Forever young in their nineties - Simple lifestyle & hard work help Manipuri elders live longer than peers elsewhere

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By KHELEN THOKCHOM in Imphal
  • Published 22.06.03
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Imphal, June 22: Former Manipur chief minister Rishang Keishing is the oldest member of the Rajya Sabha, but compare him with many other senior citizens of the state and you would be prompted to call him “84 years young”.

Unknown to the rest of the world, the zestful members of the oldies club of Manipur are actually making history with their longevity.

The furrowed foreheads and toothless grins of these gracefully ageing people tell only half the story. Most of them have led fairly simple lives, worked hard, eaten fruits and fish regularly, but rarely touched meat. Many of them smoke, but appear to be immune to the so-called urban diseases that are common among their peers living in the cities.

Nat sankirtan singer Kongbrailatpam Ibomcha Sharma, a resident of Imphal, is 107 years old. Known as Abhiram Shaba for his role in Goura Lilas, Sharma’s memory is floundering, but is otherwise in fine fettle.

Oinam Ibohal of Wangkhei is 95, but still loves roaming about like in his youth. The four feet tall frail gentleman was a contractor for the British during World War II.

Manipur’s rising life expectancy chart has maintained its trend since pre-Independence times, and those born in the first few years of the last century have lived far longer than those born a few decades later.

Thangjam Ongbi Hiyai Devi has outlived three of her children, all of whom died of natural causes. At 92, this woman is still a member of the Ima market in the capital, the world’s only-known marketplace run exclusively by women. She sells homemade knives and other products. And hers is a 6 am-to-6 pm job.

Though the state health department does not maintain records of the ageing population, E. Yaima Singh, head of community medicine at the Regional Institute of Medical Sciences, Imphal, said the average life expectancy had increased from 40 during the pre-Independence days to 65.

He attributed this to the plunge in the child mortality rate. Better food, health programmes and better living conditions have contributed to life expectancy.

Despite the advancement in medical science, the life span of today’s generation has shrunk, thanks to unhealthy lifestyles — mainly lack of physical exercise, alcoholism, drug abuse, unhealthy eating habits and pollution. Health experts say 70 per cent of the male population consume liquor, while youths are addicted to heroin and other narcotics.

Keishing’s father Rundi and mother Munghsimla died at the age of 108 and 97 respectively. Z. Phoumai of Senapati district, who arguably lived the longest, died at 115 on May 24. At present, 100-year-old Ngaklhiu of Tamenglong district is the oldest living person.