By Sanasam Darius
Department of Communication and Journalism, Gauhati University.
Guwahati: The Manipur Rajbari, popularly known as Manipuri Basti, which is one of the oldest residential pockets in Guwahati is not just any location where hundreds of Manipuri families have built their home and hearth, but they have also preserved their culture and language for over a century now.
The area is also rapidly becoming a preferred destination for Manipuri youths as it bestows ample of opportunities in both education and business. The area is a hub of hope and opportunity.
The origin of Manipur Rajbari can be traced back to when the erstwhile king of Manipur, Maharaja Churachand Singh, bought a plot of land covering 13 bighas, more than 100 years ago during the British era. Thereafter, several Manipuri families from Manipur, Hojai, Cachar had started residing in the area.
Today, the area has a mixed population of both Manipuris whose settlement in Assam dates back to more than a century and newly migrated families who came looking for better business opportunities.
Kamini Lamaabam, a Manipuri man from Hojai, said, “The landlord of my place is a Manipuri, there are several Manipuri landlords in the area. I come from Hojai, my family has been here for the past six to seven years years. My wife and I sell these imported vegetables and groceries items.”
Small businesses like restaurants and dhaba serving traditional Manipuri delicacy, bus and airplane ticketing services, handloom production, courier services, electronics, etc. are the main commercial practices of the area.
Secretary of Manipuri Basti Meira Paibi, Bhakti Singha, said, “The area is the oldest Manipuri Village in Guwahati area. Approximately, there are around 400 households. There are around 14 Manipuri villages, Panjabari, Noonmati, Patorkuchi,
She added, “We celebrate all the festivals and events in the calendar, this year long practice of our culture helps us preserve the customs. I find pity for the youngsters born outside the village area who are more exposed to other languages, they are slowly forgetting the mother tongue”.
Adding to Singha’s observations Panthoibi, a Manipuri student from Patorkuchi area said, “Interaction inside the house in one’s mother tongue is not enough. My own cousin who was raised in North India can now fluently speak Manipuri after shifting here while my own sister speaks Manipuri like a broken record due to less usage of the language in school and amongst her friends. The Manipuri Basti plays an important role, not only in language factor but in several domains.”
The people of Manipuri Basti believe that the long exposure of the population in Assam have not affected their cultural practices and customs originating. In fact, they have helped in keeping their culture, practices, and festivals alive.
The people of the area prefer to speak Manipuri, both within the basti and outside. The older generation has not abandoned the food habits and the religious customs followed back home in Manipur, but some younger parents seem to have little concerns about their children, who were born and raised here, preferring either Assamese or Hindi over their mother tongue.