Remembering My Father

Ningthoukhongjam Sabita

On Sunday, ( June 17) I came across a number of touching messages written by my friends in memory of their fathers on social media. They expressed their love and gratitude to their fathers for what they had done for them. Perhaps they did not express how much they loved and cared for him when he was alive. I have always said we do not express our love and care for our parents or children.

The third Sunday of June is celebrated as Father’s Day. The celebration which started in the United States is becoming popular in many countries including India. Young people in Manipur celebrate the day. I was not even aware of the day while growing up. We never celebrated the day when our father was alive.

\Celebration of Father’s Day began in the early 20th century to complement Mother’s day. The first Father’s Day was celebrated on July 5, 1908 in Fairmont, West Virginia, in the William’s Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church South, now known as Central United Methodist Church. A woman named Grace Golden Clayton was mourning the loss of her father when the Monongah Mining Disaster killed 362 men, 250 of them fathers, leaving around a thousand fatherless children in July 1907. Clayton suggested her pastor to honour all those fathers. But the event went unnoticed and the original sermon was lost. On June 19, 1910, the first Father’s Day sermons honouring fathers were presented in Spokane, Washington.

People might respond differently to the celebration of the day in Manipur. The internet perhaps has popularised the day among the computer savvy young generation. My two daughters consider the day important. Of course, both mother and father play an equally important role in shaping the future of their children’s life. They complement each other.

I lost my father in May 2001. He was 74. Every year on his birthday I count his age. Had he been alive he would be 91. I never thought he would leave us so suddenly. I took his presence in our life for granted. I am gradually realising his value after he left us.

How does one describe one’s father? In many different ways. I always associate books with my father. When I was young I would bring my school friends home and proudly show them the large collection of books my father kept in the big bookcase in his room. The number of bookcases which occupied his room increased as he continued to collect new books by different renowned authors on different subjects. His room looked more like a library than a bedroom. He collected all kinds of books including the Mahabharat, Ramayan, Vedas and Purans. He also collected books written by Manipuri authors like Dr. Lamabam Kamal, Hijam Anganghal, Khwairakpam Chaoba, GC Tongbra, MK Binodini, Wahengbam Thoibi, Khaidem Pramodini, Laishram Samarendra, Nongthombam Kunjamohan, Elangbam Nilakanta, Elangbam Rajanikanta, Elangbam Dinamani, Khumanthem Prakash, etc. As young girls we read the translated works of great Bengali writers - Rabindranath Tagore, Sarat Chandra Chatterjee and Bankim Chandra Chatterjee. He made us feel that our life was very rich.

A politician, my father, Ningthoukhongjam Tombi Singh, was actively involved in the promotion of Manipuri language and associated with a number of organisations working for the promotion of Manipuri literature. He along with three of his friends wrote and published several books under the name, CHITREBIRENTOMBICHAND KHORJEIRUP (B. Chitreswar, N. Birendrakumar, N. Tombi, A. Brajachand). Their book, a collection of jokes, “Phagee Cham-nipal” was a popular book. His book, “Khamba and Thoibi, The Unscaled Height of Love” was published by my uncle N. Ningthemjao Singh (NN Singh) under the auspices of CHITREBIRENTOMBICHAND KHORJEIRUP in 1976. He was the founder-editor of the Manipur Times, an English Weekly (1961-67). He was also the founder-editor of the English daily, Manipur Mail.

As young children we listened to him with rapt attention as he recounted the attack on the late prime minister, Indira Gandhi during her visit to Imphal in 1969. Protestors demanding statehood for Manipur pelted stones at her when Indira Gandhi was addressing a large public meeting at the Imphal polo-ground. My father was standing by her side as her interpreter when the attack took place. He said Indira Gandhi was not even slightly affected by the attack and she continued her speech repeatedly asking the people if they thought they would get statehood by attacking her. A good story teller, he shared his experiences as a teacher and politician with his children.

He encouraged us to read and write. He introduced all his children to the vast and vibrant world of books. It is my weakness that I have not been able to explore this marvellous world as much as he did. He had wanted all of us to read, learn and enjoy as much books as we can. I might not have been a bright student but I consider myself fortunate enough that I could understand the value of books and treasure them. I am always grateful to my father for this wonderful gifts called “BOOKS” he gave to his children. No matter what books will remain my best companion.

A few days before he passed away, too weak to read by himself, one evening father asked my elder daughter who was then ten, to read to him the Ramayan (in Hindi) that was lying near his pillow. My father closed his eyes as he listened to my daughter who was struggling with the difficult Hindi words and I wept silently standing behind my daughter. I proudly admit every book I hold reminds me of my father. I miss him.

(The writer can be reached at nsabitam@yahoo.com, nsabitam@gmail.com)


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