the clouds to the hills

the clouds to the hills
Somewhere in Imphal

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Review of “Manipur Sahitya da Nupeegee Khonjen: An anthology of Women’s writing(20th century) in Manipuri”, Ed. Memchoubi, Sahitya Akademi, 2003. Price: Rs. 100

Memchoubi, a poet and a critic who emerged in mid nineteen eighties could effortlessly map the whole evolution of women writers. Existence of women writings in Manipur is hardly 50 years old. In the Introduction section, Memchoubi’s mapping of women writers starts from what Amaibis sing or speak which is an old tradition weaved with the celebration of local deities. She sees such songs or words as oral literature, though this thought has not been brought out by her alone, it is nevertheless refreshing to look at women’s writing in the context that includes oral literature as a base.
The book has covered almost all women writers starting from Thoibi Devi, M.K. Binodini and Khaidem Pramodini, (more popularly known as the three pillars of Manipuri women’s writing), to very contemporary ones like Ningombam Sunita. One can see from the book that these women writers have tried their hands on all possible form of writings ranging from novels, travelogues, short stories to plays and poems. The novel part consists of some section of Binodini’s much acclaimed “Bor Saheb Ongbi Sanatombi”. Among the short stories that could be stated as exemplary is Ningombam Sunita’s, “Khongji Makhol”. No wonder her first collection also entitled “Khongji Makhol” published in 1997 won the Sahiya Akdemi Award in 2001. The story is a simple tale of a widow mother and her son Sanathoiba, but what is astounding is how Sunita tells the story. The story is very contemporary with respect to violence in Manipur. Thus this story which could be one amongst many other written in the same backdrop is elevated by the writer to an urge and angst of what human being over the years seeks at the same time questioning the space which has drove one to such angst. “I don’t want war but my pen always tries to write of it” (p. 78) clearly depicts the conflict in the narrator’s mind which got woven in the story itself. When reality is hard to digest, one write, while some write to tell a story, some write to urge one to look at the reality from its roots. Sunita belongs to the latter group of writers. And the line furthermore shows why most Manipuri poets and writers are obsessed with themes like violence. One could therefore see Sunita’s “Khongji Makhol” as story of a writer who has conflicts in her own mind after seeing blood soaked Manipur and that has unconsciously crept into the story of a widowed mother and her son.
Another from the anthology is that of Haobam Chanu Satybati. Her short story “Izat” portrays women of Manipuri society who are exploited both in the domestica as well as societal sphere. The story through a seeming glamorization of a woman’s ability to save her family from poverty brings out the realities of women in patriarchal Manipuri society. The strength of the women to stand for their families economically and otherwise through focused upon in the story, their status in the family and society was not critically dwelt upon. Thus it seems that the writers haven’t questioned herself about such issues in our society even if she sees women being exploited by society.
The poetry section could be said to be best part of the book. One cannot ignore Moirangthem Borkanya’s “Kobi Chamfut”. The lines from the poem vividly describe the burning Wainam and could smolder the readers’ mind. The poem here is about frustrations of a housewife whose life is confined inside kitchen. In her poem “Sister Meera” she reflects her own daily life of being a nurse. Memchoubi’s poems are in defiance against the patriarchal Manipuri society. Her poems like “Nongthangleima” and “Punbiranu Sanagi Yotlhingna” are path breaking. Memchoubi is a poet emerged in 1980s with Lancheba Meitei, Sharatchand Thiyam, Hemchandra, etc as her contemporaries and together formed the Aseilup group. The uniqueness of this group lies in their continuous effort to create poems out of folklores, culture, heritage and traditions. Memchoubi’s “Nongthagleima”, “Androgi Mei”, “Sandrembi Cheisra” are few examples of her being a nativist to be mentioned from the book.
Ningombam Satybati is another poet who finds mention in this book. She is a poet starkly different from the others in the book as shown by her deep concern for the people in the hill and her usage of dialect of the hill people. She laments over the struggle of hill people to survive. She writes in the simplest language with a very unique touch, everyday things like biscuits Krackjack, Good day, etc find their places in her poetry. One can here think on the possibility of translating such dialect into English or any other Indian Language just as Manipuri literature needs to be translated in other languages just to find its own place in the literary world. Sarcasm is again an integral part of her writings. In ‘Atumba Hill’ she shows how those educated ones take advantage of the ones who are uneducated and simple. The poem with such theme and sarcasm reminds one of poet Laishram Samarendra. Surprisingly in “Eigi Emadi Masak Fajei” she turn away from her simple way of writing and makes the poem a romantic one, her versatility thus cannot be ignored.
From the book one can see despite its existence of only 50 years, women’s writing in Manipur has developed enough to be noticed, read and engaged with. Memchoubi did a fair amount of research to compile the books by gathering poems, short stories and other works not only from published books but from journals and newspapers. The book is a must-read for those interested in Manipuri Literature
Memchoubi won national Sahitya Akademi Award in 2009 for her poetry book ‘Idu Ningthou’

Shingnaba of 1974

Three Young poets in their mid twenties published an anthology of their poems entitled “Shingnaba” in 1974. They published two volumes of this anthology in the month of September and October. It was a time when Manipuri literature was representing realities of a morally deteriorated Manipur leaving behind the romanticised writings of Hiajm Anganghal, Khwairakpam Chaoba, Dr. LamabamKamal, etc. There is such power in literature that the  truth and reality of Manipuri society ignited long back in late nineteen forties by E. Nilakanta actually rose in full force with Shri Biren’s poetry in early sixties. Shri Biren inspired the younger generation of poets during this time. Thangjam Ibopishak and Yumlembam Ibomcha were two young poets who were very much influenced by Shri Biren. Thangjam Ibopishak  shocked the entire literary society with his poem “Hayingkhongyambi” in 1968. The poem was published in “Wakhal”, a journal by Naharol Sahitya Premi Samiti (NSPS) and it was the first volume that NSPS published. The poem questioned the beliefs of many Manipuri vaishnavites which was never questioned before.
The three poets who published the anthology “Shingnaba” were none other than Thangjam Ibopishak, Yumlembam Ibomcha and W. Ranjit. But the question arises : why did they publish an independent anthology when they were registered members of Literary organization like Manipur Sahitya Parishad and NSPS?.
It was because the literary society was not yet ready for the adicalism of these young poets. “Wakhal” apparently had censored some poems of Thangjam Ibopishak in late sixties(His poem “Apaiba Thawai” was censored too from his first poetry collection entitled “Apaiba Thawai.” But the name of the book remained unchanged. In the latest edition of the book Ibopishak published the poem thanking B.S. Rajkumar for helping him in publishing the new edition). So by publishing “Shingnaba’ not only the three poets challenged Manipuri Society but the literary circle too.
But today in 21st century they admit they were very impulsive about everything ,and that often led them to the side of fanaticism of Manipuri culture, tradition and roots. But they addressed certain important issues in their poems for example about the rise of insurgency and corruption of government official, the hardship of Bihari workers, Marwaris businessmen, etc.
Post Shingnaba:
N. Tombi, a well known literary critic, found the anthologies as an outburst of a drunken generation in the dead of a night, and said such poems cannot be called a new literature or new art. It proves that the entire literary circle was shocked with such publications. Shri Biren too was critcised for his poem “Amamba Mapei (A Pile of darkness)” in which he abused people of Imphal for just letting things go and seeing without reactions. The poem was an outburst too based on real life incident when Shri Biren witnessed a lifeless naked body of a woman near Kanglapat in early sixties. The information was disclosed to Burning Voices in an interview.
The three poets of Shingnaba were ordered to be arrested by the Government of Manipur, because of their writings.Yumlembam Ibomcha disclosed to BV,” It was the time RK Dorendro was the CM for the first time, “The goverment had orders to arrest three of us. But Oja Nilakanta saved us saying that “Dont arrest them, they will get more famous…hahaha.”

My Journey of Music and Protest

It was sometime in 2007 in Delhi , Ashley Tellis, a friend, called me up and asked me to sing a few songs at a protest event at Swami Vivekananda Statue, Arts Faculty, Delhi University. The event was organised bya human rights group and they were demanding the immediate release of Dr.Binayak Sen who had been arrested by the Chattisgarh Police without giving any reason. I was broke as usual but i managed to take an autorickshaw to the protest venue. All the performers at the event were performing in hindi, they were singing songs of Safdar Hasmi and many other protest songs. I carried a few printed copies of my own poems that i had written for Dantewada after reading an editorial column of Hindustan Times. I should call it a collage of images of Dantewada rather than poetry because I had translated the imagery directly from the newspaper.
That day i sang three songs, two of my poems and Dylan's “I shall be released”. No other songs could suit the situation betterthan “I shall be released” This was how i started to sing at protest events.
These days, more than music, poetry has given me the space to express myself and my existence in this violence driven undemocratic country. Not only was i addicted to creating my own poetry, I started to search for poetry that match and reflect my hunger and anger. And then one day i stumbled upon the page of Thangjam Ibopishak's poetry collection “Apaiba Thawai.”The restlessness and anxiety in Ibopishak's early work during the late sixtieswas just like that of my generation today. What is different is - my generation is not expressive, perhaps we are timid. And the tragedy doesn't end here,many youngsters don't even realise the existence of such poets.
When it comes to my poetry and lyrics i can hardly trace the dividing line. I can always sing my poetry in my own style. Admittedly many may not like my singing style, but i have the freedom to do so.
By 2008 I had written and composed several songs and i was restless to record them. It was sort of a burning desire that i could not suppress. So in the summer, along with Sachin i recorded eight songs which collectively formed the album 'Tiddim Road'. We named ourselves “Imphal Talkies N The Howlers”. Many friends helped me in recording the songs, both financially and physically. Many thanks to them! The recording session was fun. We were nervous. The idea of playing music in a studio really frightened us. On the first of the days that we booked the recording studio we coudn't record, we were very much shaken by that dark sound proof room. But what actually scared us the most was the cost of the recording.
With every tick of the clock our bill was mounting and we were not able to play anything other than to just make the cue tracks! But finally we did it and it took us nine days to record the whole album.
Subsequently, with the help of we released the album in Delhi in February 2009.
Around this time something very tragic happened. Dr. Thingnam Kishan and his two subordinates, Rajen and Token , were murdered by the NSCN (IM). This incident left many shocked. Kishan was someone our generation looked up to for his uprightness. That uprightness cost him his life. Manipur went up in flames with protests at every nook and corner of the state. With a lot of help from Manipuri diaspora, NGOs, student organisations, Manipuris in delhi organised a candle light vigil at Jantar Mantar.
At Jamia i was pasting posters for the vigil when I received a call from a guy named Raju Athokpam saying he would like to perform a few protest songs of Tapta at the vigil. On the day of the vigil Raju and I met. We played together a few songs and my sister, Riki, sang some new songs. The vigil was successful, with many people from different communities of Manipur turning up for Da Kishan, Rajen and Token.
The last time i met Da Kishan was exactly one year ago from the month of his death. We met in Delhi and had argued over Manipuri poets. He opined, 'Manipuri poets are visionless, they can write of only blood and death, they should look forward to a future beyond this current turmoil' . I countered as i felt whatever that exist as Manipuri literature happens only in a very short span and there will be time for new crop of poets who feel the need of a new form of literature.
One night after the vigil i called up Raju to ask if he was interested in recording a song for Kishan as a tribute to the great man. He said, “lets do it”. Then we went on to record a song named “Ballad of Kishan” at some music school at North campus, which incidentally don't even have a proper recording studio. The song lacked quality. Raju played everything - bass, lead, rhythm. I was there just to boost his energy and to do the vocal part. The song was criticised by many people for my vocal being out of tune. Later i realised i was indeed very much out of tune. In my defence, we recorded the song in just one day. We took three days to compose it and we were not professionals. Our main concern was to show that we cared for Da Kishan. We would not leave any stone unturned in our effort to do so. And we felt the urge to initiate a movement despite our rather insignificant existence as amateur musicians. No Manipuri rocker had ever cared for such incidents or great men.
Thus Raju joined my bandwagon and become a member of Imphal Talkies N The Howlers. In the time that followed we found never lacked of incidents to inspire us to write new protest songs.
Soon after, the incident of July 23rd 2009 fake encounter at BT road took place. Once again me and Raju set out to record a song called “Rise” and we recorded it at the same studio. It was not even sound proof, yet we tried our best. It was 1am after midnight by the time we were done with the recording. Thanks to Dilip Oinam, Sumitra and Romina for being with us on that tiring and hectic day. Later the same night we dissolved our worries in a bottle of whiskey till the wee hours of the morning. Whatever we recorded we had to do it with money from our own pockets. We didn't care for money. And we still don't :)
In November, 2009, New Socialist Initiatives observed the beginning of Tenth year of Sharmila's struggle to repeal the draconian AFSPA. They organised the event at the same Swami Vivekanda Statue, Arts Faculty DU where i had performed for Binayak Sen. Just before the performance i got a phone call from a friend from Imphal informing that one of my closest friends passed away that morning in a road accident. I didn't know how to react. All i could think of doing and did was to call my father and ask to go to see my deceased friend's parents. I cried for a few minutes in a loo as his face suddenly popped up in my mind. He used to be the one who would come to my home in the early morning and wake me up just to talk to him. I still remember the day i blacked out and collapsed on the road sitting on my Honda Activa at his Thongal after consuming a half  bottle of Old Monk. He helped me up and i waved good bye. That was how we departed. Never knew that would be the final goodbye. What surprises me is that i can't even compose a poem in his memories. I have tried but in vain.
But I had to perform that day leaving aside his memories. Because i know life is that way, im gonna meet death and me being a Manipuri, death can come easily with guns and bombs too.
I reached Arts Faculty along with Bomcha(Nila) and Sanjeev thingnam. That was the first day i peformed with Sanjeev thingnam. We sang a song called “India” , a poem I had written some months back. We performed it impromptu at the spot. The song started with the line “India, have you ever crawled down enough to smell the soil of Kashmir?” And people loved it. Arundhati Roy was present there as the main speaker of the event. And Jilangamba, a friend, insisted me to sing a Manipuri song so i sang “Lainingthou lairembigi manairensa Kumsi di Army yam lakka ni hairiye”. Even today wherever we perform i feel like singing these songs. We then performed “Home is burning” and another called “freedom” written by sanjeev.
That day after the event we were asked to peform at Miranda House. And we did perform. We added a few new songs to our repertoire, such as “Ghost of Machang Lalung”. Machang Lalung was from Assam. He spent 54 years in prison without any trial. The maximum sentence he should get was ten years in prison. He was even dumped in a mental asylum. Sometime in 2006 a few Assamese activists managed to get him released. But the tragedy was - no one remembered him in his own village, let alone other places, and he didn't recognize even his home. It is almost unimaginably tragic. When i heard his story i could not help pour out my feelings into a song.
Soon after the Miranda House program, Progressive Students Union organised an event on the same theme for Sharmila at Jawaharlal Nehru University. Imphal Talkies N the Howlers was the main performer of that evening. There, the three of us - Raju, Sanjeev and me, performed together for the first time. Raju started as a thrash/metal music fan, Sanjeev as a bluesy guy and me addicted to the likes of Dylan and Cohen. We were very different musically. What bonded us together and does till now is our shared love for original music that speaks of our bullet ridden Manipur.
This time again we included one more new song called “My heart Sick Fella”. At the event Burning Voices distributed its first poetry journal “Our Private Literature”. All the members of Burning Voices turned up on that day. And the evening was ours.
Later in early 2010 we performed the same repertoire of songs at Kirori Mal College and National School of Drama, Delhi. Where ever we performed Sharmila has been our focus. We didn't plan it but her spirit and this nation's deafness was already there in many of our songs. Through these small events i gained many valuable friends.
And in mid 2010, the spectre of the Common Wealth Games loomed like a giant monster terrifying many lives on the streets of delhi and evicting students from university hostels. But people didn't just give up easily.Many organisations protested against such injustice done to poor people and students. University Community for Democray (UCD) was one such organisation formed particularly to protest against the CWG. Many of my friends were in this organisation. I wrote a song in collaboration with Tara Basumatry on this issue, it goes like “heart shaped balloon in traffic jam, fade away as they bring their dirty games, they wanna hide the beggars from the streets, cos they are the real indians...”.
Sometime later I sang the song again at Swami Vivekananda Statue, Arts Fauclty DU. By this time i was convince that this Vivekananda Statue will be able to recognize me even if i am among the crowd of Chandni Chowk.
A few days later I attended a one day relay hunger strike accompanied by my songs, again organised by UCD. The next protest event took place at Jantar Mantar for Bhopal Gas Tragedy Victims. I went with a friend (Venus) who ended up being my mic stand. From such events i learnt an important lesson -- there is no race or religion for the suffering ones, they will always be together. And Me being someone who spent half of his school days in the streets of Imphal holding placards, shouting slogans, i know how it feels to be at the receiving end. But what comforts me is that the world seems to be dominated by the suffering ones. Just look around!