The famous Kangla Gate in the middle of a city, engulfed in dust and approaching darkness in the evening, is brightly lit. Opposite to the gate is the only flyover in Manipur called Bir Tikendrajit Flyover. The then Government took years to complete this structure. And when it was finally completed after a lot of controversies and delays, it turned out much smaller and shorter than the original proposed plan. On the left of the flyover is the historically significant park known as BT Park. In the afternoons and early evening, school and college students, visitors and lovers looking for a pleasant place where they do not have to pay overpriced café bills throng the park. The gatekeeper comes and chases away everyone to close the park at sunset every day. Outside the park people are rushing back home and the busy markets are getting deserted. The diesel autos that are trying to overtake one another only create a traffic jam in the small road between the park and Johnstone School. And this small road takes a different look once the evening rush is gone. The footpath adjoining the park, partially covered by a long line of low trees and without streetlights nearby make this short passage a favorable space for some hush-hush interactions among men; old and young.
The city acquires a deserted look at sunset. Unlike metropolitan cities, things come to a standstill once the sun goes down in the hills in the west. When I was driving towards Kangla Gate there were few vehicles plying. However, for someone who has gotten used to metropolitan life, Imphal in the evening doesn’t fail to give a sense of being abandoned and deserted. I parked my Activa near the park gate. As I took the turn and headed towards the footpath I saw a big car parked a little ahead. On the other side of the road two men, each sitting on their bikes, I realised, were watching me since the moment I took the turn. I immediately put a different gait about myself. My hips swayed more than it would in any other place. I returned glances to which they said something to each other and got back to watching me; this time more intently. I walked further ahead passing by a mid-thirty man who don’t probably groom his hair, get haircuts at the new salons in Keishampat or buy clothes at Gambhir Shopping Centre and wear matching shoes, but surely a confident man. In the dim light I saw his hand stroking his groin while he kept a casual yet careful look on his face. When I passed by his side he quickly scanned me head to toe and then toe to head. It was quick and we almost stared at each other for a second or two. His hands were still on his groin. But I walked ahead to see the man in the car. I slowed down my pace. In the light from his cell phone, which he was just pretending to be using, because I saw his head slightly fixed towards me, I saw a fair-skinned man; his head was slightly bald in the front but the rest of his hair appeared properly trimmed. His collar shirt was folded till his elbow showing a big golden watch. I imagined that he must have returned from office and probably came here and he must have texted his wife that he would be seeing a friend and come home late. He probably earned enough to look after his wife and send his children to the best school in the state and keep his own parents happy enough. But there were secrets that he carefully guarded lest his life would be ruined. So he met strangers in BT and made sure he didn’t divulge any details, not even actual name or address. That must be wearisome I thought, living a dual life.
A little ahead near the end of the footpath, there were two men behind the tree. When I walked towards them, they were not just watching me together but to my surprise they were holding hands and both seemed comfortable enough to each other. I wondered if they were looking for a third lover. I thought I would walk back and take another detour. However, I was startled by a Commando jeep coming from the turn where I started. I hurriedly walked further ahead towards the State Museum and took the right turn going towards Leima Plaza and Paona Bazaar. Friends had warned me and told me what happened when Commando caught these men but I was excited and curious to go ahead. Since, I had parked my Activa near the park gate I still had to come back once they left. I made up my mind I was coming back. After all, it was still early.
From the State Museum, I turned right and walked ahead, ultimately taking a detour of Polo Ground. On the way I passed by the sports shops behind the Ground. I stopped at the auto parking near the entrance of the Ground, walked towards the paandukaans (typically a shop that sells paan, cigarettes, snacks and beverages and run by women) nearby. I bought a couple of Win cigarettes, smoked one standing there and looking around. There were other middle-aged and older men buying paan and cigarettes, chit chatting among themselves and with the paandukan fambi (women who run paandukans). These women run their paandukans late through the night and they are least bothered by who comes to their shop and how many men try to flirt with them. I took few puffs, doused it and strolled around for a while to kill time. In a small lane just across, I saw chaak hotels (rice hotels) by day turned to open benders (local word for shady hotels that serve all kinds of alcohol) by night. Groups of men; young and old drank alcohol openly out there. I wondered how come the police and vigilante groups against selling and consumption of alcohol were not active around there. I walked from one end of the lane to the other end passing by at least half a dozen such hotels. No one particularly looked at me though some of them gave a glance as I passed by each hotel. Once I reached the other end of the lane, I walked out from there and headed towards BT Road. Women vendors from Ima Keithel, Paona Bazaar, Thangal bazaar and nearby areas and shopkeepers were hurrying to catch the last auto for home. If it weren’t for the diesel autos these people would find it hard to reach home after their day’s business. I passed by honking autos, people hustling to get a seat and some shopkeepers pulling down their shop shutters below Gambhir Singh Shopping Complex and adjoining shops, including the ones around Imphal Talkies.
In less than five minutes I reached the BT Park Gate. I walked a little ahead and looked around for the Commando Jeep. It must have surely left because I couldn’t see it anywhere around. This time, instead of the footpath, I walked on the road. I must have gotten slightly anxious after seeing the Commando Jeep awhile back. The two men on the bikes hadn’t gone and this time they were strolling around the area after they had parked their bikes nearby. As I walked further I passed by a man in his early thirties; bulky built with big round ass and tight T-shirt that revealed his well-formed moobs and tits. I was immediately excited. But to approach and start a conversation was not in my guts. I would go to Manipur only once a year, and each time I went I usually felt less familiar and confident about everything there. So, I looked at him abruptly and walked ahead. The men in the car must have gone, he wasn’t there any longer. The Commando Jeep must have scared him. At a place like this, it’s probably the upper-middle class who would be most scared of being seen or caught. After walking for about fifty meters or so I turned back. As I got near the same man, I stopped, stepped up on the footpath, and checked how far I was from him. We must be just two meters apart, so I stood there, took out a cigarette, lighted it and started smoking. Nothing happened for about a minute; no words exchanged between us.
Before I had finished smoking, he moved towards me and uttered the first few words, “Where are you from?” I smiled and replied, “Nambol but I live in Bangalore”. Obviously it was a lie. He said, “nice, and what do you do?” I replied, “I am student” and then I asked him the same. He replied, “I work for a particular showroom in Paona Bazaar and I am from Singjamei”. I knew the showroom he named and I thought it was quite bold of him to reveal his place of work. I felt like asking where exactly in Singjamei; if by chance he was from the same leikai as Pari. But I realised it was my habit to feel drawn to anyone who would be from the same leikai as Pari’s as if that automatically brought us closer even after many years. Seeing that I was lost for a moment, he asked, “what happened”? Before I replied, he suggested for a walk to which I smiled and nodded.
We took the same route that I had earlier taken and we chatted casually on the way. When I happened to ask in the flow of the conversation if he had come earlier around this place where guys hung out at night, he just brushed off the question and said in a defensive tone, he had come only that day. I was not judging him yet I didn’t trust his answer. During the conversation and out of flow actually he said, “you are beautiful and I am fond of you”. I simply laughed, though I made sure I didn’t dismiss his sentiments; though it merely implied he wanted to get into my pants. As we approached Leima Plaza at Paona Bazaar, he proposed if we should rent a room for a while. I was stunned by what he said. It never occurred to my mind that there could be a room that can be rented by two men seeking privacy in Imphal. I naturally asked him if there was even such a place and where would it be. He proudly confirmed my doubt and told me to follow him. He took a step ahead and I followed silently.
From Leima Plaza, he led me through a narrow lane between shops that were still open. The salesmen were clearing up the clothes, bags and shoes on display and we moved through the small lane amidst these activities to reach the main lane of Paona Bazaar. When he took the right from there, I asked him where this place was exactly. He replied, “it’s near Pratap Talkies.” I no longer remembered where Pratap Talkies was. I had visited the theatre few times during my intermediate school with my lover back then to watch popular Manipuri movies. We purposely went to the last shows and used to walk back to our rented place in Konung Mamang, holding each others’ hands and I often kissed him in the streets to tease him. I had walked the same lane many times back then, so either a lot has changed or I had forgotten too much. So, I asked him again where it was exactly, he just said a little ahead. A few meters ahead he took a right turn and came near a paandukan. He stepped inside on the left side of it leading to a wooden staircase. We climbed two floors of the dilapidated building that looked like an old hotel divided by the staircase in the middle and on both sides there were compartment like rows of rooms. The building though located in the hub of a crowded bazaar in Imphal, seemed like business was merely thriving and the flow of cash was not enough to invest in renovating the building like many others in the city had been redone to catch up with the ever-changing business and the markets. But what did I anyway know about the kind of business run in the building?
We came on the second floor where there was a desk that resembled a registration desk but there was no one there. He pressed the calling bell and it worked perfectly fine. No one came out after the first bell, so he pressed again. After like a minute, an old man came out through a door from the front side of the building facing the main lane of the market. As he approached us, my just befriended man asked, “we want to rent a room for a while”. The old man in his manager like style yet with a personal touch to it replied, “you will get late” and then took out a key from behind the desk and handed it to my friend. My friend paid him what seemed like to me a hundred rupee note. I was observing silently from behind my friend. Not even once the old man looked at me directly. He seemed to know and trust my friend and whoever he brought along. There were two other middle-aged men on the corridor between opposite rows of rooms on the floor, on that side building. As we searched for the room number marked on the key, the two men carried on with whatever they were doing and seemed least bothered by the visit of two men there. It was the second room on the left, my friend unlocked it and we entered to a room completely dark except for the faint evening light seeping through the broken portions of the wooden window opposite to the door. He switched on the bulb and turned on the fan. The room turned out to be more like a small cabin; a single bed is placed on one side covered with bed sheets and two pillows quite shabby looking. There was enough space for two people to move around, or may be three. It just struck my mind if people came to have threesome or orgies here. There was no table, chair, and not even proper hooks on which one could hang the layer of clothes that would inevitably be shed there in that room by every visitor. While I looked for a hook, my friend whispered, “Won’t you take off your clothes?” I prompted him the same to which he smirked. I took off my jacket, T-shirt and pants and hung it on the nail above the door. As I stood there in my Benetton cream-colored underwear, my friend quickly took off his shirt and pants, threw it on the bed, and moved closer to me. He embraced and thrust his crotch against mine, put both his hands on my butt. He pushed and thrust a little more. I stretched my right hand and switched off the bulb. Then he pushed me to the bed and we both fell with a thumping sound and the bed made a creaking sound. Both of us laughed in a hushed voice. Then he pulled off my underwear that was partially wet already.
Part of the story was earlier published in Gaylaxy Magazine and Xukia. Reach the author at email@example.com