FESTIVALS AND A LESSON IN FAITH

by Chitra Ahanthem
Imphal Free Press
Nov 3 2001

What an eventful week it has been! The festive air hanging over Imphal is unbelievable and a casual onlooker who is not too familiar with the happenings in the state would not be able to say that the common man is reeling under the ongoing economic blockade. So, what if LPG cylinders were selling at ‘black” rates of 1500-2000 per piece? So what if this “black market” was all too visible and in your face with people ferrying LPG cylinders in vans and selling them door to door? So what if a litre of petrol cost us all 200 bucks on Ningol Chakouba day? There were some grumbling and rants but at the end of it, everyone paid what was demanded of and the festive week went of with a bang, literally so! There was a news report that the decibel count of the crackers going off on Diwali night was the highest recorded ever. That was another example of the woes and miseries of people under the economic blockade going off in smoke, blown away to smithereens! So what if the sale of crackers was announced as “not allowed”? You could bet your last penny on the Diwali sweepstakes that it would definitely be high-ranking, educated and aware families would be the ones where the maximum number of crackers were burst. Ever wondered what the police were doing in the build up to Diwali? A little bird told me, that some people in uniform were actually working in cahoots with certain people who would locate where crackers were being sold by posing as potential customers. The police would then ‘raid’ the shop and the shopkeeper would be heavily fined (read hush money) and the spoils of the raid (both the amount of the money pad as hush money and the crackers hauled up) would be divided between the men in uniform team and the tipster. The shopkeeper in turn would sell the remaining of his crackers at exorbitant rates, which would be paid off with a hint of raised eye-brows by the customers.


Is this the stuff that makes what is known as resilience or is it sheer indifference? The jury is out on that question but the one single truth that is emerging is the fact that the national highways of Manipur are where the real politics is being fought out. How else can one explain the yearly cycle of the blockades happening there? How else can one explain why the Government has not clamped down on hoarders and people thriving on the “black market”? While it remains to be seen how the current impasse gets sorted out, it is certain that the economic blockade we are in will definitely not be the last that we get to hear or live with.

Amidst the all-infectious festive air, my 6 year old son ended up getting mauled by a pet dog. Apart from some scratches on his back, he ended up with tooth marks on both his arms. The first reaction to the incident was to clean up the bite/scratch marks followed by a check on whether the dog had been vaccinated for rabies and then getting a tetanus shot administered. But it was amusing when good natured suggestions started trooping in over where I should take my son for traditional treatment: something to do with chanting invocations and putting blessed liquid stuff. A debate on the purpose of such measures was useless in any case: the folks calling for the traditional measures far outnumbered my call for the tetanus shot. In the end, I stuck to my call and they stuck to theirs.

The discussions made me realize that despite all sorts of medical awareness and know-how, there are and there will be certain people who will let fate and their faith in certain beliefs. When it was my own turn to have got bitten by a dog in my school years, the practice then was for the owner of the dog to chew a handful of rice to paste and to apply that over the bite area. Then would follow a spell of having to abstain from any food that contained oil or tumeric and to keep away from any fermented items. The last one meant really bad food since Manipuri dishes mostly have fermented items (Ngaari being the base for the majority of dishes). The abstention from the food items would last so long as the bite mark areas did not heal. The matter of getting tetanus shots in the case of dog bites took its time to happen. Even at this stage, people mostly go for traditional healing practices along with the medical attention/treatment.

End-point
The mention of faith also reminds me about a recent incident that happened at one of the petrol pumps in Imphal, where petrol was being sold on a first come-first served rationed basis. The compound of the said petrol pump was swarming with agitated people all shouting together while there was a team of the police trying to control the situation. The crowd insisted the petrol pump had enough stock to be distributed to the people waiting in line and that the police had come to collect the said petrol stock “to sell in black”. An inquiry with the management and staff of the petrol pump brought in more clarity: yes, it was true that there were over 500 litres of petrol that was still to be distributed. The problem raised its head when the people waiting in line for their turn broke the queue and tore down the notice where the number of the last vehicle that could fill its tank with petrol had been taken off and more customers joined in the commotion. That incident was a lesson in faith or the lack of it in the police. In the end, the police cordoned off the area around the petrol pump so that people driving on the road would not join the queue for petrol. They then counted the number of two wheeler and four wheeler vehicles and distributed the petrol that was in stock.

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