Bamboo Flower, a Novel – Part III
Continued from last Sunday
“Bamboo Flower”, serialized here, is a work of fiction by Akendra Sana. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and any resemblance to any actual person, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
When his turn came to introduce on the first day in College in Delhi, it was simply Rajen Hao from Manipur.
Dr. Gupta asked, complete name? - A hint that there could be something more to make a complete name. Rajen could not resist and said it used to be “H. Rajendra Singh”. Dr. Gupta smiled and concluded, “Of course, Rajput from Manipur”. The learned professor must have been waiting to hear the word “Singh” Manipuris use.
Rajen did not know how to react. This was new and different. He had heard of many theories about the origin of his community. An original, here! He could not say if what Dr. Gupta said was in jest or based on his understanding of history and social anthropology. It did not however sound a joke, he told himself but he could not think anything otherwise.
He was still smiling exiting from the Class when Naba said, Hi.
‘I wish my name were Ibotombi or Sanajaoba,’ he pitched. He was obviously suggesting that a more typical Manipuri name would have ensured less explanation.
Naba only gaped and asked, ‘Why? What happened?’
When Rajen narrated, Naba only said, ‘It’s the “Singh”.
Naba, doing BA in English, smiled now and said, ‘you should be happy that your teacher has heard of Manipur. I have to tell many around me that I am not a foreigner and that Imphal is not in Nepal though they sound similar.’
‘Why? You look more Chinese.’ Rajen told his friend.
‘They all say I look like Bruce Lee,’ pushing his straight forehead hair sideward.
‘So we come this far to be told how we look.’
“Freshers’ Social Meet” in the hostel was to acquaint the inmates and the new ones like him could speak briefly if they wished. He had prepared a text but as he went up to speak, he only half raised, between sitting and standing and murmured, ‘Manipur. You may not know’ because he heard from behind saying, where are you from.
Regaining he stood and continued little louder ‘bordering Burma’ and abruptly sat down introduction complete, the text was not needed.
Now agile, now oblivious, his mind was active, and happy that his turn was over. He would have however wanted to say: “Manipur is so small, which is why it is so dear to us. We have a past very closely linked to our western neighbours, which are part of India. Hinduism, the Vaishnavite form, found greater patronage in Manipur in the eighteenth century. However, our lifestyles, our language, all appear to be close to our northern and eastern neighbours. Scholars say that our language belongs to the Tibeto-Burman group of languages. Our dress, our food habits and the very landscape all appear to be an extension of South East Asia. Without doubt, we are clearly at a point where one culture of Asia meets another. The history of my homeland is so closely linked to her neighbours and particularly before the coming of the British, the stories of wars and peace with Burma are galore.’ And to the usual question he was asked - ‘Are you Indian?’ he could reply: ‘It is the Indianness of our heritage that is significant. ‘For me, India does not live in its heartland alone where only Hindi is spoken. I would like to be convinced that India is a shared dream in a major portion of South Asia where different strands of culture, creed, language and religious beliefs share a common home. Mahatma Gandhi and the other leaders of the freedom struggle are as dear to us as they are to you. We learn our history. We try to know the boundaries of the country. India is the birthplace of many religions. Buddhism, for instance, although originated in India flourished more in the East and the Far East. It is on this premise that one would like to believe that India through the centuries has been a stimulating experiment. It is this Indian experiment where a hundred ideas should flower and each for himself, yet for a common good, as Mao Zedong professed, that the Indian dream should be realized.”
Those hot summer days in Delhi had a way of making the nights welcome. Over cups of tea, they, who had come almost two thousand five hundred kilometers from the east, would talk late into the nights remembering and recalling the milder climes of home and of course, the new winds of political change in Manipur.
There were always exciting discussions after the college hours. They were always after the evening meals when the college and hostel main gates were either closed or part open with iron chains only released to allow only one person to pass through at a time or only the narrow side gates were used.
Tea stalls, in makeshift sheds sheltered against college boundary walls were the haunts where they were on their own. In fact, it was only during such sessions at night did he note that they numbered substantial in the University Campus. They were almost evenly spread in almost all the hostels with only a handful in each and as few as twos and threes in some hostels. So during the day many of them did not get to see each other.
Insurgency laced with large-scale violence began to find small news column space in the mainland newspapers by the time Rajen was in the third year in college. There was always more hunger for information from whatever source. Visitors from Manipur to Delhi, who were politicians, bureaucrats or patients for medical care always, had stories of shoot-outs, assassinations and looting.
He could never understand what his feelings were whenever he heard the stories. By now, he had heard that his cousins, Priyo and Johnny had already gone “underground”. He was also to hear that they had not gone together and that they had joined two different banned organizations.
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