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Meet Laishram Mema: One of the Oldest Street Vendors in Ima Keithel

Last Updated on October 21, 2023 by SPN Editor

In the heart of Imphal, near the entrance of Ngari Gali, you’ll find a remarkable 87-year-old widow, Laishram Ningol Khumukcham ongbi Mema, affectionately known as Laishram Mema. She’s one of the oldest street vendors in Ima Keithel, a vibrant market where women from Manipur sell various goods. Mema’s humble offerings consist of wild vegetables and produce from her own kitchen garden. Her neighbors often supply her with their meager produce for a small earning.

‘Lupa 200-300 fangladi yare’(earning Rs 200 -300 is enough) she said. As she is not under any compulsion, the amount hardly matters. She has been a street vendor for years and vending represents her life. She prefers being independent and hard-working till the end. At times, her children would request that she stay back home taking rest. Nevertheless, she couldn’t.

Ima keithel Lairembina kouba douna leiba ngamde,’ can’t refrain sensing Goddess Market Mother is beckoning, Mema continued sharing her emotional attachment with the market. I wish I could continue vending till the last day of my life. Vending, walking, and traveling are all physical exercises that keep her healthy. Her last wish is, not to be bedridden for a single day, attend vending till her last day, and breathe her last in the embrace of Ima Keithel.

Mema’s life story is marked by hardship and emotional loss. She became a widow decades ago, and out of her ten children, only five remain. Undeterred by life’s challenges and emotional setbacks, she sits patiently from morning till evening, waiting for buyers, often hearing the playful words of “Hanubi nang sikhinuko” (old woman, don’t die) from her acquaintances in the market. Her response is always a cheerful “won’t die” (Siroi).

Street vendors in Ima Keithel like Mema can sometimes create inconveniences in the city, such as congestion, disruptions in traffic flow, and occupying inappropriate spaces. City traffic control police have received criticism for their handling of street vendors in Ima Keithel during their duties. However, Mema’s life story reveals a different side of these traffic police officers.

Mema has shared that traffic police are aware of her presence and treat her with kindness, avoiding any harshness. She even proudly displays the red money bag gifted to her by the city police as a gesture of honor for sitting as street vendors in Ima Keithel.

Mayam tanlasu Imadi tanloi, chenganuko, adum fammu Imada karimata touroi,” Manipur Traffic police told her. Mema says that traffic police are quite aware of her presence and they wouldn’t be harsh to her. Showcasing her red money bag, she says, ‘sigise makhoina leibirini’ (they buy me this).

‘Imagi chahido nachasingda pibirammuko,(bless us the longevity) all the youngsters who know Mema would make a wish to see her vending in the corner of the street. She says that at times of any social issues, she would guard the collective belongings, but never made to physically involve. 

‘Hanubi nang sang-u, (old woman you guard) is the expected responsibility she will be assigned, according to her. Mema expressed that the conflict situation has overturned the happy life in the Keithel and looks forward to lasting solutions enabling to attend vending activities daily to her fullest. 

Her resilience and dedication serve as an inspiration to all who encounter her in the bustling street vendors in Ima Keithel.