Building friendships in Moreh, Manipur

* April 18: Moriang is the place where for the first time, the tricolor was hoisted on Indian soil. The Indian National Army (INA) marched till here (40km from Imphal). Moriang was the headquarters of the INA. Due to heavy rain, INA and Japanese were losing ground and eventually, they had to go on the backfoot. They left Japanese made tanks, armor vehicles and jeeps. The British took over the tanks and the local landlord took the other vehicles. Someone told me that a few Burmese nationals still have those vehicles but I did not spot any in my week long trip. These were super all-terrain vehicles and people came to Moreh in Manipur to buy parts of these vehicles

* April 19:

Indo- Myanmar Friendship Bridge: This is a second World War bridge on Asian Highway no.1 and has been connecting millions of hearts divided by political boundaries of India and Myanmar. This is the only official open border between India and Myanmar.
This bridge is most confusing. India has a right side drive while Myanmar has a left side side. When one crosses half the bridge, one has to switch sides. Several times, two wheelers hit each other on the bridge. It’s quite funny to watch.

* April 20:

It was my privilege to be the guest of Hrishikesh Modak (IAS) who is working as the District Collector of Ukhrul, the most troubled district of Manipur. There are bullet marks on the gate of his house. This exhibits the intensity of the situation here. Hrishikesh is not immune to threats but he doesn’t stop. Several babus in the North East put requests through relatives for safe postings or deputation in Delhi. A common friend described the situation in a few words, ‘Hrishi Khind ladhavtoy’ (Hrishi is battling). It’s not only the army that works in hostile areas and away from their families, but also officers like Hrishikesh. He is my first host in a month long journey. I do not have a group photo to share here.
* April 20:
Moreh is a far-flung corner of the country. I spoke to at least 20 people about the future course of my journey. These people were locals at Moreh__ army officers, bureaucrats in Manipur, researchers, drivers, businessmen, tourist guides and veteran travellers. Eighteen out of twenty people told me to head back. Only two said I should go ahead. These two were my friends and have no knowledge of the area. Their knowledge of area is whatever the internet throws up. Let’s see what to do.

April 21:

Two men__ Kaja Mohideen Moreh  from Moreh and Shivam Subramanian from Tamu, Myanmar, helped me, going beyond limits. Tamu and Moreh are twin towns divided by a river which defines international border of India and Myanmar. By getting a pass, people can cross the border for few hours in morning.
Without their help, it would have been difficult for me to cross the border. There was a tense situation on the Indian side. The two said that I must cross and go to  Myanmar at the earliest. It was local holiday in Manipur and offices were closed. They took me to customs officers’ houses to clear the immigration and customs formalities. They also dropped me in Myanmar on their mopeds. They paid my food bills during the last four days of my stay. They took me to different restaurants on both sides of the border. I’m indebted to them for their kindness and hospitality.

Kaja Mohideen Moreh is like a lighthouse for travellers in the jungle border of Myanmar. During 1962, Kaja’s family migrated to India. They went to Chennai. But the food, water and the local culture did not suit them. Kaja’s father decided to go back to Myanmar and left Chennai. They came to the Myanmar border in Manipur but the Myanmar government did not allow them to enter. Kaja’s family was waiting on the Indian side of border for a long time to enter Myanmar. Years passed and there was no progress. They eventually settled in Moreh, a twin town on border. After Kaja’s birth, his family gave up the idea to move to Myanmar.

One of my friends, Anand Kumar (whom I had met in Nathu La on the India-China border four years ago), introduced me to Kaja on Facebook a week before I started my trip. I doubt if Kaja has had any formal education but he is smart and enterprising (the second such guy I had come across after meeting Ravi, an illiterate househelp working for an IAS officer who was my host). Kaja has the ability to grasp the point, whether speaking to an officer of Assam Riffles, customs officer, businessmen, foreigners or Burmese customers at a small shop that he runs.

Kaja is two steps ahead of the rest of the town. He owns a digital camera and operates a Facebook account, which is considered rare in these parts. He is very popular and sought out during community events. He is invited at every church, temple, gurudwara or mosque. When my senior’s son passed away, Kaja took me to a south Indian temple for prayers. After the prayers, a woman came up to him and requested him to upload her schoolgoing son’s photo on his Facebook page. I wondered why. He explained that her relatives in south India would then be able to see the picture and post comments, which Kaja would read out to the woman.

Kaja is a modern day postman. Everyone from his town wants to upload pictures and write messages on his Facebook wall. The mainstream media from Imphal have no representatives in Moreh. Without any inquiry or phone calls, media houses download pictures of local events, celebrations, curfew, riots lathi-charge or bandh from Kaja’s Facebook page and use it. I doubt whether they pay him for using his pictures but they trust him fully.

Kaja speaks Tamil, Manipuri, Hindi, Burmese and broken English. He is a lighthouse for travellers (like me) who wish to cross the India-Myanmar border.

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