A toast to honesty!


Chitra Ahanthem 

 Our days are mainly filled with news about violence, scams, protests and most things negative about Manipur and it is safe to say that most of us have become hard boiled cynics going on about with our day to day lives.  We become insulated in our own worlds and do not realize the little things that go towards making the place we live in a better one. And because we remain in our own orbits, it becomes all the more important that we stand back and applaud when certain individuals give us reason to believe in the good of life: honesty, integrity, concern, a bit of humanity.    


Konjengbam Soniya - An Example of an Honest Servicewoman

 Meet 26 year old Konjengbam Soniya, a parking attendant working with the North East India Security Services that is responsible for the safe and correct parking of vehicles on the Paona Bazaar road stretch. Why Soniya? Because she went beyond her call of duty and ensured that the belongings and vehicle of a now grateful young man remained safe and reached the rightful owner. According to the young man who does not want to be named, the incident happened on 27th January about 2.30 pm when the person in question was in the Paona Bazaar area to attend to a particular job. He got a parking ticket and simply left a brand new UPS with his vehicle, an Activa casually asking Soniya to keep an eye on his belongings. The work that he had come for took longer than expected and when he came out to collect his vehicle, it was off duty time for the parking personnel. “I did not see my vehicle at the place where I had originally parked it and assumed the worse when I found that the UPS and my helmet was not there. Just as I was cursing my carelessness, I saw someone from a nearby shop gesturing at me. I went towards him and after he had confirmed my identity as the owner of my vehicle, he gave me back my belongings, which Soniya had entrusted to him for safe-keeping. I also found out that I had left the vehicle key on!”  

The young man in question went back the next day to thank Soniya and gave her a small token of appreciation, which she brushed off first. When this experience was put on the social networking site Facebook, it led to a barrage of comments from people across the world appreciating her honesty and concern. The most common refrain amongst the comments from people born in Manipur or living in the state was that the incident gave back faith in the people of Manipur. And therein, lies the area where this column is dedicated to her and many others that we take for granted.  

This Saturday, I accompanied the young man as he went to the NEISS office at Paona Bazaar to give a flexi print out poster of Soniya’s photograph and the comments of people from Manipur spread across the world. She kept looking down whenever the camera tried to capture her face, insisting she just did her duty. “I lost two very cheap mobile phones earlier and I know how it feels to lose something and the despair it brings,” she said. As a parking attendant, her responsibility for loss of vehicle and belongings of people who have taken a ticket from her ended at the time that her duty hours ended (4.30 pm) but as she put it, she knew how it felt to lose something.  

Hailing from an impoverished family, she gave up her studies when she reached her 9th standared and did odd jobs to make a living. The eldest of three siblings living with her maternal grand-mother, Soniya could have easily walked off without a care but chose instead to stay on for some more time to see if the vehicle owner turned up. “I waited till 5 pm and was getting late, so I had to hand over the vehicle keys and belongings to a nearby shop but I kept worrying over whether they would reach the rightful owner. As soon I came the next day, I went to check with the shop owner but his shop was still shut. Then the neighbouring shop keeper told me that the things had been handed back.”  

When the vehicle owner came searching for her later in the day, “my first reaction was that he could have lost some of his belongings” says Sonia adding that she did not expect to be lauded by people she does not know and vice versa. Talking of her experiences as one of the many parking attendants who have to be on their feet from 9 am to 4.30 pm after a daily office reporting time at 8 am, she says that it is very common for “respectable looking people” often being the ones who flout parking norms. “They park their 4 wheelers in places marked for two wheelers and talk down to us when we try to request them that they park in the correct places,” she rues.   


I went to meet one role model but to my delight met another unsung ‘hero’ when Soniya told me about the “BT Road hero” a sobriquet that sits comfortably on the shoulders of one of her colleague, Tamphamani. “ She caught someone who was trying to make away with someone else’s vehicle. Tamphamani raised a hue and cry and the person ran off but she chased him down riding on an auto-rickshaw. He was later handed to the police,” says Soniya, laughing at the memory.  

Tamphamani - BT Road Hero

As I came back from meeting the girls whom we get to see everyday and take for granted, it struck me that while the roads and lanes strain under the onslaught of vehicles and unruly drivers who don’t give a fig for driving or parking norms, if there is one area that has brought a bit of cheer to vehicle owners in Imphal area at least, it is that parking has become relatively easy to live with because of the parking attendants. The least we could do is to acknowledge this and give them the respect that is due to them.


  1. Thanks to Coutinho!You have churned out a hidden jewel of thought which other are trapped in cog-mire of their respective misleaded subconscious which Kangleipak has been for long time since PUYA was burnt down.The nutshell “The tragedy of Kangleipak(Manipur) is that it has turned your young women into heroes” which you described is a lesson to these genre of ultra-liberal!

    They dont know when to wake up and do their respective obligation for being son and daughter of this poor mother/Father Kangleipak.Who says I m walking on truth?No one is?But here is the truth,we dont walk away from where we belong!Feeling and cares are among two compact words enshrined in it which again opens up realm of human emotions,which will inspire us to do the most spectacular thing ever man can do.This definition has to be re-written in Kangleipak.

    This emotion if right will change whole Kangleipak .I know the treasures are just the part of truth following along with!

  2. This is another small example of quiet courage that I have seen and can talk about freely. Wednesday last around 10.00am I was walking back from the Post Office. At the corner of that road just by the side of the Kangla Fort a fairly busy day it’s very crowded a young soldier starts calling out to two young Manipuri women in traditional dress. They ignore him and carry on walking and talking to each other very quietly just getting on with their lives. He begins to follow and starts shouting. They continue to ignore him and carry on walking. Now I stop to stare. I am pretty sure that didn’t faze him. What did was that the young women started crossing the road. All he had was an automatic rifle, the straight clip not the curved clip of ammo. So he walks back slightly embarrassed. Opposite side of the road there is a Government building with soldiers on guard. And there are soldiers by the Post Office, this is just one of the loose soldiers hanging about in Imphal.

    This may not sound like a big deal especially to people who haven’t been in Manipur for some time. Technically they have removed AF(SP)A protection to soldiers from Imphal. So technically he has already committed an offence I think they call it Eve Teasing in the rest of India. This is compounded because he is on duty and carrying a loaded weapon. If the women were from a backward caste or tribal group there are more specific laws he has violated. India stockpiles laws. The thing they like about AF(SP)A is it enables soldiers to ignore laws with official sanction. But they ignore laws here if something obscene happens they just pass an extra law making the action even more illegal.

    Now before some officer states that this sort of thing never happens he would have an inquiry but he doesn’t need to have one. In fact he is so confident he is going to find the soldier give him a medal and a promotion and he is disgusted at my unpatriotic stance. Like I said it wasn’t all that. The reason he held back was because the young women ignored him and kept on walking and none of his buddies backed him up. And whenever a soldier has engaged with me I have always found them to be extremely polite. Many here say that they have no respect for my British passport and money. But it has not been my experience thus far in my travels. It doesn’t make me invincible but if you kill me it’s international news. If you kill a Manipuri it won’t necessarily make local news.

    Cf. Yesterday insurgents raided the compound of an Executive Engineer killing four people two soldiers two carpenters. The day before a 26 Crore beautification development investment was announced for local roads. The Executive Engineer, even if he is honest I know that’s a stretch, will now be asked to hand over a few crore off the top for the insurgency group. They will give a list of names of people to whom the contract for the beautification must be given. There’s no need for secrecy this is how business is done in Manipur. There will be no Keynesian Multiplier effect kickstarting the economy. And with respect before you can beautify Manipur’s roads you would have to have built actual roads not just announce another set of development funds for them. You’d think with all the Mafia Dons running the Government and local NGOs they would know how to handle Mafia goons better.

    I mention the incident because Sri Ibobi is due to make another threat to reintroduce AF(SP)A in Imphal and he will cite this recent business negotiation among the local mafia and another Executive Engineer as the reason. What would those two women do if AF(SP)A were reintroduced. I think they’d keep ignoring the goons, keep walking and talking quietly among themselves, and get on with their lives. They showed no fear. They also showed no surprise at being harrassed by an armed gunman.

    The tragedy of Manipur is that it has turned your young women into heroes. When you repeal AF(SP)A you release a mahatma into the world. But as I am continually reminded. Since India is a democracy none of you have any say in AF(SP)A repeal. It’s time for me to concentrate on prayer and meditation. Once AF(SP)A is repealed I’ll return to claim what is already mine.

    I put my faith in God and his women. Khuman if you only you could redirect your anger. They will never fear you until you do. Ask you mother to show you how.

  3. The Same people here acting or sounding very much “proud”and “taking pride”.I was just expecting from the same people here that they should start to say these two kanglei girls are Naharol or something!Surprising!

  4. I did cry when i lost my first “Hero cycle” which i had parked in front of a grocery shop. Out of the frenzy to catch up with a TV programme back home i rushed and had completely forgotten about my cycle. When i remembered it was too late! Next followed the wild thoughts of being scorned by my parents about my negligence!! But to my surprise, my parents were cool. Bought me another one the next day. From that day, i stopped trusting myself of trusting someone when in comes to parking my Vehicle. In Mumbai, my poor 4 wheeler had become 3 wheeler in one night. In Bangalore, my 2 wheeler had become 4 wheeler when one the rear wheel was stolen and i had to ask an open-autorick to take it home!!

    I have had instances where i had the privilege to meet people like Soniya and
    Tamphanani across the country. Out of pure honesty and sincerity, some people really go out of the way to help others. Kudos to the parents who had given the kind of upbringing to such people!

    Sometimes, we can just lie down and relax just with the thoughts that our world still has the variety and life is good because of such instances!!

  5. NIce story and THANKS to Chitra Ahenthem for telling us the story. A heartwarming story to read among headlines filled with petrol scarcity, false promise from politicians, MINISTER DEVENDRA deliberately ignoring illegal immigrants in Jiribam area etc.

    Kudos to these young ladies who are doing their duties with utmsost sincerity. PLEASE REMEMBER THAT WE RESPECT YOU AND NEED MANY PEOPLE LIKE YOU.

  6. Dear readers,
    There was no way that Soniya’s story could remain untold once I came to read about her in a Facebook wall photo post. The whole day, I have heard feedback from people who read this column saying they were moved and felt warm after reading about the young lady.
    @Desmond Coutinhu,
    I was a mere medium for this story. I agree with you that the truth is always simple and it is the small people with big hearts who quietly hold the fabric of goodness and decency.

  7. Soren Kirkegaard the Scandinavian Philosopher 18th century Google if you can claimed that human beings were on a spiritual path and the final stage was what he termed Knights of Faith, a simple term for what in the east has been called a boddhisaatva, an arihant, saadhu, tulkus. He felt there were many such people in the world working for good. Why did we not notice them then. Because they were extraordinarily ordinary. They weren’t usually kings and philosophers. They were shepherds and shopkeepers, nurses and traffic wardens. I gratefully and happily confirm this experience of the height and depth of Manipuri decency. There are many Manipuris quietly getting on with their lives, doing the decent thing in a most indecent world. I have every faith and hope that these people young old and all unimportant bear the hopes the fears the joys and the sorrows of all out futures. Do not judge Manipur by its politicians, its activists and most certainly not by foreigners like me who know it only briefly. Assess Manipur by the countless ordinary men and women who have shown decency that had I read about it I would have said it is not possible for human beings ever to show such compassion such courage. This must have been made up by some novelist trying to paint a better picture of humanity. Ordinary Manipuris are tiny frail creatures with huge hearts. My experiences of them have lifted my hope not only for Manipur but for all humanity. And yes they do not seem to want rewards or recognition. Thank you for this article. The truth is always simple.

  8. In the crowd of corruption, still honesty exist. I really appreciate them. The only thing, we should do is identify and select the right person for the right job.


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