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The Climate of Possible Change – IMPHAL

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Once upon a time, not so long ago, Imphal wore a deserted look post 5 pm. The darkening of the sky didn’t just mean confinement, it signalled fear and uncertainty. People rarely ventured out for fear of the known—a sudden curfew being imposed, encounters between armed forces and militants, among many other possibilities. As a native, did I even know there could be life after sunset? Life had always been simple with early dinners followed by watching some local TV channels and then we would call it a day. When it came to food, we had no real concept of dining out. Perhaps the only places we indulged in were pok phoms, makeshift shacks for finger-licking good local eats like kanghou (fried channa), singzu (Manipuri salad made of lotus stem, raw papaya, among other items), bora (pakora) freshly prepared by local women.

Years of being away from home meant that I stayed connected through annual trips. My last few visits have been pertinently interesting on many fronts. The unexpected yet much needed political change from decades of Congress-led government to a first-time BJP-led regime was, of course, a big change in itself. This brought many visible changes that made me reflect and realise how much we had missed out on in life. Life was perpetually on hold due to the many bandhs that were called by any organisation/outfit at their whim and fancy. Sadly, all that and more held our life to ransom. The first change that’s immediately impacting life is a lesser frequency of bandhs and that’s a breather for everybody.

There was an unmistakable verve and Imphal was decked up, with people roaming the streets fearlessly — AN EXPRESSION OF FREEDOM…

When, late last year, I took home a friend, Rudrakshi Mishra, from Delhi, and we drove out at night. There was an unmistakable verve and Imphal was decked up, with happy people roaming the streets fearlessly. That was to us locals the biggest expression of freedom, even if for a few hours. It was reassuring, to say the least. The chief minister had just introduced Night Plaza, a never-before-seen night mela where locals shopped, ate and sang long after sunset. Freedom from curfews and the sight of gun-toting paramilitary forces meant a great deal to us.

It also meant that I could take off anytime in the day to explore my own backyard. Joe, my cherished friend, took me on an expedition of sorts, during my recent visit. Who would have thought there was a hill called Cheirao Ching (Cheirao Hill), just 20 minutes from my home? An hour-long trek took us to the top of the hill that offered a 360-degree view of Imphal in all its grandeur. It filled me with hope for my hometown.

The youth are cashing in on that new climate of possible change. Like Naoba Thangjam, the young promoter of the state’s only deluxe hotel chain, who is expanding and setting new targets. He is reviving the state’s significant tourist spot, Loktak lake, by opening cottages and inviting visitors from all over. With the political climate veering towards normalcy, the people of Manipur will have a lot more in store for them.

There is a strong revival of the spirit to live in the people of the state. Their desire to keep pace with the rest of the country is obvious. You can see it all over. Imphal is now teeming with new cafés, stylish eateries dishing out pizzas, burgers and pasta. Every nook and cranny of our city is dotted with cafés, and the new-found passion of many home bakers means that we can now order near designer cakes for special occasions. And when a leading American travel website lists a feature on “Ten top cafés in Manipur” you know which way the wind of change is blowing.

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