A tribute to Padmashri Thongram Haridas Singh

Salam Rupachandra Singh *

 Padmashri Thongram Haridas Singh
Padmashri Thongram Haridas Singh :: Pix - TSE

There had been a long association with Padmashri Thongram Haridas Singh who left this world on the 15th of September 2021.

Vivekananda Kendra, Imphal of which headquarters is at Kanyakumari led us to be near with Pabung. Moreso, the National Youth Project, New Delhi of which a branch like body is exists in Manipur had tested the social and philanthropic instinct of him. Whenever, these two National organizations ventured into any social activities, he was always put at the forefront by the organizers to carry out the activities.

He had extended unlimited help and guidance to involve in selfless social activities. When we were in the prime time of our youth, we followed the commands of National leaders and him for social activities, National integration, friendship, peace and amity. Youths in hundreds had been invited and motivated to indulge in such activity in our region for more than three decades.

He was full of positivism and always had a smile, was soft spoken with a pleasing voice. His laughter was so distinctive and he fondly talked to people. He was a man with a firm mission in life with commitments. In the early part of 2020, we met this nonagenarian at Leirik Memorial Charitable Hospital and he had not much changed in his look though seemed to be a little bit weak.

A brief sketch of life history of Pabung runs as : He was born on the 10th October, 1928 to Late Thongram Kirti Singh and Late Thongram ongbi Leirik Devi at Khagempalli Panthak, Imphal, Manipur. Thongram Kirti Singh was an established contractor during the British rule and was a strict and disciplined person.

Late Haridas Singh is the second born in a large, tight knit family that consisted of six siblings. They lost their mother Leirik Devi at an early age during the Second World War. The loss of his mother at an early age was a turning point in his life. He married Late RK Sanatombi Devi, who acted as a caretaker's role for his ailing mother and took on a maternal role for the young Thongram siblings.

He became a provider and took on the responsibility of looking after his family and started working at the age of 17. From the very beginning, he had an entrepreneurial and adventurous spirit, starting his ventures in timber trade in Assam, Nagaland and Manipur.

In effect, during the early days of India's Independence, he contributed in building crucial core infrastructure like roads, hospitals, bridges for the development of this region. Apart from construction and building work, his other passion was in cinema.

As a pioneer in Manipur in this field, sensing the lifestyle changes and needs of the expanding city of Imphal and her people, he opened Usha Cinema in 1966 in Imphal. Usha Cinema was the fourth cinema hall to operate in Imphal and was instrumental in making English films popular in Manipur.

His role in cinema did not end with just being an exhibitor; he produced a film- Khuthang Lamjel in 1978-9, directed by the well-known playwright and director, Padma Shri Dr GC Tongbra. Khuthang Lamjel was one of the first Manipuri films to have a section of it in technic colour.

His role in propagating cinema in Manipur continued to grow, and the Asha-Jina Cinema Halls were opened in 1983. Asha Hall had the distinction of being the largest Cinema Hall in North East India. From being an exhibitor and producer, he also ventured into film distribution business. Based at Guwahati during the late 1990s, the company was very successful in distributing English and Hindi films across Eastern India.

He also held various critical positions as president of Cine Exhibitors Association- Manipur, Pioneer & Executive Member- Manipur Film Development Council and Member of Eastern Motion Pictures Association.

Padma Shri Haridas continued to excel in two parallel careers of Cinema and Construction. However, it was his work with the Government of Manipur in infrastructure development/construction that got him many accolades and recognition.

The Government of Manipur recognised his work by awarding him 4 Gold Medals. The first medal was awarded in 1975 for construction of the IT Road (Imphal-Tamenglong), the second medal was awarded for the successful and timely completion of a challenging project, ie, construction of Khoupum Dam in 1977.

The third medal was for the completion of Sekmai Barrage in 1977-78 and the fourth one was for the construction of an indoor stadium in Ukhrul in 1984. All the projects were in remote, difficult to access terrain of Manipur. In many ways, he was a forerunner in integrating far flung villages and their people to the rest of the State.

A humanitarian and inclusive leader, he served the community by building roads, Churches, Temples, playgrounds and village schools wherever his projects took him. He was also deeply associated with Rotary Club Manipur, Red Cross Society, Manipur amongst others.

He was actively involved in establishing Indian National Army (INA) Memorial in Moirang, Manipur. From the mid-1970s onwards, he and his wife RK Sanatombi Devi were influential in reviving Shri Govindaji Mandir Managing Board, Manipur, Shri Bijoy Govind Mandir, Sagolband and Radha Madhav Mandir, Khagempalli.

Most importantly, they were also blessed to get the opportunity to serve and preserve the Shri Ramji Prabhu Mandir, Ningthempukri, Imphal. His family has the good fortune to offer seva to Ramji Prabhu Mandir fervently till date.

For his contribution in the above mentioned works of infrastructure, cultural and social development, he was conferred the Padma Shri award in 1985 by the Government of India. He received the award from the hand of the then President, Shri Giani Zail Singh in New Delhi. It was a humbling and yet a moment of great pride for him. It was also a fitting reward for the long years of struggle, sacrifice and hard work.

He always had an uncanny sense of commerce and a feel of the pulse of the people, therefore, the third aspect his career began when he and his family established 'The Leirik Memorial Charitable Society' in the early 1980s. The Society has been operating the Leirik Memorial Charitable Hospital since 1983.

More recently, in the early 1990s, the Society ventured in the field of Education and has been operating several educational institutions under his guidance and leadership. These institutes include CBSE affiliated schools-RK Sanatombi Devi Vidyalaya, Pangei, North AOC and Jiribam, RK Sanatombi Devi College of Education, North AOC, Imphal and the Leirik Nursing College,Sangaiprou, Imphal.

Till the ripe age of 94 years, he was an active and contributing citizen of Manipur. He left for his Heavenly Abode as a patriot, visionary and compassionate leader whose philosophy of life, was 'Live simple and think high'. He was indeed an inspiration to others !

It is a trite saying that in human life, if one comes, one has to go bidding bye to this materialistic and worldly life. One cannot stand against this natural process. Separation is always a part of meeting.

May the soul of Pabung rest in peace in heavenly abode.

Om, Shanti, Shanti, Shanti !

* Salam Rupachandra Singh wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on October 14 2021.

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