TODAY -

Club Culture of Manipur and Altruism (Social Service)

Dr Ksh Imokanta Singh *



Come Irabot Day (I prefer Irabot to the recently discovered Irawat) and Gandhi Jayanti, Manipur valley, may be Hills also (not much idea), rumbles with the sounds of thrashing overgrown grasses and tree branches along the Leikai (locality) lanes and tingles our olfactory senses with the scent of freshly cut grasses and soil.

Mostly young male members of a Leikai would come out on one of these two days with whatever tools they have for cleaning and join this community service which is famously called ‘social service’ in the name of our revered Irabot and Gandhi.

If it is not the act of Leikai, it is the responsibility of the club which takes care of that Leikai which then keeps intact the sense of community and sense of altruism. Some clubs even go farther and camp for about one week or so and do the cleaning work.

At the end of such social service, the lanes and drains look as beautiful as new brides, grooms and brooms that are ready to shine and serve. It is another matter that such works are followed by grand feasts and such feasts adhere to the core Meitei ethos of Chakcha Yuthak (regal way of eating and drinking).

Club culture in Manipur is an old phenomenon, would I say that it has been there since time immemorial (that is too far-fetched, is not it? ). There are innumerable clubs in the Manipur valley itself, whether registered or not. Almost every Leikai or village has at least one club to take care of each and every good and bad of the Leikai or to say, to own the Leikai.

Whether it is organising Yaoshang sports, curbing social menaces like drugs and alcohol or participation in the protests of wider concerns, they are there. They are even there to give justice when husband and wife quarrel.

I am not sure about the other parts of the country. Here I am discounting the clubs of the likes of Barcelona FC, Manchester United FC, NEROCA FC etc. They are corporate company clubs. I am a small local guy with small thinking.

Why local clubs are formed at all ? Simple answer-to do social service, which also means to come out of one’s personal space and do something beneficial to others. I know the esteemed readers may be trying to go farther and jump to the other side. Here I will talk only of the positive things and the other side is left to the mental fertility of the readers.

Our history has been mostly shaped by the active participation of clubs and organisations, most famous being Nupi Lal. They are the strengths of the collective existence and guarding of our land and culture which is typical of a small group of people.

Take this responsibility out and this land and culture will look slightly disorganised and wavering. Clubs and organisations of Manipur are a binding force and sometimes work for homogeneity which has many goods.

It is another issue that they are wanting in keeping this homogeneity intact in the face of invading forces (soft power), mostly through electronic world (to be read as Internet) today. Meiteis used to be quite homogenous before, especially in terms of dressing in cultural and religious events.

Some non-local people wondered how disciplined Meitei men could be and said that they were strictly disciplined and drank together in white uniforms. This scenario of dress code (drinking together remains unchanged) is changing when we can see multi-coloured male dresses in marriage events. This is sometimes out of the grips of the clubs and organisations despite their desires and working.

One classic example of the absence of Leikai and the sense of club culture is the residential quarters, say at Manipur University where I presently reside as an ‘attachment’ to the main (fe)mail text.

Let me have some time to laugh at myself for it is healthy to both me and others. While the authority keeps the front stage sleek and presentable to the visitors, the hinterlands are left for jungle safari. We, the residents, are deliriously happy to stay put in our own cosy ivory towers, only taking care of our family, personal savings, imagined social status and leave the surroundings as green as possible even if the grasses eat up the roads.

No Irabot Day, No Gandhi Jayanti here. We are basically oxygen lovers and nature friendly people or real autochthons. We are woken up every morning with the haunting sound of crow pheasants (Nongoubi, not the liquid syrup), slightly irritating cries of mynahs, sparrows and bulbuls and put to sleep every night with the lullabies of crickets who play cricket with their mouths. (Lucky us!)

We wait for the authority to come and do the favour of cleaning up. We wait and wait for the Godot and Dodo to show their altruistic works. We think that physical work is no longer work (our work), we are intellectuals and we clean up with our mental waves and sabres.

So, why should you go to the far away Ukhrul or Pherzawl to enjoy the forest, better come here just in the back yard of Imphal and you will have the same scintillating vibe. It is cynical to generalize the issue. There are some residents who take the law (grass cutters) in their hands to clean up at least the immediate surroundings of their quarters. Social service ends there.

I do not and do not want to muster the courage of organising a club in our residential area for reasons best known to me, since I know that I am just an ‘attachment’ who is just happy doing poetry, singing and writing some unreadable articles here and there.

Such lack of community sense was visible in our village, Thinungei, many years back when I was a child. I remember, the by-lane just in front of my homestead was flooded every time there was a downpour and we used to put our feet on the big stones put on the lane, above the water and mud, in order to pass to the other side. It was left so in front of our eyes.

Today I start pondering, why did my local people not just put some shangari (cattle cart) loads of pebbles to fill up the muddy lane and make it usable. It was not a big deal given the fact that every household used to have cattle carts then and there was abundance of pebbles and sand at Komjao and other places. Paving with pebbles, so to say. What was lacking was this sense of social service.

Probably they might be thinking that it was everybody’s job which became nobody’s. If it had been today it might have been made usable by the energetic and inspired members of my Leikai immediately, because of the presence of this huge sense of community. Yes, it has been made usable today.

The scent of the cut grasses is the one I will cherish and carry ever wherever I go and whenever the Irabot Day and Gandhi Jayanti come, which is the gift of Club culture of Manipur.


* Dr Ksh Imokanta Singh wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on October 08, 2022.


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