We were counting days of the indefinite strike. It was the 58 days and the hills were still shut- from receiving groceries from Siliguri, shut from Right to Information, shut from the freedom to speech and express and shut from several other human rights.
‘INTERNET SHOULD BE RESUMED!’
People gave speeches in this context to no avail.
Interestingly, the third phase of the Gorkhaland agitation which was revived from the protest of three language policy allegedly ‘imposed’ by the Chief Minister Mamta Bannerjee on May last year had taken a serious turn making history for the generations yet to be born.
While the Gorkha Jan Mukti Morcha protested in the streets shouting ‘Bhasa hamro ama ho, bhasa mathi atikraman garnu paudaina’ (Language is our Mother, you cannot impose any language)
‘Language Protest’ slowly twisted to the protest of Gorkhaland movement- they called it ‘people’s movement.’
We heard slogans like ‘Bangal hamro chihan ho, Chihan ma Gorkhay basdaina’ (Bengal is our grave, Gorkhas doesn’t reside in the graveyard) every day from 11:30 am till 2:00 pm.
The stir reached to a degree where people swore that they are not going to settle in anything less than the state of Gorkhaland. Meanwhile, the protesters and the law enforcers often got involved in the violent clash in most of the places. Many people lost their lives in 105 days.
They, who bled, had a dream, an aspiration to live for a moment in Gorkhaland! The dream… just faded away.
Yet, the Gorkhaland Movement Coordination Committee ‘tried’ to come up with many concrete resolutions which indeed failed many times. People had their faith in the unanimous decision of ‘all-party’ that time.
The squash tendrils!
We, perhaps, had never been so interested about iskus ko munta in our lives before but this particular tendril had become one among the few green vegetables available around us in those 105 days.
Maila daju used to come from Sangsay with a doko (ethnic Nepali basket, bigger in size, carried in the back with the support of a knit rope in their head, by adjusting it in the basket) full of iskus ko munta and bitter gourd. Oh, monsoon; the strike was all about fungus, ferns, bamboo shoot and squash-family!
By the time he reached 10th mile fatak (dus-mile-fatak) he sold half-doko of vegetables. People who came for the procession used to buy and take the vegetables home.
‘Aju ta Julus ma munta nikalayra dekhaunu parcha Bangal Sarkar lai’
(Today we need to display tendrils in the procession so that Bengal government sees)
They were probably saying that because the impact of the indefinite strike and this legitimate demand had outraged people down there in Siliguri who in return had been stopping the transportation of food items to the hills. And it was alleged that the police along with some civilians were involved which was understood that the government had instructed them.
One odd morning while walking in the street of Dambar Chowk, I stumbled upon an old friend, who had come back to Kalimpong and those days the most important filler of a conversation had become ‘what are you eating lately?’ and the person at the other end unsurprisingly used to answer ‘Iskus ko munta!’
It was almost 60 days that people had been happily eating those tendrils for the sake of eating ‘green-vegetables.’ We got other organic vegetables too but ‘munta’ had become an ‘item’ cooked in every household those days and for the ones dwelling in the town, ‘iskus-ko-munta’ had become one of the delicacies.
One day, our veggie-stand was empty and we had gone down to Bhalukhop to send our stories, it had been days that we last ate greens, we were dying to eat vegetables. My pillion rider grabbed a handful of tendrils that was hung low towards the road while I was still riding. WE HAD TO EAT GREENS!
Internet ban and Iskus ko munta.
However, after the Internet was shut in the hills, people had no idea what to do to access their emails, book tickets or recharge phones or T.Vs but people who lived in the higher altitude of this town figured out Sikkim’s (Namthang, South Sikkim) signal blinking on their phone. After receiving a couple of notification, they felt JIO as a saviour. That’s how the term Jio-dara (Jio-Cliff) became popular and Carmichael ground was one of those places that got internet reception. Carmichael Ground was soon renamed to Jio-Dara almost officially.
People told their friends and their friends told their other friends about the availability of network and soon Carmichael ground was flooded with people with their laptops and phones every single day.
Carmichael ground is actually a place where kids play football. Above the ground is an elevated highland. It is above Mission Compound, Kalimpong. That’s it; we could just hear the notifications beep.
School students to lawyers, doctors, businessmen, and journalists, everyone was found there after 4 pm.
It was monsoon and the fogs used to swirl up exactly like today, the connection used to weaken to make us unable to attach emails. After staying there for hours in the piercing wind, emails finally used to get attached.
There were few more places like Carmichael ground that received the network. Like Delo and Durpin hills. Networks were found because of the altitude.
(Though the Internet was stopped, the voices could never be stopped.)
And at the end of the day, getting home and looking at the ‘Sabzi-Stand’ or the refrigerator would matter the most. Because… what would you eat if there were no ‘iskus ko munta?’
Carmichael had a lot to offer us, there was a hideout where boys used to go to attend nature’s call, one similar evening, I too had to go for the same task, I saw squash tendrils and pumpkins, mazes and gingers getting matured there. The next day, after winding my story by 3 pm, we reached jio-dara to send our news. I went to the hideout to pee just to understand that somebody had already stolen squash tendrils and pumpkins. I still wanted to eat ‘iskus ko munta’ for dinner.
I had always pestered my mother when she used to cook ‘Munta’ back home, but last year, for the first time in my life, I had a serious craving for munta. I wanted to eat munta, I had to eat munta, or else I would go round like the shape of potato but thanks to whoever that withdrew the agitation on the 105th day.