Birth Centenary Celebrations of Jananeta Irabat Singh, 1996 : Book Translation
- Part 1 -
"What to Do Now?" by Hijam Irabot Singh

James Oinam *

 The illustration is based on an image (inset) titled '[Hijam] Irabot dancing at Kishan Sabha (1942) in Netrakala, Banglades'h
Note on Illustration: The illustration is based on an image (inset) titled "[Hijam] Irabot dancing at Kishan Sabha (1942) in Netrakala, Bangladesh" the book mentioned below. Search for this dance on the internet did not yield any credible result. However, a dance form called Jari caught my attention. It is claimed that this dance is in remembrance of past Muslim heroes and is performed by male farmers.

"What to Do Now?" by Hijam Irabot Singh

Book: Birth Centenary Celebrations of Jananeta Irabat Singh, 1996
Editor: L. Damodar Singh
Joint Editor: Dr. N. Tombi Singh
Jointly Organised by
Eastern Zonal Cultural Centre, Calcutta and
Department of Art and Culture, Manipur,
Sept. 29 and Oct. 13, 1996

Cover design: Premananda Roy
Published by: Shri Th. Subol Singh
Printed at: Padma Printers (Computerised), Paona Bazar, Imphal – 795001
Translator's Note 1 : Translated from Manipuri section of the book below
Translator's note 2 : About half the book is in Bengali and the other half in English.

It can be considered olden days, 40 years ago it was so cheap that 100 "sel" (rupees?) was sufficient to buy eatable and other things for a household. One basketful of paddy ("phau sangbai") cost only one ana, sometimes even less say elderly people.

But now for us these are just stories. Those were good times they say. Still now people pray "He lai ebunngo" (O God) let rice and fish cost less this year.

It seems this year God has heard prayer of the people as costs of paddy-rice have come down early. As far as we know for the past 30 years till today it is only now that 3 or 4 phau sangbai can be purchased with one rupee.

Not just paddy but also cloths and vegetables are cheap, shall we say that everyone in Manipur are happy? But all things are purchased with rupees, what is happening to rupees?

As far as money is concerned, Meiteis are extremely poor—big and small, have and have-nots, without any classification, are poor monetarily ("Ura humdang mashing thiduna panba"). As far as money is concerned, the condition of Bharat (India) is bad. Even then why is condition of Manipur so much more worse?

The main ways to earn money are doing business and agriculture. Among Meiteis, it is not that there are not many doing business; agriculture is the main work of Manipuri Meiteis. Rice is the most important business item, second is cloths. When the rice is cheap, there is no order to sell it to foreign lands; hence, there is not much business there.

Thus, one way for bringing currency from foreign lands has been blocked. One cannot say that cloths are sold outside, nor it can be said that it is not, but the business exists only just. Regarding cloths, Manipur can be considered "Manchester of Assam".

Also, it would not be false to claim that every house in Manipur has a spinning wheel and a "yongtham". Not only that, cloths weaved on waists are also made. Cotton for making cloths is available in plenty in four directions in the mountains around us.

"Meiteiranggi" cloths are not only worn by us but also excess cloths are sold outside bringing some money. Money earned from this may be around 1 to 3 lakhs in a year. Pheijom (lungi), shirt, and enaphee (shawl) made by women are cheap and strong.

However, instead of buying our good-quality cloths, buying inferior-quality and costly cloths of outside is known to outsiders. For a moment let us think what others might think of us. It can be assumed that at least 10 lakhs are spent on such purchase.

It gives immense pleasure to know that this year a majority of Manipuri "bhadralok" (bourgeoisie?) have used Manipuri cloths thus reducing amount of money going outside. In cloths alone, the money going to outside land must be more.

Even considering 7 to 8 lakhs, selling our cloths would have earned 3 to 4 lakhs, thereby exceeding by 3 to 4 lakhs (incurring deficit). If the outgoing is more than incoming, then what will be left? Meiteis have been using Meitei cloths since 100 to 200 years, not few days ago.

Only recently, for cosmetic reasons they started using foreign cloths. After selling cloths made by us at Rs 2 and then buying beautiful, woolen cloths that costs Rs 6, 10, 30 and wearing them. We do not have many ways to earn money.

Owning from one sangam to 10/20 pari of land and barely unable to pay land taxes, and yet instead of buying strong and cheap local-made cloths, throwing them away for such costly cloths, would that make us wise, rich?

In the household run by Meiteis, except the rice for eating morning and evening, for everything from salt to oil we depend on outside. Let me show some calculations: Salt is something that every house has to buy for 1 or 2 paise(?).

Let every house buy salt. Think how many houses are there in Manipur. Let us say there are 10 thousand houses. Now that much paise, how much rupees that would be? Rs 10 spent in a day, how much that would be in a month, in a year, just calculate.

That one rupee we spent eating outside-made big salt instead of Meitei salt for the past 40 years, how much money has gone? Thus, by neglecting/looking down upon our Meitei salt, the money that would have been with us has gone.

It is not that there are not many "thumkhong" (places where salt can be made?). If they are utilized, the state can also increase tax earning and we will also be benefitted.

If we Meiteis used Meitei salt then these thumkhong which are not used can be revived. Then even this salt can be exported to outside land. Let us not consider Meitei salt as "pure" salt only meant for offering to the God.

Therefore, all Meitei brothers and sisters, time has come to ponder over this. We are in such condition that we have make these calculations.

Meiteis who eat only rice and fish have to eat "champhut" (boiled vegetables) if there are no curry. We have little time left to make necessary efforts, otherwise in the end we will again become "kangdrum" (polo ball?).

To stop that from happening, let us make efforts to expand business, to learn skills, by coming back from the banks of Baitarani river and trying to mix with the people. If not today, then what is it to be done now?

Source: "Yakairol", Monthly Newsletter, 1932.

To be continued .....

* James Oinam wrote this translated article for
The writer can be contacted at jamesoinam(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on May 13 2024 .

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