A place I call home

3

Once upon a time, not that long ago,

in a place that even heaven envy,

lived some simple folks,

a life, as was meant to be.

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The land, Oh! What to speak of it,

a place like none other,

a feast for the eyes that lay on it,

like God created it in his leisure.

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A valley, green and fertile,

with sparkling rivers that bejewel its breast;

And virgin mountains standing as sentinels,

cradling the valley in its lap.

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Of the folks, what to speak of them,

they lived a life simple and plain.

cared little save the hearth that must be lit,

no one to envy and none to disdain.

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Soon a shadow was cast upon the land,

as came the selfish in leaders’ guise,

etched the lines that divide the people,

filling their hearts with hatred and lies.

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No sooner then, the people fell apart,

staking claims that bereft the other,

creating nations where none exists,

Nations that would be built on blood and tears.

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And oh! lovely place that I so much adore,

where Gods took to dance when they saw,

Ye Shall be nothing more than a battleground,

and this tear I shed ‘coz I love you so.

2

Manipur is the place where I was born and had spent the best years of my childhood and adolescence. It lies in the eastern most corner of India bordering Myanmar. A beautiful valley surrounded by nine ranges of hills (so goes the folklore but I actually do not know how many), so mesmerizing that the British imperialists could not help themselves but come out with so many metaphors.  I always imagined, during my school years when I used to travel by bus through the never ending ranges of hills while on my way home for vacations, how the Brits must have felt after slogging for days on foot through those hills and suddenly coming out onto the beautiful flat fertile valley of Imphal. No wonder they called it “The flower on the lofty heights”

Ethel St. Clair Grimwood, wife of Political Agent Frank Grimwood describes in her account of her ill fated short stay  (My three years in Manipur and escape from recent mutiny published in 1891) –

“MANIPUR! How well I remember the first time I ever heard the name – a name, too, which was comparatively unknown three short years ago, owing to the fact that it belongs to a remote little tract of country buried amongst hills and difficult of access, far away from civilized India, and, out of the beaten track. This is not a geographical treatise, and therefore there is no necessity to dwell much on the exact whereabouts of a place which has already been described more than once. I will therefore attempt no lengthy description, simply stating that the valley of Manipur lies between Cachar, the Kubo Valley, and Kohima, and is surrounded by six ranges of hills which separate it from the tracts of country named. A pretty place, more beautiful than many of the show-places of the world; beautiful in its habitable parts, but more beautiful in those tracts covered with forest jungle where the foot of man seldom treads, and the stillness of which is only broken by the weird cry of the hooluck  or the scream of a night-bird hunting its prey”.

Well Manipur is no more remote as described above but it is still as beautiful, expect of course for the places where human habitation has taken its toll. Yet, one can still see the beauty of the place and as for me, feel it. Sadly, the state is plagued with law and order problems with numerous insurgency groups (I lost count after forty) operating in the region, polarized along ethnic lines.  I wrote the poem above when violence was at its peak, when one ethnic group, in trying to wipe out the other just to stake their claim on the land, snubbed the life of hundreds of innocents , burning down their home, reducing to ashes one village after another. I had stood there among the smoldering debris and smoke, a silent witness.  It was one of the saddest  moment of my life. I cared not for the politics that these people were playing or the gains they sought, but that lost bewildered look in the gaze of the lone 5 year old boy who survived the carnage haunts me to this day. Today, the conflict seems to have ebbed but……the threat still remains, the guns are still smoking. The Britishers have long been gone but the blood that has been spilt since continues even to this day….and the land I so love continues to bleed.
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