A Short Story 014 : Tharo-Angoubi

Tharo-Angoubi

A short story by Monica Ingudam

It was the summer of 1977 at Kwakeithel, Imphal, Manipur. I was teaching at a school and came back home during the break time to check on my children. It was a calm scorching day. The roads were empty and I could hear the sound of my creaking chain as I bicycled.

Suddenly I saw one very angry woman and 4 men talking loudly with each other. There were other local people watching them. As the voice got louder, more people started coming out. I didn’t dare to stop though I was curious as to what was the issue. I continued cycling and after couple of gates, I saw Eche Memma standing at her “Konthong” (gate) looking worried and nervous judging from her gestures and eyes. I stopped my second-hand black bicycle and walked towards Eche Memma and asked “What happened? Is there any problem in the “Leikai” (community) that many people are outside at this time?”

Eche Memma came nearer and whispered “Ebemma, one young girl came running inside our house and she is hiding underneath our bed. And all these people are searching for her.”

“Why are they searching for her? Do you know what is her name?”

“She said her name is Tharo-Angoubi and she is from Wangkhei. She looks very simple and I am guarding her. I don’t know why they are chasing her and they don’t know that she is in my house. And I am not going to let these mob enter my house. But I don’t know what to do. I am afraid of the unpredictable nature of mob.”

I can understand Eche’s concern. We have seen mob going out of control and reducing a house to nothing in no time without understanding what is going on. We may be overreacting but things could turn to any direction. I panicked on the possible outcome and heard myself saying “Eche, I want to meet the woman. Please can you help me cross the bamboo bridge to reach your home.”

Eche Memma’s house is beyond a big drainage and there is a bamboo bridge made of 3 big bamboo stick. I was also afraid of crossing the small bridge in the fear of falling into the drainage. Who would want to fall into a drainage filled with the remains of every household’s toilet in that Leikai. I parked my black bicycle on the road side and Eche helped me cross the bridge. I took support of her hand and walked.

We went hurriedly to her mud house with broken walls revealing the underneath bamboo and thatched roof. When I heard the name, I suspected of someone I knew and true enough when I saw her face, I recognized her. She is none other than Tharo-Angoubi with whom I did Masters under JNU (Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi). We studied together at one of the classroom of DM college campus in Imphal. We were not the best of friends but we knew each other. We were the first batch of JNU affiliated for students of Manipur.

I saw her shivering with her body curled up on her knees, half beneath the bed, with her hands on a tattered reed mat. I ran towards her and said “Tharo-Angoubi, what happened?”. She seemed slightly relief seeing a known face and replied “Eibu amukta kanbiyu (Please help me!)”

She crawled out of the bed and sat fully on the tattered reed mat. I hugged her instantaneously feeling a pang of pain seeing her condition with her eyes filled with fear and said “Don’t worry. What happened?”

I told her not to worry but my mind was blank and I didn’t know what I was getting into and how I can help her.

Tharo-Angoubi started sharing “I had joined a “Marup” (Chit-fund). I was supposed to get the INR 10K  three months ago. But I haven’t got any money. I am now a vendor of “phige phanek” (local meitei silk sarong) and she took 2 of the phige phanek and didn’t give the money for that too. I had planned to repay off some debt after getting the marup money and things got really hard with people coming at home asking for their money back. I couldn’t effort to loose the money she owed me. I had borrowed her gold ear-ring for going for a marriage and I didn’t give her ear-ring back. And these people are behind me because of that.”

“Who is she?”

“She is the woman who leads the marup. She has hired these men to come behind me. I didn’t give back her ear-ring thinking that I will give it back only after she will give me my marup-money and the money for the 2 phige phanek.

Please can you help me get out of this house and drop me to a nearby house I know. I will be safe there. It’s a house of my relative and they can protect me.”

Her eyes pleaded and I was the only option at that instant. I had made up my mind to help her when I saw her first though I didn’t know how to. I remembered that those men were sitting 3 houses away and I knew that we could bend down and escape behind the bamboo woods crossing through the back of the neighbor’s house. My heart started to beat faster and without saying a word, I signaled her to follow me.

We went at the back of the house towards the bamboos, crossed over to the neighbors. Most houses were not fenced with concrete like now, it was mostly “sambalei” plants as fence. I don’t know how fast or slow we went, but we jumped through the bamboo woods, crossed the isolated back of the houses with creepers and dried fallen leaves creaking as we stepped on, the places where we never dared to get out at noon for fear of snakes crawling and the many latrines with buzzing flies. Let me tell you a bit about the latrines. It was an open hole with a plank of wood or two or three bamboos where you can sit and do your business as soon as possible, probably with one hand closing the nose to spare from the stench and partially covering the mouth so that the buzzing flies won’t enter your mouth.

 

After crossing all these places in the peak of noon heat that summer, we reached a bend where we couldn’t see those men anymore. Then we looked sideways and crossed another Bamboo small bridge which touches the main road. I don’t know how we crossed it considering my fear on crossing such bridges but we crossed it. And we walked hurriedly through the mud road when I heard Tharo-Angoubi  long breath with a sigh of relief and said “I can see the house. I can walk from here alone.”

I was tired and suddenly I felt the heat too. I didn’t offer to walk with her till that house and thought of my little ones at home. I needed to go back to the School too. I stood there for a bit and watched her walk away and saw her enter the gate made of 3 bamboo sticks. she removed the top 2 bamboo sticks and jumped over the bottom bamboo.

I turned and walked back to my house. I thought about how her life became.  Tharo-Angoubi was a qualified Masters, couldn’t get a job and remained caught in the grip of poverty as many in Manipur. I thought of my life too. I was struggling to be a teacher in a School while my friends were teaching in Colleges. I didn’t have the money to pay the bribes to be in a college. I didn’t have to pay any bribe to become a teacher in this school and was happy that I even received a small increment because of my MA qualification but the other teachers protested. With the increment, my salary almost touched INR 200 per month. At that time, most teachers in the School were BA/BSc qualified. The protest made me extremely uncomfortable and I was in a dilemma of my career and future roadmap in this school.

I helped her escape that day from that angry woman and men but I never met her after that day. I walked into my house and saw my daughter sleeping soundly. I rushed backed cycling faster towards the school as I didn’t want to be late. The roads were empty and the woman and men were no longer there. All the local people have gone inside their houses. Every day is so unpredictable with many surprises. I didn’t know that I will meet Tharo-Angoubi under such tensed circumstances.

~The End~


LIFE’S THIS & THAT  

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. Based on a story as told by Ema, my mother.


 

A Short Story 013 : Oja Binodini

Oja Binodini

A short story by Monica Ingudam

After my completion of Masters in Manipuri “Meitei Lon” literature way back in 1974 I joined Thambal Marik Girl’s High School in Imphal, Manipur. I was a teacher for 6 years in this school and I had a great teaching experience after my studies. Today I want to tell you the story of someone who stayed in my heart after all these ages.

Oja Binodini

It is about a teacher, “Oja” (teacher) Binodini.  She was teaching in Science subject in the same school and was younger than me. With time, I developed a good rapport with her and we became closer sharing about our day to day joys and sorrows of life. Even though she was in science stream, her creativity level impressed me when I read her poems. I felt very special as she had gifted her precious books only to me amongst all the other teaching staff. With my high interest in literature, I read through her collections of poems as soon as I got the books. Pages turned and reading through her words of sadness and of broken heart, I wanted to know more about her. She was unmarried then, very simple and reserved in her spoken words . At that time she came to school riding her bicycle with her hair tied as one long plaid with ribbons at the end. Her favorite ribbon seem to be white and green. She wore a few pair of clothes repeatedly making me think that she doesn’t have many.

I had this special bonding with her and her way of life piqued my interest. I got to know more about her from one of my other colleague. She was an unfortunate young woman. Her father got remarried because her mother couldn’t bear a son. Yes, a son had the weightage even in a place like Manipur where women are portrayed to be kept at a high level. Her mother came back to her maternal home and Binodini tagged along with her mother at a young age of only 6 years. Her mother got remarried to another man and left her all alone at the age of 10 years.

Her poor but kind “Ene” (maternal aunt) who was into handloom weaving adopted her and brought her up. Ene didn’t have a husband or children, and she took care of Binodini and raised her as her very own. Binodini was very good in her studies and did what she can to be educated. She couldn’t buy her own books for her studies and she would borrow the text book from friends/library and copy the entire content of each books into a notebook neatly written in her cursive handwriting. She knew the condition of her “Ene” and did her level best to help out with household chores and even with the handloom weaving work. Ene was specialized in “Phi houba” (the initial set up of the threads for handloom weaving). She was shy and grew up by keeping to herself with no friends around.

When she passed first class in B.Sc. all the community of Kwakeithel was so proud and under the elder’s love and recommendation, she was appointed to be the teacher in a private School, Thambal Marik Girl’s High School. Of course she didn’t have the money to bribe and get a government job but she was very happy to get a job. Yes bribing didn’t start just today, it was already there then. During that time, first class in Science, specially by a woman was rare and many highly regarded her for her intelligence.

Her sincerity and reserved nature was taken for granted and the administrators of the School made her work overloaded and one day I saw her almost breaking down and she gave her resignation letter in the heat of emotions. The principal happened to mention it to me that Oja Binodini resigned and we consulted as to how to resolve the issue. I spoke to Binodini and calmed her down. She shared that her work is overloaded and wasn’t fair in comparison with other teachers of the school. After having understood the main reason of her resignation, I convinced her the importance of financial independence and empowerment of woman coming from a career and that we need to face any hurdles with patience and make a well balance decision thinking of the future. The Principal, Oja Binodini and myself had a meeting together and after much discussions, it was agreed that she withdraw the resignation and continue working as a teacher. The matter didn’t go beyond the three of us and the resignation process was nipped off.

Things went peacefully that same year until the final exam except for the usual gossips and politics amongst the teaching staff. The other teachers made faces and ridiculed Binodini’s style of dressing special using the ribbon on her hair. Oja Binodini started confiding in small things and I would try to lighten it by laughing it out and I think she liked that.

During the final exam, Nandini, the daughter of the Vice Principal failed in Science. Oja Binodini had marked Nandini’s paper and she scored only 8 out of 100. The Class teacher Oja Shama asked Oja Binodini of any possibility of increasing the marks and passing Nandini in the fear of facing the Vice Principal’s wrath. Oja Binodini said a straight “No”. After a couple of days she asked Oja Shama the final listing of marks in the report card of Nandini and found that Nandini scored 48 out of 100 in Science. Oja Shama had added a 4 in front of 8 making it 48. Binodini couldn’t take this insult and couldn’t take such muddied atmosphere, and that too in the institution of education where she believes that truth and honesty should be valued and kept high. She saw the report card, packed her few things, placed her books in the front basket of her black Hercules bicycle and rode off. I watched her from my classroom as she rode away with her long plaited hair, with her loose hair flowing and the end of the plaited hair, tied with white ribbon, fell near the seat of her bicycle. I wondered why she left early that day. I thought maybe she had some emergency at home.

Later I was filled in of the incident. Oja Shama cried and shared with me and few other teachers “Oja, I didn’t know that Oja Binodini would take it so seriously and leave. I was so scared of the Vice Principal with his shouting and yelling and thought it was best to pass his daughter.”

Oja Binodini never came back the next day and I found that she resigned and left. Officially, no one knew what lead to her resignation. The result was out and Nadini was promoted to the next class. After some weeks, on hearing that Oja Binodini was seriously ill and seven of the teachers including me decided to go together and visit her. We contributed INR 10 each and bought a small bottle of Horlicks and one packet of biscuits. We walked to Kwakeithel, entered her bamboo house with thatched roof and saw Ene on the porch working on the threads for the loom. Seeing us Ene said that Binodini is not meeting anyone but she will go inside and ask her. Ene came out and said uncomfortably that Binodini is ready to meet only me but not the rest of the teachers. With an awkward look amongst us, the other teacher signaled for me to proceed and I took the plastic bag with Horlick and biscuit and went to her room. She was sitting on her bed wearing a green “Aloo eromba” phanek and I asked “Ebemma, how are you feeling? when are you coming back to school?”

She shook her head and said “Oja, I am not coming back”

She looked so deep in her thoughts. Such heavy and dark thoughts for a young and bright woman like her. Seeing her condition, I had more feelings but no more words to express. I mumbled “Ebemma, get well soon” and slowly walked out.

Nadini continued with her schooling uninterrupted. Oja Shama continued being a teacher. The Vice Principle continued to be grumpy and unappreciative of anything.  My life went by but I did think of Oja Binodini time and again. I felt her pain in being betrayed by the situation, by the people. Our society and system is not ready for her honesty, dedication, straight forward but sensitive nature. I don’t know what has become of her. Oja Shama cries with guilt for what she has done. But whose fault was it? Only Oja Binodini was affected by the whole situation. Should she have exposed the whole situation? That would have led expulsion of Oja Shama. Or should she have stayed quite and played along? But she chose not to sell her soul and her belief. She gave up her job, a job that meant a lot to her and Ene.

~The End~


LIFE’S THIS & THAT  

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. Based on a story told by Ema, my mother.


 

A Short Story 012 : The slap across Nemkina’s face

The slap across Nemkina’s face

A short story by Monica Ingudam

I was never good at speaking up in class while I was in School. It wasn’t like I didn’t know the answer to the questions the teachers posed. I knew the answers to most questions but I was scared to speak up. I don’t know whether it was the education system or the culture I grew up. Children then were encouraged to listen while the elders and teachers spoke. The teachers and elders spoke almost 90% of the time. Listening was encouraged. Agreeing without questioning was even better. So I became a listener, a very good listener. I had my questions, lot of questions but those questions didn’t leave my lips and mostly it stayed in my mind.

I was in 9th grade. Many things happened that year. To start, that was the year my mother coaxed me to cut my long straight black hair to a smart “Boy’s cut” as she called. My mother has her way with words. She took me to a beauty parlour at Paona Bazaar in Imphal, the first I have ever gone. The beauty parlour was on the first floor, on top of a cycle shop. It had pictures of beautiful Korean girls with fancy hairstyles on the walls and big mirrors all over. I sat on the big black rotating chair and I could see myself in the front mirror and also see the back view of my hair in the mirror behind. I have never seen these different angles and views while cutting my hair. My haircuts before were by my neighbors, and mostly they made terrible mistakes like cutting my front bang too short. So I had a good reason and opted to grow my hair then. My hair seemed much longer in the reflection and the skilled guy with a girlish voice started cutting my hair. He chattered, and I pretended to listen, but I wasn’t. My heart started sinking watching him cut my long hair which he picked strand by strand and clipping the remaining hair with the fancy long clip. I felt like crying and I wasn’t sure why I agreed to cut my hair. But I didn’t cry, and said nothing. I went through the haircut, the haircut I picked myself pointing to poster of the beautiful Korean girl on the wall. Mother and the guy with girlish voice were praising on how smart I looked with the new hair cut. I nodded and looked at my reflection with the short “Boy’s cut” hair. My pink and white threaded sweater which I had got for Yaoshang (Holi) that year seemed a little mismatched with my new hairstyle. I followed Mother and walked down the small steep staircases.

Nemkina was aghast to see my hair cut at School and she didn’t hide her disappointment. And that is what I loved about her. She would say what she felt and I could express mine easily to her. She was in the boarding school and we shared secrets. And those secrets remained with us. Secrets she had told no one but me, as we play on the luscious green grass right in front of the cave. The cave with the stone statue of Mother Mary with a white robe. This was one of our favorite spot, a spot where the loveliest flowers bloomed. Nemkina’s father was no more, and her mother had gone “mental” as she puts it. Namkina said her mother had witnessed him burn alive. This happened during the ethnic clashes between the Naga and Kuki tribals in Manipur. She said she was lucky to be alive and escaped the massacres. Tears welling up she added that thirteen children abandoned by panic-stricken elders, were burnt alive in her village, the Taloulong village at Tamenglong district. And so I was told that I should never tell the others which tribe she belonged. She had the fear of being identified and fall in the hands of the haters.

Though Nemkina was grateful to the nuns for taking her in and providing the best shelter and education, she hated getting up early do the chores specially on the cold winter days where she had to sweep and mop the school floors. She was bored of the food too, eating boiled mustard leaves on most days then. She would give me Rs 2 from the money her uncle had given her on the rare times she got visitors to get her favorite sweet puff. I would get a pack which had 10 pieces, take 2 pieces for myself and give the 8 pieces packed nicely. Each puff piece was 25 Paise if sold separately, so that would make 8 puff pieces for Rs 2. My math was perfect and I didn’t feel the need to tell her then, that I ate 2 of the delicious puffs sprinkled with crystals of sugar. I felt I deserved it for the errand I was running for her. I would pass it to her and she would smuggle it back in her school bag to her boarding room. Probably she would have shared the puff with me but the puff was so tempting and I couldn’t resist those huge crystal sugars glaring back at me with the “eat me” look. I think Nemkina knew it but she played along by not sharing. Because if she didn’t know, she would have shared at least one puff, but she didn’t share.

It was an afternoon class after the break and I can’t quite recall if it was a Math or Science class. But It was Sir Kumar’s class. He took Math and Science. He was a non Manipuri teacher with pepper grey hair. Most of the non Manipuri teachers were from south India but Sir Kumar wasn’t. I was not sure where he was from, maybe from somewhere in North India. I thought he was very intelligent. He was very good in explaining the concepts. I could follow, visualize and understood what he taught, as he wrote with chalks on the black board. I respected him as a teacher and held him at a high place. That afternoon, he was in a foul mood. One moment he was teaching, standing near the black board and suddenly he rushed to where Nemkina was sitting after he caught her dozing off. He started yelling, asking her to explain what he was teaching. He saw her notebook and threw it on the floor. Nemkina stood abruptly. I could see her movement as she was sitting diagonally from where I was sitting. Sir Kumar slapped across Nemkina’s face once followed by a pin drop silence in the class. Before I could recover from what had happened, I heard another slap and he turned to the class to ask if anyone was listening.

img_6358img_6358He was so angry and I was scared that he was going to hit Nemkina again, so I stood up and walked towards the front where the teacher’s table and chair was placed and put my notebook on the table. He walked away from Nemkina towards the teacher’s table and sat on the chair. He asked me some questions which I answered looking straight into his eyes and he gave back my book and said “Bold, very bold Laishram Tonu Devi”. I continued looking straight in his eyes without blinking as I took my book back and said “It’s Tonu Laishram Sir”

After that day, my friendship with Nemkina and my respect for Sir Kumar changed. I was filled with guilt. I wasn’t sure whether I was guilty because I didn’t speak up for her to alert about the incident to an elder or for not talking with her about the incident, which might have made her feel better. I asked many a questions before I slept and had many sleepless nights “Why didn’t anyone speak up for her? Why didn’t I speak up? The class was full. Sir Kumar must be a coward, he must have picked Nemkina because he knew that she didn’t have anyone to speak for her. But If Sir Kumar had done this to Neeta or Christine who had influential parents, there would be a protest and he would have been expelled not only from the School but maybe even out of Manipur. No one, including myself spoke up for Nemkina. What kind of friendship are we talking about? I had failed her, as her friend, as a human being. I should have spoken up for her. And I carry the pain and humiliation of that slap with a deep guilt even today. I am sorry Nemkina.

~The End~


LIFE’S THIS & THAT  MonicaIngudam

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.