Original title: Imphal amasung magi ishing nungshitki fibam
First published: 1971
Writer: Pacha Meetei
Translator: Thoithoi O'Cottage
The first book winning the Sahitya Akademi Award in Manipuri language.
I hear the voice laced with the knocks on the door. Who is that? I don’t know.
“Hello, professor!” The knocks rattle again.
“Who’s that?” I ask, still seated. “Who?”
“It’s me. You OK?“
The voice confirms that he is the manager of the hotel.
“Ah!” I get to my feet. “The manager?”
“Yea!” His identificatory reply comes before I can complete my question.
“Yes, it’s him. A letter from home.”
“Great!” Putting the open Bengali book face down on the table, I walk to the door, open it and take the envelope from the manager.
“Thank you,” I say courteously.
The manager leaves and walks down the stairs.
I close the door, walk back in, sit in the chair and tear open the envelope to read the letter from my friend, Priyalata Singha.
Pranam, dada Thanil,
How long I haven’t heard from you! Yes, it depends on the samay. However, it feels like we have become strangers that you have not contacted me for so long though we spent our time talking at the college canteen and elsewhere.
Recently (I’d rather tell you something first), I went to the Silchar town with my youngest brother to buy some clothes. On the way back—you know that beer-bellied Kshirod Majumdar? It was his vendor—the kid inexorably whined and demanded that we eat there. I suggested eating somewhere else but he protested. His eyes were glued to something and reading that. Curious, I followed his eyeline. This was written below the vendor sign board:
Majumdar hotelar kaliya-ichamachher bada khaite suswadu
Ekhane thaka-khaojar subondobasth aachhe.
Well, I mention this for no other reason—it occurred to me that advertising is beneficial to life. Maybe it’s because I—being a girl, if not demure—did not advertise my heart to you enough while we were about near each other that you have forgotten about me now.
Please don’t mind I’ve just blabbered a lot.
It’s said that the women of Manipur—Manipuri women—are so beautiful. Aren’t they? You don’t come back here. I am not sure. You should at least have let me know. God! Silchar theke Imphal immediately, even though I am a girl. Single. Salaried. Who can stop me?
She has got something in her mind, and maintaining a double face, she tries to humor me with snippets of jokes. I light a cigarette. A laughy feeling quietly creeps up my heart. With my mind’s eyes I vividly see her standing in this silent room at this great distance—darkish of complexion, and the set of white teeth sparkling. No. This is in my mind. I am still aware of this.
As the time of my departure approached, we had coffee at the college canteen, and she, coming back out from a long thought, asked me,
“Going to Manipur this summer vacation?”
“For what purpose?” That was in English. She had let alone her coffee.
“No! It can’t be!” She starts in English, rubbing or wiping her plump with a handkerchief. “Is it just like that? There must be a purpose. Friend circle, if not parivar and sambandhi.”
“No. But yes, there is purpose.”
“Manipur, Meitrabak—I haven’t seen it yet.”
“Never. I have nobody there—no friends, no relatives.”
She then receded to silence. Did my series of replies muffle her mouth? Would she remain silent, if not forever, as long as we sat at the canteen? Won’t she ask me any other question? I would be filled with remorse if it turned out so, I thought holding the steaming cup as I saw the change in her. But the short phrase she said next relieved me in no time. That followed a long uncomfortable silence without looking at me directly.
“Staying at a hotel? Aren’t you?”
“I guess you have already heard at least a bit about that place that you want to go there so much, and there are probably some things that have fascinated you.” She sipped at her coffee.
“Yeah!” I said putting down on the table the cup I had raised before it reached my lips. “I’ve heard a lot about Meitrabak. We are Meiteis—you and me, too. Aren’t we?
“Yes, we are.”
“Won’t a Meitei love to see their own land?”
“Sure,” said she in English.
“That’s it. Meiteis as we are, we have not yet seen the beauty of that our motherland and drunk its pure water.”
She retreated into silence.
“Aren’t we poor?” I continued. “Even if I can’t settle there, I will at least visit it.”
“Why? Why can’t you?” She drew a long face quite visibly, and she continued, “Why can’t you settle there? Buy a piece of land, build a house, and I am sure you’ll get a good job.”
“Oh!” I cut in. “No, it ain’t about money. It’s about the heart. About tearing myself away from my father and mother, brothers and sister, and friends and acquaintances who I have been with here in this land since my birth, my childhood.”
“You still love us?”
She looked up at me before I could find my word, when I also incidentally cast a glance at her. Our eyes met, and she smiled lightly, pouring into it all the arresting beauty of a young girl, asking me, as it were, “How’s this question?” I also smiled back. Right in time the canteen boy came and served us the omelet fresh from the fire with kata and chamach. Both of us were startled. Why were we startled by the canteen boy? Both of us knew we should not have been. People don’t usually get startled just like that. Something had sprouted in our hearts.
I thought a lot. A lot. Of those countless thoughts, the only one that stays behind as my constant thought is “I’m confused!” I am at a loss. I spend my time doing none of my studies, but doing others’.
Last Friday, your constant friend from Krishnapur. What’s his name? The Bangali. Isn’t that Manoranjan? I ran into him. He asked me why you had gone to Manipur. But as you did not tell me the details, I just said, “Nothing. But that’s our holy place.” Is this an exaggeration? “Holy place. Our holy place.” I vaunted to him. Didn’t you say once at the canteen, “How poor we are!” If manageable, please write to him. He must be eagerly expecting it. I will stop here. I will write longer next. For the day …
I will go to the movie this afternoon.
I remove the watch from under my pillow and look at it (yes, I did well think about her then—I was laughy, happy, indecisive, and I cannot forget her now, and so on)—it is almost 3 in the afternoon. I have a program at three o’clock, at Hotel Natraj.
 The literal translation is What are you doing?
 Silchar to Imphal.
 fork and spoon
 A salutatory gesture made by bringing the palms together before the face or chest and bowing; used as a respectful greeting