Bamboo Flower, a novel – Part 29
By Akendra Sana
“Bamboo Flower”, serialized here, is a work of fiction. 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
contd.. from last Sunday
Rats or no rats, life has to go on. Rajen repeated what he had been saying when he received an invitation to speak at a seminar on ‘Media and the North East’.
The rats were at their offensive worst. Many burrows, tiny tunnels - some shallow, others deep before rising again created patches of fresh soil at gaps of about five, six feet away. In the patches closer holes were noticed. The holes themselves were about six inches apart.
Rats in his backyard were a private affair and he had taken care not to even mention it to anyone outside his household. With friends from the University and when he was seeking for solutions earlier were exceptions. It was like a patient seeking cure. It was different for Uncle Prakash. Thoibi had ensured that Prakash was in the know of what was happening to them. Yet it surprised him when Prakash once told him. “Your rats’ problem is like scribbles in the margins of the pages of a book which do not in any way affect what is written in the book, so do not be unduly worried. Time will take care of your problems.”
Then there was also the confusion after the “Sit-in-Protests” and the curfew afterwards. This was only two days after the last Curfew day. He always held that topics like the one he had to speak on deserved little preparation. He always felt that for topics like this, experience and the ability to string words together, always made a presentable text.
The North East was the new-found exotica. This was North East India in the troubled nineteen nineties and later. The region then attracted a lot of media attention. They were all about violence - human rights abuse to the locals and to the others, essentials to pursue normal law and order, kidnap and ransom, gunshots and explosions and drug abuse by the young, HIV infection leading to AIDS, the dreaded disease of the modern age.
So here was ‘The Voice’ on its way to make an impact, he told himself. He knew that he related well with front grille of cars as they passed by in the streets. Some of them were quite nice and look chirpy and cheerful, others grumpy and uninviting. And there were still others that looked like bucked teeth. But how would he now relate to different human faces because he now realized that for a long while he had not looked people on their faces, he asked himself. He had also looked at the faces of rats and rabbits and he could not say which one appeared more friendly and better. Of course, he did not like to see rats closely but he needed to see rabbits to ascertain for himself if they were nice.
He had decided that he would leave the function after his turn to speak, to catch up with an old acquaintance who had told him earlier that there could be something to combat the rats’ menace.
For him, the rats were more urgent but he would not mention this in public. He hoped he could keep this as private a problem as possible. Yet, he could not help musing if ever he could attend a conference on rodents he would be happier. And now, the private problem may enter the public domain because he probably would not be able to hold himself any longer he again told himself. However, he knew that choices were not something he could make.
After the usual preliminaries, just as when he began to wonder if he was running out of ideas and was almost tempted to say something on the rats, he suddenly remembered something he could not resist.
So as if he had prepared his text, he continued with the words: “Toni Morrison, the American writer who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1993, in an interview had once said something like this - critics generally don’t associate black people with ideas. They see marginal people; they see just another story about black folks. They regard the whole thing as sociologically interesting perhaps but very parochial. There’s a notion out in the land that there are human beings one writes about, and then there are black people or Indians or some other marginal groups. If you write about the world from that point of view, somehow it is considered lesser. It’s racist, of course. The fact that I chose to write about black people means I’ve only been stimulated to write about black people.”
After this, Rajen was on a roll. He went on to say why people in his part of the world were feeling and behaving the way they did. ‘When the Manipuris talk of their past, of their heritage, of their language, of their old script, of the need to develop and to redefine themselves on the world stage, it should not be taken as anti-national, anti-India,’ he concluded.
For Rajen, what was spoken by most of the participants was routine and there was not much that could hold his interest. Yet, when a lot was spoken on the role of the media in those troubled times and how they worked as interface between the people and the larger state establishment in India, he was trying to find a purpose he went on telling himself. He wanted to find something to make the gathering interesting so that he could tell himself that it was not really a waste of time particularly because he had the more pressing issue of combating the rats.
An observation by someone who was relatively new to Imphal turned out to be interesting. It went like this, “The predominant colours of present day Manipur are olive green, Khaki and white.” Then the speaker added, “The snaking bright orange of bushfires in the hills in late winters add some other colour once in a while.”
Rajen could not have agreed more except that he wanted to add on his own that whatever colour the rats possessed was another.
Olive green and khaki being omnipresent because the two colours were of the security forces who were seen everywhere in the counter-insurgency operations and upkeep of general law and order was understandable. But this white, why was it referred to, someone asked. White, because everyone wore white dress in any congregation, according to the speaker. This was obviously something only a newcomer would notice and people like Rajen had not ever felt the general white used in the dress of the people during religious ceremonies relating to deaths or occasions like weddings as distinctive. In fact, more at deaths because womenfolk used a lot of colour in their attire at weddings. More importantly, white, he recollected in his mind was also the colour of mourning in Manipur. Haven’t others noticed the white of dress of mourners at processions of youths of violent unnatural deaths, he was now asking silently and added more to what the man had said?
To be contd…
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