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E-Pao! EI - The celebrated hour called Meitei pung

The celebrated hour called Meitei pung

By: Lt Col. H Bhuban Singh (Retd) *


Recently on 29 May, I went to attend a Phiroi function. A Phiroi is a religious event involving Puja, which includes the graceful iconic presence of Shri Shri Chaitanyaji Mahaprabhuji amid the chanting of Bhajan (devotional songs), performed exactly on the first death anniversary of a departed soul. The programme on the invitation card printed the time of start of Bhek Katpa, which was offer of alms to the perceived soul, who had become a Bhakta (disciple) of Mahaprabhuji, as 08.30 a.m.

Accordingly, I arrived at the Phiroi function at about 09.00, after giving due allowance of half an hour for the usual delay, which normally happens on such religious functions. The Bhek-Katpa started at 10.00 hours after a delay of one and half hours, from the stated time of 08.30 hours. Bhog Arti (partaking of food by Mahaprabhuji) followed.

This was immediately succeeded by Pushpanjali which was floral offerings to Mahaprabhuji and to the soul and to photograph of the departed. That finished the religious rituals, and Mahaprabhuji went back or taken back to Mandir (temple). Time now was 11.30 hours.

To imbibe religious consciousness or perhaps to entertain the guests while waiting for late-comers, a Sankirtan was sung for at least one and half hours, stretchable to two to three hours. This enabled esteemed guests to make the usual presentation of currency notes to the Palas (singers and drummers and couch-shell blower).

Then, finally Prasad Vitaran (partaking of food, supposed to be the left-over of Mahaprabhuji) had to take place. On this dreadful day of 29 May, even though clock ticked 1.00 p.m., the Sankritan was still on and I was getting finicky as I had an appointment at 2.00 p.m.

Since it was discourteous to leave, I had to endure my suffering privately, but my mind was goggling. The Prasadi finished exactly at 2.00 p.m. and I rushed back home and reached about 15 minutes late.

By that time, the people who had to meet me had not arrived. I heaved a sigh of relief thinking that I managed to beat them in reaching home. I waited for them and waited and waited till evening. They came at night by around 7.00 p.m. giving this excuse or that excuse. They were exponents of Meitei Pung.

Though my spoken language was cordial, but my body language was hostile. I remember attending the Phiroi of the late Dr. Yambem Satyabati Devi many years back, where we had Prasadi at 2.30 p.m. By the time we finished Prasadi lunch, it was well past 3.00 p.m. Summing up, I have concluded that Meitei social ethos is simply to waste time, by following a non-working clock called Meitei Pung.

Contrary to the above, let me relate some incidents told to me by others and some incidents personally experienced by me. Years ago, when India was under the British, the colonial rulers had just four, I repeat four only, British officers to run the entire administration of Manipur.

They were, a Political Agent (PA), known as Boro Saheb representing the Crown, who resided at the British Residency, now converted as Raj Bhavan and a President of Manipur State Durbar (PMSO) known as Chhoto Saheb, who resided at the present CM Bungalow.

In addition, we had a State Engineer and a Civil Surgeon - both British. They used to stay near the present PWD offices. Thus, four British civil officers only. On the military front, 4 Assam Rifles with about three or four British officers was permanently garrisoned at Kangla.

In fact, Britain had no population to spare ten or twenty officers for Manipur. I remember to have read in one book that when the battle of Plassey was fought in 1757, the population of Great Britain was only 25 lakhs, slightly bigger than the present population of Manipur.

Two hundred and fifty years later now, the population of the UK is slightly less than six crores, equivalent to the population of a medium sized state like Kerala or Orissa. We know it very well that India was conquered for Britain by Indian troops in the employ of British Indian Army, officered by the English. Likewise India was administered by a few British officers with the help of millions of Indian Babus (clerks).

My uncle, Haobam Amuba Singh was born in 1892 at Keishamthong when my grandfather, who fought at Khongjom battle, was forcibly evicted with family from Haobam Leikai, the present Babupara. My auntie, aged six, mother of the late Khwairakpam Gopimohan Singh of Yumnam Leikai and my father, Atoyaima Singh aged three then, were already born.

Uncle Amuba passed his Entrance (later called Matric, now called HSLC) examination in 1912 and joined or rather offered state service and rose to become Superintendent of Manipur State Durbar office.

He told us that a certain Chhoto Saheb was called by the Boro Saheb at the Residency for some consultation. Before being summoned by the Boro Saheb, the Chhoto Saheb had fixed a Durbar meeting at 10.00 a.m. local Manipur time. Incidentally, there was no IST (Indian Standard Time) with Allahabad as the mean, at that point of time.

Manipur Local Time, Shillong Local Time, Calcutta Local Time etc., used to prevail. The discussion with the PA went on and the PSMD realized that he would be late for Durbar sitting by five minutes. He got hold of a peon of the Residency and wrote a note to Raja Dumbra Singh, the seniormost Durbar member to tell other members to excuse his late arrival.

The PMSD came five minutes late and profusely begged to be excused. Any Meitei, including myself, will consider that being late by five minutes is nothing and there is no necessity of begging pardon. How particular the British were and are now also about time, can be read from this incident which happened about seven decades back.

While doing Technical Staff Officers' Course at the Royal Military College of Science, Shrivenham in 1960, I read on the college notice board that a Trial Selection match for RMCS hockey team would take place at 4.00 p.m. on one particular afternoon of September, 1960. So, I went to college hockey field and reached at 3.30 p.m., imagining that the normal practice in Manipur and in most parts of India to reach the playground about half an hour earlier would be followed in the U.K., also.

Unfortunately, I saw no one at the hockey field, no net at the goal posts, no corner flags etc. I waited for fifteen minutes, still no sign of life at the playground. Then, I suspected that the date of selection trial match might have been misread by me and that I should return home. I was hesitating, while another five minutes passed.

Time then was ten minutes to 4.00 p.m. I gave up hope and was about to go home. There were only five minutes left for the clock to strike four. Then, cars, motor cycle, scooters came bringing officer-hopefuls for RMCS Hockey team.

Some went to fix corner and side flags, some put up nets on goal posts, and the selection trial match started exactly at 4.00 p.m. I became a joker by reaching playground half an hour earlier.

A certain Manipuri Dance Troupe went to Tokyo. They were to perform a cultural programme at 8.00 p.m. They reached the theatre at 7.00 p.m. and got busy with make-up and dressing up. The clock showed 7.45 p.m., but there was no sign of presence of any spectator. The artists got worried and enquired if their show would have no spectator or have very thin attendance.

The theatre owner told them not to worry. By about 7.50, cars after cars came and the entire theatre was filled up with spectators. Exactly at 8.00 p.m., the show commenced to a packed audience. The Japanese have no time to waste.

A well-known Western thinker said that life, after all, consisted of years, months, weeks, days, hours, minutes and seconds. If you waste time, may be, hours or minutes, it amounted to wasting life. So, he advised people not to waste time.

It is however a different matter that one listens to music, plays golf, goes to a theatre etc., because these activities are meant to recharge your batteries and be ready to get on to serious business. Remember 'All work and no play makes Jack, a dull boy'.

The Manipur society cannot survive this tough international competition if we waste time. Therefore, we, all Manipuris should make a solemn undertaking to stick to timings even for religious functions.

We should avoid playing the bluffing game of writing on the invitation card the time of marriage as 1.00 p.m., whereas we all know that the function will start at 3.00 p.m. and that Mapam Chakkouba (feasting) will be held at 10.00 a.m., whereas we know that it would take place at 1.00 p.m. or so.

In short, we need to reorganize ourselves and put an end to the celebrated, Meitei Pung in this supersonic jet age and cyber atmosphere so that we do not waste time and can be world beaters, which, in fact, we are.


Lt Col. H Bhuban Singh (Retd) wrote this article for The Sangai Express.
This article was webcasted on June 19th, 2006


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