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Leaving behind all the things that keep us human

People leaving Manipur have also also left behind plans: plans to retire and die close to the clan, plans to show the family what they are made of

People stranded near the Indo-Myanmar border in Manipur’s Chandel district being evacuated.
People stranded near the Indo-Myanmar border in Manipur’s Chandel district being evacuated. (PTI)

I left my house for three weeks. While I was away, I started hearing the first rumblings of the violence in Manipur and started worrying about friends and acquaintances there. Within days, many of the people I knew, or knew of, in Imphal had left. They are, variously, a doctor, a journalism student, a retired government employee, someone who works remotely for a Bengaluru IT company, a housewife who had just finished building a home in Imphal. They have left with their most precious portable possessions. They have left with babies and the elderly.

I came back home to Bengaluru. This is a house I have been renting since 2020, a house we were thrilled to move to in the first year of the pandemic. Before we moved, my younger child had not seen the world outside our apartment’s front door from March-August 2020. His first sighting of a black car speeding past him caused him to wonder if it was a bear. Since then, it has been thrilling to live in the poorly connected suburbs with the rich possibility of seeing birds and butterflies. I have always wanted a wall full of flame vine and three Sankrantis down, I have finally seen those familiar orange flowers.

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I came back home and a close friend told me that her people, who have left Imphal, do not think they will ever be able to go back home. At least, that is how it feels now. Some of her family have jobs and portable wealth, along with portable possessions. Others have been impoverished overnight and are now suddenly highly dependent on the kindness of extended family in the way that they might remember some distant relative in their childhood was.

During the three weeks I was in Delhi, I heard about the demolition of people’s homes every day. One day, I was in an autorickshaw on my way to one branch of The Community Library Project when I heard that bulldozers had arrived at another branch. Eventually, I heard, the library building was not torn down but the neighbouring buildings were. The library has over 8,000 members and obviously is not just a collection of books or just a building. As if anything is ever “just” a building.

My friends who have left their homes locked in Imphal have left behind all the pointless objects that keep us human. They have also left behind plans: plans to retire and die close to the clan, plans to get their first job and show the family what they are made of, plans to bring up their son with his mother tongue in his ears all day long.

Meanwhile, I came home and found out that the geyser wasn’t working, the inverter was pretending to work, mice had been playing in one bathroom, the kitchen drain was clogged and had a potential fat bomb. This is the price of living in a house, we consoled ourselves, and began calling the professionals.

A week after I arrived home in Bengaluru and all domestic hazards except the drain had been sorted out, my friend said, “I just saw a video of people burning my church back home.” Other people she knew had witnessed homes and shops being burnt and had begun packing that minute. She told me about the church and sat down hard. We ordered food and watched animal videos on Instagram.

Demolition was continuing in Delhi, I read in the papers. I thought about all the people I knew when I had lived in the city who had seemingly robust homes. M. Mukundan’s Delhi: A Soliloquy is a saga of people who fall in love with Delhi and lose their homes 10 pages later. I have lived in 15 or so houses in my life and four of them were in Delhi. I hadn’t read the Mukundan book then or it would have brought me cold comfort at a time when I was very keen to “not move ever again”. Or was it that I didn’t want to stay? In any case, how it played out was that I didn’t plan holidays, I didn’t buy curtains and I avoided getting a post-paid phone connection for years. I lived without any sense of security and in a permanent state of anxiety. That was a long time ago and now friends frequently side-eye me (and I ignore them) for my booshie lifestyle.

Which brings me to the fat bomb in the kitchen drain. It sort of exploded this week and luckily, a plumber arrived to save us from ourselves. And as he was winding up the rescue, a large brown snake glided through the yard. It was broad and muscular and we were scared spitless. The plumber first jumped back and then, having taken a second look, relaxed. “Oh, this one is not poisonous.” He looked around for something to shoo it but it had sped away already into the empty plot next door. Just as our heart rates were calming down, he said casually, “I have seen this one near your house many times. He lives in the hole right next to where you park your car.”

Potter wasps, bees, mosquitoes, the purple bush that is invading the roof, mice in the bathroom, cats, rats, mystery afflictions of appliances, coconut trees that drop endless, endless branches—I have made my peace with all of these. Snakes are an important part of the ecosystem. That brown fellow was probably a rat snake. I know these pieces of information. It doesn’t comfort me. That the snake was outside, doesn’t comfort me. I sit with my feet tucked up high, avoiding the yard certainly, avoiding even the ghost of brown scales indoors. I had an irrational illusion of security inside my locked concrete home and this week, it has melted into air.

Nisha Susan is the editor of the webzine The Ladies Finger and author of The Women Who Forgot To Invent Facebook And Other Stories.

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