Wednesday, December 15, 2004

SOMI TO ZETTE: FedEx will pick up the package this afternoon. They say it will be delivered Friday. I will mail you the Airway Bill and Tracking numbers.... It is coming as an unsolicited gift as advised by the FedEx person.... It will have a lock on a latch. The key will come in an envelope with the FedEx guy. I will bring the spare key with me.

The box will weigh 17kg and will contain:

1 Potloi [bride's wedding dress]

1 raw silk bride's blouse

1 gauzy Innaphee Bride's wrap

1 Bride's tiara

3 imitation jewelry necklaces

4 imitation jewelry bracelets

1 Groom's cotton pheijom (dhoti like, with purple printed pattern)

1 Groom's cotton pumyat with fake buttons (kurta)

1 Groom's cotton shawl

1 Groom's turban

2 white presentation cotton innaphees

2 fuschia cotton wraps

10 paper Bride dolls

5 mini braziers made of recycled cans

Do I see you Sunday at 2 for Yoshiko"s. Shall that be our get-together if she is not too tired? I leave tomorrow for Bangkok and will have dinner with Manuel.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

ZETTE: Yes, send [the wedding dress] etc to Valrae - I can hardly wait to see it.  Is the jewelry going to be in there too, or will you bring the small bits with you? 

It really is Christmas in overdrive here,  and the weather is about to turn cold, so get ready!  It's been mild since we all got back, but that's about to end.  I ran into Jacob without Yoshiko at a Hanukkah party on Friday!  It was funny to hear his version of how Yoshiko described the trip.  He did know about her interest in the guards.   Please have a safe trip - it was not so bad coming back packed into coach class, as long as you have a neck pillow, sleep mask, and are sitting on the aisle.  Much better than I thought it would be. 

Monday, December 13, 2004

BONNIE: I am sending regards to all the Manipur Field Trippers from New York City.  Please stop by to see the new show by Yoshiko and friends at Asia Society, information below. I hope you are all getting back to normal.  My jet lag is insufferable! 


Conceived and directed by choreographer Yoshiko Chuma, Game/Play is a madcap, cross-cultural performance which explores the world of games through dance, music and words. Dozens of games are packed into the performance - from children's clapping games to jump rope to rhyming word games, to gambling - which is at times provocative, at times contemplative, but always playful. The stage includes 4 seven-by-seven foot cube frames, which rotate and change position evoking dice, a chessboard floor and video projections. The piece is performed by 12 dancers and musicians from China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Korea, and Myanmar (Burma) including a Japanese children's song singer, Balinese and Korean child dancers and a classical Burmese dancer. It can be enjoyed by children and adults alike.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

MIKE'S NOTE TO A FRIEND: When I unpacked my treasured T-shirt I found it reads "Manipur Baseball" not "Manipuri Baseball" (which I think is what I told you.) It also has a small round logo on the back shoulder which reads Manipur Amateur Baseball Association (and something in Manipuri) in a circle; and inside the circle there is a silhouette of a baseball hitter and an image of the lion/dragon which symbolizes Manipur. I forget what it's called, but I can find out these things from Somi if you like.  Anyhow, it's a great T-shirt (black on grey) and I've asked Somi to try to bring some more when he comes back to New York in a couple of weeks. This is because I've found people here fascinated by this whole story and I've decided to form a Board of Directors for the project and I want them to have the T-shirts.  These will be people from baseball itself (players and others), writers, influential people who love the game.

For Americans, baseball is such a joyous game.  We love the look of it, the dual emphasis on the individual and on the team, the fact that it has no time constraints (theoretically a game could go on forever), its beauty, its history. I think the Manipuri players feel much of the same thing.  They really love the game and they want to see it flourish in Manipur. So do I.  It's a graceful game that somehow seems right even in such a remote and different culture.  But it can have its place in a land of grace, of subtle dance traditions and delicate music and glamorous polo.  An enchanting juxtaposition.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

ERIN: Have been asked by Leila's school to do a little presentation on
Manipur for 4-5 year olds. Trying to figure out what to do. Have them dance to
Dave's music, maybe show them a video of one of Rase's dances. Maybe a
thang-ta exercise. Any ideas?

Am also about to write Theatre Journal and ask if they want a performance
review of Rose of Lidice.... That's my news for now...

Monday, December 06, 2004

ERIN: And I really want to send you a report on the Women's Market -- because for me it wasn't as much about shopping as about a visit to a place where women are powerful in the real sense of the word, a place that is a political center, a place where women really cooperate rather than compete with each other, a place where Bonnie and I (on our first visit with Ranjana) were joyously welcomed (both in phanek so that had something to do with it) and the women were so pleased -- it was like a social visit. None of that pull to buyt this, look at that.

When we went later in the week with Teja, he took us all around and then took us to meet his aunt. So we made a personal visit at the Women's Market -- which seemed perfect -- the idea that you go to the market to visit a friend, to gossip, to talk about pollitics, to do whatever. In other words, it is a social center. Who are the govt officials trying to move them inside to a structure? I'm sure they ahve good impulses (in the rainy season it can't be easy to sit out there all day) but it will ocmpletely change the tone of the place.

So, in other words, when you write about the Women's Market I would love to see you write about it as a social and political center, a meeting place, and a place where women have control, where women call the shots, where women treat themselves and each other with respect, and how Bonnie and I felt drawn into that. It's much more than a place to shop. Oh, did I mention I think it's probably also a cultural center in many ways? But that's just a guess -- the first observations areclear to me just from experiencing the place.
ERIN: Just for the record we did see some of the [Maha Ras] rehearsal. Not endless amounts, and we did get
stuck doing all the puja stuff, but enough to see how rehearsal works and is structured, and the range of dance abilities, and the range of reasons for doing it -- which are so evident in the body language. It's really clear that some of the women love to dance, some of them are there for the social life of it, and some are clearly forced to be there by their families.

And some of them love to use their bodies, and some of them wish they could get through life without bodies at all.

ERIN: Thanks for the reassurance about Lokendra Arambam. I just want to make sure we don't behave caually with respect to people'e time.

Can't wait to see the Lidice video -- I'm still planning to run away from home and join the sumang lila. As for WTC, although I think your video is great, it didn't do justice to the live performance -- video rarely does. And I know that I liked the video but was absolutely BLOWN AWAY (oops -- maybe that's not the right choice of words) by the WTC show when it was live. I think it's one of the best things I've seen, bar none, in recent years.

And I wasn't joking when I told the performers and Dr. Nara that I think i'ts a really important piece of work. (By the way, think Dr. Nara is doing amazing things with this sumang lila troupe -- using these plays as a way to spread peace. That's a very savvy use of performance, and his scripts are quite savvy too.)
ERIN: Does Dr. Nara have the scripts for Lidice and WTC? I know they improvise as well, but some scnes are tightly
scripted. Also: at some point would love to have him articulate his vision for these plays, why he does them, his role as producer, etc. Maybe via an email exchange?
ERIN: Just read through your blog, which is absolutely fantastic. Really loved reading it. Need to fill you in on trips to the Women's Market, however, which is, as you know, an absolutely amazing place, I don't want to articualte it right now, becuase my head is not in the right place, and I won't do it justice, but will soon.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

ZETTE: I have been labeling photos since I got up this morning - no end in sight, I was just sending you an email when I got your blog - I willfill in the museum visit that Bonnie and I made - I also have the complete list of attendees. The photos of groups will be precious to those who werethere. Lots of good ones, many duds of course too, but they may be of historical interest.

We will make Sibley squirm with shame when he sees the Thanksgiving documentation, ha ha ha...

It's hard to talk about the trip here, people are so busy and cluelesss, butit's what I expected. I want to call you tonight, about 7:30 a.m. yourtime, and ask about potloi updates. I still want some dolls too, samples. I will try to figure out how to email you some photos without the files being too large. I'm going swimming, and then back here to the computer again for the rest of the day. weather is nice, but coldish. I can hardlywait until Bonnie and Yoshiko are back.

Love to Imasi, tell her I saw the original of her portrait at the NGMA, andeveryone knows her there - Rajeev L. the director was impressed.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

SOMI: I am still savoring the aftertaste of your visit. I truly enjoyed it so much. It was a most amazing experience for me after, what, these two years of planning?

I have met and talked to most of the folks you met - some drop by, missing you - and you have made such an impression, and gave so much in a way Manipur has really never seen before. You have all made some real friends. I am sure only good things can come of this and i am dying to sit down with all of you and shoot the breeze.

For now, I have done my final schedule which i will send on to Ralph, insert into the website etc. Soplease take a look and see if i have gotten anything wrong, missed out on anything? I must have for there are like 75 listed. As you will see, i want to give the range of all your interaction,s both as a group and individually.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004


It was an extraordinary visit, full of magic and beauty and revelation.
You did an amazing job of pulling so much together, and must be
exhausted but hopefully happy.

I'm sure you want our opinions, so let me summarize what I most loved
as well as some pitfalls to look out for in the future.

The best, as they come to mind:

Your mother, her still center. We can all learn so much from her.

Dave, who is a remarkable young man, sensitive, responsible,
intelligent. I know all of us in his house felt he made a huge contribution to
our visit.

Just about everybody we met for their unstinting generosity and
kindness. I'm happy that they are your Manipur. Of course, particularly the
incredible kindness of the Thoudam family.

The first evening at your house. The delicacy and power of the music.
I was transported. I'd gone to a new world.

The dance rehearsal. Grace, subtlety, control.

Manipuri polo. The glamour of the hills. The thrill and joy.

The field. of dreams, which I thought perfect for our needs. How
wonderful that you found such a perfect place. We must now make it happen.

The baseball games, tears in my eyes, I was so happy.

Ras Lila, the unbelievable spectacle, the mournful delicate sound of
Radha's voice. I wish I could have stayed to the end for the union,
but I was building a fever which actually lasted into Calcutta where I
slept 13 hours and began a recovery (sadly couldn't make it to
Prit's performance).

There were hundreds of other wonderful experiences, but those I've
listed affected me most personally.

On the pitfall side:

Overprogramming. I know you want to show us everything wonderful, but
some prioritization must happen, some selection. We had insufficient
time to digest what we experienced, and most of us were exhausted,which
is why so many fell ill.

Proper preparation for the weather. I know I suffered particularly
from the cold because I didn’t get you last emails, but in any case
people must be aware of the temperature shifts and the conditions (that is,
that so much is done outside at night).

I think that's all for now, except to say I hope some concrete good
will come of all this. I have developed great admiration and affection
for the Manipuri people.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

ERIN: I will continue sending you thoughts as they rise to the surface. Not only because they might be interesting to you, but becuase it will keep me in touch with Manipur.

I realized, as I wrote an email to Kanhailal (which I copied you on) that in "real India" I am often treated, as a foreigner, with either too much respect and deference, or with too much unfounded contempt. In other words, I'm very rarely treated as an individual, but usually as an AMERICAN.

I didn't find that to be true in Manipur. Or maybe it's just not true among the people you introduced us to. But I never felt that people were being obsequieous. Nor did I feel that they were dismissing me automatically. In
other words, there is a cultural self-confidence in Manipur that allows the people I met to treat me in a real way. That's another palpable aspect of the trip that I've only just begun to be able to articulate.

By the way, Leila loves her phanek. She has ben wearing it around the house non-stop and announcing that she's on her way to a wedding.

I just read the note Arambam included with the pack of Cds he gave me: the note says that he was expecting me to come ot his house, so we may have screwed up. If we did, will you appologize to him -- I don't want him to think I stood him up.

And: I also thought it would make an interesting article to talk about the connection between Kanhailal's Darupadi, a one-woman show about women in Manipur that was scheuled to premiere last July and was postponed because of thedemonstration of the naked women in front of Kangla, and the demonstration itself. However, to do that I would need footage of the women's demonstration, and of Daupadi, and I would need a co-writer who saw the events live. What do you think?

Last, there are still a few things I managed to not bring back with me, that I'd love to have if there is room in your suitcase and time for you to pick them up:

Lengshonnei video
Draupadi video
video of women's protest in front of Kangla
Premchand's ANTIGONE
videos of World Trade Center and Rose of Lidice
book on Manipuri language by Khelchandra
there's a novel that Lancha was suggesting I read, but I don't know the
title (he said it's in English).
Rase's email address
tape of China Rose if possible.

I've been listening to Dave's tape -- it often sounds like Hong Kong rock to me. Interesting. Again, often bears absoleutely no resemblance to Mainland music. By the way: another perception of Manipur: Leila doesn't recognize
Dave's music as Indian. I am fascinated by this, becuase it proves the musical differences. So when I put on Dave's tape, she loves it, but she insists it isn't Indian. When she wants to hear Indian music she insists on Hindi film
songs. I haven't been able to convince her that Dave's tape is also from Inida. But obviously she is correct: in the sense that Manipur is not part of India. So: from the mouths of babes.
ERIN: Dear Kanhailal, Sabitri, and members of Kalakshetra,

I was so invigorated by our exchange of ideas and exercises, and had such fun working with all of you. It was the highlight of my trip to Manipur.

Sabitri, I was so moved by your performance: particularly by the lullabye you sang, and by the moment it turned into a mourning lament (reminding me of a terrible moment several years ago when I thought my own daughter
was dying). You are an extraordinarily powerful and evocative performer. I continue to be "haunted" (in the best sense) by your performance, and will never forget it.

Saturday, November 27, 2004


Priti hosts Yoshiko and Bonnie’s meet with some choreographers in Kolkata. It is at her lovely run-down dance center. Very “Music Room”. A lot of dancers show up, including some famous reclusives like Mamata Shankar.

I will get details later on.

The usual Secret Service bureaucracies. Harried, hurried weigh-ins, security checks. Zette gets busted for her hair-dryer. Last minute arrangements for Les’ hotel reservation in Kolkata.

Mike says to me: You know what? I would like to think of Manipur as being like Cinderella, her beauty just waiting to be discovered. I’d be willing to play Fairy Godmother, she says.

I volunteer to be the Fairy if she will be the Godmother. Bonnie and Erin say my witticisms have become just godawful over the last ten days.

Many goodbyes. Some tears. I am dying to fly back to NYC with them.

Dave and I walk out together. He wants to grab a coffee; I insist of seeing the planes take off first.

Only when I did see the planes airborne do I feel I can finally let my breath out fully in all these days. Their safe departure, with no incident and in reasonable good health, has been a huge and abiding concern. That they seem to have had a good time, dare I say it, has been almost secondary.

Erin goes off to meet her martial arts teacher. We advise her on how much money she might offer as a token of appreciation. Not too much, not too little. It’s always tricky when one does not know the world of martial arts.

Dave takes Yoshiko to his studio to hang more with the rest of the Shallow River gang. They screen Bona’s experimental film for her as well as some of Dave’s recent minute spots for AIDS Awareness Day. Yoshiko screens her Living Room Project documentation.

Yoshiko is thinking seriously of working with them. Marvelous.

THE LIVING ROOM PROJECT (Yoshiko Chuma, work-in-progress, video)
BREAKING TAO (Meisnam Leichil Luwang, 2003, 5 min, video)
Three HIV/AIDS commercial spots (Dave Thoudam, 2004, 1 min each, video)


Lancha comes by at 10 to pick up Erin from the meeting. They are off to meet Tamo Kanhailal again. Erin and he will do some theater exercises together. I am glad they are hitting it off so well.

We troop into Pabung Deben’s office. The new one since he vacated his old one for Les. Tamo Nara joins in. Zette; Les and Mike give him gifts and we chat.

I could not have done this project without him and the entire Thoudam family. Especially Dave.

Motcha bring a crew from ISTV. He is going to interview Erin. That should be interesting.

Friday, November 26, 2004


We drive to Khongjom, 35 km south of Imphal. Our guide is Dr. Nara. It is near his constituency. We are in nibe vehicles, included some heavy armed security.

I hop into the car with him so we may get some quality time together to talk. He’s been away a lot. I don’t know how many people realize how remarkable a personality he is. A poet, a Communist, a politico, homoeopath (he shows me his original clinic as we drive by it in Wangjing) he has shown some really dexterous and creative use of the sumaang lila form to say what he wants to say. He brings to mind the enlightened artist-politician-public intellectuals of Latin America.


We stop by the 1891 battle site. Maybe a 100 women, in pink sarongs to denote mourning, line our walk up the eucalyptus-lined approach way. We offer flowers at the shrine that has General Paona Brajabasi’s last words inscribed on it.

A man approaches Tamo Nara. He prostrates himself and holds onto Tamo’s ankles. He weeps loudly. Tamo is on his cell-phone. Weird. We later learn he was asking for his help in getting some back pay.

On the way back, I take a picture of Thang-Ta Girl striking a martial arts pose under the statue of Paona Brajabasi. Little did I know then that Paona’s style of swordplay is one of the antecedents of Oja Debabrata’s school.


Wow, hundreds of kids lined the road to the school, they clapped, and we joined in, as we walked the gauntlet of welcome.

I don’t know how but Bonnie and I stray from the group with a few teachers who show us the school, the dorms, the kitchen. Tamo Nara is a little peeved we missed the reception. Whoopsy.


Les cuts the ribbon to inaugurate the head honcho’s new house. I had suggested that he should do it on behalf of the group since there was no way for all of us to do it.

But our names will be carved into the foundation stone! Wowee.


Tamo Nara announces that henceforth November 26 will be Parents Day in this school. Neat. We are all gathered in the open-air auditorium. We sit on a dais, all lined, respectable like. I introduce the project, talk about ACC, the help that Tamo Nara and Pabung Deben have given. Each of us in turn says something: I am particularly touched by Bonnie’s speaking as a parent; Zette saying how the lovely scenery and balmy weather reminds her of her native California; and of course Yoshiko. She says, "Communication is more than mere words." She dances. And says “Thank you.”

The Q&A is too formal I feel so we all move off the dais and take questions. Erin sportingly does a Thang-ta routine, but only after saying how she hopes her phanek does not come undone. This gets a big laugh from the women in the audience.

We announce a little gift of R5000 to the school.


As promised, Tamo Nara has tree bean and soybeans on his menu. And phola too. Zette likes the sweet thingummy.


Sana Leibak Nachom Artistes performs a play about Czechoslovakia 1942. Preceded by a preview of KHAMBA-THOIBI, their next play. What a hoot, the idea of a trailer preview of a play! I think it is mainly because they want to show off Sanaton do the Thoibi dance in his customary drag. He is real purty.

Of course Bonnie gets top billing in Tamo’s introduction because Vit is Czech. She gives them a message from him. She is a big hit.

I enjoy the play even more this time. Especially seeing the entire open-air stage from the top of the hill when I went looking for the men’s room. The soldier who had made way for me through the throng yelling into his megaphone – now, that’s how one should go to pee always – stands next to me and quizzes me about the group. I see Sanaton is in her white wedding dress, playing a lovely young Czech maiden called Silky, way down below. In the distance, the sun is setting over the paddy fields.

We file up on stage and offer flowers as part of the play. I note this is what Ima had suggested when we first saw the play last summer. Zette and Erin bring two little schoolchildren by the hand to offer flowers with them. Sweet.


Boy, does Tamo Nara know how to dance the Thabal Chongbi. I am all uncoordinated as always. Bonnie is great. Yoshiko dives in and dances in the middle. Its fun; its always more fun than I think it will be.

We change in the dark. I’ts another of those annoying black-outs that comes from a power shortage. I think people here are mostly used to it by take it stoically. How much of it is due to a cultural low self-esteem? For lack of a cultural vision of a possible future?

Maha Ras was on its way. The women sit with my mother; Les and I with the men. Mike insists on coming though she obviously still has a cold.

There are maybe 60 dancers, all women. They form a circle, and as the evening wears on, form yet another circle. There are that many gopis, all in scarlet potlois like the one Zette looked at yesterday. But the dance costume has a large shimmery peplum and the women have conical hairdos and a gauzy white veil that drapes over it and over their faces. They also have a tight white wrapping around their upper bodies. Did someone once tell me the drum-like shape of the dress, the veil, and the white wrapping that tamps down the bosom are all meant to minimize blatant sensuousness? I guess that would be important since the Ras, being a form of Vaishnav worship, comes down to love. Erotic love being one of the major ones among the 64 listed.

The idols of Radha and Krishna have moved out from their shrine in the temple, into the center of the performance space. As the gods themselves have graced the occasion with their presence, as is customary in the Palace Temple, no performers dance the roles of Krishna and Radha. The idols rotate on a wooden platfor and the lead dancer dances around, keeping the gods in front of her.

The lead dancer, or makokchingbi, is very good. Of course the pros are there to lead the singing: Thouranisabi and Gambhini, and there are four additional professional singers to the side, as backup. My ubiquitous aunt is there too, having been a rather well-known beauty and singer before she married my uncle. Who, to carry my Star Wars analogy a little further into the realm of disrespect, always reminded me of Jabba the Hutt.

The other dancers are middling to terrible. “The worse they are, the more jewelry they wear”, my mother remarks wryly to Mike. Apparently they pay a lot of money. There being so many this year, obviously filling a cash crunch at the Temple Board, the dancers collide like a doll demolition derby. Their peplums continually get entangled and I see tempers fly among the Palace dancing beauties.

My cameraman is a cocky young man who does not bother to dress traditional while using his 3-chip camera. He gets yelled at by an older devotee and I rush him out quickly. End of documentation, unless I succeed in chatting up one of the other cameramen hired by a doting husband or a budding prima donna. The problem is, like the makokchingbi dancing to the rotating gods, I fear they footage will only show the one dancer the cameraman has been hired to film.

Bhangi starts. It is too late to get out to catch the Bijoy Gobinda Maha Ras that takes place simultaneously across town. I thought it might be fun to see the liove Krishna and Radha dancers there. We stick it out in the cold. The lights go off as Krishna disappears in order to teach Radha not to be so high-maintenance. A pure young voice wafts in the dark towards me. It is Radha apologizing for her bad manners in asking for preferential treatment over her fellow gopis. It is sung a capella, lovely and melodious.

We leave for Bijoy Gobinda as soon as we can. But the Ras is already over there and we only see the clean-up crew.

Zette, my mother and I set out to look at the bridal dress Zette is acquiring for the Newark Museum. We drop in on Erin first. The earnest young men are all there, on time as usual. I don’t they are what people have in mind when they say “Manipur Time”. Whatever.

Erin is not half bad. I mean, she’s been at it for just a week. She does the swordfight routine with another girl. They use canes. We talk to Oja Debabrata. He promises to give her a set of four canes to take back to New York. He tells me about this young Army fellow who’s been at it much longer and has not made as much progress as Erin has.


We go to Moirang Leirak, by the once beautiful Nambol River. Now there is too much garbage. I hear Yoshiko has been asking about the garbage here, the plastic bags, the urban pollution. She not only sees but also cares enough to ask.

Zette's potloi is lovely. A little absurd really, a sequined drum, but lovely. I think Zette is pleased.

I had asked Ibomcha to leave it a little unfinished so that she may see him at work a bit. He names all the design elements – fig seed, lotus petal, the bee, clover – and Teja videotapes. We hope to produce a 5-minute looper for the Wedding Dress show next May.

The potloi is scarlet raw silk and not in saton, as Manipuris call satin. The border is not the contemporary the phanek bee design, but the original brass disks. The blouse is silk too, not the usual velvet. My mother has been advising to ensure the authenticity of design. Well, that’s a tricky term, but we think that this design will be as illuminating to Manipuris as to New Jerseyans. Now that’s a concept I’d like to mull over a bit more.

Thursday, November 25, 2004


We host. We cook. It’s the first Manipuri-American Thanksgiving Dinner.

The dining rooms looks smashing. IKEA tea-lights and all. Decorative turkeys on every table. Napkins too for a change! I seat them all, an American guest at every table.

I welcome all the hosts and talk about the turkeys, the mixed menu. Blah blah. Then Z tells us all about Thanksgiving. She’s a Good Pilgrim. But I would have added something about Pilgrims meeting Fake Indians once again. Tee hee.

And Imo’s cooked turkey is great! But the roast is dry and the turkey look all scrawny and Gandhian.


Clay-oven Roasted Turkey

Imo’s Stir-fried Turkey with Shallots
Imo-gi Turkey Meitei Til’houga Thongba

Rice stuffing with Cranberries and coconut
Meitei Pullao

Stove Top Stuffing

Curried Carp
Katla Ngaa thongba

Lentils seasoned with Vegetable Ash
Mang’gan Uti

Mung Beans

Tapioca with Sugarcane
Mangraa Hei’ngaan

Boiled Mustard Green Stalks
Hang’gaam Yelaa Cham’phut

Arrowhead Fritters
Koukha Bora

Jellied Cranberry Sauce

Wild Sour Apple Sauce
Heitup ambon

Sour Sougri Fruit Sauce
Silok Sougri Mahei Thongba

Chili Banana Palm with Fermented Fish
Laphu Iromba

Erin’s Hot Apple Cider

Zette and Michelle’s Apple Cinnamon Cake


Play ball!

I can’t believe it is actually happening. Baseball in Manipur. The kids look good. The weather is perfect. Teja shows up in full baseball regalia. Nice to have a camerman in uniform.

Mike calls me over. Listen to this, she says. Dave sings “Take Me to the Ball-Game”! Apparently they downloaded the song and music. Dave will sing with Bonnie before the game. And so they do. A nice start. Charming..

We make sure it is all taped of course. Oh, and they have the baseball T-shorts I asked for!

Les pitches the first ball. He's got a pretty good arm it seems.

Mike and I set up some more interviews. Bhanu and Pakpa talk about their difficulties keeping the game alive. We must get this film made.

The burgers and coke lunch arrives. Ragini always delivers, in this instance in more ways than one. Too bad Imo couldn’t do it since he was too busy catering the whole car rally shebang. I had scheduled a Burger King lunch from the only Burger King in India. Oh well, we will have a Burger King Turkey Dinner. Must get a picture of his restaurant nonetheless.

I am so pleased we can schedule Lancha’s films. We ran out of time last Sunday since Mr. Ken Burns took so long.

Tamo Somo came by. I am glad he can see the films at last.

The turkeys will take longer. The roasted one is looking good but terribly big for Imo’s clay oven. He doesn’t take to Madhur’s advice to deep-fry it. I guess he needs to do it his way. Plus, he has no idea who Madhur and he takes my “famous cook-book author” routine rather nonchalantly as befits the proprietor of India’s only Burger King.

More turkey-time means more films. So we start screening “Field of Dreams” that Mike has brought (he he – it’s a bit of an inside joke for us). Our “screening room” in the sangoi looks faaaabulous.

Erin makes some apple cider. It is amazing what the entire group has put into this Thanksgiving Dinner. Turkey decorations, Stove-Top stuffing, turkey tablecloths, fall leaves, cranberries, what not.

I am really happy about this all.


THE DREAM (Ningthouja Lancha, Video, 2001, 27 min)
BUT IT NEVER RAINED (Ningthouja Lancha, Video, 2003, 39 min)
FIELD OF DREAMS (Phil Alden Robinson, 1989, 106 min)

Yoshiko and Bonnie are late going to the rehearsal. They saw a teensy bit and then stayed for the evening service.

All the fault of those dumb birds.

The turkeys have landed. Yay!

But it’s not quite over yet. I come back from the airport with the two boxes. Bless Priti’s sweet soul!

The three birds weigh 15 kilos. My Burden of Dreams.

I mean, how would I have explained a wimp-out to the Consul General? I mean, asking Sibley for three turkeys with all the trimmings was ballsy, OK, but I knew well what a long shot it was. It was amusing at least. It was nice of Hizzoner to write back and say, Yes, we have no turkeys. Mike had told me as much: the US State Department is not what it used to be. I like a good refusal nonetheless.

Plus Sibley warns me against taking the group to Manipur. In my letter, I had deliberately left out the fact that I am from Manipur. He chastises me about my “mistake” in my website: there indeed is a travel advisory for the region, he says. Yeah, yeah, I see the update is after he received my letter. Have turkeys resulted in a change in State Department advice? It amuses me to wonder.

But – DISASTER! - Z and Michelle (again!) think they can’t do one. I flip out. I yell at Nicky and demand he get his dad here right away. Imo arrives: he will do it, whatever it takes. Now, I like that. We’ll see.


Wonder how the baking class went? Zette gets along with just about everybody. No problem. Will download Michelle later.

Too bad Z is missing the baseball game.
It’s American Day today. I hope the bloody birds arrive.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004


David was showing his footage of the Army rape case and of the ASEAN Motor Car Rally. When colorful dancers and martial artists appear in the stadium for the latter, Erin and I exchange looks. “Republic Day art,” I say derisively. “Just the opposite of what we are doing.”

Yoshiko and Bonnie ask about the rape case and the women Meira Paibis’ shocking nude protest. What happened? How did the people respond? How did the news spread?

Ranjana turns to Rajesh and asks him to explain. Rajesh defers. David struggles to articulate. I am disheartened. What is the point of all their activism if they are reluctant or refuse to make their case to sympathetic, neutral foreign observers? I think it is mainly because they know too much and have little experience talking about the situation to outsiders. Perhaps they do not know how little the questioner knows.

The need to set up this kind of exchange, to enable a new articulation, is a key reason for this Field Trip.

The dinner spread is magnificent. Ranjana has even gotten the olives I asked for. But she, like everyone else, has gone way overboard. I had suggested only a few dishes and she lays out fifteen.

Bonnie takes her plate and eats by herself in front of the TV. She watches more footage. I am touched.

It is her and Yoshiko’s first time in India. I wonder what Zette, Mike and Erin think about the political situation in Manipur. They have so many Indian friends, so many wonderful Indian experiences. How will they process it all, back home in New York?


Porong fish with peas and chives
Porong Hawai-tharakka Thongba

Fried Rou Fish Curry
Rou Taoraga Thongba

Breast of Rou Fish with Peas and Green Chilies
Rou Matha Hawai-tharakka

Balls of Roe with Fresh Peas and Lentil Flour
Nga Marum Bora

Stir-fried Bitter Fish Gizzard
Nga Marinkha

Cauliflower and Fresh Whole Peas Stew
Kobi Thamchet manbi Hawai-tharak Kangsoi

String Beans and Roasted Fish Stew
Hawai Uri Ngamu Leirou Kangsoi

Black Lentils with Aroid seasoned with Vegetable Ash
Sagolhawai Pan Uti

Mushroom Bean Cake
Kanglayen paknam

Bitter Mustard Greens
Kang’gam Yela Cham’phut

Bitter Mustard Greens Pot Liquor
Hang’gam Cham’phut Mahi

Steamed Marrow
Dasakusa A’nganba

Roasted Water Rice
Kambong Ka’ngou

Bitter Nomankha with Raw Cane Sugar
Nomankha Suktani

Freshly Ground Mustard with Whole Green Chilies
Hang’gam Achaar

Freshly Ground Mustard with Fish and Whole Green Chilies
Nga Hang’gam Achaar

Stewed Wild Olives
Chorphon Thongba

Stewed Whole Wild Sour Apples
Heitup Thongba

Native Black Phourel Rice
Phourel Amubi

Mike talks to the gathering about her film. It is more a meditation, not just a film. I like that. But how do I translate “cult film”? She says what is lacking in the visual and sound of the presentation will hopefully be made up by the ambiance. I agree and can only hope.

She says it is the first time her film has been presented in a temple. And a Kali Temple at that. It is after all a film about Shiva, presented in a temple to Kali. Kali's that furious lady with her foot on Shiva’s chest.

It was lovely but still, I cannot bear to see Mike suffer through the poor projection though. Damn.

Happily we have to rush off to Ranjana’s for dinner.

The dancers emerge dimly from a corner in the mantop. They are dancing the shaman Weavers dance we had seen in demonstration and in weaving earlier today.

They are illuminated, first one then another, first one part of their bodies, then another as they break into Yoshiko’s projection of her Japan 2002 on the mantop walls. I think of Tanizaki’s essay “In Praise of Shadows” as I marvel at the elusive, dark beauty. But how did the editing rhythm of the piece synchronize so well with the dancers?

Yoshiko breaks in for the second part. She makes it to the deep corners of the stage. I like how she looks framed by the multiple frames of the Mondrian-like pink squares of the mantop walls. She dances among the seated musicians. The crowd, - like maybe 60 strong?- laughs delightedly. I time it all: the drumming cycle is indeed 10 minutes long.

They have added more hand clapping to the Mao tribal dance. It works I think, I must ask Yoshiko what she thinks.

Mike suggests I tell people there is a film to follow so they do not leave. Good idea.

I see Yoshiko donning a white Kabuki-like wig for her last appearance.

Noon: USOP

We change and set out for my aunt’s house. Cousin Manisana was there along with my favorite tomboy, Amusana, still in sweats and baseball cap. Real cousins, as I explained. It has become a joke with our group, as everyone seems to be related to me. And so they are. Maybe inbreeding accounts for my idiotic streak.

There is a picture of Sanatomba in the sangoi. Surrounded by what looks like a zillion little dishes, elaborate as a mandala. We offer flowers.

We sit down to a traditional meal. This is the only one they will have. They are too much to deal with otherwise.

Skwar is getting married. He came with the invitations himself, cute dimples and all. I haven’t seen him since he was like 3. I miss his dad. I’m sure he does too.

The wedding is in Heirangoithong. The women had to change into more festive wear after the white and pink funereal wear for Sanatomba’s memorial lunch.

We all walk in on the Nupa Pala. Give money to the mother, take our seats and then I start making my rounds of excuses as I have to leave early to set up Yoshiko’s performance tonight.

I run into Tamo Akhoy. He tells me Tamo Loken cannot meet Erin – again. First, his deep involvement with the Armed Forces Act talks with the Prime Minister. And now, a death in the family. Oy vey. More schedule change.

I take Yoshiko and Bonnie in to see the bride get dressed. The others can wait to see the real thing but we have to leave.

The birds aren’t coming today. Priti called to say they did not make it on, as the aircraft had no more consignment room.

Do I flip out?


Mike is tired and opts out. And a bit under the weather - there is a cold / flu thing going around which I luckily got over with before my guests arrived. Plus sticking together in a group with an ever-changing schedule known only to a control-freak like me can be tiring. But of all the Manipurs that exist out there, I want them to see my Manipur. When I was planning this, I kept thinking of Go Takamine’s remark, at a Flaherty, about his native Okinawa in his films: “No, Okinawa is not like that all. This is my Okinawa. I made it up.” Kick-ass.

Oja Kumar Maibi was waiting. He thought he might go to the ASEAN Motor Car Rally. Wonder if the people there would know a shaman had come to see them off?

We all kowtow. Oja Kumar’s daughter-in-law brings out tea. We drink a lot of tea on this trip.

Yoshiko is respectful and goes into full Japanese mode. Wonderful.

We ask about the Weavers Dance. Oja gets up, almost tottering, and he sings and dances. He dances the tilling of soil, the planting and harvesting of cotton, the making of thread, the setting up of the loom, the warp and weft, the putting on the leather back support, the threading the spindle…. We begin to guess the meaning of the actions. All the steps till the final wash, drying, folding and, finally, the offering to the gods.

He speaks of the gods in a language I can barely follow.

We look at his old pictures high up on the wall of his front porch. One shows him in full drag as a shaman priestess.

As we leave, I ask my friends if they want to visit some weavers.

We drive to Khurai Kongpan, to the house I had scouted out a couple of weeks ago. The pretty girl wasn’t there but her sister was. I ask her to show us how she wove on the loin-loom.

The shaman’s performance comes to life. The girl does exactly as described in the Phisarol Dance, and the phanek in pink silk begins to grow.

Yoshiko and Les buy a silk phanek each. Les' in purple and black, Yoshiko’s a delicate sky blue. Of a quality, you could not find on the market.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004


This was fantastic. The best presentation by far too. With banana lakoi plates and banana dona boats. A red phida for my mother too so I was sorry my mother didn’t come. Gope’s sister Ima Thambal Ngoubi was waiting, as lovely as ever.

It was fun to see what Gope had done with our discussion of what and how to serve during this trip. I had told him not to have too many dishes and asked him to bags some dishes so that we have minimal repeats. I want to do a Manipuri-American cookbook: Manipuri dishes presented American style. Tra-la-la.

For the record, here is what I circulated or discussed with hosts before my folks arrived:


All Traditional Manipuri Dishes.

I am trying to see if we can present a wide variety over the 10 days; please see if there is anything that is not already listed here that you might want to feature on your menu.

Easy on Indian style dishes – they will have eaten lots of curries etc. in India. So more on the distinctive in Manipuri cuisine.

Preference for simple, spice-free, chamthong-champhut-kangsoi style.

Protein centerplate; rice as a side dish.

Fish dishes without or minimal bones preferably.

Few dishes – one-two protein, two-three vegetables, one relish, one fruit.

No uncooked vegetables like singju.

No or VERY little chili; except in chili dishes like iromba.

Low salt – Meitei thum on the side.

No dessert necessary.

Coffee and or tea – any style, but milk and sugar on the side.

Bottled water only.

Buffet style suggested: lakoi on dinner-plates, dona for finger bowls as Manipuri touch maybe?

They will eat with fingers; some knives, forks and spoons may be made available if you like.

Preferably sit on chairs or couches; some folk may have difficulty sitting on the ground.

Gope went much further. The guy is amazing. He even had a young botanist help with the traditional serving so she could answer some of the questions we had about what we were eating. At least the botanical names in Latin. Stroke of genius.

We looked at the near-full moon through his skylight after dinner. Perfect ending.


Porong Fish Curry
Porong Thongba

Mung Beans
Hawai Muk

Gathered Greens Rice with Bitter Herbs, seasoned with Vegetable Ash
Nomankha Uti Asangba

Mixed Small Fish, steamed in Turmeric Leaves

Stew of Red Spinach and Manipuri Yelang
Yelang Kengoi Kangsoi

Cauliflower and Peas Stew
Kobi Hawaitharak Kangsoi

Fresh Bamboo Shoots with River Shrimp and Lentils
Usoi Kangsu

Mushrooms with Grilled Fish and Chives
Kanglayen Nganam

Stir-Fried Arrowhead and Water Rice
Koukha Kambong Kangou

Lotus Root Fritters
Thambou Bora

Steamed Tapioca
U Mangra Ang’nganba

Cubed Pumpkin with Sweetened Broth
Mairen Cham’phut

Stir-Fried Bitter Herbs
Nomankha Kangou

Fragrant White Rice Pudding
Chahou Angouba Sangomkher


Tamo Nara is very pleased. He had organized this sumaang lila play about 9/11 for us specially. Rather, he had it added as a special feature to the Sumaang Lila Mini-Festival that started yesterday. He tells me it is shorter, as we had discussed. Maybe a tad too short? I missed some comedy routines. And the additional dialogue in English was not as helpful as they might have imagined. Better to translate.

Erin was in stitches. She and Bonnie in particular had been looking forward to it. Tamo Nara had talked about Bonnie in his introduction. How she helped get an invitation from Lincoln Center Out of Doors, only to have it rescinded. True, and yes, because they were afraid, but not quite because our Osama actor was so lifelike that the presenters feared he might be shot on stage. I wonder who started that story. Certainly not me, but a dramatic story nonetheless. It will live on I fear, but no harm done.

Bhabesh does not come. I am a little disappointed that he didn’t because I was looking forward to having a Manipuri journalist question us, especially Downtown New Yorkers, about how we felt seeing a play about 9/11. About seeing a performance in “white-face.” Oh well.

Zette and Bonnie go to the State Museum. The Chief Curator Iche Sobita has organized a visit. Too bad I couldn’t set up a work tete-a-tete as we had planned.

There was a tour of the museum I hear. They did not screen Bonnie’s film, Moon Pulse. “It was the wrong crowd anyway,” Zette says. Does that refer to the nudity in it? Anyway Chongtham Somo was a lively discussant I hear.

I am ecstatic. I have glimpsed the Idea I had when I was creating this project in my mind come to life. I crossed over from Idea to Reality today.

Partly because I was concerned over Yoshiko’s state of mind yesterday, partly to hold her hand and, yes, partly because I was curious, I decided to go with her as her interpreter to her dance interaction at Rase’s.

I am sure glad I did.

Four lovely young girls stood before her as Yoshiko talked to them. “I am sorry if I forget your names. Forgive me if I point to you.” “Tomorrow at the Temple, you will do your dance, then mine, then yours again, then I will finish.” “What do you want to wear? Do you always wear a phanek? What about the top? Is a plain T shirt OK or do you feel more comfortable with a wrap as well?” “Do you all have a dark striped phanek? No, it doesn’t have to be all the same color but all dark perhaps? With a long-sleeve black top?” “Can you please turn around? I love your hair. Can everyone put up your hair in a high ponytail like she does?” “What about the boys? Is all black OK? Will it break too much tradition to dance in trousers and T-shirt?”

I am moved by the importance and individual respect she gave to each and every one of them. I don’t know if anyone else had ever consulted them before. Had they always been vessels, vehicles of another’s vision, of another’s creation?

Yoshiko decides on the Weavers Dance of the shaman priestesses. Then the Kabui Naga Kit Lam Dance of the Crickets. “Can you dance without music? To silence? What is the minimum you need?” Rase feels the dancers need percussion at the minimum for them to synchronize. “OK, drums then. But let me just say this. You are so amazingly synchronized I feel you can dance to silence. But drums are fine.”

Rase’s husband Akabi jumps in. He is amazingly quick. And knowledgeable. “How about the Mao Naga dance? It has no music or percussion, just a ‘Hou!” shouted at the beginning of each transition?”

Yoshiko wants to see it. The dancers start. Yoshiko glows. She nudges me over and over again. Eyes shining, she whispers, “Lucinda Child! Lucinda Child!”. Then I begin to see it. I see Lucinda Child. I see a new modern dance where, on so many previous occasions, I had merely seen a beautiful Mao dance.

I now begin to see Manipur through Yoshiko’s eyes. It was just as I had hoped: that during this trip Manipuris would see themselves through the eyes of strangers from afar.

We move on to the drummers for Yoshiko’s sections. “Can you give me a basic beat? A four-four, six maybe?”

The handsome young drummer complies on his large langden drum, his hairlock flying behind him.

“Do you have counterpoint?” She turns to me, "Can you explain counterpoint to the drummers?”

I try, clumsily. The drummer gives me three.

“There are three kinds of counterpoints; maybe more if you ask a pung Oja,” I tell Yoshiko.

“Give me the basic one,” Yoshiko says. A second drummer takes over the langdel and the young man moves onto a smaller pung.

“This one can give more detail while the langdel sticks to its pattern. We will change roles as we go along.” he explains. It was quite sublime.

“Can you give me a rhythm cycle about seven to ten minutes long? I can’t dance much longer than that.” Yoshiko says.

“I can give you exactly ten minutes. It will take some thinking.” The boy replies.


“Exactly. I will compose it later after you leave. But listen to this for now.”

The boys play their drums. We listen.

The gods are pissed. Gope gets a flat tire on the way to Kanhailal with Erin. They are late; he has left. Bummer.

But ever resourceful, Gope takes Erin to see Sanakhwa Ebotombi. She comes back, bouncing with enthusiasm over their meeting. Erin’s a real trooper and never wastes a crisis.

Things are settling down. The first few days are always difficult as I learnt during the week-long Flaherty Seminars. Now everyone seems to have gravitated towards some friendships. I love it.

Of course it make my schedule even more difficult but I am winging it. One day at a time.

Dave calls late at night to check in. I have stopped trying to update the schedule and emailing it to him late at night. He stops me when I go over and beyond the next day. He knows its gonna change. What a wonderful guy. If he weren’t a filmmaker he would have taken off by now and left me standing. Or all curled up as the case might well have been.

Lunch was simple. The faculty guys were great. Mike said she had a good discussion after the screening of her Listening to Volcanoes. Too bad there were so few. All because of the prime Minister’s visit, for he had a convocation here, and also the date-change to accommodate my aunt’s lunar preferences for her feast.

Ragini takes Mike to do her hair. She deserves it, plus she has her presentation this afternoon. I want to tape it for I see it as a cultural event. What isn’t for me, you may well ask. But I know some things are sacrosanct and will have to remain conceptual. Too bad. Boo hoo.

Oh, Mike complained bitterly. Not to me but to Ragini, for saying we had to go to Tabungkhok at 7 in the morning to see our Field of Dreams. But she was a good sport about it and we set off with Pakpa. I told Mike his name means Flat.

Tabungkhok is a bit outside Imphal so we skirted our regulations somewhat I think. But after I had looked at this field some weeks ago with Ragini and Pakpa, I did check with fellow-Little Flower Chittaranjan and he seems to think it might be OK.

Too bad we didn’t get to Sagolband United sooner or we would have gotten the parking lot as well. That would have given us more than the 600 feet by 400 feet we have access to right now. Mike didn’t think the parking lot, and the field’s proximity to the national Highway, were a liability like I did. Pakpa also pointed out it was good for transportation. OK. I am sold.

The field is lovely. Mike loves it. I am happy. The little hillock that overlooks it could well be one of the stands and offices. It could well be a distinguishing feature of the field. I tell Pakpa the CRP camp in the distance will have to go. A gentle rain begins to fall.

We drive to the other field. Not so hot for Mike. OK by me.

Monday, November 22, 2004


I had checked out Gopal Pizza (pronounced locally as in the Leaning Tower of) after Tamo Nara and Tamo Chourjit suggested it. Not bad in a funky sort of way. Including that mural of Krishna doing a Monica on that cow. Ooh, I am bad. Thank God I am an atheist, as I said to Mike the other day.

Now I am back. I talk to Tamo Nara and suggest the Manipuri team wear traditonal garb, or some version thereof, at all international appearances.

We wait for Yoshiko and Bonnie. They are an hour late. They are pissed with me, I am pissed with them. Totally cool.

What’s not so cool is that Yoshiko is upset. Something is bothering her. Something is not quite right, not quite falling in place with her dancers. She tells me she is not interested in a product. Bonnie wisely lets her have her space. She knows Yoshiko well. I don’t know what to do.

The meal is blah. Lots of veggie dishes. Mikie likee koukha. She thinks we should have it at Thanksgiving. I make a mental note.

The server is unctuous but I like his hairstyle. Maybe I will also keep a little lock on my shaved head. I think they missed out on a Hare Krishna in that panel of aliens in Men in Black. You know the one with Dennis Rodman and Newt Gingrich as prominent aliens among us. They (the Hare Krishnas, not the aliens) are doing a lot of things I have been planning with my food presentations. I guess it just takes a Western eye.

Eigya Gope takes Bonnie and Yoshiko to Rase’s dance studio. He has been an amazing new friend I can connect with on so many different levels.

Dave takes Les off to his studio. The press has already left. I am contrite that his schedule was screwed up.

We drive to the western gate of Kangla Fort. Dave is a little upset we are taking Les with us before sending him to the launch of their album. My schedule is screwed up.

But a walk through Kangla with Pabung Khelchandra right after the handover seems too historic to miss out on. Maybe it’s just me.

It is getting dark. We walk towards the Citadel. Pabung brings out his folder and shows us the drawing the Brits made of the original Western Gate. I am surprised the present one is an almost exact replica. I had always thought it was just another goofy attempt at a Manipuri architectural style. I don’t like it much now; I would not have liked it much then.

Pabung shows where the original walls stood. The King resided behind five walls, the Imphal River to his back. The entire Fort is a mile square. Good for a Mile Run I am thinking.

We walk past the original Royal Polo Grounds. It is littered from the handover ceremony the day before. Ranjana and I remark on the emptiness of it all. A few soldiers looked on curiously devoid now of their usual proprietary aggression.

We step on up to the Citadel. I take out one of the funny red balls Tamo Nara had brought for the baseball players. Teja, Les, Bonnie and I throw it around. The reality of the handover sinks in. It’s been a long time since 1891. To be able to throw a ball around the Kangla without fear of the British or the Indian Army stopping us. Now that's what I call ownership.

Did the TV crew follow us here too? I see them interviewing the group, one by one. They want to interview. I hope they did not think me churlish that I declined. For one thing, I don’t want to say anything until it is all over. Then also, what my guests say is more important. Lastly, I do have this tendency to lecture and pontificate.My speaking my mind about this project will surely come across too heavy. It is better that they see the project as it happens and not hear from me, no expert on Manipur am I.

I have so many things I want to achieve with this project.

So what might I have said?

That the Field Trip brings two halves of my life together.

That it is searching for my roots perhaps, a rite of passage in becoming American, a Manipuri-American. Oh, banal!

That I needed to have my friends to know Manipur with a crash course of my own design, if I am to convince them to work with me on Manipur-related projects. Then again, it still is up to them.

That it is lonely without a community, a cultural Manipuri community, in NYC. So I hope my friends will become part of an extended Manipur support group there if the trip is good.

That I happen to think Manipuris need to once again tell their own stories, peopled with their own notions of who they think they are, for this new globalized age.

That culture is the best, perhaps the only available conduit, where all other avenues seem deadlocked in conflict.

That independence is in the mind, not in a flag. And imagination and creativity can be a way to fulfilling some dreams. Whatever.

So, you see, too much for a sound bite.


We were in fairly good time – my time ! – for the exhibition match. Polo at Kangjeibung, the world oldest polo grounds! Oh my.

The International Style was on. Then they removed the goal posts and played Pana Kangjei, the traditional style. The players wore white turbans with cloth chinstraps. They wore Khudei instead of trousers, with leather shin guards. The Manipuri ponies, which stand about 11 hands as compared to 14 in most mounts, wore little pom-poms about their faces, guarding, as Dr. Chourjit pointed out, vulnerable pressure points. The saddles were old Manipuri. When we went down to the field to say hello before we started, I saw the players had chandon marks on their faces.

Dr. Nara showed up just in time, wreathed in smiles. He was carrying 6 baseballs. Apparently he got my message about Mike already bringing baseballs a bit too late. Darn sweet of him. The balls were large and red though, like none I had seen before. They did have baseball written on them, so who knows?

Pabung Khelchandra was there, confirming we were on for the tour of Kangla Fort. I asked him how players were to wrest the ball away from a player since they were allowed to carry the ball by hand and gallop away. “Oh, you are allowed to beat each up”, he said casually. “King Chourjit died in a polo match”, he added, ever the historian. A dangerous game.

He tells me my grandfather instituted two fouls – riding your mount across the path of another and raising the polo stick in a threatening manner or something like that. Seeing Mt. Nongmaijing loom in the distance over the polo field reminded me of the picture of him and Mr. Blackie the Telegraph officer. Apparently the goalposts were an addition that the proper rule-abiding British made up. Britannia does not always waive the rules it seems.


Reuben sang some vintage Dylan I hear. I missed it while chatting with Farmer Jugindro. The other folk I saw turned out to be from Effective Television, sent by Sunzu. But I did hear Reuben perform a Tangkhul song on his ----. He said he was the last and only person to play this old instrument. He had to make it himself.

Where did the TV crew come from?

We tried some sekmai. I presented it as somewhat like sake but the consensus was it was more like vodka. What do I know.


Tangkhul Naga Chicken Stew
Haogi Yen Chamthong

Kabui Naga Pork Blood Sausage
Hao Ok Marin

Fried Rou Fish
Rou Ataoba

Pureed Rou Fish Curry
Rou Atoiba

Steamed Whole Potsangbam Mustard Greens
Potsangbam Yela Ang’nganba

River Shrimp Fritters with Winged Prickly Keaf and False Coriander
Khajing Mukthrubi Bora

Banana Tree with Fermented Fish
Laphu Iromba

Cooked Heibung fruit
Heibung Thongba

KD Rice

Taothabi Lake Red Rice
Taothabi Chak

Fragrant Sticky White Rice
Chahou Angouba

We drive to Luwangsangbam Village. The Border Security Force camp looms over the little farmhouse.

My cousin Usha receives us. We put down our things. I say hello to Pabungmacha and his farmer friend, the amazing Jugindro.

I am worried. Erin is running a temperature. But at least we have a doctor on hand. Dr. Usha, the farmer’s wife, gives her some pills and we put her to bed.

Then we walk over to Biki and Usha’s Reliance School. Zette, Bonnie, Yoshiko and I peek into the classes. They are full of bright young faces, all clean and happy-like. It seems unlikely they are like this merely for us. Biki is really a most capable fellow. I love the guy.

The kinds are as wide-eyed as Asian children can possible get. Tee hee. Their first white people I am sure. Wonder how they will tell their parents and friends. There aren’t really any words for white man.

They sing for us, clap their hands. Usha proudly points out the kids from the different tribes, the kids of Nepali ancestry. Multicultural. I am impressed. We hand out coloring pens, crayons, candy. Yoshiko videotapes from outside the window. She comes in and sings a Japanese nursery rhyme, patting the children’s little hands gently. Bonnie plays Head-Shoulders-Toes with the littlest ones. Ah the universal language of kids-games…


I love the approach to Pabung’s house. The lane lined with bamboo. The flowering shrubs. The little houses you can see fleetingly behind them as you drive. The river snaking by his house.

Pabung is all dressed up to receive his guests. Such a gentleman. His sons Deben and Tombiraj by his side. We take off our shoes and enter his study.

I see he has taken some manuscripts out and laid them out carefully for his guests to look at. They are large handmade paper about 6 inches high and about 15 inches long. All are in Meitei Mayek, save for one, which Pabung gleefully points out is in Burmese. “They used the paper they captured from us in the War of 1819", he said, grinning, looking like Yoda. Another manuscript has a large fanciful drawing in black and red ink of a man – a physiological chart, Pabung tells us.

Pabung alternates between English and Manipuri. I try to translate. He speaks of the Four Gods, Koubru in the Northwest, Marjing in the Northeast, Wangbren in the Southeast and Thangjing in the Southwest. Why those orientations and not NSEW like all normal people? Mike wants to know. There must be an interesting answer but we are stumped. Pabung included. I wonder if that has something to do with magnetic north? Les wonders if there is a star in one of these directions Manipuris have taken their orientations from?

Pabung tells of Marjing and the story of his winged steed. And how his wings were clipped, so domesticating the horse and bringing the game of Polo to the Manipuris. Maybe we can go visit Marjing’s shrine at Hei’Ngang if that local politician ever returns my call. (Who am I kidding? No one returns calls in Manipur. They merely say days later, Oh, I heard you called. Thank you very much.)

I speak heartbrokenly of my failure to bring John. It will always remain for me the biggest failure of this trip. Maybe another group with him and Gene at the Rubin? After all Tamo Ratan and I seemed to have gotten some place with Gene in New York when we talked to him about setting up a manuscripts digitizing center in Manipur.

Despite my self-imposed rule of merely giving an immersive experience and not imposing any obligations on my friends, I take the opportunity to ask if we could all work together on a manuscripts project when we get back to New York. For one of my strategic objectives is to build a Manipur support circle with my friends. It is lonely without a community and, hey, the gals refuse any more help with their phanek sarongs already.

We leave, Bonnie taking pictures of the mothballs Pabung uses to preserve his 1000s of manuscripts.

Pabung see us to our cars and offers to walk us through Kangla Fort this afternoon. Boy, how can one refuse? But I have a chock-full schedule that keeps changing. But I say yes, and decide to worry about the scheduling later. Pabung will not hear of calling the Archaeological people; he will go and personally get permission. I say OK.

There is a way to do things here. Some will and must change. Some must not. Who decides what and how?

Sunday, November 21, 2004


I had enjoyed the lunch I was invited to by the Mamikon filmmakers last summer. So I asked them to do another one. Cook by themselves and just hang and eat.

So there we are at Pabung Deben’s. The video and film projection are all set up. I am peeved that Iche Roma and Ta-Tomba have called in sick. After all, I got the projector to screen “Paokhum Ama” just so they could discuss it with the group. I say I think I may cancel it. I think I pissed off Eigya Sarat as he had taken a lot of trouble getting the print from his office on a holiday weekend. I can be such a drama queen.

We screen Eigya Syam’s “Orchids of Manipur.” Les thinks it is a pity is was not in its original 35mm. I remark that the soundtrack features Langathel Thoinu, who had regaled us with her coy flirtatious folk song our first evening.

I decide to screen one of Ken Burns films on baseball. Mike introduces. But the film goes on and on. Turns out “Our Game”, the first episode was two hours not one. I should’ve known better, Duh.

People drift off. Ken Burns can be such a snore even in the best of circs. People gather in the open air kitchen, one by one, Yoshiko takes over the stirring of the large wok of chicken from Sunzu. We start tasting, as we are getting ravenous. Zette even refuses me a taste from her plate. I’ll get back at her in New York.

Whew. Decide to stop dear old Ken. Have dinner instead. Some people have been sneaking drinks in desperation. What PBS will do to innocent folk the world over.

Teja takes Les on another walk. This time around the neighborhood. They cross the bridge at Keisamthong and drop in at his house. They had Tamenglong tea there I learn.

I wonder how tired she is. I remember her asking how she might fly from Shannon to Imphal. Now, had anyone posed that question ever before?

Yoshiko looks the same. In black and white elegance. The Secret Service people check her in.

In the car Yoshiko tells me there were three mosquitoes that hitched a ride in the plane. I laugh but I think, Oh no! Will that mean malaria from Kolkata?

Yoshio starts taking pictures. She thinks Imphal looks like Havana. All tired, peeling and left behind – that really must be like Havana. I concur. The Uplands is under an embargo of sports, come to think of it.


I later heard they didn’t stay long at Chingmeirong. Some went shopping at the women’s market. Too bad I could not go with them and show them my favorite nooks and crannies where they sell dolls, wire baskets, clay pots, and bugs.

The service had already begun when we got to the Kabui Naga village in Chingmeirong. It is a lovely morning. There are loads of shoes outside on the steps. Must be a lot of people here today.

It is a spanking new community hall. It is large, airy and filled with light. The windows are of stained glass, plain green and blue panes. About a hundred worshippers are sitting in the congregation, women on the left, men on the right. The men wear white scarves. The women are in black and white striped phanek sarongs. They have plain black borders, not embroidered, I point out to Zette. She wants one. She wants everything she sees. I should talk, for I want a white scarf myself.

Tamo Gangmumei comes up to me and we seat the women with the rest. Les and I sit with the men. A young man is at the pulpit. A man behind me whispers that he is announcing the successful end to a religious course some young men and women have taken. Tamo Gangmumei leans across Les and asks me to go up and introduce the group. I do so, taking Les with me to speak on behalf of the group. I worry I might appear sexist to the rest.

After my intro, Les speaks. But they want more, so I call the rest up one by one and they speak to the crowd. The choir then sings, a lilting song, a Capella, accompanied only by a large brass gong. Tinkao Ragwang looks on from the altar above, wreathed in scarves and flowers, and swirled with incense. I cannot make out what the deity looks like but there is an abstract brass tic-tac-toe design with a sun and a moon in the top and bottom segments. We go up to the shrine and offer flowers. Everyone kowtows gamely to Tinkao Ragwang, bad knee or not. Lovely. I become a devout atheist.

We have tea afterwards on the lawn. Putting all good manners aside, I ask if I can buy some scarves. I am delighted we can buy them for 50 rupees each. One dollar. But they refuse to take money so I give an additional offering on behalf of the group. But can we get some of the traditional ones with the borders I ask? Mike wants some as gifts. A handsome woman who knew my mother and brother promises to round up a few. You can’t really buy these, I gather.

Dave and I rush off to pick up Yoshiko. The others stay on for a walk through the village. The Rongmei elders want to meet them, Tamo Gangmumei tells me.

Thang-Ta girl is off! Motcha came to pick her up. She was in her black tracksuit and the yellow khudei sash I had bought in the market for just this. She looks great. I will get the scoop on her first one-on-one session later.

Apparently Hula is at the home of my school busy Sunderlal. Haven’t seen him in donkey’s years.

Naocha has the garlic heads ready. Dave had brought them by earlier. Why? He asks. Just wait, I say, Sphinx-like.

There are about 15 men and women in our living room. The stairs is their balcony, they say. The mats ion the front is Gandhi-class, I say.

Amrik Singh calls. He is 5 minutes away. I tell him I will wait for him and promptly forget. I start the film without him. But he misses only the credits.

Les burns the garlic over the charcoal brazier. He has it brushed with oil and lightly salted. I hear hungry groans during the roast pork sequence. Manipuris are such carnivores, despite their puritan Vaishnavite exterior. They love the sausage making part too. The phallic or excretory symbolism plays a part too no doubt.

Why the garlic? one asks. I want to go beyond the two dimensions of cinema, Les replies. Also it is fun, he adds.

How would you make a film on fermented fish? Another asks. Much laughter. The ingredient is a good-natured national embarrassment food. Les replies, all earnest, serious filmmaker. Nice.

We run off with Devadutta to Michelle’s for dinner. The filmmakers stay on to watch Les’ film on Lightnin’ Hopkins. He had given a copy to Dave, who was thrilled at the gift.

In a sun-dappled corner of the garden, by the grove of khujai-wa bamboo, we sit and talk baseball. Jitan is here, all grins. So is Ratan, his quiet face lighting up with anticipation. The demure baseball girls, Bhanu and Rinasori, hide a restrained energy I think.

We are late. The second cameraman is late.

Teja crouches, baseball cap turned around on his head. Mike asks the second camera to film him shooting the crowd.

I bring out the baseballs I had hidden away. We have Teja shoot Mike as she joins us and gives the baseballs to the players. I bring out the Ken Burns tapes. Happy happy.
Pabung Khelchandra calls and says he is going to Mandalay on Tuesday. Could we meet Monday? Now he tells me. But it is a chance in a lifetime to meet him. I will change my schedule again.

Dave is getting nervous at my schedule. And the rest too. Maybe I should not have shown anyone the tentative schedule, Flaherty Seminar style. But I know my friends will yell at me. But, Lordy, why are we so literal and time-bound? Maybe Tamo Somo has a point when he quotes Lin Yutang and calls punctuality an American vice.

Motcha came on his bicycle. Erin hopped on, shopping bag in hand. In it were a bunch of bananas, incense, a crisp hundred-rupee note, and a scarf she brought from New York. She went off for her initiation ceremony with Oja Debabrata, her martial-arts teacher. Pabung Khelchandra will be waiting there. These martial-arts folks are disciplined and well on time, unlike the rest of the country. Pabung has only 15 minutes as he will be a chief guest at the handover of Kangla Fort at 3.

I send Teja to cover.

Saturday, November 20, 2004


We go to see Rase teach her dance class at her home studio in Soram Leirak. She had promised Saturday would be a class for Homos as she cheerfully call her gay students. That’s what gay boys here call themselves too. Homos. With some rancor at the homophobia I am sure, but also empowering without being ironic. I love that.

Maybe some of the boys were gay but there were mostly girls. We sit on the floor on reed mats, except for Les and Mike who sit on stools on account of their bad knees. Rase puts them through the routine. She seems to be perfomance-bent so I keep insisting that she continue teaching: correcting, stopping, repeating, whatever. The dancers are good.

They perform portions of Basanta Ras. A shaman dance for weavers. The Cricket Dance of the Kabuis. I give short commentaries. A public education piece on HIV/AIDS.

Mike leans over and says she finds them looking so Indonesian. I look. She is right. Funny I didn’t really see this before. I have always talked about the affinity with Southeast Asia but without any images in my mind really, just abstractions.

My friends ask question and take notes diligently in their little Flower School notebooks. Rase replies to me. I ask her to face them answer them directly. Long sentences, not mere a Yes, a No, an Uh-huh. She is not used to this. But then getting Manipuris to speak directly to strangers about themselves, their work, their concerns and aspirations is Objective One for the Manipuri side of the project. I am pleased.

Imphal is shut down till 12 midnight. I do not know what this means. I have kept a fairly light program this weekend. Tried not to set up anything that would require prep on the part of hosts, as they might have to be canceled.

Of course having government cars from Pabung Deben will mean we can get around. But flying a flag in front of our vehicles might be obnoxious. I want no incidents.

Michelle’s dinner spread is fab. But people take some time to enjoy a drink. They are parched and I can’t have alcohol served in our house when Ima is around.

Tamo and I sneak a cigarette on the rooftop. We discuss the ASEAN Motor Car Rally that is passing through en route to Burma on Wednesday. I really want them to see the rally. After all, a big part of my approah to Ralph was that this region is opening up, especially to Southeast Asia, with which Manipur has always had historical and trade ties. What better demonstration of my point than the car rally?


Kangsoi Soup
Mana Masing Kangsoi

Rou Steamed in Turmeric Leaves
Yaing’ngang Manaa Rou

Stewed Tomatoes Sauce
Khaamen Asinba Thongba

Mustard Greens with Fermented Soy Beans
Hang’gaam Hawaijaar

Black Beans

Lentils Cake with Sweetened Milk

Gathered Wild greens with Rice
Uti Asangba

Steamed Mixed Seasonal Vegetables
Mana Masing Ang’nganba

Garlic Chives and Lentil Cake
Maroi Paknam

Lilypod Seeds with Chili Fish
Thangjing Ametpa

Black Rice Pudding
Chahou Amuba Sangomkher

Lemon Compote
Champra Thongba

Steamed Mixed Seasonal Vegetables
Mana Masing Ang’nganba


Rock Salt on the side
Meitei Thum

We wait for our cars. Les and I poke around the toy-vendors. I pick up a photograph of a Khero painting mounted in a plexiglass box. It is of Emoinu, the Old Hearth Goddess on the back of Charamba as he carries her home to his mother. I must look for the originals. I think he is cool. A real Outsider Artist.

He wants to go for a walk. It must bug him to have to check in with me for all he does. But I can have no unpleasant episode here or I am dead meat in New York and Manipur projects will take a long breather.

I sent Les on with Teja. I heard they walked through the Monkey temple and had tea at Kalimai Hotel. That sounds like a cultural moment to me.


Drove on to Gobindaji. Forgot to write a note to the Executive Board as Chongtham Manihar had said. No problem. I think they were just giving each other work to do.

The kids were all in Krishna gear. Gold silk, peacock feathers. My aunt Inebema Mangi played Krishna’s mother. She was in Indian garb, a delicate gold wrap over a patterned blue dress. The kind of startling color and design combination that only India can pull off. I think she has remained beautiful at every age. Like Lillian Gish. It’s her last turn in this role, she says, making it sound like a rather practiced line.

The story went like this. Krishna in gold costume, his brother Balaram (in emerald) go with their pals (all dressed like Krishna to make a neat theological point) to tend their family cows. There was unregulated child labor back then it seems. Anyway, their wicked uncle Kangsa, the neighboring King, sends his demons to kill the children. After all, it had been prophesied to the mustachioed blackguard that Krishna would grow up to kill him.

Were there like 80-100 of the children? Some barely danced as they looked but 3. But in the older ones, oh up to like 11 or so, one could see the hand of the great masters. Their movements took the dance of the elders and modified it to suit children’s coordination skills and natures. They made it fun for the kids. The dance included cartwheels and eating and puppets and monsters and lots of chasing around. Why else would they put up with all this dress-up nonsense and Dad trying out his new digital camera?

Up to this, all the action took place in the temple mantop. That included my aunt breaking character to lean back to tell me she can’t do Cousin Sanatomba’s memorial lunch on Tuesday. There was some lunar enumeration that made it inauspicious. Would Wednesday work? Well, I guess I’d have to check with the University and unravel all that too, wouldn’t I? Thanks a lot Inebema. Of course I didn’t say any of that, just mumbled a kind of a Yes-Ma’am.

And oh yes, Teja let on that he was a pitcher! He points out a pretty young girl with long black hair. “She plays baseball too,” he said. Mike and I called her over. Her name is Rinasori. I leave Mike with her and go about my busybody business. Mike called me over and said she might have a good story in Rinasori for our film. Whoo-whoo!

Temple Board Office

Manipuri Kedgeree
Meitei Khechri

Lentils seasoned with Vegetable Ash
Mangal Uti

Cauliflower and Potatoes
Kobi Thamchetmanbi


Anyway, back to the story and the fun. Then, taking a leaf from the Lai Haraoba festival as Ima pointed out, everybody went out into the open. Krishna and Balaram scrambled onto a little temple doggycart. The idols of Krishna and Balaram had been moved out of their usual inner sanctum to the left, out onto the temple porch for the occasion. It was their day after all. The idols looked down, looking a little frazzled I thought, on all the other children and the noisy throng of parents and devotees as they went around the Temple and out the back onto the temple green.

Temple marshals in white turbans and dressed in flowing white pheijom lined up the squirming golden mass of kids to form a semblance of a circle. Then the first of the hapless demons, Mahisasur the Buffalo arrived. Balaram – the older boy in emerald – dance-hopped around him and struck the papier-mâché animal head with his little silver plough. All the children then rained blows on the Buffalo as he roared his way back to the temple, scaring some of the smaller kids in his path into the arms of their parents.

Friday, November 19, 2004


Dang. No Udukhon at Bijoy Gobinda Temple. I was really looking forward to it. I guess I will have to see it some other day.

Instead we looked at the Temple as we walked around it, clockwise, as per tradition. we watched the folks set up a vast lunch on banana leaves. Les wanted to try the singju with lotus roots. I don’t know if it is a good idea. It is uncooked after all, and next to security, it is their health I worry about the most.

Tour of Chorus Repertory Theater, Samusang

Les looks good in pumyat and pheijom. I heard someone say he looks like Jesus.

The women wore the phaneks by mother gave them yesterday. And the wraps they bought with Ranjana. There was some consternation that they had to keep their sarongs on all day. I lent Zette and Erin belts to keep them up. Leather, but I decided the god will understand.

Ratan’s staff was waiting. There were fishing-nets in the river. We walked through their open-air gallery, and looked at stills from their past productions. Erin is excited to see pictures from Longshanei, his production of Antigone. She says Manipur has had the largest number of productions of Antigone. Go figure. But with the armed rebellion in Manipur, is it any surprise that a story that posits the rightful rebellion to the established State authority should strike the imagination of its theater directors?

We had tea with Ratan and his Board Members. We go to his auditorium. Like any in New York. Better than most really. Mike and I sat and talked baseball. I noticed Les took to heart my remark and touched the stage and then his forehead before walking on it.

It is a wonderful place. Flowers bloomed everywhere in the perfect Fall weather.

Dinner went well. Delicious. Les, Zette, Erin, Bonnie – all troop in and get the fish dish with the spiked chilies that the cook made for the locals. They seem to prefer it. He he.

We screen films after dinner. Manipuri and American films, natch. We huddle around little charcoal braziers in their hidden open-air sangoi in the garden.

I don’t remember who exactly, but some cry during REAL, Dave’s 10-minute film about people telling of their experiences with HIV. Zette tells him she remembers “We Shall Overcome” from her student days: “It is amazing how many different causes in so many different countries seem to have used this song. I am sure the problem of HIV will be overcome.” I am moved.

Les’ “Gap-Toothed Women” is a welcome freshener. Judith Helfand was right. There are gap-toothed women everywhere. They loved it.

Dave: Will you make a film on gap-toothed men?

Thursday, November 18, 2004


Dave, Gope, Biki, Usha, Ranjana, Lancha, and Daoji stay on for dinner. It is a mess but the food is good. I realize the folks who work around here have no idea what a buffet is. I count spoons, plates, serving bowls. Iche Roma jumps in and gets more bowls and side plates. Nice but a mess nonetheless.


Fish Cakes
Ngaa Bora

Arrowhead fritters
Koukha Bora

Wild Sour Apple Sauce
Heitop Ambon

Gathered Wild Greens Rice
Uti Asangba

Fragrant White Rice baked in Bamboo
Utong-Chaak Chaahou Ang’ngouba

Fragrant Deep Purple Rice baked in Bamboo
Utong-Chaak Poireiton Chaahou Amuba

Yellow Lentils

Steamed Pumpkin
Mairen ang’ngaanba

Chili Mashed Potatoes with Fermented Fish

Mangangsana And Company

Folksong by Langathel Thoinu and Khangembam Mangi

Priti had told me about Mangangsana’s Pena Orchestra. Sounds good to me, I said.

So Manganagsana plays in our sangoi, but with only one other young man. Wonderful to see this kind of youthful study and innovation of traditional music. They were a tad nervous when the great pena player Oja Mangi showed up – uninvited. To check up on them, I joked, not realizing how close to the mark my remark was.

Met Langathel Thoinu for the first time. I had been entranced by her singing in Eigya Syam’s films, one of which I hope to show during the week. She said she wouldn’t be singing but had brought two lovely students of hers.

We gathered around little charcoal stoves. Mangangsana and his pena partner presented the section on the Thoibi’s Exile to Burma from the Moirang Kangleirol Ballads. Had no idea such drama could be presented sitting down. Bonnie and Erin both whispered to me parts of the plot simply from the singing. Corrected me actually. I shouldn’t give my day job, had I but one, to be an interpreter.

Ta-Tomba looked at me. Then got up to give some money to the singers. Such a gentleman. Mike wants to see his and Iche Roma’s films together once I had mentioned, in a flight of hyperbole, that they were Manipur’s Tracy and Hepburn. We shall see. Paokhum Ama might be nice. It is short and Iche Roma is at the height of her beauty then. But I can’t remember if the print I saw has subtitles.

Great concert but, wait! Like a Ginsu Knife infomercial, there’s more!

Out on the moonlit lawn, with a mera-lamp hanging on a bamboo pole above them, we talked about what we had just heard, as the singers got into their cars.

What is Khullang Isei? Improvisatory love songs sung by boy and girl to one another, likening the objects of their desires to flowers, music, bees.

Khunung Isei? The same but without the nature allusions and imagery.

From the dark of the rear seat of his car, Oja Mangi begins to sing to Mike, asking Langathel Thoinu to reply on her behalf.

Oh no! The old coot is at it again! Langathel Thoinu feigns distress.

Oja Mangi sang of his besotment.

Langathel Thoinu: I can’t believe he is doing this to me.

Oja Mangi sings of his old man’s teenage crush on Mike.

Langathel Thoinu is finally driven to sing back, On Mike’s behalf, she calls him a shameless old codger.

It is magic. Mike turned to me and said: It is wonderful. Can our trip get any better? She asks.
Ranjana takes them shopping at Rani’s I hear Rani wasn’t in. Too bad, as they would have enjoyed meeting her. I told them to buy at least one white wrap that they can use for all Manipuri ritual events. They went hog-wild I hear.
Ima gives her presents to my friends. One formal striped phanek each for the women and a woolen shawl for Les. I give Little Flower School notebooks from my grade school – hee hee - since they have taken to calling me Little Flower. Is that La Fiorella as in Da Mayor, I wonder?

Aside: When I went to buy these books it went something like this:

Hottie Salesman: What subject notebooks do you want?

Me: Huh?

Hottie Salesman: Arithmetic? Handwriting? What class?

Me: Any.

Hottie Salesman: What class?

Me: Any class.

Hottie Salesman: I mean, how old is the kid?

Me: It’s for me.

Much laughter. Should I have been embarrassed?