Melbourne: The small but tight-knit Manipuri community in Australia celebrated Cheiraoba or the Lunar New Year with as much pomp and gaiety as the people back home in India did. The festival falls on the same day as Bihu, which marks the Assamese New Year, and was celebrated by the Meitei people of Manipur on April 14 this year.
Surkeinya Nongmaithem, a native of Manipur based in Melbourne, hosted a lunch for around 30 people, comprising both Manipuri people and others, to celebrate the occasion. Married to a Malayali, Nongmaithem performed both Vishu (celebrated by the people of Kerala to mark the Hindu New Year) and Cheiraoba pujas.
Indira Laisram, a Manipuri journalist based in Melbourne, who got to be a part of the celebration, said, “We had it formally big for the first time last year as we realised we were increasing in numbers.”
The number of Manipuris would be around 20, she said. “It’s just a tiny drop compared to Punjabis or the Gujaratis, but for us it’s a way of staying connected to culture and roots and celebrating our festivals,” she added.
Laisram, a consulting editor for two Indian magazines in Australia, added, “It’s also a good excuse to get together and cook traditional food.”
Married to a true-blue Aussie for almost a decade now, Laisram feels that the locals love a good get-together and all the better when a festival comes up. “We get to show our Aussie friends too about what we practise back home and it’s fascinating and exotic for them,” said Laisram, who tries to visit India once or twice a year. “Everyone does an annual visit, sometimes once in two years, depending on their work, etc, and other priorities,” she added.
According to Laisram, it’s now easier to prepare Manipuri dishes given the ease in sourcing authentic ingredients like dried fish, bamboo shoots and other spices into the country.
“I think that is what living in a multi-cultural society is all about. You impart your culture, you imbibe their culture. You have the best amalgam of cultures,” said Laisram.