“The number you’re calling is not reachable” says an automated voice as Shanatombi called up her husband who had gone to Ukhrul from Imphal for work. It automatically occurred to her that it must be network error (for who hasn’t heard of Ukhrul’s poor connectivity). So she waited and called up again only to be greeted with “beep”, “beep”, “beep” sounds. It was only later in the day that she was able to connect with her husband. The reason in the inaccessibility of the phone line being, poor network coverage in Ukhrul (as predicted). Well, this is just an instance among thousands of other instances where due to poor cellular connectivity or power cuts the cell reception goes awry. Clearly, if you’re from Ukhrul District you know the struggle for smooth cellular network reception and uninterrupted electricity is real.
Residents going outside their houses to take or make a call; shouting over the phone; people running home to charge their mobile phones when electricity comes back; lifting mobile phones in the air to get better reception; waiting for 9 PM because then the internet connectivity gets a little better; these are not drills but these are real-life situations. Yes, residents may agree that electricity has become regular after the coming of pre-paid metre system. But let’s be honest, how many times in a month do we face transformer failures? Or rather, why is it that Ukhrul always have transformer failures? Bad transformers? Weak power supply? Not enough transformers for the entire town? And ironically, when the power supply goes, cellular and internet connection goes off most of the time. Buffff!!! They disappear! No service! And then you are shut off from the entire world. One might find it funny to see residents of Ukhrul shouting sounds of joy in unison whenever power comes back. “uuuuuuoooohhhhhhh” , or “yyyaaaayyyy”, or “light!!!!!!!”. But the relationship between Ukhrul and its frequent power cut in an ongoing affair since time immemorial.
People who grew up in Ukhrul may say that power supply has improved tad bit as compared to ten years ago but that does not mean that cellular and internet connectivity have surpassed excellence. While in a conversation with Ashang who has been away from Ukhrul for more than ten years, he vehemently expressed, “I can’t imagine my life in Ukhrul. I keep thinking about how I will ever settle there without proper phone or internet network. I have always wanted to applaud the residents of Ukhrul for their tenacity.” Well, we can’t entirely say that whatever Ashang uttered is not true.
Ukhrul, you say, is a beautiful abode covered with bounteous providence from nature. Yes, Ukhrul is indeed a beautiful place. But can we all go that one extra mile to do something about phone reception, internet connectivity etc? Has the state government abandoned us? Or is the state government neglecting us? Or are we, as residents of Ukhrul, not working hard enough to bring about development? Or are we simply surviving? Civilisation has come a long way. Today, it’s battling a pandemic. It’s often called the Corona Age. But is Ukhrul still living in the Stone Age while the whole world is constantly rising?
So shall we continue lifting our mobile phones in the air or do we want to talk about Ukhrul roads? Nah!