I reached Imphal sometime in early May 2009 just after Burning Voices was formed . I was restless to interview those forgotten poets of Manipur; forgotten by our generation, forgotten by this blood thirsty Land Manipur.My restlessness died with professor Islamudin's assasination at Manipur University. But I have known poetry for years and the comfort it gives me when im down.
Few days after everything boiled down as usual I hit Manipur Sahitya Parishad’s office which is at Paona Bazaar with my friend Sachin. The first book I grabbed from their office was Shri Biren’s first collection of poetry called Tollaba Shadugi Wakhal.” I have heard of Shri Biren but never read a poem by him. I bought many books out of my stupid excitation; yes I was stupid to buy these books in the eyes of many friends who have roamed around the world and speak good English and who have admired French literature.
The maximum cost of a book was 100 rupees. Thangjam Ibopishak’s latest “Shrimati Tomcha Babu” was also bought on the day. That night I read Shri Biren’s poetry book from cover to cover till dawn. I was thrilled and dumbfounded. I never thought someone in 1960s in Manipur could be so radical. Few days after I hit Rajesh Book Store, from there I bought Shri Biren’s first book on the criticism of Manipur Literature. Shri Biren's poetry was hard-hitting and powerful but as a critic he surpassed all expectations. I read the first few chapters of the book inside my mosquito net with a candle. And I felt enlightened in that powerless night of Imphal. I never knew someone could be so thoughtful and productive. I was not aware, that everything that happened in our literature happened in this short duration of one century.
Some days after, I called up and met Sudhir Naoroibam at his Pokanapham Office (He won Sahitya Akademi Award in 2004 for his short story book Lei-E Khara Punshi Khara).He advised me on how to start meeting poets and informed us about a seminar organized by Manipur Sahitya Parishad on the life of a great poet and writer Shri Nilabir Shastri Sharma. After meeting Tamo Sudhir, I and Sachin went straight to Manipur Sahitya Parishad and registerd ourselves so that we can attend the Seminar.
The seminar was held at Kangla Hall. On the day of seminar I met poet Sharatchand Thiyam, we had a small conversation. From him I bought Robin S Ngangom’s poetry collection Desire of Roots There was also a small book fair. Sharatchand asked me and my friends to come for his book release function at MDU for his travelogue Nungshibi Bangladesh and I eventually went to the function. I met tamo Suhdir again on the day. He gave me a copy of short film Joseph Ki Macha which is based on his short story with the same title.
Shri Biren influenced many of his junior poets. Reading his poetry collection Tollaba Shadugi Wakhal I think no one can escape from his words. The poems that struck me right were “Ei Laiming Loude” and “Amamba Mapei Mapei”. Still as Thangjam Ibopishak was the one through whom I get interested in Manipuri poem, the first thing in my mind was to interview him.
One after noon I left Sachin at Hemchandra’s recording studio(we were recording a song of Imphal Talkies called “In the Fight”). And I headed for Ibopishak’s home. I did not know his home address. But I found it easily at Wangei Thangjam Leikai. I was stupid to look out for an oak tree which Ibopishak often mentioned in his poems. It must have existed only in his poems or it must have been chopped down long ago.
He was sitting on a mat at Mangol, writing something, probably he was writing a poem.I told him about our Burning Voices, and my interest in interviewing him. I told him we would like to know about the times of “Shingnaba” particularly. Shingnaba is a poetry anthology in two volumes by Ranjit. W, Thangajam Ibopishak and Yumlembam Ibomcha published in 1974. He said, “To know about those times you must interview Shri Biren first.”
So on a bright sunny day of Imphal I went to Shri Biren’s Place at Uripok Achom Leikai on 29th May with a friend Sumitra Thodingjam (who is a member of Burning Voices).Shri Biren’s house was a small and simple with tin roof. He was sitting at a corner of his mangol reading Sharatchand Thiyam’s “Nungshibi Bangladesh”. The book was released few days back and Shri Biren was reading the last pages. He has been a patient of Parkinson for last forty years. His body was lean. His hands were shaken.
We introduced ourselves and tell him about our forum in Delhi. And so he started telling us about the “Age of renaissance”. In further he told us about how Dr.Kamal was disowned by Maharaj Churachand. Kamal was not allowed to see even his sick father until Kamal offered Athenpot to Maharaj Churachand. From the story we learn that Khaiwrakpam Chaoba was too a topper in Bengali in college among Bengalis. He further told us how he considered Elangbam Nilakanta as a father of Modern Manipuri Poetry, and how he was attacked by others in seminars for not considering Hijam Irabot as the father.
He showed us picture of Kabi Kirtan that he organized at his place. He said it is a way of showing respect to Anganghal, Kamal and Chaoba.
And the rain poured on his tin roof with its sound, we shifted our sitting place to his small drawing room. When we asked him about Shingnaba, he stood up from his chair and got the book. It was a thin old book. He threaded both the volumes with a jute rope. I could read a poem called “Houjik Shihoubasina fei” by W Ranjit while sumitra was listening to him. He later showed us many old collections of poems, there was one book titled “Atoppa Khonjel” published by Naharol Sahitya Premi Samiti edited by Ibopishak and Ibomcha. We were offered tea made by her daughter. Shri Biren took his pills for the Parkinson. He still wrote in these last forty years, never stopped. He said, “People would think that I am exaggerating but I think I will die the moment I stop writing.” And indeed he is still writing poems, he read his new work on ‘Panthoibi Khonkul’ and said this is an example of Iconoclasm as he changed the plot of the old folklore.
He read us one of his new poem called “Ei Mafam Keida Chatloi, Manipur” with his shaky voice. The poem reflects his patriotic sense, yet his way of telling ‘how much he feels for Manipur’ is very different from other poets. His wanting to grow in the soil of Manipur is vividly seen in the poem. One greatness of the poem is that he was successful in portraying his adventurous mind by referring to the significance of words like “Koukha Kathum”, “Ningthi turel”, “Sangari gi ke ke ke” etc. We were amazed listening to him. Due to Parkinson his hands shook, his legs could not rest for five second, but the power and energy in his words were like mountains felling on our head. We were pleased to share that rainy day at his place listening to him. Further he told us how he protested in school days at Jonhnostone School when teachers were missing for class. He founded Naharol Sahitya Peremi Samiti with friend and poet Padam Kumar. He gave us a vision of that time. He narrated us how he met R.K Madhubir at DM college cycle-shed. He talked about Pacha meitei. He said Pacha used to read Khalil Gibran and Virginia woolf. He believed Pacha’s poems are better than his novels.
About his own work he said “Many critics and poets have called me euro-centric as I read lots of French literature particularly on ‘absurdity’ but I don’t mind. I will never speak on behalf of my works, my work itself should speak of itself, once I have written them then my duty is over”
And finally he advised us on how we must try to lift our Manipuri literature. He was disappointed with the fact that there are very few students at Manipur University to study our own literature. He asked us about the activities of Burning Voices. At the end we requested him to allow us to shoot some video clips of such discussion, so we fixed a date and visit him again. When we came out of the room, his courtyard was flooded; we had to hold our shoes in hands and walked till his gate with my Activa.
In the morning of 3rd June, we interviewed Yumlembam Ibomcha sitting in front of his half built brick house . Ibomcha won Sahitya Akedami award in 1992 for his collection of short stories “Numitti Asum Thengjillakli.” Ibomcha like his friend and poet Ibopishak too started writing very early.
In his short stories he experimented with certain abstract ideas by confusing the reader’s mind with wife and mother. When we asked him about such abstract ideas he said he wanted to experiment. He said “I see there is a motherly love in every girl or women” and he wanted to explore that through his stories. Most of his stories deal with realities. There was no such story which escapes from the turmoil. He picked up the issues of rise of insurgency in Manipur and drug abused in early eighties. His observation of the village lives and daily wagers are co clear and detail that the reader would have a visual scene. Ibomcha is the only poets that follows Irabot’s step when it comes to struggle of Peasants but his is a struggle of peasants in a landscape where civilization/globalisation is growing leaving no space for peasants. His poems spoke for the peasants. Some of his best stories revolve around lives of Keithel fambi. He told us he was inspired by Lamshang Keithel
He further gave us a scene of Manipur in 70s where many political outfits were emerged. He revealed us some secret that happened post “shingnaba.” He narrated,” It was the time R.K Dorendro was the chief Minister, the government was ready to arrest us for ‘Shingnaba’, but Oja Nilakanta had saved us saying to the government “Don’t arrest them and they will get famous.””
We asked him “Do you fear for what you write or do you sometime hesitate when you want to write depicting the reality in Imphal?”
He answered “I really don’t have any fear; I will just face the consequences”
But we found out that there are poets and writers who fear to write what they feel. It is obvious to feel fear in place like Manipur where often journalists get killed.
He further told us on how Ranjit W, Ibopishak and himself came to the idea of Shingnaba.
It was in early 70s, one of Ibopishak’ poem was censored by naharol sahitya samiti premi from its journal Wakhal for ibopishak’s outspokenness, Ibopishak’s hayingkhongyambi was already a shock to our conservative literary society.
So this very incident led to Shingnaba.
We heard of the poems as a real Shingnaba to Manipur society which was morally deteriorating with corruption in every direction.
And such an important book is not available in any of the book stores in Manipur. Many books that we want are not available and till today we are searching for those books, we believed a fraction of our lives has been left not opened. We couldn’t find any books of Laishram Samarendra, Shri Biren’s poetry collection “Mapal Naidabasida Ei(Won sahitya Akdemi award in 1990?)” and “Masina Imphal gi warini”
Even if the books are available it will be at Rajesh Book Store and Manipuri Sahitya Parishad only. No other book shops sell our own literature. There are only very few publishers and none of them are interested in re publishing old books as there are many other new writers or many books to be published. Writers Forum Manipur apart from its activities it also publishes books. Writers contribute 300rs monthly and after years they will be published.
Luckily I could grab a book called “Canchi Seireng” which contents a volume of poems starting from Hijam Anganghal to Yumlembam Ibomcha and many others. The book was published by Manipur University.
There we found some famous poems of Laishram Samrendra like “Mamamgleikai Thambal Shatle”
Samarendra’s collection of poetry book with the same title won him Sahitya Akademi award in early seventies.
We found some poems of Hijam Irabot too which we believed is from his poetry collection “Imagi Puja”
This was written sometime in 1940s when he was in prison in Shylet.
Such is our literature that we can’t find and read, yet they are ours. Every bit of our history blooms in their poems. Still today, Burning Voices is searching for that history. Sometimes it blooms at Rajesh Book Store beneath the layers of dust behind the well crafted building of Governor of Manipur.
The most surprising thing about Yumlembam Ibomcha is, he didn’t even have a single copy of his own poems or books. We requested him if we could buy a copy of his poetry books, but he said he didn’t have. He asked us to go to Poknapham Press which is at Paona bazaar, opposite to Usha Cinema hall.
With one hour interview we left Ibomcha’s place with our promise to give him our poems that members of Burning Voices write. Someday later I could dig out Ibomcha’s “Rajkumari Amasung Uchek Machasing” from Poknpham Press after visiting two times. The book is Ibomcha’s second poetry collection.
Again on 9th June, we interviewed Shri Biren with the help of a friend, Deepak, who shot the video clips on the day. On the day, Shri Biren told us more about women writers and their evolution till today. The moment we started interview it was started raining again. Shri Biren swallowing his daily dose of pill he started telling us about his personal lives. He became a lecture of Manipuri at DM College in 1965, he was selected as lecturer just after his B.A. His post was earlier the post of R.K Surendrajit and I.R. Babu He told us “teacher who teaches Manipuri gets no respect from students because they speak the language and they think they can write and read whatever the writer is saying. So I was ready to face such students reading lots of English literature and others. In the classroom, students of my age were there (laughed)”
He revealed that his poem “Tangkhul Hui” was first published in DM college magazine when he was a student sometime in early 1960s.
On the day got a chance to read my poem to him, I read my poem “Meitei Nongsha” and “loiba naidaba amamba”
It was a scarry moment for me yet so happy that such giant literary figure was listening to me read my own poems. He interrupted me when I read the word “taringei (listening)” , and said it should be “Yengingei(Watching).” Indeed I was writing “Yengingei” on my note book but as I was nervous I read it as “taringei”
At the end he said he wants to have a poetry reading session with our Burning Voices. We promised him that next time we will all come to him armed with our poems and to present it to him.
And the day ended there. The summer stopped there to continue again with series of their poems and interview next year. But Our desire to interview Thagjam Ibopishak remained unfulfilled. But it was Ibopishak’s poems that open the eyes. Yes! What we read was translated poems by tanslated by Robin S. Ngangom. We saw here, that If the poems were not translated we would have never heard of Ibopishak or Biren till today. And this shows that we are shamefully unaware of our own literature. And above this we couldn’t find a single book of poem by Laishram Samarendra. Not only our lives are being taken away by sophisticated bullets, literature of our lives are being left unprinted. For the bullets we can blame many authorities. And whom we blame for the literature?