The Power Of A Letter Unsent: A Hope
By T. Vunglallian
The heavy dinner is 30 minutes in my good old system. My handy little Asus netbook, with over 5 hours of battery-life still left, is before me on my ever-cluttered table. Relaxed and satiated i select a mix of old favourites … Simon & Garfunkel, Bob Marley and Freddie Mercury … and while walking down memory lane i try to think deeply of the letter i had started typing a couple of days ago …
Respected MLA Pu,
When you came to the sub-divisional headquarters – at the heart of your constituency - and campaigned two weeks before voting day, i was so impressed by you, your ideas and your speech that i made up my mind, then and there, to vote for you.
Came voting day and as it was past 12 noon i ended up voting in a dead man’s name. Someone the agents had okayed had already voted for me. And for my entire family! The thing is i was not surprised, nor angry, as in my experience this kind of ‘give and take’ was what elections were all about.
After all, elections is a time – a horribly true aberration in my life – when i forget what i kneel and pray for every day from the bottom of my heart; what ecstasy and euphoria my worship and hymns lead me into; what i am preached about from the heights of a pulpit i secretly wish i could speak from.
Ugh! Elections is a time when i speak and think ill of my neighbour and childhood friend, just because we want to vote for different persons. Election time is amazingly atrocious because the worst in me takes over all of – an otherwise – pretty ‘decent’ me! The same goes for all my otherwise honourable, straight-forward, religious and upright citizen-friends and colleagues! Perhaps voting on a Sunday would be an auto-correction of the aberration … perhaps.
Honestly, I just don’t know what devilry takes over us all. Such that we all see nothing very wrong in booth-capturing, money and favours openly changing hands, parroting words and manifestos we know are not true, yet we will talk about it with passion … and when we hear of one of our own successfully casting votes 9-10 times we pat her or him, khillai tea and puri – if not more - and see nothing shameless and wrong in it … yes, i really don’t know the power of the ‘satanic-elections’ in me!
This year i consider myself lucky that there was a re-poll at our polling station 9 km away from our village. And even though we had to once again walk over hill and dale for over 2 hours from our village, just to vote, we all cheerfully spent another whole day and, this time, really voted. In fact, with all the security, this re-poll turned out to be the first ever free and fair voting day in our lives.
That is why i am so happy that a God-fearing man like you got elected. No doubt i would have liked a bigger margin as proof of my ‘right’ choice … but still, victory is victory. Congratulations!
In the past everyone we elected had promised much change and many ‘things.’ But we never saw them again in our area, or in our lives, till about the end of the fifth year when they came around with easy smiles and a few of the many small ‘things’ we miss in our lives. i must say these vote-seekers are clever because by the time they come round our angers have dissipated, and our hope-less and back-and-spirit-shattering lives make us ready, if not relieved to hear two days of dream-fuelling speeches over endless mugs of sweet tea and huge chunks of bread. Yes, for those two days we gorged non-stop on beef and pork heaped upon mountains of rich steaming polished rice. To top it all we were entertained, like never before, by the tribe’s most popular singers from Lamka Khopi/city. Thus, come election day, with appetites sated and our hearts stolen by mesmerizing singers, it was but obligatory on our part to trudge the miles to cast our votes.
Voting this time was with no regrets. Even though, before you came, the decision of the village was to not vote for any candidate this election. Why? Because our lives have not changed one bit in six elections!
Let me put it this way, our village of 23 households is now but a shadow of what it was 60 years ago. Those days we had over 70 houses. Our chief and all the VA members lived side by side with us. They all live in Lamka Khopi today. We even had a government middle school for the area. There were teachers who taught and lived in the village, including Ta Yaima and Ta Chou who taught Maths and Science! True there weren’t many other ‘things’, but with a small functioning weekly dispensary and running water there weren’t many more things needed. All said and done those were quite happy days. Now, those happy days are difficult to explain to those born in the last 10-15 years. No one believes us, and our faded B&W photographs don’t impress our youngsters.
At this point, let me share a secret-cum-advice: One very big reason, among many others, for many of us becoming disillusioned with our representatives, starting with MLAs … they are that after 2-3 years of each of the six elections we were told MLA Saab had built a grand bungalow at Lamka and a really palatial house at Imphal, and that his children were studying in Delhi, Hyderabad or Bangalore, living in their own flats. And you know, till the last election we used to be happy - even proud - that ‘our’ very own MLA had built a mansion in Imphal and Lamka! We boasted about their flats in the cities of India, and gazed in wonder on their pink skins ensconced in swanky limousines or peering from behind tinted glasses of high and mighty SUVs when they zoomed by to take part in a foundation stone laying programme by the Prime Minister … Oh! They were like Bollywood stars. In just 2-3 years!
Also, by and by, we got to learn that by the 4th year each MLA Saab could definitely be counted as one of the wealthiest among all tribals! In fact, their ‘kids’ told us: If you have a problem just go to MLA Saab at Imphal …
We wonder why those close to MLA Pu, we all call them ‘kids’, never realize this: How could a simple singtangpa like me/us ‘just’ go to Lamka, 120 kilometres up the highway, when we find it a big problem just going to the sub-divisional HQ only 20 km away? As for Imphal, a further 65 km away … amongst complete strangers?! Forget it. Never! As it is, if we did manage to gather the means and time to go that far, imagine the commandos on duty behind forbiddingly high walls telling us that MLA Saab is at a meeting. And casually: “Come tomorrow!” Clang! Clang! and that 4”x4” hole in the iron gate shutting in your face. That is what happened to my cousins who once dared to ‘just’ go!
The painful truth is my MLA Pu had become someone else’s MLA Saab!
… but this time, surely, past is past. For you convinced us of times a-changing and that YOU would bring in the change. If i am not mistaken, you said you would change the rules of the game. i like that very much. It was and is heady stuff, especially when you said you would be the ‘game-changer!
Now, it has been a month since your induction in the ministry, so another very big Congrats to you, Pu. In the meanwhile my co-villagers and I have listed - based on what you had said, and hinted in your talks over tea/food - our thoughts, ideas, hopes, expectations, dreams, including un-expressed fears, though not quite everything …
1. What moved us most was that you said you would spend 10 days a month in the sub-divisional HQ town, the centre of your constituency. You said for that you would have an MLA hostel constructed.
2. MLA Pu, as we want you to get elected un-contested in the elections to come, we take the liberty to suggest you should be here in your constituency each and every day of each and every month of each and every year. So the best thing is: Construct your house here instead, and make it your home. You can always use the hostel at Imphal for your rare trips there!
3. We dare to make this suggestion because it has been the norm all these years that our elected representatives live far away at Imphal, and once in a blue moon spend a night or two at Lamka … that too IF the function/ programme where they are the chief guest(s) are late or very early in the day!
4. Hasn’t it ever dawned on them that we in the constituency have been left high and dry … fatherless? Motherless? Leaderless? Abandoned like ‘orphans’! We voters of the constituency fail to understand why the one we sent to the Assembly (or Parliament, for that matter) to be OUR representative goes and stays away! The situation is like a father or mother staying away from home and expecting the children and family to come up well! Question is: By whom? And so while such ‘heartless parents’ live far away, often in the lap of luxury, the lives of the orphans have only changed for the worse! We, therefore, cannot help but use the harsh term ‘heartless’ and think of worse things … all because such abandonment says: We do not really care for you, and whether you live or die hardly makes a difference! For after 5 years I will come and give you what you will always need … I will BUY your votes!
5. Whereas, by your living with us, the first and immediate fruit – (let me insert here that ‘fruit’ is like ‘day’, and the ‘olden things’ championed by MLAs of the old mould is like ‘night’) – is that you will set the example: You will be ‘et ton taak’, and would compel each and every government teacher, doctor, nurse; SDO, SDC, clerk, peon; DSP, fireman and policeman, postman, electrician, water-carrier, sweeper … you name it … all government servants to follow the example of her/his elected representative, and live in ‘their place of posting’. In a way something like you living in ‘your place of election’!
6. If you were present in the constituency 24x7x300 (Why 300 days? Because we’d never question 65 days for Lamka/ Imphal/ Delhi and a week’s holiday away from it all). If it were so, the result would be: every government school – no matter how remote or small – would have their headmasters and teachers; every PHC their doctors, nurses and water-carriers … all. Yes, ALL! Need i elaborate? i think not, for we all know!
7. Now a very very big side-benefit, the most beneficial for all of us small-non-government-job-holding-hill-folks would be that the rural remote and hill economy – the RR&HE – would change OVERNIGHT! Because, to feed all government servants and their families now living in and around us, we’d now gladly grow the best organic vegetables and fruits this side of Aden.
8. Consequently, the owners of Tata 207s and 407s would themselves make – without the need of waiting for PWD work/annual plans - roads right up to our villages to take our produce to every nook and corner of the state! Pretty soon, the highways would need to grow 4-lane for heavy trucks to ship our ginger, potatoes, hill-cabbages, bananas, pineapples and very soon tea, coffee and spices … And we’d grow rich on and of our own. So much so you’d never need to buy votes! More importantly, we’d regain our humanity, honour, self-respect and dignity … things that – we will dare say - you’ve helped us lose.
9. Our hills would be heady with the sweet aroma of mosquito repelling lemongrass (hence, at long last, malaria-free … without the need of big money national eradication programmes) while international perfume houses would queue up to strike deals with us hill-folks. Many hill slopes would be covered by colourful orchards laden with Nagpur-beating oranges from Tamenglong and Tipaimukh. There’d soon be Himachal/Kashmir-beating apples high in Tengnoupal, Ukhrul, Mao and Kaihlam range of Churachandpur. There’d be Kachai-envied lemons and even Nasik-beating grapes being exported from the hills of Manipur.
10. Yes, Pu MLA, we’d give up jhuming in a jiffy because we’d become well-to-do organic food growers. And exporters!
11. Also, in a few years … 2-3 years at the most … our hills would be the greenest and cleanest with the purest air and water. We’d have health and wealth and the good life.
12. And, yes, Pu Ramesh - chiefly because we are used to much harder work for very little returns … mere pittance - we’d now naturally and quite effortlessly put India miles ahead in the race for the largest green-footprint on Planet Earth …
Ah! Pu MLA-
*if only you would give up your old ways, and if you could just for 5 years follow the drift of our dreams … the hills is where the future is!
*If only it would dawn on you that decentralization is not the un-sound belief that bureaucratic power be decentralized and dispersed … but that you be where you were always supposed and meant to be … in your home in the heart of your constituency. Then, and only then would the centres of power shift, a true paradigm shift!
You need not be at Imphal, even if you are a Cabinet Minister! All you need to do is pick up your mobile and call up the Secretary /Commissioner (Works) or (Health) or (Education) or (Power) to come by late afternoon, stay overnight in the Sub-Divisional Guest House and over dinner solve the constituency’s problem(s). You’d be surprised that in the blink of an eye your long deprived folks would have good roads, hospitals, schools, power stations (not necessarily electricity as we know it), along with all modern amenities. All these would surprisingly be still within the same budget. How? Because you’d be where the money has to be spent, seen and made to be spent.
* If only …
Also, believe me, the beautiful description of Manipur, but till date inapplicable words of Nehru: ‘Switzerland of the East’ would, in reality, apply once you and all other hill MLAs live in your constituencies, 24x7x300!
By this I mean that if none of you 20 MLAs are ‘born again’ and continue to go on living – not in your constituencies – but at Imphal and Lamka … and even if you make and own your own skyscrapers in Imphal and Lamka, or have palaces in the district HQ towns of Chandel, Senapati, Tamenglong and Ukhrul … Nehru’s sobriquet would never ever apply. Not even in a 100 years! Nor in a thousan …
“Hey! Wake up! Light has come!”
Shaken awake i find myself looking blankly at my wife. Still pretty dazed i look around the CFL-lit room. It is our bedroom and it is 10:05 PM. The TV is on and i am at my desk. Soon steaming Korangani green tea - with lime squeezed in and laced with Dabur’s honey - is placed lovingly before me and i tell the wife of my dream letter.
Between ironing my shirts and glancing at some inane Hindi soap she matter- of-fact-ly tells me to stop dreaming!
Aside: i can’t stop imagining … My ‘born again’ MLA Pu would never build in the sub-divisional HQ of his constituency a money-wasting mansion with floors of exquisite marble, bathroom tiles imported all the way from Italy, each tap or door-handle glittering like a gold collector’s item … and dark tinted glass – as thick as my thumb – covering half the building! etc. etc. No, that would be most inappropriate, considering the living conditions of his vote-bank and, of course, his salary.
What would, however, be fitting and decent would be a simple solid and large house with a magnificent view. It would be built by the best local carpenters, using locally available materials. Of course, to raise the bar somewhat, a few refined and useful thing or two … copied from re-known wood-workers from around the world would adorn the house and gardens.
Into such a ‘home’ my cousins, or i, could walk in any day of the year. After hearing us out our MLA Pu would tele-conference with the CM or cabinet colleagues, the CS or the DC. A few days later work would begin on the suspension bridge over the mountain stream separating our village from the highway. Or the new mathematics teacher would give his joining report and start living in the village itself. Or that bus-load of Tadubi Govt School students on their half-yearly school excursion would have the Sub-Divisional Education Officer and his team of DIs and SIs in a tizzy, especially as the SSA funded School-Exchange-Students Hostel is incomplete. Or the Sub-Divisional Medical Superintendent and his staff are all excited because the MCI is to hold the Annual Regional Conference on Applying Medical Technology in Remote Regions in a week’s time. Or …
Heeding, as is the habit, my wife’s matter-of-fact advice … I press Ctrl & A, pause awhile, then press … Delete.
Yet in front of the blank white screen i can’t stop wishing … I just want my Pu back! My MLA Pu, not someone else’s MLA Saab!
IMPHAL | Oct 15 “The state of Manipur is for all and the ancestral land belongs to no particular community; the misunderstanding between the communities and state government that may affect people’s sentiments will also be solved soon.” Chief secret.....
PLHIVs feel ignored by MACS, govt By Donald Sairem IMPHAL | Oct 15 Even though Manipur is among the states with highest HIV/AIDS prevalence, the state is yet again facing acute shortage of Antiretroviral (ARV) drugs to be provided to People Liv.....
IMPHAL | Oct 15 The United Naga Council (UNC) appealed to the Kuki ‘brethren’ to restrain from making provocative statement and activities in commemorating the centenary of the ‘Anglo-Kuki War 1917-19’ which is to be organised by Kuki Inpi Manipur. .....
IMPHAL| Oct 15 The 12-hour general strike imposed today by Coordination Committee (CorCom) and Alliance for Socialist Unity - Kangleipak (ASUK) severely affected normal life in Manipur valley with all activities coming to a standstill. The total sh.....
By Lelen Vaiphei IMPHAL | Oct 15 Bandhs and strikes in the state paralyse daily activities of the state. Every individual ceases their daily work in support of the bandh or either to avoid any untoward incidents, but it is a common scene to witness .....