IMPHAL: The markets were buzzing with excited revellers, many haggling over the price of fish, and there was excited chatter at homes as people prepared various cuisines, all in celebration of Ningol Chakouba, one of Manipur’s biggest festivals that came on Friday amid the trauma of an economic blockade.
Ningol Chakouba reinstates the bond between brothers and sisters. Married women are invited to their parental home and pampered with lipsmacking dishes, which mostly constitute fish, and gifts.
Although the economic blockade has reached nearly 90 days now and household commodities continue to be scarce and expensive, people have refused to let their spirits be dampened, even if that means toning down celebrations by a notch.
“Fish is a very important part of the Ningol Chakouba festivities. We cook different fish delicacies… and by god’s grace, that is something which we have not really run short of. Manipur is blessed with good fish production,” Sharmila Maibam, a homemaker, told IANS.
“My daughter, who got married last year, will be visiting us today and we have prepared a feast for her. My son has bought her a sari and other trinkets. It’s a happy occasion,” she smiled.
To liven up festivities, the state fishery department on Thursday organised a temporary fish market at a playground, Imphal Hapta Kangjeibung, to sell fish at cheaper rates. It was attended by thousands of people.
In addition, an angling competition was organised for the first time at the Kakching lake in the foothills of the state on Thursday.
Madhu Chandra, one of the organisers of the festival, said: “Ningol Chakouba is a very important festival of the Manipuris. Amid the misery of the blockade, we decided to organise this festival to encourage the people to have some fun and promote peace and brotherhood.”
“We had around 700 competitors from all over the state and over 10,000 people from Kakching and surrounding villages witnessed the event. The fishes were then sold to the people,” he added.
One of the specie most in demand is the indigenous Pengba. This is also being farmed at the Kakching lake.
“I bought a variety of fish yesterday, but more than anything, my sisters love the Pengba. Both of them are married and live out of Manipur, so they miss eating this more than anything else,” Mahesh Laba, a 26-year-old salesman, said. He, however, still had some last minute shopping to do at the Khwairamband bazaar.
“The market’s so crowded today! People seem to have forgotten that we are in the middle of some blockade and are celebrating wholeheartedly… I have come to pick up some bangles for my sisters,” Laba said.
“This festival means a lot to us, especially for my family, because it’s like an annual family reunion when my sisters come home. They dress up in their traditional best and I serve them food… after which they bless me. It’s a special time,” he smiled.
“Thank god, there is no dearth of fish,” said 50-year-old Amu Singha. “I went to the fish market yesterday and was happy to see that I could still rustle up a good lunch for my daughter, even though the other things, like sweets, have to be toned down because they are so expensive.”
As for the women, they too bought gifts for their families, and especially their brothers, before going home. “Things are so expensive now. But I have been saving for sometime. So I bought clothes for my parents and brother, and got some homemade sweets,” said Nira Singha, a homemaker, on her way home to celebrate the festival.