I think most of us have had moments like this, when you feel kind of small, when you realize you’ve been complaining over nothing very important. It was Monday morning, and some of us were standing by a large picture window with a view of Imphal and the surrounding mountains. It was obvious that the brand new, almost completed Grand Hotel were staying in was not in the same league as the super deluxe President Hotel in Bombay. What was irking most of our companions, who felt the need to be “connected” round the clock, was the spotty Internet service. Apparently each floor had its own network, and that was driving people batty. What perplexed me was the one toothbrush the hotel gave us. Some of the hotels we stayed at gave their guests complimentary toothbrushes in addition to the usual soaps and shampoos; some didn’t. We of course had our own toothbrushes, which we assiduously kept clean with bottled water, so we didn’t feel the need to use the hotel freebies. But if the hotel was going to give them out, why put out only one if there are two people in the room?
As we were considering these weighty issue, Barbara noticed what appeared to be a small patch of grass in the plot adjacent to the hotel. Then we realized: that’s not grass. That a small pool of water covered with algae. At which point, a woman came out of a small dwelling and used the algae covered water to “irrigate” the nearby outhouse. And we were complaining…
I personally hadn’t paid much attention to the soldiers tagging along with our fleet of taxis the previous day. But there they were waiting for us as we prepared for this day’s “adventure” in Manipur. Not only did they accompany us the entire trip, but – get this – there were soldiers stationed every few miles along the main roads we traveled. It seems as if Ralphy has a good friend who worked somewhere in the Manipur government, who, on his own initiative, had arranged for us to get V.I.P. treatment during our stay. So we got the full treatment, the same kind of security that John Kerry or Madonna would have been accorded if they had found their way to this remote region.
Speaking of remote, if you have a sudden urge to locate Manipur on an atlas – assuming you still have one of these quaint devices – you would do so only with the greatest difficulty. It’s all the way in the northeast corner; in, fact it’s not even connected to the rest of the country.
It seems that Manipur used to be an independent entity, and after India won its independence, the local maharajah decided that his country should join up – a decision that was never popular with some of his constituents. To this day, there are separatist movements, some of them violent, and there is an on-going conflict between the “hill people” and the “valley people,” although I don’t remember (or care to) who is who. It seemed to me like a squabble between the old-timers and those confounded newcomers coming in and ruining the neighborhood. Even though there has been no hostility to tourists who come, leave their money and go, somebody decided just in case….
There probably aren’t that many tourists in this neck of the woods. In fact, the Indian government restricts who can show up. In addition to the regular visa (the one that asks if any of your relatives ever served in the Pakistani army), you need a special visa to come to Manipur and share a toothbrush at the Grand Hotel.
We made a scheduled stop at a state park along the way to use the lavatories and admire the view. And what a view! We were standing on a hilltop overlooking an enormous lake. It was quiet; it was peaceful, with only an occasional fishing boat, a speck on the water; the air was fresh, so you could see all the way to the horizon or the mountain in the distance. The landscape had the serenity of a Chinese scroll painting. Look for yourself.
And then there was the cow. We were back on the road, going through a number of small villages, all of which have one thing in common: sidewalks crowded with people with their wares spread out for others to buy. In one of these villages, there was this cow nonchalantly making his way down the sidewalk.
It just so happens that a small group of us are involved in learning parts of the Mishnah (the oral law) Sat. mornings before shul starts. And we recently began the large section that deals with damages – including the part about an ox that is causing damages on public property, either by eating or stepping on something. These days, when people study these matters, it’s generally assumed that this is simply an example from which we derive some general principle about who pays for what and how much they pay when something goes awry. Nobody in Teaneck expects there to be a situation when Bossy the the cow or Elmer the bull would be sauntering down Cedar Lane and startling the locals. You have to come to India, where cows do walk down the streets, for that to happen – the way it used to several thousand years ago in villages in the Galilee.
(To be continued…)