This is my third visit to Manipur, the second in this expedition. Every time I come here I learn something new. Something that may not be known to most people living outside the state is that the Indian Flag and the Constitution are ‘outlawed’ in Manipur. The more than 30 underground outfits – UGs or local armies, as they are known – have made it ‘punishable’ to display the Indian Flag and to owe allegiance to the Indian Constitution. Therefore, the flag is flown or displayed only in government offices. Republic and Independence Day celebrations are not conducted in public. They are normally days of ‘bandh’. Flag hoisting is confined to army camps and high government offices. Singing the National Anthem is a criminal offence as per the diktat of the UGs. Extortion by the UGs is rampant in the guise of local ‘tax’ and protection money. Recently many schools in Imphal faced forced closure for over a week as the managements refused to yield to the demand of the UGs for school seats, that are openly ‘sold’ by them to fund their outfit. Is this the result of the policies of the Indian Government over the many years when they refused to recognise and promote this strategically important, culturally significant and historically inalienable part of the Indian Union and ignored it? The ‘Look East’ policy of the present government will hopefully address this major policy flaw of the past.
Fr Joseph, my benefactor in Imphal, was up early. He was there with a cheerful smile and a loud greeting when I was arranging luggage in the car. Last evening he had told me about the marigold seeds he had brought from Switzerland, where he had been to visit his sister. The seeds have produced many beds of lovely flowers. I had expressed a desire to have some of the seeds to take back to Kerala. He handed me a packet of them this morning, even though I had forgotten it. Fr. Joseph is moving over to the elder priests’ residence next week, where he will lead a retired life.
In the two months that I travelled in South East Asia I took for granted good roads and disciplined user behaviour. While the stretch from Moreh to Imphal was in reasonable condition, that from Imphal to Dimapur is in an awful state of disrepair and neglect. Border Roads Organisation claims that they connect the nation. If the condition of the road is taken into consideration the connection is ‘missing’. Wide yawning craters, poor surfacing, dangerous undulations and unscientific speed bumps are a nightmare. I was almost a nervous wreck by the time I covered Dimapur, a distance of 200 plus km in 7 hours! Crawling through the 15 km congestion in Chumukadema and Dimapur added to the misery. The roads got better once I entered the Karbi Anglong district of Assam. Such poor infrastructure is a national shame. Do the people of the region not deserve anything better or is it the prevailing parallel state the reason for such abject conditions? Whatever, the condition is pathetic.
While coming down the last stretch of the hills to the police check post in Chumkudema I rear ended an empty poultry truck that cut in sharply and braked in front of the car. Even though I braked the distance was too short to prevent the mishap. From the driver’s seat I could see the Hella lights getting crushed. I parked to the side to examine the damage. The truck stopped too. By the time I had surveyed the damage to the car he had taken off after ascertaining that there was no damage to the truck! In Chumkudema I went to a small garage to remove the broken lights and the bracket. That is when I realised that the bonnet had got jammed because the grill got pushed in with the impact. I only hope that I am able to get back to Cochin to repair the damage without having to open the bonnet.
Once I got on to the NH 37 to Guwahati I was able to catch on some of the lost time. I reached the Railway Officers’ Rest House in Maligaon by 3.45 pm. The 480 km drive had taken me nearly 11 hours, of course with stoppages for breakfast at Mao, the Manipur border, and others necessitated by biological requirement. It looks to me that distances are longer in India due to the time required to cover them! In Maligaon I had enough time to clean the car, rearrange luggage and lounge around.
There was no WiFi in the ORH and without it I could not upload pictures and the blog post. I may have to wait till I get to Visakhapatnam because I do not expect the ORHs in Malda and Garden Reach, Kolkata to have them either. I learnt from the Caretaker of the rest house that it was Club Day that day and a movie would be screened in the auditorium. When I went there the movie had just begun – Hawaizaada. I watched it for a while. Actually the reason for going in there was to meet the officers of the zonal railway, which was defeated due to the movie. I returned to the room after 15 minutes and I sought the company of the ‘Mechin’ that KB Singh had presented me in Imphal. The excellent rice distillate was so potent that dinner still remains a mystery. I remember having walked to the dining hall, but not the walk back.