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Delicate sound of 'thabal'
Yaosang, five-day Holi festival in Manipur, is over but not my grandfather’s stories. My grandfather was a good storyteller who often shared his real life experiences about adventures, mishaps, mysteries and romance whenever we two sat down for sundown chats in our front yard on breezy mid-summer evenings during the late 1980s.

I was then a teenager fascinated by his recollection of stories about romantic Yaosang days which he enjoyed as a teen in the pre-independence era around our tiny but idyllic hometown Bishenpur located around 25 km down south from Imphal the capital city of Manipur. 

No doubt, Yaosang is always turned out to be ‘romantic’ for the fact that thabal chongba (moonlit dance) nights are filled with either finished or unfinished love stories of boys and girls rumbling all around in festive mood. My grandfather was one of those who never missed bandwagon to the gleeful moonlit dance sessions!

Now that modernisation has briefly defaced my hometown Bishenpur’s natural setup which grandfather nostalgically mentioned in his Yaosang stories, one thing that remains unchanged is the bamboo grove still standing gloomily adjacent to our front gateway as though a veil to curtain the eastern horizon. The grove could easily hide the horizon but not the big fat Yaosang moon. 

The peeping poornima (full moon) escalating slowly behind the bamboo grove on the first day of Yaosang is indeed a sight to behold from our veranda. For this reason, our veranda has become a popular spot where people in the leikai (colony) often come down to capture stunning views of moonrise on full moon evenings.

Grandfather said Yaosang in Bishenpur always had a unique ambience ever since he youthfully enjoyed the festival in the late 1930s till the days of my boyhood in the late 1980s. Apart from the town’s semi-hilly landscapes adding extra charm to the colourful spring festival, there’s something which he called it ‘uniqueness of Yaosang’ in Bishenpur. In his time, thabal nights were really meant for real sense of the term. 

Local meadows near Loukoi Lake near our leikai were chosen venues to organise the moonlit dances on fine moon-bathed evenings. Organisers arranged some kerosene-filled bamboo torches being fitted around to illuminate the ring of dance track in case of the moon got momentarily jammed in an unexpected cloud.

Irrespective of the fact that there is no archival collection of photographs or paintings of the thabal nights which grandfather mentioned, his eloquent narratives were enough for me to envisage a picture of the then era when Bishenpur had no electricity. As a young man, my grandfather first saw a lighted electric bulb in real at a maharaja’s cottage or later on in such places around the town.

But the ‘no-electricity’ era never regretted grandfather and his friends when it came to dealing thabal nights. He rather argued that the trend of using sophisticated lighting, loud sound system and deep base drum at thabals during my teenage time in the late 1980s not only distorted the civilization-old tradition but also destroyed the serenity of the night of cultural execution.

Today, my grandfather is no longer. He died in 2006 without seeing whether the age-old essence of Yaosang in Bishenpur is still lingering around. It’s now my turn to share some stories which grandfather hardly had on his thabal nights. Be it in the 1930s or 1980s, there is always the spirit of Yaosang on our veranda on the full moon evening in March every year. Just about a few decades back, the same old moon, which grandpa often mentioned in his stories, floated up lazily above the bamboo grove. 

Naba Volcano songs playing on loud speakers from thabal venues kept echoing in the distance. Even my heavy metal friends sitting on our veranda melted their heart and they momentarily turned off Ronnie James Dio playing on a rusted dual-speaker National Panasonic tape recorder.

Late in the evening on the first day of Yaosang, once I stood at the spot on our famous veranda for a momentous view of moonrise with grandfather on my mind. I was happy to know that people in my leikai still turning up to capture the panoramic moonrise. A gang of buzzing boys and girls who geared up well for thabal nights thronged the spot. They ecstatically screamed when the moon emerged bit by bit above the bamboo grove. 

All of them pulled out their smart phones to click the moonrise for facebook posts. Silently I stood in the corner of the veranda to observe what all the teens of the 2000s were doing. Wish I could see what grandpa would react to them.

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