Unique Oddities of the Kuki-Psyche

Published on May 1, 2007

By Lunminthang Haokip

May 2, 2007: Nothing elates the kuki-ego better than putting on a show. Late P.T. Yamthang, a social critic who was best known for keeping his audience in ceaseless splits when he, in his elements, chit-chatting on events in wayside tea-stalls, exploiting his own satirical flair for verbal-gymnastics, once said , “A sleek jeep whizzed into the State Secretariat, and came to a screeching halt. A booted, suited and bespectacled (Late) Thangkhanlal (a Minister, then) dismounted in style with his trade-mark cap in hand.

In split seconds, about half-a-dozen political workers (all Kukis) of the high-flying Zou-Leader with the midas-touch, flaunting heads turned grayish by sub-urban dust, jumped down one by one from the back of the Singhat-smeared vehicle with the pride of a paratrooper and rubber-necked around, each loudly thinking, “Am I being seen by others?” 
 
The progressive village-level power-broker (VLPB) dons this ostentatious mind-set to perfection. Calculatingly ambitious, his type as a rule, marries, sorry, elopes with a gullible daughter of the susceptible village-chief that he may have a larger stake in administrative affairs of his area. He’s usually a high school drop-out, but lack of higher education is suitably compensated for by native intelligence and a persuasive oratory skill. To keep up with his double-standards, he lives in a house partly roofed with thatch-leaves and partly with G.I. Sheets. 
 
The Smart-operator employs simple Modus operandi. He volunteers to offer a sumptuous meal to appreciate and dish–honour every visiting dignitary including district and block-level officers. He makes moves to be so close to the circle MLA that the latter even issues signed blank letter–heads for him. The bonhomie between the two grows firmer with every show of unflinching loyalty by the speculating power-broker during polls.  
 
The MLA-turned-Minister can count on the succour of his supple yet subtle supporter as long as he gives the faithful follower free access to the perks and privileges of minister-dom. While the ‘chela’ savours being pampered and introduced to biggies, a snide remark from the Guru’s family is enough for ever alienate the touchy ‘Kismet ka thikadar’ and make him switch over allegiance to a rival camp. Reminds me of a saying in Hindi, “Jaisa Guru, waisa chela; dono narak mein thelam thela”. 
 
Decades ago, when the flow of funds wasn’t throttled by overdrafts and bans, the VLPB frequented offices with the delight of a hypochondriac at a medical convention. Following the sudden glut of schemes for the poor, in his frog-in-the pond mentality, he thought he had more money than he knew what to do with. Neatly stacking up a few bank-fresh tens of thousands of rupees inside his inner-room trunk-box, and putting his finger vertically across his lips, he warned the wife of his youth in a whispering tone, “Silly woman, keep the doors properly locked when you go out. This is not lifestyle and living standard of the past.” 
 
The stocks of the moneyed dream-merchant soar in rural transactions. He is consulted and approached in every matter. Self-centred, he enjoys the undue importance he’s welcomed with wherever he goes. In our pathetic back-blocks, means fall far short of needs. The period between the harvest and the fall of the next year’s spring season is set aside for various social and religious activities.  
 
Village foundation-day or youth-day is to be exulted over with fanfare. A poor family is to send off their daughter in holy marriage. A memorial stone awaits to be laid. Christmas will be devoid of merriment if a few pigs or oxen aren’t slaughtered .Of course, the spiritually discerned wonders as to why cattles have to tremble at the time of the Birth of the Prince of Peace. 
 
The village is to host the parish spiritual conference immediately after the area sports-meet. The schedules are hectic. The artistic damsel is anxious. How’s she going to finish loin-weaving the shawl she desperately needs to sell off before the tourney. The father of the bride-to-be sulks. Tradition demands that he forks out dollops of pork and beef for village-folks and sundry kindred to feast upon before his daughter is decently bid adieu.  
 
Not that he volunteers to, but others’ expectations demand so. Besides, the bride is to be sent off in style along with fresh household paraphernalia. In this year of horrible harvest, how on earth is he going to make both ends meet in the later-half of the terrible year? 
 
If the problems come, can the VLPB be far behind? In the absence of big rivers in his vicinity where he can spend time fishing, he loves to fish in troubled waters. Loans are given to those who are in dire-straits to be paid back in kind (read paddy) with interest. If they can’t repay, there’s no harm. He’ll write off the debts with an eye on advantage to bargain when Assembly election comes. Defaulters have no choice but to fall in line. No situation of helplessness is left unexploited. To increase his influence in village-affairs, the affluent broker of power doles out generous sums for every cause worth its name. Dubiously-gotten gains, in turn, help him earn a clout-of-sorts in being the medium of questionable deals linking rural development and satraps of governance.  
 
There isn’t dearth of issues and excuses to blow up the filthy-lucre the VLPB earns. Guilt-ridden, he considers it his duty to bear the cost of buying sports-kits for the village soccer team, uniforms for the Church-choir, licenced guns for the defence wing(1993 to 1997) etc. when his folks are to attend a meeting at a distant venue, the leader(or misleader) hires a four-wheeler without a murmur. 
 
If the chartered means of transport happens to be an old soft-top Jeep, he makes it a point to sit at the outermost left-side edge of the front-seat with his left leg conspicuously hung outside the body of the right-hand drive and rested on the foot-rest. That has become a type of status symbol for one who’s sold on being on a social roll. 
 
Desire is to attain recognition and celebrity-hood by hook or by crook. So, the VLPB smokes 555 cigarettes but offers cheaper stuff to lesser hangers on around. His audacious show-off can only be rivaled by that of a just-retired, fresh from the uniformed-cadre ex-serviceman. Money is unsparingly spent to boost up his societal prestige percentage.  
 
A man of drive, he doesn’t know when he’s being taken for a ride. Motive for attending functions isn’t anything weightier than “the craving to flaunt his neo-rich status”. The trouble with him is that his roving eyes end up over-seeing the facets of the fairer species. That’s how vanity creeps in to make the hitherto straight-fellow forget the wife of  his salad days, get entrapped by ultra-modern allurements and fall head-long into the bottomless-pit of adultery and polygamy.  
 
Not everybody gets money the easy way though. Out in the hills where one ekes out a semblance of a living literally by the sweat of one’s brow, to think of the morrow is to be full of sorrow. Of late, those who live dangerously had discovered ways and means to live by the sweat of other people’s brow. Where there are no spirit-led men to preach godly righteousness, youngsters grow up with scant regard for the Word of God.  In brazen breach of Biblical beatitudes, they take to sin as a duck takes to water. Fed with violence and bred in ignorance, some defiant adolescents turn out to be wolves who don’t even bother to put on sheep’s clothing.  
 
There was an angry young man in a hilly chief-dom. A chain-smoker, his dad sent him to buy a pack of panama cigarettes from a shop located 8 kms away. Ever on his guard, the wild lad carried a knife with him, as a habit. 
 
On his way, he was joined by some traders coming from Burma border. Triggered by basic instinct, at knife-point, the debuting bandit robbed the petty traders of whatever money they had. The looted victims ran for their lives and filed a complaint at the security out-post where the young fiend was to shop. Now, the booty-king toyed with the idea of escape. But what about his dad’s puff? So, risking torture, for the fear of a spanking from a terrible daddy, he went ahead to fulfill the old man’s wish. 
 
There at destination point, after his purchase, the security forces caught hold of him and beat him black and blue till he coughed out the amount plundered. Nevertheless, he got back home, with a broken jaw, a swollen chin, eyes smeared with fist-battered layers of ‘kajal’ and of course, also with dear papa’s  panama packet. Who says a Kuki-son doesn’t take parent’s order seriously. 
 
In a classic case of violent yoking of dissimilars, traits-in-conflict are vehemently banded together in the Kuki-character. Violent-temper and a humorous bent-of-mind normally do not mix well. But, in the Kuki psyche, they blend and bond beautifully to strike a balance that tilts heavily on neither side. It’s a pleasant surprise to notice that even the most ferocious Kuki hasn’t lost his sense of humour.  
 
The man who throws a tantrum and walks out of the annual assembly of the local church, for all his fits of fury, has the potential to make the entire village weep in laughter at the post-Christmas get-togethers euphemistically named ‘Lenkhom’.  
 
Every Kuki village prides in having one such village level humorist (VLH). For the better part of the year, the VLH curiously observes errors in human behaviourial patterns, mentally saves them in his upper chamber and adding bits of exaggeration here and there, and double-clicks the stored-up data to amuse annual social gatherings with jokes unlimited. Parallels can be drawn with the popular Meitei “Epom”. That, to the fun –fancying Kuki, is nothing lesser than slapstick comedy. 
 
The early seventies saw the steady emergence of Hemlet, the uncrowned prince of Dongjang (Near Sugnu in Manipur) from a non-descript VLH to a sought-after DLH (District level) and latter to a SLH (State-level). His gags were wholesome. He never took personal potshot on anybody. Reveling in harmless hyperboles, Hemlet Baite shot to fame with one-liners like, “I came to know about my super-stamina the moment I cut banana-trunks deep with a knife”. He also had a knack for underplayed buffoonery and churned out subtleties like, “I felt immensely pleased when my mom, one fine day, confided in me in whispers that I am older to my younger brothers.”  
 
The endearing clown had this jaw-splitting tale to tell. “Once in utter hunger, I loitered around the eateries of Imphal city with a few coins in my pocket. The coins were too meagre to buy me a square meal. I therefore positioned myself in front of the restaurants and tried to quench my hunger by in-haling the sweet aroma of the food-items on offer.  
 
Catching me red-handed in the offbeat act, the manager of the eatery insisted on my payment for the invisible aromatic inhalation. I was shocked. And in a flash of witticism, for which I lauded myself, I shook the coins in my pocket and told the manager that the clanking sound the coins produced was my tit-for-tat answer to the bogus notional bill demanded clearance of. That way, somehow I could settle scores with the restaurateur’s chutzpah.  
 
Then came in the fun-laden scenario of glib-tongued scene–stealers like Sonmang Chongloi who catered to the taste of the classes with utterances steeped in twist of irony like: “Among the politicians, Rev.T. Lunkim is closest to God”. He was equally candidly bitter about his better-half, “At night, in my sub-consciousness, when my tender skin touched the extra-rough, skin-edges of my wife’s heels, I thought the neighbour’s saw –mill blade had cut me apart.” 
 
Mikhel Lhunkhohao’s jibes and digs dug deep impressions in the hearer’s sensibility. “The sun will never set on the S.L –empire as long as as S.L. Paokhosei is in power”, was his sarcasm-soaked person-specific remark on his circle MLA of the time. What follows was yet another wise-crack of his on Kuki National Assembly, “He who KNA political party supports whole-heartedly, cannot recover status-quo in material well-being till the lapse of five long years”. 
 
Comedians may come, comedians may go. But what can blot out from ones’s mental screen the superb take-offs of mimic king, Mithun Jangpao, on the real Elvis-clone Mithun’s pelvic gyrates. Apart from the hilarious burlesques he was excellent at, the Kuki answer to Johny Lever, enthralled his audience with Basanti-inspired songs sung in mimicked female voice replete with coy mannerisms.  
 
In more recent years, the art of making people laugh in Kuki neighbourhoods’ was articulated to jocular heights by a lean and thin comedy-aficionado called Ngamsei. His audio and video cassettes were a sell-out. He was a craze among the NRKs (Non-Resident Kukis). One witty comment of the chronic fun-sick beatnik that deserves mention time and again is reproduced below: “I’m not amazed by the launching of rockets in space; neither do I wonder how men landed on the moon. But one thing that baffles me in bewilderment is the mind-boggling enigma as to how fried pieces of potato landed inside a Singra(Samosa) without leaving holes”.  
 
Jokes aside, yarns on hazaar bizarre anecdotes can be spun about the odd episodes through which love blossomed among teenage-kukis. Normally, masculine savagery in courtship puts off and evokes resentment in the feminine psyche. Frailty, thy name is woman, Shakespeare confirmed. But with a kuki, the contrary can be true as well. Some dare-devil toughies of the early seventies had the gumption to make goondaism an asset in romance.  
 
n those days when might wasn’t entirely wrong, a love-lorn local dada from a Lambulane ‘adda’, took his date and her friends in a nearby café called Pala hotel. In a bid to impress the lasses in company, the street-smart impresario placed orders for every sweet-meat in sight. Fairly floored, his lady-love almost believed that she’d hooked a knight-in-shining-armour. In actuality, he was a mere tender-hooked street-fighter-in-fading-denim that had not pocketed a paisa for weeks. 
 
While the girls giggled and nibbled at the choice edibles, the guy, guilt-stricken, were all sweats, tiring his brain to think out a way to clear the “whopping” bill. He got up, strutted towards the manager and leaned on the money-counter, hung his jacket on his left arm and turned his back on the ladies.  
 
Then, displaying bulging biceps with a piercing stare to match, he asked the manager, as if to pay money (for the benefit of the girls), “Achoiba pambra (meaning do you want a slap)”?, and tossing about a tightly-clenched fist right under the nose of the shivering restauranteur while hiding his tricks of threat from the rest of the entourage, said, “Natraga mapum pambra(meaning do you want a solid punch)”?. All said and done, poor Pala was made a sucker of.  
 
So as to be declared fit to keep his fans in complete splits, a star-humorist needs to constantly re-invent himself. That fast ensnaring hang-up of a pressure to ever perform better becomes his undoing. Every dog has its day. Dadagri was tolerated once upon a time. The entertainers cited in the preceding paras had their own respective hey-days. Each brand of jest was preferred in a particular period of a decade.  
 
But the tragedy of life struck at the unexpected time. Barring one, all the top-bracket Kuki jesters mentioned in this write-up had already kicked the bucket. May their souls rest in peace! The jokes they cracked as human-beings had such a lasting impact on public memory that when they’d become human-beens, nobody credited the sad event with the distressed seriousness usually reserved for the funeral of a normal mortal. 
 
One of the jesters profiled earlier died in a strange bus-accident. Another died of a mysterious ailment, and yet another, of a malady that defied every remedy prescribed. Unable to bear the pangs of sorrow life is beleaguered with, the most cultured among them, drank himself to an early grave. Their untimely demises cannot and should not brush off chance coincidences. It’s widely agreed upon that in their heightened enthusiasm to generate high-decibel laughter, the otherwise well-meaning top-notch jesters might have quoted scriptures out of context and taken God’s name in vain. This could possibly have proved tragic. 
 
“Thou shall not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that take His name in vain (Exodus 20: 7) a Bible commentator elaborated further, “God’s name is special for it carries His personal identity. Using it frivolously or in a curse so common today, we may fail to realize how serious it is. The way we use God’s name conveys how we really feel about him. We should respect His name and use it appropriately, speaking it in praise or worship rather than in curse or jest. We will not be found guiltless if we dishonour His name.” 
 
When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we say, “Hallowed be thy Name (Luke11:2)’. Everything we see, know, feel and touch above and below the atmosphere provides ample reason for us to always hallow God’s name. All the billion dollars of the world cannot provide us pure air, pure water for all, a pure heart and fool-proof security. They can only be gifted from heaven. It’s God alone who makes a child grow, a plant fructify, seasons change at the dot of time and the cosmic bodies stay put in their proper places.  
 
Every living soul owes its existence to Him.  This strife-torn and calamity-prone mess between two poles ought to hallow His name in thought, in speech and in deed for safety and security. Now that the twin WTC sky scrapers, once touted to be perfectly safe and insulated against forces of earthquake, like the Titanic was believed falsely to be unsinkable, had proved us wrong,. Where else can we turn to? There is only one safe place, “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe”. Proverbs 18:10. 
 
More often than not, we take God’s name in our swearing, curses, jest and corrupt communications. That’s not hallowing but desecrating His holy name. In doing so, we uncover ourselves from His unfailing protection. We are hallowing when we use His name in fear and trembling and carefully weigh every word we speak. True wisdom calls for usage of the right word at the right time. Proverbs 25: 11 puts it on record, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in setting of silver”.

The author is Additional Deputy Commissioner under the government of Manipur, a Northeast state in India.