What I miss the most are those school days when my teacher would wait for us at the school gate in the wee hours of winter morning making sure we reached school safely and tell such inspiring stories of how they also struggled to survive in their days, to always motivate and pour on me a hope that I also could fulfil my dream in spite of those hardship, although perhaps I didn’t even understand at that time what a dream would be like!
I always narrate these endless stories of school days and about the generosity of the people I have met to everyone I know, as a souvenir. It is such a precious episode of my life that they have created for me. May be that’s the reason I’m so attached to Shamurou, even more than my own home place, Mayang Imphal.
Even now, whenever I'm home or travelling, I would still count how many minutes it takes by a bus or a car from Mayang Imphal to Shamurou– a distance of 11 kms. I, now, feel it would be very hard for a girl to ride a cycle between them. I ask myself how, then, it used to be possible and easy for me and Santosh to cycle from Mayang Imphal to Shamurou for school daily in the early morning on those lonely roads and then again ride back after school in the evening. When I lose myself in memories of those days, sometimes I get scared and shaken, not just only about the exhaustive cycling, but also to remember how we used to be stopped by the patrolling armies in the fog, who interrogated us endlessly with clueless questions as dense as rain drops, while frisking our school bags and intimidating our little souls. Not only that, my friends in school would ask me, “Don't you get tired cycling with the boy for so long a distance?” Some would ask me, “Don't you fear cycling at 4:00 in the morning when it was still so dark?” I hardly ever used to speak to anyone those days, perhaps because I had no answer to their questions.
Our world was simple and small. We were neither blessed with luxurious and sophisticated air conditioner room nor a rich father to drop us by car or a scooter for tuition. It was neither by choice nor by passion that we rode bicycles to Shamurou every day, but by the compulsion and the strong spirit to study. For me, it was the only way to continue my studies. Neither my parents could afford a scooty nor did I wish to negotiate with their ability, just for an obstacle of the distance. Might be that's the reason I followed the legacy in the family. I took over the bicycle, which my father bought in the mid '90s for my sister, that was then passed on me. Besides, how can I ever miss to mention the love and support showered on me by my teacher that overrode that hurdle in my mind! He would smile and call us to make ourselves warm near the fireplace. He would always ask how much we had studied for the exam, an irritating question for most students perhaps, due to which most of other students were scared of him and kept away from his sight. But for me, he is the finest person I have ever met and a person near to God who has carved the lives of so many students like me and also changed the face of education in the vicinity of MayaiLambi. The warmth of his love and support was enough for me. I would call myself the luckiest among the lot to have got so much inspiration from everyone, from classmates to teachers, during my school days. It was not only during school-hours when he cared about me but also the trust and hope he had in me, the help they extended to me in those hard days. Sir would even call me out from class to inquire whether I had skipped my lunch or not. He would sometimes take me to his home and force me to eat along with his daughter in the same kitchen. Indomcha too, with a smiling face, would welcome me as her own child.
Imagine the rainy days; oh! One hand would hold the umbrella and the other would balance the cycle. Sometimes, it still angers me till now to remember. I used to complain myself the irritating attitude of those headstrongpeople driving on four wheelers when they dragged us away from the road towards the wet muddy side as if we did not pay any tax and they were the only rightful people! Even today, Roads luckily seem to have changed but people with such mind still exist on the roads.
In the mornings of Winter, where the road was so dark and foggy, we would talk loudly so that we could follow each other and would shout to hear each other – “I'm at your left; I’m at your right” That saved ourselves from crashing into each other. At times, we even had to close our eyes while riding in order to prevent from those intruding insects around and still make sure we did not fall on the ditches on the road. The biting cold, the morning dew, the mystery of the dark road and the patrolling armies were like our company, perhaps. We knew that, however, we could not take leave easily and so would meet again every morning. We were the one who would break the silence of every single dawn, wear the freezing cold air like warm jackets and dare against the cheerless questions of the patrolling armies who probably must be thinking they were guarding people in the dark. It was, in fact, joyful in the spirit of education rather than afraid of the challenges.
But time didn’t stop passing by, school days got over. I promised one thing to myself that I would never pass the legacy of this bicycle to my younger brothers, but I failed though. My brothers also, unluckily, had the same fate as mine. They took over the same cycle and also rode the same road, when one is offered with nothing more than a general strike!
I always have a mixed emotion of bittersweet nostalgia whenever I remember those years. Sometimes, I cherish it, sometimes I nurture the painful moments too. Some showed me mercy for travelling for that long distance and some raised their eyebrows with sarcasm. “Look at that girl riding a cycle as if her family can't afford even a scooty?” But the truth is that my family couldn't afford to buy a scooty for me that time. Everyone treatsbicycle as a poor man’s vehicle in Manipur, even today unfortunately. But I had to travel with that bicycle 22 km everyday to escape from a life within a hole and become capable to face the world ahead.
My journey has never been easy and I would not say today also that I loved cycling those days, though I'm still attached with the so-called poor man syndrome of riding bicycle! Huh! Funny part is, you won’t believe how the man I loved even looked down upon me during those days when he would pass by me sitting in his father's car, while I was waiting just to get a glimpse of him by the roadside, hoping he would look out for a moment from behind the window, just because of my legacy! Like his foolish heart, he built a wall between my legacy and his too. He inherited his father's old car and I, my sister's old bicycle on the same road, he also pushed me towards the wet muddy side of the road as if he deserved a bigger share of the road than me. But in our love I took a bigger share. He gave me so many dreams but he could not be part of any of my dreams! His legacy ended with time but my legacy and my dreams still keep on shining!