The days are flooded with memories for the parents of Luwangbi and Hemanjit, who have been missing in violence-hit Manipur since July 6, as they immerse themselves in reminiscing brighter times.
Their homes stand as monuments to their absence, with meticulously maintained beds and freshly prepared meals placed beside them, a tradition of the Meitei culture, caring for loved ones who are away from home.
The parents of the children are trapped in a bittersweet cycle of watching old videos, flipping through photographs, and touching items that hold traces of their children's presence.
In the wake of the ongoing clashes in Manipur, the tragic tale of the two missing children, Luwangbi and Hemanjit, continues to trouble their families and the community at large.
It’s been over a month now since their disappearance on July 6, but the two families hold on to a glimmer of hope, fervently believing that their children will be safely reunited with them.
The pain of absence extends beyond just the physical, and has affected the very fabric of family life.
Luwangbi, a 17-year-old student of TG Higher Secondary School, and Hemanjit, also 17, a student of Kindergarten School, were last seen riding a bike together at Keishampat, Imphal West, on July 6.
A CCTV footage confirmed that they were headed towards Nambol in Bishnupur district. The families have been frantically searching for them ever since.
The once-shared meals have now turned solitary, a poignant reminder of the emptiness left behind for Luwangbi’s family.
"Earlier, we used to have lunch and dinner together. Now, no one eats together," says Luwangbi's father, Kulajit, with his voice tinged with a mixture of sorrow and yearning while speaking to this Imphal Free Press reporter.
“My daughter's absence has left us an undeniable void. She was our family’s photographer and the jovial host of nightly gatherings”.
Kuljit also produced cherished mementos, each holding a fragment of his daughter Luwangbi's essence.
Among them, a hand-embroidered Father's Day gift and a collection of artistic creations graces his hands which includes novels that once transported her, comics that held realms of imagination, and art that mirrored her creativity.
Hemanjit's family echoes similar sentiment. Their once vibrant home, filled with the melodies of his sound of his guitar and the laughter of his friends, has transformed into a realm of silence.
Hemanjit's room stands untouched. His guitar and clothes left waiting for him as a testament to the enduring hope of his return.
His mother, Memcha, said that she still grappled with shock and longed for her son's return.
As speculation arose that Luwangbi and Hemanjit might have been abducted due to the ongoing conflict, potentially by the Kukis, Hemanjit's father, Ibungobi, made an emotional plea to the Kuki community for the safe return of the children.
“They are innocent kids. They have no deep understanding of the conflict,” he added.
Both the families refrained from conducting the last rites for the missing minors, holding onto the belief that they are alive.
They expressed dissatisfaction with the pace of police investigation. They, however, continue to hope for a breakthrough.
Meanwhile, a pair of videos showing the killing of a boy and a girl, which was circulated on social media, have caused further distress. However, both families confirmed that these videos were not related to their missing children.
According to the police report, their mobile phones were tracked to the Kwakta area in Bishnupur district, where they were found to be switched off.
Days later, Hemanjit's mobile phone was traced again, this time using a different SIM card, in Churachandpur district.
The haunting reality extends beyond the disappearance of Luwangbi and Hemanjit. Others too have fallen prey to the shroud of disappearance during this ongoing crisis. This story is not theirs alone, as uncertainty hangs heavy over many families who eagerly wait for answers and solace.