MK Binodini and Manipuri Polo

* Moirangthem Shantikumar

"Sport and culture introduce Manipur to the world...", Imashi M.K.Binodini was giving me dictation in English for her letter addressed to His Excellency, the Governor of Manipur. When I was slightly faltering while taking the dictation, she burst out in Manipuri "Why are you you think I am exaggerating... don't you people believe that the players and the artists of Manipur are real gems... but for them our tiny State could have been unknown to the rest of the world".

Her sudden outburst was so sweet and delightful that I kept staring at her for some moment before I said" Imashi, it is not that I don't believe you... It was just thrilling when such words came out of your mouth. You sound so sincere and empathetic..." "You are an inveterate flatterer..." she blurted. I continued taking the dictation which finally took the following form and was sent to Shri S.S. Sidhu, His Excellency, the Governor of Manipur on 13th January, 2005.

She wrote

Your Excellency,
May kindly recollect the pleasant discussion we had at the Imphal Pologround on the final day of polo tournament on the 2nd January, 2005 on the fate of polo in Manipur, the place of its birth. I was a little nostalgic or rather moved when I saw the old polo ground where my late father Churachand Maharaj used to play with his courtiers and British officers after his return from Mayo College, Ajmeer in 1901.

As a young man he must have played the game with the Maharaja of Patiala, Maharaja Ranji Singhaji of cricket fame and many other sport loving princes of the native States of India. All these thoughts came to my mind in a flash when I saw two old veteran polo players aged around 84/85 years coming from a distant village, huddling in a corner of the gallery and watching the game of their love with such intensity as if they were viewing the last of the game in their lives.

I felt at once that we must do something for these old players who have played the game so many times in this polo ground and have themselves become a history of this legendary game in flesh and blood. It will be a yeoman service if some monetary allowance is given selectively to these old veteran polo players who are above eighty years of age.

To-day, Your Excellency is aware that Manipur is introduced to the outsiders not only by its dance but also by its sport - in some selected fields of which Manipur boys and girls play second fiddle to none. Of all the sports, polo is closer to the heart of the people. Polo which has been declared as the State game is more of a heritage than a sport for the people of Manipur.

In spite of some ups and downs in its fortune, the game has been revived and survived by the relentless efforts of some polo enthusiasts and the dedicated organizations like the All Manipur Polo Association and the Manipur Horse Riding and Polo Association. However, I completely share His Excellency's views that the preservation of the game is vitally linked to the survival of Manipuri pony as a breed on this earth.

It is really shocking that the population of this recognized pony breed of the world has dwindled to a near extinct number of below two thousand. The other nations of the world which are fortunate enough to have their own native specie or breed of animal take pride in their exclusive possessions and protect them as heritage animals.

I am confident that under your patronage we can protect and preserve our legendary heritage animal called Manipuri pony and showcase it for the world to see as a living time capsule of South Asia's turbulent past.

We can conveniently establish a Heritage Park, as is done in other parts of the world, in the available areas like Lamphel Pat adjoining Langol where we can keep a few ponies to roam freely combined with additional facility for recreation. It can definitely make the people proud of their heritage and learn to live in harmony with nature. The State Government too may be advised to keep a reserved area or sanctuary for these ponies.

These few words are written with the genuine conviction that His Excellency may kindly take up some projects which are closer to the heart of the people and we, as senior citizen can be proud of being associated with your enlightened leadership.

With regards.

Dr. SS Sidhu,
His Excellency, the Governor of Manipur.

Yours sincerely,
M.K. Binodini Devi

I still have her dictation with all those outbursts and emotions in the sound recordings of my mobile phone. The day she died, when AIR Imphal announced her demise, I played the recordings over and over in her remembrance. I saw my wife who was listening to the recordings all through was teary eyed. When asked she said "Imashi's voice is as sweet as her writings."

My wife is an avid reader of Imashi's books among which Bor Saheb Ongbi Sanatombi was her favourite. Like any other couple we may have divergent views on different aspects of life but when it comes to Imashi M.K. Binodini we had a meeting point. My wife admires her writings and I admire her unflinching pride in the cultural heritage of her tiny State.

* Moirangthem Shantikumar wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on April 07, 2011.

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