Yesterday early morning I saw an elder on the highway riding a Red Yamaha RX 100 bike. For some strange reason, I pictured myself riding the bike instead of him, maybe because I really wanted to ride a bike or maybe not. But why? I don’t know. The important thing is the memory stayed with me. It kept coming back. After breakfast, I was having a chat with my uncle and father under the mango tree, the fragrance of the white leihao (magnolia) floating in the air everywhere, when uncle told us of a dead relative who was a general commander with the Universal Friendship Organization. My Father mocked me that he suspects I have joined the organization. Uncle said it is not suspicion any longer for he believed I was already in. Oh Please!!!! Don’t speculate things. I won’t bother hiding if I did join them, I said. What worse could happen to the family if I did join them? They remained silent but had their own share of heartfelt mischievious laughter. Pretty annoyed with the comments, I broke the silence and told them that I wanted a motorbike, a Yamaha RX-100. They burst into laughter again. Annoyed as I was with their laughter, I decided this time let them know the seriousness of my demand. Father told me he knew a place where I could get the model. Eagerness took me to go on further and ask where. He replied, ‘at the scrap factory.’
It truly was a brilliant summer morning for my uncle and father. Maybe I should not have survived birth or should have given up living much before today or moments before my obsession with the bike started. I tried to un-see the elders but failed miserably. I walked away from the brothers not able to listen to their mocking laughters anymore.
I woke up from my afternoon nap because I had to. Why did I have to? The question didn’t bother me nor did I let it bother me. I could have slept for more minutes, more hours but I had to wake up like I always did. What difference does today and yesterday have and what should I expect of tomorrow? Maybe tomorrow father will get me an RX-100. Or uncle will. If not tomorrow then maybe one day soon enough. Wait.
I knew a friend who once fell-in and felled-out of love with a girl. He tattooed his skin with her name, partly to remember her every time he looked at himself and threw partlies to show off to his friends circle jealous of the beautiful young girl. When the girl dumped him for someone else, he couldn’t withstand the ink on his skin. So, he finally covered up her name with a fancy artwork. Sadly her name was Memory Chanu.
Do memories die out? Can we cover them up with something else? Is memory our friend? I’m not sure. Why does no one have answers to these questions? Are their answers without any question? From cradle to grave we embody certain memories that shape our experiences and thoughts. When the familiar tune plays, we tend to remember the lyrics we once sang. The wind then came fiercely and brought me back to reality. I felt the intensity of it like everything that I ever knew was about to take flight forcefully. The sky roared as if it was in immense pain and rained like the sky was crying off the pain in its body, the dark heavy clouds the disease and the rain; the painful tears. The silence after the sky weeping felt like the whole earth recovered the excruciating pain. The washed nature rejoiced the coming back to life from the excruciating pain.
Father and I positioned back to the morning seat bellowed the mango tree. Uncle couldn’t join us, he had visitors. Aunt made tea for the guests and I got a cup of milk tea too. While Uncle was still inside the meeting room with the guests, the thought, the torturous thought of the bike came back. I reminded father that I want the bike. Father raised his voice to leave him in peace for a minute. I felt that my words and thoughts were like me riding the bike at top speed and my father the unnoticed sudden speed breaker making me have a terrible, terrible accident. Injured that I was after the crash from refusal of my proposal, father talked me through. He went back to recall his memories of gambling days. He narrated during the 1990’s before the thought of having a conversation with me crossed his mind.
In the story, he was playing cards with some friends at Thangmeiband; a regularly indulgence. Those were the top days of the revolutionary movements in Manipur. It was the period of formations of new parties, alliances, of gunfights, of bombing the Indian armies, of the fake encounters, of the moral policing and the punishments by the governments. This period marked the loss of innocent youths in the torrid and nefarious activities of the crime masters; the Indian Army. One day he was quite lucky, the cards were in his favors. But then question of luck and favor was awaiting him and his lazy friends. Two youth on an RX 100 drove near them, came forward and dropped two bullets in the card table and said ‘uncles, don’t you ever think about what the future of Emaleibak (Motherland); have you given up before you have started; is it this the example you want to show to the youths and the future to be.’ Everyone remained numb as if they didn’t know or spoke the language of the humans. They were ashamed as one could ever be for playing cards. The youths left and then the time-wasting business stopped at that place.
But the drug of idleness, unemployment and chaos had already deeply rooted itself in the land of the gamblers and the revolutionary youths. Shops selling cards were cordoned, cards confiscated and burned. Shopkeepers feared selling card but the demand for playing cards was still on the rise and in some places, the price of the cards rose and was sold secretly. To deflate the demand for the cards, steps such as making gamblers chew the cards, do push-ups, do community-work, etc were done.
Father continued that he thought of giving up playing cards after the shameful incident. He laid low, help grandfather in the paddy fields and milking the cow. The decline of playing cards did happen with the increase of the armed youth uprising against the Indian army. So, the venue of playing cards which was once abundant under the khongnang (banyan trees), the leipungs (mound), the lampaks (fields), the kangjeibungs (pologround), the turel-mapan (riverbanks) etc. were shifted inside closed doors due to the ban and the fears. But everyone at one point lost their memories at times. He did as any ordinary man did. His hands twitch to clap as if to reshufffle cards, old habits die hard as he and everyone say so. Or maybe he outlived the shameful remembrance, the incident not powerful enough to push the habit of playing card in the abyss of memories forever rather than living in the reality of not playing card. Finally, after months he got a hold of the deck of cards and was sitting in a round playing nonchalantly inside closed doors. Fear seemed to have in life imprisonment somewhere far outside the reality of the room they were playing. Nothing bothered them. The sun too, out of shame had already taken refuge in the mountains but they had no shame until a knock on the door was heard. The knock, the classic door knocks in the middle of no time that the common man, the innocent and everyone feared because the knocks could rape a woman, plant a gun, kill a family member. It was either someone coming to join them playing or family members back from work or the army, the army!
No words came from the mysterious side of the door, except for the sound of the repeated knocks. If it was the underground army, then it would mean less harm but if it was the Indian army it could result in severe torture with the worst being death. Mystery awaited, spines shivered. The elder and the owner of the door stood up and went to open the door. Finally, the mystery was solved. Two tall and well build handsome armed men with red hao-phee (tribal shawl) came inside. One shouted out orders not to move and remain silent. Everyone was awestruck and thought that today they will finally know how the cards taste like, whether it would be blunt or sour, or just tasty enough that they would probably not bother playing again in their whole life. The other guy who was standing at the door behind his superior officer took out a blank page and a pen and ordered everyone to write their names down. Everyone took turns with shame and fear to follow the order. One from the group was picked out and made to tear the cards as tiny as it could ever be. Money from the board was confiscated. The two gave some warnings and ordered them to clean up the Lai-Haraobam (place where the festivals of gods are performed) first light tomorrow. Everyone replied in unison: YES. The YES carried fear and shame. The youths left the elders with nothing but ignominy and community-works for tomorrow.
After they left, one from the gamblers broke the silence by asking ‘who could have possibly given them our locations?’ Nobody had answers to it to this days. I interrupted my father saying, ‘that maybe the women folks giving up on you lazy patriarchs.’ I continued that those youths made a mistake, to which father replied: what mistake? I replied,’ they should have forced you to eat the cards that day and that might have stopped you from playing today.’ My father laughed and went away to play cards. I could not stop him nor did I have the power to stop him. Then the sudden thought came. Now I want a Gun (maybe a Glok pistol, like the ones caught in Moreh recently) and go stop people from playing cards. But then I realized what the story was really about and what my father did to me. You old clever father.
The writer is pursuing a masters degree from Ambedkar University, Delhi.