A short story by Monica Ingudam
It was the summer of 2012. It’s been more than 4 years now but the grief hasn’t reduced a bit. People say that time is a healer but I am yet to experience that. How can one get over the loss of someone so young, specially if there was no good bye. But death doesn’t come with notice. Does it? You think I am indifferent and have no sympathy or empathy for the policeman who have died, because I will not comply to your kind of protest? You want me to march, intimidate the people, join you in breaking and smashing the vehicles of the people who are breaking the protest you have called? The very kind of protest which got my son into trouble, making us send him to New Delhi for his studies.
Let me tell you a little bit of my son. He just turned 17 that year. He was an early riser and will wake up definitely before 4:00 AM before the sunrise without any alarm clock. He would diligently water the rows and rows of “kobi” (cabbage) and “nakuppi” (Chives) plants before he resumed to his morning study. I loved to listen to his reading, though I didn’t understand English much. He said he needed to work on his pronunciation. I didn’t know what was the right way but Bungo said he was having trouble with words with “z” and “s”. To me he sounded like an Englishman who spoke flawlessly, the ones who came to Manipur long ago, the ones my grandmother described to me as a child.
Bungo was to become a Computer Science Engineer. He said he could get a job without paying any bribes outside of Manipur just like Da (big brother) James. Bungo said Da James travelled to beautiful places as part of his job, gets to stay and eat in all these fancy expensive places we see in the movies. Bungo wanted to see the beautiful sights of the world and explore the different cultures of the world. He is also paid extra in addition to his salary for the foreign trips he is assigned as part of his work. Bungo said in 5 years he will start earning and I didn’t have to go to the market selling vegetables anymore.
Despite the financial situation, “Mapa” (his father) and me decided to send Bungo to New Delhi where he can have uninterrupted education and can be focused in his studies. He was very troubled and distracted after the group attack he had on his way back from School on one of the protest days. He wouldn’t tell me exactly what happened but I heard that he was surrounded by many angry locals including young and old, male and female and was roughed up with words and his bicycle was smashed so badly that the rim had to be changed.
Bungo went to New Delhi with dreams and hope. That is a world I don’t know about. What would I know? I have never stepped out of Manipur. I didn’t grew up talking on the phone so it’s hard to have a conversation with Bungo. Our conversations would limit to studies, hostel food and monthly money requirement. Maybe I should have tried and be up to date with the modern ways of life and communication, maybe I should have known more of his life and thoughts. Maybe I should have understood the challenges of fitting in a new city. There are lot of combination of “maybe” and “could have” but that wouldn’t change the day I got the news that Bungo passed away, the newspaper, the one and only coverage, said an “alleged” suicide, hanging from the fan. What does “alleged” even mean? We don’t even have a ceiling fan at home, how can Bungo think of the fan at New Delhi?
I was angry with “Mapa” (his father) for not noticing any signal when he spoke 2 days before to Bungo. I was even angrier with his friends in his school and hostel. I was angry with everyone. I was mostly angry with myself. What could have made my little boy take that action? Wy didn’t I make him feel close enough for him to share his thoughts? Was it even him who did it? “Mapa” got Bungo’s body in the flight, a flight ride Bungo never got when he was alive. He travelled by bus and then by train.
And you are asking me that I am not supportive of your protest. You want me to show my anger and react violently? My little boy could have been alive. He wanted to travel and see the world beyond the place he was born. This unrest which you are adding to, is causing many pangs of separation in one form or another, as a ripple effect. Yes you, you are a part of it. He had dreams and hope. But he couldn’t have a life in Manipur or out of Manipur. So Who should I fight? Fight the protestors who intimidated Bungo? Fight the mainland Indian (as you call) for the “alleged” racism, bullying, isolation driving Bungo to hang from a ceiling fan? Fight the people around Bungo, including me for not understanding him and cutting his life short? Or should I fight the government?
The ex gratia of 5,00,000 Indian Rupees which the politician readily announced nor the justice promised nor the violent protest will ease the grief or erase the picture of the policeman curled up at the back of a dirty van in his own pool of blood. That will stay just as the sight of Bungo’s body. A body I couldn’t connect to, with a bluish green distorted face and an open mouth. I have never seen that expression in Bungo. My bungo I know looked through with a shy smile, spiky hair wearing his old red school sweater as he watered while I weed the plants. That is what I want to remember but we can’t really un see what we saw or changed what had happened. The dead is gone and the grief stays. I don’t know how to mend it but I know that this violence is not the way.
Collection of short stories written by Monica Ingudam. These stories are fiction based on Life’s this and that focusing on Manipur and the people of Manipur.