Morok Metpada Jat Taba: Transactions through Favor Bank

Dr. Ksh. Imokanta Singh *

A typical Meitei Feast : Cheiraoba celebrated by Manipuri commnunity at Bangkok, Thailand in 2007
A typical Meitei Feast : Cheiraoba celebrated by Manipuri commnunity at Bangkok, Thailand in 2007

'Everything you see exists together in a delicate balance ...
We are all connected in the great circle of life
(Mufasa to Simba in Lion King – I)

Morok metpada jat taba (out-casting over Chutni, literally, a strange translation, it sounds). Every proverb sounds strange at the first sight but when you scratch the surface you find a mine of meanings inside that. The proverb in question now has its own story and I am going to tell it in my idiosyncratic style. Once upon a time there was a rich, though little stingy, man and he decided to call some of his friends to a dinner at his home (of course with exchange theory in mind). He spread out an array of sumptuous Manipuri dishes of Nga atoiba thongba, Nga ataoba thongba, champhoot etc. on the floor.

When the guests started enjoying the delicacies, they were feeling that something was missing and could not fully savor the taste. Then they realized that the dinner did not have morok metpa (Chutni made out of fermented fish, chilly, coriander leaves, etc.) which is an 'indispensable' item in a Meitei dinner. The host thought that the items of the dinner had been much more than he intended to and left out morok metpa, as if it would cost him a world. This is where the real self of the host is revealed and his credibility is lost. The rationale of this story is that no matter how much we invest in a project our respectability will be null if we miss out the crux.

Contrary to the above proverb, in terms of civility, there is another one as 'Kwa matap amanasu chin pei' (a paan can also make mouth bulging). Kwa occupies a very special place in the Meitei religious and social life. Offering a Kwa matap to a guest, even today, marks the height of Meitei civility. Such civility is also seen when a person offers kwa to another person as a gesture of gratitude for the favor done to him.

Here I am reminded of a very enticing concept called 'favor bank', well employed by Paulo Coelho in his novel The Zahir. He is honest enough to mention that the concept is not his original one but borrowed from The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe. I will quote what he says, 'It's the most powerful bank in the world, and you'll find it in every sphere of life…I start making deposits in your account—not cash deposits, you understand, but contacts. I introduce you to such-and-such a person, I arrange certain deals...You know that you owe me something, but I never ask you for anything…One day, I'll ask you for a favor and you could, of course, say no, but you're conscious of being in my debt. You do what I ask, I continue to help you, and other people see that you're a decent, loyal sort of person and so they too make deposits in your account—always in the form of contacts, because this world is made up of contacts and nothing else. They too will one day ask you for a favor, and you will respect and help the people who have helped you, and, in time, you'll have spread your net worldwide, you'll know everyone you need to know and your influence will keep on growing.'

What will happen when you refuse to return the favor?

'The Favor Bank is a risky investment, just like any other bank. You refuse to grant the favor I asked you, in the belief that I helped you because you deserved to be helped, because you're the best and everyone should automatically recognize your talent.

Fine, I say thank you very much and ask someone else into whose account I've also made various deposits; but from then on, everyone knows, without me having to say a word, that you are not to be trusted.'

This concept applies well in our lives here in Manipur too where favor bank involves not only contacts but also money and gifts. Social network serves as the introducer to the opening of this kind of account (here I am not talking of Facebook, Twitter etc. in particular but social network in general.) With the free accessibility to another network called mobile network, contacts can be established without actually moving away from one's room. This means one can run the favor bank from his/her home itself. In this banking business, I believe, nobody/nothing is permanently great or small, powerful or weak.

Each and every thing has its own strength. This teaches us to be humble, diplomatic or politically correct. It is as we say Keigi mapal napina tangi, napigi mapal keina tangi (the grass is dependent on the tiger and in turn the tiger is also dependant on the grass). Both the tiger and the grass maintain their accounts in the favor bank and deposit their respective favors into each other's accounts so that they are in symbiotic relationship.

This bank works overtime especially amongst those who are powerful or near and dear ones of the powerful or those who are part of the governing systems. This is more so in places where there is scarcity of resources and opportunities and the power is concentrated in a few hands vis-à-vis a power-starved majority. (Here I am reminded of Pareto's concept of Lion and Fox in his theory of circulation of Elites). Common people are most of the time in search of such well-connected people for helping them meet their ends.

Asking for favor may be in the form of wanomba for a government job (both regular and contract)/delivering of loans under so and so schemes/allotment of Thika/smooth moving of official files/bills or for such matters as Nupi/Nupa faba, local brawl (including husband and wife scuffle), picking up of devotees from Yu vendors etc. and the list goes on and on. The busiest favor bank accounts in our land seem to be those of Police personnel, since our whole society (including both the powerful and powerless) has deteriorated into a very undisciplined and callous society.

Here mention may be made that anonymity is a luxury in our society. It is very difficult to run an office when you reveal your personal profile to the visitor. He/she turns out to be some sister/brother/brother-in-law/ father/mother/uncle/mama/ine/friend … of an acquaintance. This is more so when you are in the government and posted in your home district. They most of the time ask for favoring their sides whether rule permits or not. They feel that you are not powerful unless you do things beyond the rules.

Since favor bank runs like any other business, there is always price for what you do. You have to withdraw some favor amount from your account in order to deposit back, to the account of the holder who deposited the same in your account. For instance, contacts are returned in the form of contacts, selection for a job is balanced out with proportionate amount of money, helping in bailing out from the lock up for drunken brawl is returned, say, in the form of helping in family chores or by gifting a big river or Loktak fish or anything can be balanced out with just a big and heartfelt THANK YOU. For those in politics, transaction through favor bank becomes the most advantageous strategy for a long electoral success. What is most important in this business is civility or maintaining social etiquette i.e. knowledge for a commensurate equation.

Is favor bank an ethically acceptable form of bank? Here comes the tricky question of difference between 'gift' and 'bribe'. As such there is a very thin membrane dividing the two. As per my proposition, both can be counted as transactions through favor bank. Gift does not involve the tenet of demand and supply but is mostly of Thanks Giving nature. On the other hand, bribe is truly under the demand and supply mode. However, giving bribe does not mean that the giver is no longer indebted to the taker. This is because the taker has chosen the giver for that particular job from an uncountable number of capable and desiring candidates through connections.

Favor bank is run through TRUST. Giving and returning favor have their specific time and place. When it is not given or returned on time the gravity is lost. It is like 'Yaoshang loiraga aber yourakpa.' And there are certain people who never care or feign not to know to return the favor. In this case, their days are numbered. And there are certain people who keep on bestowing favor, believing in the 'universal goodness' of human being, despite the other people not returning theirs. I am one of such 'fools' (at least in the eyes of those 'wise' bastards).

'…There is a time for everyone if they only learn
That the twisting Kaleidoscope moves us all in turn
(Can you feel the love tonight, Elton John, Lion King I)

* Dr. Ksh. Imokanta Singh wrote this article for Hueiyen Lanpao (English Edition)
This article was posted on April 16, 2014.

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