Bamboo Flower, a novel – Part 51
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 coincidental
contd.. from previous Sunday
‘Why? Loktak Lake is however definitely about the living.’ Johnny intervened.
‘Yes. Of course, the Loktak is known for its biodiversity.’ Rajen said
‘Yes and No. I have the life of the Ngamees (nga is fish and mee is man or person) at the lake in mind.’ Johnny spoke out.
‘They live in their floating huts and boats. There is a civilization out there,’ he continued.
‘Well, it’s fish civilization out there. Or should I say that our culinary culture revolves around fish considering the types of fish and the way we use fish for our food.’ Priyo then said
‘Yes, big fish, small fish, not so big fish, not so small fish. Cooked fish, baked fish and sun dried fish, smoked fish. We eat them all.’ Said Johnny and laughed
‘Yes. But you can’t really call the Ngamees “water gypsies” since they are close to land, the Loktak is a lake at 2400 feet above sea level and is like a raised bowl. At best they can be called lesser cousins of the “Sea Gypsies” called Salon in Burma and Moken in Thailand who themselves are closely related.’ Rajen then added
Rajen however wanted to stop the talk about the “living” since the “Deaths” had already caught his imagination and could not just let it go after he had said that there were too many tourists’ spots that spoke eloquently of deaths. The Imphal War Cemetery maintained by the Commonwealth War Memorial Graves Commission in memory of those soldiers of the Allied Forces was indeed one such important spot, he reminded himself.
He began to tell Priyo that the year was 1944 and there was the Battle for Imphal. As if he was giving a history lesson to Priyo, he went on to say that, the greatest defeat on land ever suffered by the Japanese in the course of their history was here. The British and Indian soldiers and airmen and the United States Army Air Force, he told him, inflicted the defeat, upon the Japanese. He also then told him that the Japanese could build the India Peace Memorial in honour of their deaths at the Maiba Lotpa Ching near Imphal only in the late 1990s because of the Government of India’s policy in the years after the Second World War.
Then Rajen almost commanded to Priyo, ‘you must go to the India Peace Memorial and you will not find the mention of the word “war”. The Japanese seem absolutely committed to their policy of pacifism after the Second World War.’
‘And, of course the Khongjom War Memorial is there in honour of our own heroes who laid down their lives for the cause of the sovereignty of Manipur against the onslaught of the British in 1891,’ said Priyo as if he had to also contribute something and make Rajen feel that he was a willing partner.
‘My worries about the garbage heaps around the city was that not only are they unhygienic but because the heaps can easily be used to hide dead human bodies if the murderers wish to do so,’ Rajen then said, ‘Insecurity for me is crossing security forces personnel with their weapons trained at passers-by in my evening walk.’ He continued without waiting for any response from Priyo.
But who would know that he was more concerned about his relationship with the writer of the crows, owls and deaths, however ill-defined it was Rajen smiled inwards.
There was also an image he could not yet identify in his mind. He closed his eyes for a while and opened only when he knew what it was.
Tomal Shegai ba and Tombi Angao bi – the images of those two deranged man and woman, who used to roam about Imphal in his childhood days, now came to mind.
Tomal was the name of the mentally disabled man and Shegai ba, meaning “torn” was added to the name because Tomal used to stitch any and every piece of cloth of all kinds and colours, he could lay his hands on, to his dress. So there were two inch to bigger pieces of red, blue, yellow, green, brown, checked or any other colour or pattern all stitched to his dress. What the original dress was like was not known but the final or was it the evolving (?) dress was like one huge flowing gown of multi hues as he walked quietly around with a rhythmic swing. So his name translates to “Torn” Tomal.
“Tombi Angao bi”, of course only meant “Mad” Tombi. It was her smile with all her teeth displayed wide open and yet there was certain demure attractiveness about her. She always had very audible and clear stories to narrate. She used to tell stories of men following her at various places. As children, Rajen and others of his age did not understand then. But as he grew older, he of course could not help imagining that she must have had bigger messages in her stories.
By now, he had started having images in his mind that did not, happily have to do with the rats. So now it was the two mentally disabled persons of the past after what he had read about crows and owls.
Wasn’t there a lot of happiness as children following either Tomal Shegai ba just to see him swaying as he walked or to listen to the stories of Tombi Angao bi, he now wanted to ask himself? And yet Rajen and his friends knew up to what distance they could follow. They did not go much further than a couple of houses in any direction. These matters in his mind were small things, he told himself. He had bigger matters to attend – his role in the society and more specifically, his work, he reminded himself.
He did not stop thinking. Disturbances in his homeland, desire to lead normal lives despite the lawlessness and his own worries and to seek happiness only he could identify with were matters of his own but there were other things he had to do in life, he almost spoke out. Then he added in his mind that we, as humans had knowledge about a lot of things and yet there were a lot more we did not know anything about. When he finished thinking, he knew that he should not worry any more than others and that it was important that life took its course.
To be contd…
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