After an eventful stay at home, at Imphal, for nearly a month, I was all set for yet another return trip back to my institute, in the later part of the winter. Every time I have a departure from home, it has been a tearful and painful moment for me. One of the reasons is that most of the Meitei families, in general, have a closed joined family and people are not very used to the lifestyle of families having children staying at different places away from their parents, let alone having a single son or a child. It is even worse with those families where the older generations like grandparents perform the rituals of Meitei in a traditional and orthodox fashion quite regularly like utshop, laireek taba, kang/jhoolon pali pooba etc. Unfortunately my family happened to be in this bracket and hence I have a family bound in the background always (of course, every Meitei would have felt the same bound in some way or the other). Nonetheless, I try to convince these old generation people by saying that we need to change from our closed system of living together ‘physically’ and be more open to live outside in a more real world, with the family closeness kept as the technology and income improves. Well, they somehow feel convinced a bit, but not completely.
Back to my own story, my mother prepares a pious meal -my last meal during my stay- made from the vegetables, rice and fruits which are offered to Sanamahi with pure devotion and prayers for the welfare of their only son. Luckily this time, the flight from Imphal to Calcutta was in the afternoon and hence it didn’t give much problem to my mom, else she would have done everything getting up in the wee hours of the chilled and cold morning. When all set to go, there came the most tearful moment –bidding bye to each member of the family. I wished each one with knees and forehead touching the ground and taking blessing for good health, and best of all. My grandpa’s photo was there in a pillar looming large over me and smiling as if he was also wishing the same thing to me. As for the last obligation for a Meitei mother, my mom came to me and smelled my body as if a part of her soul is going to leave her for long, long time. I could not control myself and broke down. Meantime, there came a honk from the vehicle of my friend who would come to the airport to see me off, signaling that I better be in hurry. After making a final praying to the Sun God signified by the presence of a lantern, three oranges in a banana leaf –cut into a circular disk-, and the fume of an incensed stick, I came out straight without even looking back to my house –obliging the my grandma..
When I reached the airport, my friend said that it had changed a lot. Yes, I said, a lot has been changed in the infrastructure. No, he said, a lot more change in the patterns of passengers and people who have come to see them off. He carried on saying over the years, many a Metei student and others used to go by flight. And one can visualize a clear picture of how the state has performed both economically and politically, just by observing the patterns of Indian Airlines passengers in the Imphal Airport bound for Calcutta and other destinations. There are not many Meiteis nowadays, let alone the students, who can afford to go by flight. One can feel that the flight looks like more of a few Meiteis in some other flight rather than other people in a Imphal flight bound for some other places –a clear sign of slow economic growth. There have been a lot of Army officers, a lot of Mayang business persons –a clear sign of avoiding the highways in fear of many DISTURBANCES, showing bad-ridden political situation of the state. Well, I was lucky to be still to be on the board, thanks to the concession of student’s stipend. But I cannot say the same for the next year, thanks to my age which will cross the bar –a condition to give concession. Once on board, I soon started reading news after news. Then I picked up the SWAGAT, a magazine for inflight passengers. Then there came the PROUD MOMENT which cleared all my minds that were absorbed in the discussions with my friend. Somewhere in the middle of the magazine, it wrote –AN IRON WOMAN PUT INDIA IN THE WOLRD MAP OF SPORTS. The section carried an article on KUNJARANI !!!. It said….
When Indian women took part in 1989 World Championship, Manchester, UK, many were skeptical about the women contingent saying it was a waste of money to send them. But surprised to their pessimism, the women came back with a haul of seven silver medals. And one woman called Kunjarani, a diminutive girl from a remote place, Manipur of the North-East of India had a major chunk, bringing three silvers alone. I looked down through the window of the plane and saw the sharp ridges of mountains and small serpentine rivulets, lush green hill-slopes covered with bamboo plants. Absolutely beautiful. Is the place still really remote?? The allied force and Japanese had a tough time crossing these ridges to occupy a valley called Imphal, an important battlefield to south-east Asia in the 2nd WW –that they literally called ‘hell of gate’. Now, the place, 50 years hence, is still remote!!! NO, ‘OTHER PEOPLE’ MAKE IT REMOTE, I felt. I was lost some where with the word ‘remote’.
Back to SWAGAT, that was the starting of Kunjarani’s career in the international arena since the winning of three silvers. Since then, she has been able to occupy some space of the Indian Sports Media, which is absolutely exploited by the Indian Cricketers. When everyone thought she was finished, in 1997, with a knee operation, she came back with a bang hauling the National title at Chenai for the eight time. Later that year, she won two silvers in the Asian Chapionship. At the World Championship, Ching Mai, China, she crossed another land mark by winning silver in the 46th Kg class. But this girl is ‘unfortunate’, in her own standard, that the gold she dreams of in any World or Asian Championship eludes her time again and again, and because of that she is often known as ‘Silver’ woman. In 1993, she was unable to participate in the World Championship, as she failed to get visa in time. Well, the government, being forced to be aware of her brilliance by her performances, is supportive to some extent by giving her cash awards. Coming from a less than affluent family, Kunjarani manages her cash awards in both providing her diet and supporting her family as well.
A FEW HIGHLIGHTS FROM KUNJARANI’S PERFORMANCE
1. Won 47 medals in the World, Asian, and Commonwealth
Championships –a record unmatched in the annals of Indian Sports
2.won 20 medals in Indian Sports and ranked 1st in the world in 1995, first time in the History of Indian Weightlifting Sports
3. won 20 medals in World Championship alone –even after missing two contests and is ranked among the top three/four lifters, of all time
4. first Indian lifter to win gold in Asian Championship.