Welcoming the Sangai Festival-2014

Dr Khomdon Lisam *

Imphal at night as part of beautification of  Imphal City for Manipur Sangai Festival 2014 :: November 19 2014
Imphal at night as part of beautification of Imphal City for Sangai Festival on November 19 2014 :: Pix - Shankar Khangembam

While I was in London in 1992, I had the opportunity to visit the Kew Gardens, founded in 1840 which claimed to be world's largest collection of living plants in London. When I went there, I saw a small signboard "Bring your wives, Now Henry VIII is no more". I feel like laughing. This is one way of attracting the tourists.

When you remember King Henry-VIII of England, you think of him as a ruthless ruler, serial womanizer, snazzy dresser. About him, Mark Twain wrote "He used to marry a new wife every day, and chop off her head next morning." The message of the small signboard at the gate is that you will be perfectly safe and sound while visiting Kew Garden.

Objective of Sangai Festival

The Sangai Festival strives to showcase and promote the best of what the state has to offer to the world in terms of art and culture, handloom, handicrafts & fine arts, indigenous sports, cuisines & music, eco and adventure sports as well as the scenic natural beauty of the land. Moreover, the Festival has assumed great significance in recent years and every edition essential celebrates ethnic diversity of Manipur Society.

Participation of various Indian States, foreign traders and cultural troupes in the Festival this year will make it grander in scale and style. Further many entertaining items like Fashion Shows, Rock Shows, etc. The Festival is the right venue for innovative people with innovative ideas meet on a common platform.

Organising Sangai festival of such large magnitude with such limited resources with so many constrains is a Herculean task for which the Principal Secretary and the Director of Tourism Department must be given some award as a part of the function.

Past blunders of the Manipur Tourism Department :

Last year, a large number of people visited the Sangai festival at Hapta Kangjeibung not because it was very good but because people have no alternative outlet. When the Sangai festival was over, the venue of the festival at Hapta Kangjeibung was converted into a dust bin and open latrine. Litters and garbage were scattered all over the place.

Night soils were scattered here and there giving a foul smell to the local people at the Palace Compound. People were having an awful experience with the Sangai festival. There was a bomb blast in spite of tight security. There were lots of complains regarding high charge for registration of stalls because of which the prices of commodities on sale were prohibitive.

The local people find it very difficult to enter their own homes. During the last Sangai festivals, local people were prohibited even to enter to their homes with vehicles at the Palace Compound although ultimately after a lot of hot arguments with the illiterate police constables, they were allowed to enter.

This gives a poor impression of the Manipur Police to the people at large. These blunders exposes the lack of proper planning on the part of the organizers of the Sangai festival. Probably, the idea of community involvement and local participation never strike the brain of the organizers.

Earlier declaration of the Hon'ble Chief Minister

This time, local people were very happy when the Hon'ble Chief Minister declared that the venue of the Sangai festival will be shifted to some other location. We were also very happy to hear that the Sanjenthong bridge will be completed before Sangai festival. But our Hon'ble Chief Minister can not keep both the promises probably because of his inefficient officers.

We want to appeal to the Hon'ble Chief Minister to shift the Governor's Bunglow and the Chief Minister's Bunglow to somewhere near the Baruni Hill or Mantripukhri or Lamphel so that the people of Imphal can have a normal, peaceful life without any harassment and loss of human dignity.

Almost everyday the security people are harassing innocent people in the name of combing operation, verification, diversion of traffic etc. for the forthcoming Sangai festival. The Police should be taught how to behave with the people. They must be trained in Police-Public relations not Police-Media Relations.

The Media has the right to publish or broadcast any news good or bad. The Police should not try to curtail the rights of the media. The Police can carry out their duties very well with the help and support of the people and without offending and without embarrassing the people.

The Manipur Government have thoughtlessly dismantled the Sanjenthong bridge before completion of Thumbuthong bridge and improvement of feeder roads. The State Government should devise a mechanism to facilitate the incoming and outgoing of the local people. People are not complaining because they do not expect any tangible result of what they are complaining from the Ministers and MLAs.

Can you imagine, the people of Palace Compound, which is in the heart of Imphal city are buying water at more than Rs. 1000 per month since no piped water supply from PHED is available for the Palace Compound. The idea that a small water reservoir of 40 feet high will solve the problem never strike the brain of the Chief Engineer PHED, Minister of PHED or local MLA during the last twenty years. I wonder what Chief Engineer PHED, Minister of PHED or local MLA are doing in their office without caring for the essential needs of the people. I am not angry but I sympathize with them for their lack of concern for the people, powerlessness.

Manipur is an extraordinary place, full of charm, beauty and creativity. According to some, Manipur is "A Little Paradise on Earth", to others the "Switzerland of the East" and to many more the "Jewel of India" or "a flower on lofty heights". Unfortunately, Manipur do not have the Northern Sky Lights where the sky appeared in various changing colours at night like Norway, we do not have sea beach, we do not have Niagara Falls or Victoria falls, Colosseum, Tajmahal, Red Fort, Mysore Palace, Brindavan Garden, Mughal Garden, living human statue of Las Ramblas of Barcelona, Eiffel Tower of Paris, Crocodile firms, Dolphin Training Centre, Giant Aquarium, Elephant Training Centre, Monkey Schools, Orchid firms where tens of thousands of blooming orchids are displayed for sale. My profession had taken me to more than 19 countries of the world and all states of India. I have seen many of these places. It was very satisfying experience.

Coming back to Manipur- Our Airport is small. Our city is small. Our Hotels are small. We have very limited facilities. Our tourists spots are not well developed. We do not have a properly designed permanent exhibition centres. But our Hon'ble Chief Minister is having high hopes about the Sangai festival to make it a showcase to the international tourists. He is inviting many VVIPs-foreign and India. We are erecting bamboo poles for the Sangai festival.

I could understand the unhappiness and disappointment of the organizers with this type of arrangement.

Simple Suggestions

Considering these points, I may be allowed to propose few simple suggestions

1. Please give No.-1 priority to hygiene and sanitation. Please arrange for proper toilets, safe drinking water supply, management of waste and proper disposal of the litters, garbage and night soil within 24 hours after the festival is over.

2. Please coordinate and liaise with departments concerned for posting of young and good looking boys and girls at every first contact points like airports, hotels, travel agents, front desk counters, reception at the venues, all exhibition staff and members. Older and more experienced people may be put in the second line as back-up.

3. Please do not garland the foreign visitors. It may amount to invading his/her privacy. Please give a beautiful flower (Rose/Orchid). According to Myanmar and Thai culture, no stranger is allowed to touch their heads. They are very sensitive about it. I was very happy when a young air hostess of Thai Airways gave me a beautiful orchid flower at the time of embarkation. Another point can you do it for all passengers as an invitation to visit Sangai festival.

4. Teach the front line people "HOW TO SMILE TO THE VISITORS" without embarrassing them. All the personnel engaged in all aspects of the festival must be taught how to smile.

5. Reduce the registration fees of the Stall owners by 50%. The loss of revenue can be recouped from the sponsors like Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), tourism and hospitality industry, Advertisers, Hotels, Companies like Airtel, Samsung, Coca Cola, Provide room for free stall for deserving candidates. You can mobilise lots of resources.

6. Please direct traffic police to allow free movement of the local people of Palace Compound with vehicles on production of I.D.

7. Please consider for development of the existing tourist spots to make it tourist -friendly. Please think of making available sufficient no. of beautiful boats to enable the tourists to explore Loktak lake, go to the Phumdi Island and interact with people, spent one night there and come back in next morning. This is what foreigners want to do. Many of my American and English friends expressed their desire to go the Phumdi Island but I could not fulfil their desire,

8. Please plan for constructing a well planned, beautiful, modern Exhibition Centre at an appropriate place in a time-bound manner.

If you can implement these, I may be able to offer more suggestions next time.

* Dr Khomdon Lisam wrote this article for The Sangai Express and Hueiyen Lanpao
This article was posted on November 20, 2014.

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