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The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Ashoka chapter.

Edited by: Shivani Panigrahy 

Is it the joy of being photographed, or were they smiling already? Was it a conversation interrupted in the middle by the photographer or was it a moment caught in a flash? Whatever the reason, the picture has shades of joy coloured right alongside the peeling paint that remembers kitchen lore. There are patterned, well-built bamboo lofts that block the ceiling, filled with woven baskets and household objects. The woman tending to the fire has her glasses fogged as the smoke rises from the steady fire and escapes against the sunlight streaming through the window. The other woman holds a blue box of condiments.

A metal pot is balanced on a stand atop the fire. The metal pot is my favourite thing about the picture. Everything else fades when compared to its dull gleam as the food is cooked slowly in it. 

“If we were back home right now, we would be in this kitchen waiting for food. I would tell you all the local folktales and village customs. By the kitchen fireplace is where stories come alive.” I meet Lamkhogin Haokip in the university mess hall over snacks. The irony of eating chewy kulcha bread while listening to him describe home-cooked food was not lost on me. 

Aigejaang village of the Kangpokpi district in Manipur is 28 kms away from the capital city, Imphal and has been home to the Kuki people for generations. The village lies in the foothills of Sadar Hills. A fellow student and a good friend defined by his dedication and empathy, Haokip is all easy candour and smiles when describing his home. He shows me pictures of clouds gently rolling across the hills and sunflowers watching the pockets of blue in the sky.

“It’s late evening and imagine we are in this kitchen back in my home, right now. I am hungry for my favourite dish Bal le ankam me with smoked beef, so that’s exactly where we begin our journey,” he narrates with the show of an old man reminiscing his treasured experiences. He shows me a picture of the dish in a glass bowl. I must admit that it looks way healthier than what I am used to. 

“Our lifestyle is kind of agrarian based, with lots of leafy vegetables. Bal le ankam me is made with taro and mustard leaves. To get taro, to the kitchen garden is where we go.” he explains. The kitchen garden is in the backyard of the main house where vegetables and fruits are grown. Taro that is grown in the garden is commonly called Bal in Kuki language and personally, when fried, is one of my favourite vegetables. 

“No, no, we boil them here. Peel the skin, go chop chop, cut it into small pieces and boil it.”

Haokip makes the chop-chop motion of the knife cutting the taro.

“Mustard leaves are added. They are from the kitchen garden too. We harvest them in winter. The leaves are slightly bitter but they complement the taro so well. We then add the spices, ginger, turmeric, onion, salt and king chilli. This right here is king chilli, well known as ghost pepper. They are ready in the gardens usually around September to November.” 

A very large basket is filled with orange-red chillies. Even through the screen it does not require much creativity to imagine how searing the spicy heat would be if people did not have the spice-tolerable stomach to handle it. The more I stare at the picture the more I imagine my eyes burning. 

“I can handle spicy food.” I say.

“It’s not very spicy. The meat, mustard leaves and taro balance it out. Oh, I forgot the main ingredient. We have beef, well smoked to perfection and stored in a bamboo basket earlier which is also added to the dish,” he shows the final prepared bowl of Bal le ankam me with smoked beef. Calm, nutritious and filling, is how I would describe the dish; the muted colours of the ingredients, the amalgamation of different vegetables and the semi-solid state of it. Haokip is nodding along, a content look on his face.

“Exactly. This is what home tastes like to me.” 

“Fast forward to the next morning, we would hike to the hills. Let’s say it is sometime between August to October, that’s when we go to harvest bamboo shoots.” he continues the journey.

“So, how difficult is it to hike to the hills at 5 AM?”

Haokip makes an exaggerated horrified face at me. “You begin hiking around 2 AM.”

“But, 2 AM is almost midnight.” 

Yes. That’s when we begin hiking. It’s usually muddy, so we will be wearing proper boots for the best foothold. It’s also very easy to get lost. So, we are in groups and we bring torches to keep track of the pathway. It is pretty scary trekking at night but it would be morning by the time we reach the groove. It is an adventure, is it not? You can hear the sounds of the forest at night and the cool breeze snaking between the trees. Oh, did I mention we come across snakes too?” Haokip’s face is aglow with excitement. (He’s not excited about the snakes, though.)

“We call the bamboo shoots Laiwa and it’s delicious. The hard trek to obtain it is rewarded when you taste it. We trek for 15 to 20 kilometres a day and harvest a basketful of bamboo shoots, say 30 to 40 kilograms of them and trek back and reach the market around 11 AM to sell them,” he shows me a picture of the trekking route and the bamboo shoots. “You need to be strong physically and mentally to work. Bamboo shoots are a valuable resource. So, one needs to commit to being the best at harvesting and selling them for a living.”

The bamboo shoots are dark magenta in colour with fresh mud sticking to it. The traditional woven Kuki basket holds strong against the bamboo shoots being carried. “This is one of the main sources of livelihood. Initially I was very scared to trek and harvest the bamboo shoots. But, you overcome your fears when you are determined to learn and enjoy the challenges presented, right?”

“I agree.”

“At the end of our journey, I would show you around the village. The village Chief’s house, the church and the volleyball ground next to it, homes and their gardens interspaced evenly. You can taste other dishes which are equally tasty and comforting. If you’re lucky enough, you can get pineapples as a farewell gift when you leave.” he concludes with a smile that reminds me how far our university is from the places that made us who we are. 

“It’s called Tapkong Thusim,” he says.


Tapkong Thusim is telling stories by the kitchen fireplace. Stories that speak of our identity, our roots and conversations that are always remembered.” he smiles. 

Even if this conversation was not by the kitchen fireplace, it is one that I will remember.

Harshini Dhiyaa Velsamy is a Computer Science Major in dependent relationship with poetry. She can be found daydreaming fake scenarios and has a penchant for getting too excited whenever there is a plot twist in anything.