Attending the three day long Ziro Music Festival at Arunachal Pradesh was quite an experience. Going by road till the festival site was a unique challenge in itself, the terrain was quite similar to the hill districts of Manipur. Despite the nearly 800 km ride through Nagaland and Assam till Arunachal, there were no significant problems aside of the mechanical ones and climatic conditions.
Things were pleasant all the way and we reached Manipur. Approaching Imphal from Mao was more troublesome than crossing the three states altogether. There Police men were courteous and co-operative; they even declined to see the driving license when we said that we had come from Manipur. But, on the way back, the torch light wavering half drunk policemen shouted abusively and were more threatening than a highway looter.
Speaking of looting, two friends who travelled with us from Arunachal on a motorcycle were held at gunpoint near Motbung. They had ridden ahead but called us up. When we answered, there was no conversation but heard tribal dialect. It turned out they had simply left the phone open to signal that they had run into trouble. We saw them with some youths in a secluded area of the highway, they were being frisked. So, we halted beside them and one among the youths approached me and inquired why I stopped. I replied that I came with the bikers.
They asked who I was and I identified myself as a journalist, they asked for identification and they confiscated my identity card. Later, they explained that the bikers needed help and they had assisted them, someone had taken some money and they had helped get the amount back. With this, the biker friends were let off and they drove away from the scene. We finally met up at Sekmai, where they told the story. The youths had identified themselves as cadres of a hill based insurgent group and took money, their footwear, air-pump and were on the verge of tearing up their bags. The youths also beat them with a stick.
Even as they completed recounting their ordeal, a phone call came to one of my friend who was a resident of Thangal Bazar. It turned out he wanted to inform me of a bomb blast. An air of gloom pervaded over us all. When we thought of the adventurous ordeal we had gone through, there was pride and gratitude that we had been fortunate to have the experience. However the latter chain of events completely brought us back under a cloud of gloom. The bravado was gone and we were no longer in charge of our fate, the rights of the person to commute freely and with a sense of trust was lost. Sanaleipak did not sound so comforting at that moment.
The terror attack at Thangal bazar is condemnable without reservations. Our friend from Tangal bazar was looking forward to join the Durga Puja festival on that day. Had we arrived a bit earlier, we might have been one of the casualties, or worse, even a fatality. One hopes that the future of Manipur is not a big zero.
Leader Writer: Paojel Chaoba