority of the populace on account of handful (numbering around 60, 000) of Government employees. However, on account of the cease-work strike (plus failure of crops), the larger populace was equally affected. Ima Keithel and other shopping centres were not as crowded as the previous years. Holi yatras, nakathengba, contributions to sports meets and Thabal Chongbas, etc. were not as frequent or extravagant as compared the foregone years. Indeed the recent Yaoshang occasioned the people (other than the first category) to bravely wear masks and braved the misery silently.
The only face saving raison d’être parents could justify meagre expenditure on their children was the upcoming matriculate and secondary examinations. In addition, parents remembered the ongoing political conflict in Manipur and cited names of Irom Sharmila, Thangjam Manorama and Rabina (and her unborn child), Angom Chanbi and her young daughter Maneka (victims of the infamous Phayeng rape cum murder case) and others as cautions to young daughters and sons alike to prevent them from venturing outdoor even during the festival of colour and hope. These were some of the horrid realities which the foregoing Yaoshang attempted to cover up lest it loses all its festive aura.
This article was posted on The Sangai Express on Sunday, March 7, 2010