For the first time in the history of the North American Manipur Association (NAMA), the annual convention was held at California. This was the 23rd Convention and the event was hosted by the San Francisco Bay Area members at Thockchom’s residence on the 4th and 5th of July, 2014. More than seventy five members including children across North America attended the gathering. The celebration of Manipuri culture, exhibited through dance, food, artifacts and language, filled people’s hearts with the memories of Manipur besides building relationship and bonding amongst all members who were meeting for the first time. Theconvention clearly demonstrated the commitment that NAMA members have to sustain and strengthen the organization. This year messages were received from Korea Manipuri Association (KMA), Director and Students from Manipur Institute of Management Studies (MIMS), Dynamic Manipur (DM), Jeremiah Pame for the support NAMA provided on The Halflong Tamenlong Road Construction and Ragesh Keisham, CMD, The SuiGeneris Inc.
July 4th, 2014: Reception at Thockchom residence
The first day of the convention began with several members for a seven hour long tour of the San Francisco City. The bus had two pick up points and was fully packed when it headed for San Francisco City. After a joyful trolley ride, the team headed to Fisherman’s Wharf. Right after lunch, the group headed for the Golden Gate Bridge from where they started their return journey to the host’s residence. In the evening, the host’s residence was packed with all members joining us for the evening event. The potluck dinner was a grand success with all the NAMA families of the San Francisco Bay area bringing a dish to add to the menu. The sumptuous food of the evening cooked by the Ningols included – Ooti with ushoi (Steamed White peas cooked with sodium bicarb and fresh bamboo shoot), Yen-Thongba (Chicken curry), Shingju, Nga Thongba (Fish curry), Shoibum Iromba (Steamed fermented bamboo shoots with potato). Post dinner an impromptu music session kicked off several members playing the guitar and the host playing a special African style drum –‘Djembe’. The night was young and everyone had a fantastic time of knowing one another. The bonfire set up was just right to keep us warm. Children were seen roasting marshmallows and having fun.
July 5th, 2014: Main Event: Backyard of Thockchom residence
Morning Session: The tent was just the right size to fit the members who had gathered on that bright sunny morning at Fremont, California. Members started arriving at 9:30 AM. The reception at the entrance was busy with members registering for the event. Breakfast of assorted fruits and muffins were laid out near the entrance along with Starbucks coffee sponsored by Khuraijam family. The anchor of the day Bonny Sharma hailing from New Jersey opened the event by welcoming all members and kicking off the NAMA General Body Meeting. The event began with a short welcome note from the host of the convention, Gautam Thockchom. He expressed his gratitude to all the Bay Area members for their support and participation. In his welcome speech, NAMA President Amom Ruhikant Meetei called upon all NAMA members to come forward and support in several activities hosted byNAMA. He said "Migi Mama Mashak Phajabiduda Ima Kouruba Yaroi, Mashak Thijarabashu, Phimal Shetcharabashu, Ima Leibak Manipur-di Keidounungda Kaothokpiganu" (One cannot claim a beautiful woman as his mother; even if she is poor and not as beautiful, do not ever forget your motherland Manipur). In order to bring the patriotic feeling to the audience he closed his speech with the song ‘Ho Ima Poknapham Ima Nangumbi Leite Ima koina Thiduna Lapna Chatuna Nangumbi Phangloi Ima’ (O-Mother, my motherland there is no one like you. Wherever I go, I will not find someone like you).
One of the founding members of NAMA, Dr. A. Surjalal Sharma from Maryland came online via google hangout. The session was supported and moderated by IT Team – Sagar Sharma from Charlotte, North Carolina. Dr. Surjalal gave an overview of NAMA in general and highlighted the changing times and generations. He mentioned that NAMA needs to evolve so that it is relevant to the new generations and work on inclusiveness of all members from different communities of Manipur. He also emphasized on maintaining proper records of Executive proceedings. In the same google hangout session, former Treasurer of NAMA, Moirangthem Ongbi Elangbam Ningol Sarita from Houston, Texas thanked the current Executive team for their dedication and commitment and for taking the Convention to the West Coast. She called upon all Ningols residing in North America to work on a project called ‘Cha Cup Ama-tang Thakmin-nashi’ – ‘Let’s have a cup of tea together’. The main theme behind this project is for the Ningols to share their learnings of settling down in America and raising their children in Manipuri ways. This project will help any new families who are joining the NAMA family in future. The yearly report of NAMA activities was presented by General Secretary Hori Singha. The main events in the last one year being the various festivals, endorsements of two events in Manipur and hosting of several Manipuris in New York. He also mentioned about the New Year gift that was sent to all members. He also gave an overall history of how NAMA started and called for members to support in the ongoing activities of NAMA. The yearly financial report was presented by Treasurer, Lily Sharma. A short video of NAMA accomplishments till date was also shown. It was followed by several video messages from organizations with whom NAMA has joined hands. Lunch was served at noon with assorted pizzas. The children were having fun with the bouncy castles that was set up for the whole day.
Afternoon Session: The session kicked off with the member introduction. The bonding and the love was pouring out with many members expressing their delight to be at the event. The first debate of the event was on the theme “Discussion on ideas for new initiatives/activities” The debate on what NAMA can do to help Manipur and the people of Manipur, it lasted for more than one hour. Gautam Thockchom who was playing the Devil’s advocate, putting forward thought provoking questions to the audience. The highly interactive discussion elucidated the various challenges and issues facing Manipur. The NAMA members identified opportunities for improvement in Manipur and also discussed the potential steps that can be taken to bring about meaningful changes in the state. Some of the areas that were considered worthy of development include, but are not limited to, education, the IT sector, and entrepreneurship. It was agreed that NAMA will be revamping the official NAMAwebsite by adding resourceful links and documents related to visas, careers, and education for the people of Manipur to access. NAMA is also actively planning on how best it can provide monetary assistance in various endeavors in Manipur. In collaboration with the residents of Manipur, NAMA plans to analyze the strengths of the state and execute appropriate actions for its development. The highly engaged debate was participated by Roshan Ngangom, Vimol Kshetrimayum, Chanam Kulabidhu, Niang Hangzo, Hori Singha, Amom Ruhikant, Rima, Sandeep and several other members. Due to shortage of time, the second debate on what NAMA should do for members was put on hold for a discussion after the Convention.
After a short tea break, the afternoon session resumed in a round table set up. Members gathered to hear Senior NAMA member Mrs. Advanimayum Ongbi Maibam Ningol Jamuna’s introduction to her new book The Letter: A Memoir – a book that narrates the journey of her life. Mrs. Jamuna Advani also gave an overview of the Meitei / Meetei Mayek, the Manipuri language on how she learnt to write from a book she recently got during her trip to Manipur. It was a tough task but she said she can now read and write the alphabet which was highly encouraging. The intellectual discussion was then followed by jokes from Premjeet Sougrakpamcha who is known for his naturally amusing personality and filled the atmosphere with joy and laughter.
To close the formal event, Shilpa Phairembam, Assistant General Secretary of NAMA, delivered the Vote of Thanks on behalf of the NAMA executive team. Shilpa extended special thanks to Thockchom family and Khuraijam family for their support throughout including the initial planning of this special Convention where Eventbrite and early registration process was introduced for the first time. She thanked all the San Francisco Bay area families and members for their hospitality and care during the entire event. She expressed gratitude to all the members who have come from across North America who graced the occasion, making the event and the trip to San Francisco an unforgettable experience.
The evening was drawing in fast. All the members gathered for a quick group photo session – one that will remain as a memory for many years to come. Right after that Sudeep Khuraijam, NAMA Area Representative (California) who has been running around engaging the members for the special ‘Iron Chef Competition’ kicked off the competition. Members were grouped by numbers and the Starter items of Shingju (Manipuri style mix vegetable salad), Kelichana (Steamed white peas stirfried in Indian spices) and Chana Kanghou (Steamed black chickpea stirfried in Indian spices) were prepared by three different groups at a set time. Another group got busy with the main course items which included Iromba, Yen Thongba, Makan Ngouba, Nga Thongba, Hawai Thongba. Parents of NAMA members of Ngangom family and Aribam family were the judges for the competition. While the competition was in progress, Noopur Singha, the talented dancer from Washington DC was engaged in a Manipuri dance workshop with few children. Later in the day, to our surprise, it turned out that the Nga Thongba and Hawai Thongba tied in terms of taste which was the most amusing result of the evening. Roshan Ngangom’s makan thongba and Jonathan Zingkhai’s pork curry with bamboo shoots was a big hit for the evening.
As the sun was setting on the western side of Mission Peak, Fremont, it was just the right time and the right amount of light for Noopur to perform her Krishna Natan dance. For a moment everyone felt that the event went into a Ras Lila dance session in the heart of Imphal. The glittering costumes and swift movements including the music were simply mesmerizing for the audience. In between Prety Amom sang a beautiful cover of the song ‘Someone Like You’. Her sweet voice left the audience enthralled adding more colors to the sunset. As if it was not enough, Noopur performed Thougal Jagoi which again left the audience speechless. She then led a team of Ningols in a traditional Leima Jagoi. She also showed few steps of what she taught the children during the workshop. Immediately after that, the much awaited Thabal Chongba (meaning dancing in the moonlight) continued. The beautiful ladies started with Gautam Thockchom and Dhaneshwar Laishram on drums. Men and women, boys and girls clutched each other's hands and danced in a circle to the rhythm of the drum while the sun was setting and the flood lights were put on as darkness was setting in. The dance continued until everyone was very exhausted. The laughter, the cheer, the excitement was indescribable and that is what the members believe the AnnualConvention is all about.
Families and Individuals from Cities or States who attended the Convention: New Jersey, Virgina, Maryland, Houston (Texas), Irvine (California), Los Angeles (California), Missouri, Cincinnati (Ohio), Chicago (Illinois) and various suburbs of San Francisco Bay Area.
Handicraft Items & Books Displayed: Manipuri Sagol Kangjei (Polo stick) - two types; 'Arambai' - Poison Darts used in war both during attack and retreat; Books written by Jamuna Advani, Polloi (made in California), Tangkhul dining table, male hat, smoking pipe, model spear, Kangpak, Lukmai and Sum. 'Chainarol' - a book based on mortal combat practiced in olden days of Kangleipak as written in Puya – courtesy Babloo Loitongbam. The Royal An English translation - Crimson Rainclouds – Asangba Nongjabi by MK Binodini (courtesy Thema Books) was on sale – courtesy Somi Roy. 'Tattooed with Taboos' - a book which is an anthology of Poetry by Three Women authors – courtesy one of the authors Chaoba Phuritsabam. Brochure of World War II - 70th Anniversary Commemoration – courtesy Rajeshwor Yumnam.
The NAMA Executive Team would like to extend our big ‘Thank You’ to members who volunteered their time to organize and attend the convention. The experience was enlightening and enjoyable for every member young and old. The opportunity to relish and share our food and get an exposure of our culture so far away from home has been one of the goals of NAMA from its inception. For those members, who could not make it this time, we hope to see you all in our next convention. You will soon be hearing from us on the venue so that we can have another grand event.