In our growing up years, our elders often used to say, ‘Bau Singh Oina’ translated as ‘Bau Singh’s left’. They often used to taunt us by saying so when we underperform and fall short of their expectations on things they have great faith that we will certainly deliver. But how it comes to coinage and gains currency and prominence remains vague with very little idea.
‘Bau Singh Oina’ was in fact coined complimenting the skilled left hand of Sapam Babu Singh in the game of Boxing. His other name is Kamlakanta. Sapam Babu @ Kamlakanta was born in 2 December 925 at Keishamthong Aheibam Leirak of Imphal as the last male child of Sapam Damudor Singh and Keinya Devi. Babu was his pet name called endearingly by relatives and localites. During the World War II, his family fled from their ancestral familial residence. He then lived at Thangmeiband at his sister’s place. There at Thangmeiband, he met Late Sagolband Indramani, a pioneering figure of ‘Man Building’ who is credited for introducing many of the sporting disciplines like Boxing, Body Building, Weight Lifting and other allied sports. Under the guidance of Indramani, he started pursuing and taking part in Boxing, Body Building, etc. As for Boxing, he started his training under the instructorship of Maisnam Achou from Sagolband Meino Leirak. Seeing the extra ordinary skill of his left hand, he was very closely watched by his Boxing Coach and often used to compliment his skilled left hand. Babu participated in the Manipur Olympic Games (25-27 December 1947) in the event of 10 Miles Long Distance Race representing ‘Sindam Sinsang’ Club and secured runners up position. He was also given special felicitation in the said games for demonstrating ‘Boxing as a sporting event’ by the Manipur Olympic Association. People began to take notice of his left hand as he started demonstrating and teaching Boxing at various places in Manipur. With it, his left hand became a topic for discussion, and people started weaving and spreading stories about it. His popularity increases with his championship win in Assam.
Taking pride in consideration that the state of Manipur no longer has dearth of eminent Boxer, the ‘Manipur Man Building Institute’ organized a Boxing Exhibition at Imphal Polo Ground on Tuesday, 14th July 1953 to raise the fund. The boundary of the ground was fenced all over with GI Sheets and a temporary Boxing Ring was also erected in the middle. Prominent boxers from other parts of India were also invited. Publicity was carried out at various places using loud speakers. Sagolsem Indramani, Laishram Manaobi, Salam Gambhir, Salam Tombi were some of the people who took major responsibility in organizing it. A response from the public was overwhelming, with many of them buying ticket with the intention to witness the skilled left hand of Babu. On the very day of exhibition match, Tombi, Babu Singh’s elder brother advised him not to go citing the superstitious notion that going in the northerly direction on Tuesday attracts ill-luck and misfortunde. Nongmaithem Kunjaraj, a well known Boxer, also came to his residence and wished him luck.
Everything in the venue was well decorated and properly well set and illuminated as the bout was held in the night time. There were massive outbursts of cheers and non-stop applause when Babu Singh emerged in the Boxing ring. People also looked with awe when Babu Singh’s opponent, Ashok Ganguly appeared in the ring. He was slightly taller than Babu Singh. The match was refereed by Captain Harnet, NCC Commander, Manipur and Formerly ADC of Nizam of Hyderabad, Just at the start of the Bout, Ganguly landed him a couple of hard hitting punches. Spectators just simply could not remain seated. They rise up at seeing Babu remaining ineffectual. They shout to cheer and encourage Babu Singh to land Ganguly his fatal left hand blows. They kept seeing hoping that Babu Singh would knock out Ganguly once he unleashes his flurry of left hand shots. They waited till the last and round to see his left hand shot. But without seeing any, Ganguly convincingly defeated him. He was immediately taken at a stretcher to the then District Hospital situated on the north just at a stone’s throw distance from Imphal Polo Ground. It left the spectators disheartened with disbelief. Many attributed Babu’s Singh defeat to the numbness and evil spell casted on him using black magic by the Bengal Boxer. But to Babu Singh’s modesty, he admits that they were no match to those properly trained availing all the required infrastructural facilities.
Though Babu Singh was defeated in the first Bout, people waited as there were still two more other Boxers. In the second bout Thokchom Nabakumar from Keishampat Thokchom Leikai ascended the ring to fight with Ajit Banerjee of Bengal. He was knocked out in the first round.
The third and final bout was the turn of Yumnam Tombi of Khagempalli, Imphal to fight with Jambu @ Mohammad Prabhakar. But he didn’t turn up. So, Indramani, persuaded Kunjaraj to take Tombi’s place. It took Kunjaraj by surprise. But he accepted, thinking it to be the opportunity of showcasing the indomitable spirit and bravery of the Meiteis. In the second round, Kunjaraj could not do much as he was dominated by Mohd. Prabhakar. Kunjaraj could not connect Prabhakar with his punches. Fatigued and left with no option, as his last frantic effort, he grabbed Prabhakar and floored him down by means of one of the throw technique from ‘Mukna’, the Manipuri traditional wrestling. The referee awarded penalty for his foul play and Kunjaraj eventually surrendered sensing the futility of his effort. Though defeated, the crowd cheered him shouting: “aduni! Tougadabani! nupa haibadudi aduni! Loujakhisanu! Makhoina ngamba sakchakhisanu! Eikhoidi Pelley!” stating that they are satisfied with his performance.
Though local Boxers suffered defeat in all the three bouts, the proverbial ‘Bau Singh gi Oina Leiri’ was born that day and it is still very much in use. Babu Singh as police personnel served at various places of Manipur till his retirement as Sub Inspector. After marriage, he was blessed with two daughter and two son. Babu Singh passed away on Friday, 10 September 1999, but the proverbial ‘Bau Singh gi Oina’ which he gifted is very much alive and still in usage.
(Translated from Saratchand Thiyam, Warinahouraba Babu Singh Oina, in ed., Saratchand Thiyam, Manipur Amasung Atei Wareng Khara, tr. Manipur and Other Essays, Sahitya Thoupang Lup, Manipur, 2008.)