BY Chitra Ahanthem
That Manipur has a generation of people living outside of the state and establishing themselves in their respective sphere of work is an accepted norm. Name any major city or town in the country and you have Manipuris leading corporations and private sector firms, in the hospitality sector, banks and what not. Over the years, there is an increasing number of Manipuris staying outside the state and the country who on their part are trying to keep themselves abreast of what happens back in their backyard. And though most major newspapers do have their websites, the number of hits is far more on private web site initiatives, which carries new, views and various other interactive features. The story of E-pao (www.e-pao.net) is one of innovation, social reach and information. The journey is nothing short of inspiring (that’s why this mention in Footnotes) considering how the idea of E-pao began to take shape from the first few years to the phenomenon it has become today.
Staring out 12 years ago, E-pao has become a storehouse of information on Manipur: it’s people and traditions. As it stands now, there are more profiles of personalities from the state on the E-pao website than the globally known wikipedia. A list of questions mailed to E-pao threw back astounding figures: 19 profiles of bands/musicians, a total of 48 profiles on musicians/singers/film personalities including directors, make up artistes, actors, 37 profiles of Manipuri women achievers and 28 profiles of Manipuri National award winners (ranging from Padma Shri to sports awards to those in film and culture etc).
Launched on 31st Dec 1999, E-pao was the accumulated effort of a group of young people based in Bangalore who felt the need for a web exposure of Mnaipuris. The group had initially thought about creating a e-newsletter for circulation through e-mail but subsequent brain storming sessions and designs later, the idea took the shape of a web-site. While local newspapers agreed to share their news updates with the site, a diverse group of people, mostly software engineers stepped forth with their assistance in designing applications and web pages. E-frenz, a social network application/service was added in 2001, long before popular social networking sites like Orkut and Facebook caught global attention.
Other popular additions to the web site have been the yellow pages section and the officials directory that lists down phone numbers and contacts of business establishments and important government offices in the state. The ‘announcement’ web page on the site runs itself on the basis of people sending in calls for interview/job placements/employment opportunities and examination notifications, thereby facilitating an immediate information flow for Manipuris based outside the state to keep themselves in the loop about what openings exist.
What makes E-pao popular? The answer lies in the amazing range of foras it has created for people removed far from their homes but connected by this one forum where one can learn Meitei Mayek to catching the local cable news in its video section, where people can send in their creative outputs like poems and articles to recipe lists of Manipuri dishes, to checking out the latest pictures coming in from the state. At times popular rock concerts or other social happenings in the state have been uploaded in the video section of the web site following go ahead from local program organizers etc thereby creating an immediate buzz and connectivity between what happens in the state and people living outside. E-pao’s willingness to chart new territories have made the site to reckon with: their online coverage of the General elections in 2000 when the web site had just begun says a lot about team at work. Over the years, it has also won popular points because of the various opinion polls on a wide array of the serious to the mundane issues, internet/online voting for selecting beauty queens in the state and a directory for searching Manipuri baby names. Other very popular sections are the music section that puts a huge collection of songs from the soulfully old gems (Pahari, Sanaton, Shyam, Jamuna and others) to the craze of the current generation (Ranbir Thouna, Sadananda, popular rock bands).
My own usage of E-pao started when I began to work for various agencies for media studies and research. Very often, newspaper offices would not get back after my request to access their archives and E-pao was one resource that came in to help me out. It also helps that there is generally more feedback and more online buzz to the same news report on the site than on the actual site of the newspaper from which E-pao carries their news! The feedback section to most news reports and opinion pieces often get vitriolic and often insulting but one can take that expression as a reading for the angst of a generation left with violence, corruption and helplessness. Having said that, there is a need for more careful scrutiny of certain articles that are carried by the web site. I remember the shock I felt when a friend sent me a link to the site: it was a write up by a young man who kept his identity anonymous and then went on to write a long article about the girl he had been in a relationship who had left him. This young man in question named the girl, gave her address and then went on to slander her. To e-pao’s credit, they immediately took off the article when it was brought to their notice. But once careful scrutiny of independent contributions are taken care of, E-pao can only continue from strength to strength and cater to the many Manipuris who are scattered around the globe.
As another begins with the dismal announcement that a certain group has announced public curfew to stop new year festivities and picnics, here’s wishing Team E-pao crossing many more milestones in the future. May E-pao continue to keep bridging the gaps of distance and poor connectivity. May the team keep on introducing more interactive platforms within your website. Take a bow!