Drugs…Ripped jeans….Trips in cemeteries….
The present generation of Manipuris have grown up with these, and much more. But growing up in such a state is not ‘mainstream’ at all where your freedom is gunned down by the forces meant to protect it. And your acceptance in the country is recognised only as a buffer state if there ever occurs a Chinese invasion. And not too long ago you could get heroin from a local paan shop on the way to school and chase it in a cemetery.
But drugs aren’t for everyone. This generation seems to be realising it. Manipuris have much to be proud of – their warrior heritage, rich culture, tribal songs that are masterful morsels of human literature rarely encountered, but in the current gray atmosphere of conflict and drugs, they have lost that sense of pride.
The people of Manipur take most pride in one thing, and that is sports. It is the only sphere, where the mainstream recognises them. Manipuris, over the years, have settled themselves, into the uneasy shoes of being sporting leaders to a non-sporting nation. But as many a sports hero from the state have put it in the past; sports in Manipur is seldom a passion, often a necessity.
According to Manipur-born sports journalist Mithun Singh, “Many Manipuris take up sports professionally to get jobs in the Railways, Army or other government sectors.”But unlike the majority, there are few who play the game for the love of it.
On top of a hill, on a regular Monday morning, a sleepy herd of 20 year olds assemble themselves. Nearby, are snazzy skates, low cycles with tall and wide handlebars that rotate 360o, graffiti-ed skateboards. These are the X-gamers of Manipur.
X-games entered Manipur some time in 1997 via pirated copies of the Hollywood movie ‘Red’. Capturing the teenage dream of riding a bicycle, few teenagers got together and formed a group called “Piggy Bank”, saved Rs.5 for weeks and on 9th September, ’99, they formed ‘Manipur Extreme Sports’.
Probably the only hot spot for the sport in India, Manipur, over the years, has not only helped in making X-games recognisable to the rest of the country, but has also created a space for India in the international arena. Over the last decade or so, the Manipuri culture has been influenced by its Southern neighbours like Singapore, South Korea and Thailand. And X-games are also from them. As the sport has made it big in these countries, Manipur followed suit.
Dipen Meitei, 32, has dedicated the last 12 years of his life to fine-tuning his skills and teaching them to the youngsters. Sometimes, even the students come up with new skills, as they are forever hawking on YouTube to grasp new moves. He describes it, “Extreme sports have caught on like wild fire in the region ever since its inception.”
One of the founders of “Piggy Bank” and present General Secretary of ‘Extreme Sports Association of India’ (ESAI), Mr.Irom Umamanda Mangang still needs to save some from his monthly salary to fund the events and competitions. It’s the only possible way to grab the attention of foreign scouts.
He has already taken enthusiasts to Bangalore, Delhi and Mumbai among other national cities and also to international level events like the ‘B3 Games’ in Korea, twice, ‘Indonesia Open Extreme Competition’ among other countries. In spite of all their hardships, Irom and his co-workers have put up a very simple request to the Governments of India and Manipur, and that is to provide them with a single skate park. Unsurprisingly, it has been declined.
For the hundreds like Irom and Dipen, the ultimate goal is to make it big internationally.The talent that the teenagers of the region possess can be understood from the fact, that few of their invented skills have been adopted by professional BMX riders. Not only that, during a recent tourism festival, Manipur played host to six of the world’s top riders from Thailand and Indonesia. Impressed by the Manipuri talent, these riders have expressed their desire to build a skate park in the state and form a group called ‘UMX’ (Even though Indian authorities have stayed away).
But there also lies another façade to this story. The story of how the bike replaced the drugs, of how a whole generation of tattooed trippers found a new aim in life on tattooed skateboards. In Manipur, they call it the BMX Revolution.
“What we are facing in Manipur today can only be fought with heart. No mind… only heart.”- Rewben Mashangwa, folk music icon.
Maybe that is why they carry their hearts on their bikes… so effortlessly!