Lam gi san na machi sangi
(The horns of the cow in the distance is longer – an old Manipuri saying)
Figuratively, the grass is always greener on the other side.
The old Manipuri saying refers to the human tendency to desire what is not easily available. Unlike most Manipuris, I would probably be amongst the very small handful who do not have such a craving for yongchak. Growing up in the land of yongchak, I never understood why people craved so much for it. Life gave me a chance to look it from the other side, to consider the proverbial local cow from a far off distant land. This land was Delhi where I was sent on an educational exile. It was here that I started to develop a taste for it.
Those were the days before anyone had heard of LCC’s. The journey from Imphal to Delhi consisted of nearly twenty-six hours on bus through hills and plains and another two days by train. For a student to travel by direct flight, even with the student concession was either a luxury or an emergency. The journey was long but we travelled in groups, so it was fun. The winter traveller always carried in his luggage at least a small quantity of the winter seasonal specialities either for himself/herself or as parcel to be handed over to another person. The yongchak travelled places with its consumers who became more and more mobile. At home in Imphal where it was easily available, I had ignored it. In Delhi, I could not ignore it. It had come a long way in a small package enough just to make one or two dishes lovingly packaged by parents at home who thought about their children such a long distance away and who might be longing for a taste of home. Occasionally, me and my friends who stayed together would receive those little packets sent across or brought over and celebrate it as a little feast.
With the advent of several LCC’s plying the Imphal-Delhi sectors, the distance seemed to have been swallowed up. Travelling to and fro became affordable and faster, and hence more accessible. It also meant that more fresh vegetables and herbs also got transported. Back in Imphal, the yongchak trees were dying out. From about twenty rupees a bunch, the price shot up to three pieces for hundred rupees. And yet, the romance with yongchak continued. With barely a sigh, the vegetable continued to reign supreme.
Ironically, the costlier it became in Imphal, it seems to have become more abundant in the Meitei homes in Delhi. Every visitor to my brother’s place who were flying in from Imphal inevitably brought in the yongchak along with its followers (that is some of its accompanying vegetables). Every friend whom I visited or talked to seemed to have it in stock. I wonder if it was triggered by the fact that it has now become rarer and dearer. Presumed to be something like a ‘limited edition’ perhaps!