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This is not a formal review in the straightjacket of literary structures. But as a keen follower and fellow activist in the Manipur literature movement, I feel compelled to give air to what I felt after reading "Manipur Sahitya da Nupeegee Khonjen: An anthology of Womens writing(20th century) in Manipuri", edited by Memchoubi and published by Sahitya Akademi.
Memchoubi, a poet and a critic who emerged in the mid nineteen eighties, could effortlessly map the whole evolution of women's writing in Manipur. Existence of women's writing in Manipur is hardly 50 years old. In the introduction section, Memchoubi's mapping of women writers starts from what Amaibis (Shamans) sing or speak which is an old tradition connected 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, MK 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 and 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" and published in 1997, won the Sahitya 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 story of what a human being over the years seeks while at the same time questioning the space which has driven one to such angst. The line, "I don't want war but my pen always tries to write of it," clearly depicts the conflict in the narrator's mind which got woven in the story itself.
When reality is hard to digest, one writes. While some write to tell a story, some write to urge the reader to look at that 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 having lived in a blood-soaked Manipur. That has unconsciously crept into the story of a widowed mother and her son.
Another from the anthology is the short story of Haobam Chanu Satybati. "Izat" portrays the women of Manipuri society who are exploited in the domestic as well as the societal spheres. The story, though seemingly glamorises a woman's ability to save her family from poverty, brings out the realities of women in patriarchal Manipuri society. Though the strength of the women to stand for their families economically and otherwise has been focussed upon in the story, their status in the family and society have not been critically dwelt with. Thus it seems that the writer hasn't questioned herself about such issues even if she sees women being exploited by the society.
The poetry section is the 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 smoulder the readers' minds. The poem here is about frustrations of a housewife whose life is confined inside a 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 emerged as a poet in the 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 poet.
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 of the hills and her use 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. Mundane things like Krackjack and Good Day biscuits, etc find mention in her poetry. One can here think on the possibility of translating such dialect into English or any other Indian Language.
Manipuri literature needs to be translated into 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 the 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 gather that despite having existed for only 50 years or so, 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 also from journals and newspapers. The book is a must read for those interested in Manipuri Literature.
Memchoubi, incidentally, is a recipient of the Sahitya Akademi Award in 2009 for "Idu Ningthou", a book of poems.
More about Akhu Chingangbam
Ronid a.k.a Akhu Chingangbam breathes music, politics and physics. Ronid hails from Imphal, Manipur. He leads a Delhi-based protest music band Imphal Talkies N The Howlers. Ronid's poems have been published in different websites and also in Himal magazine. He is doctorate in Physics from Jamia Millia Islamia and now on a post-doctoral assignment in Naresuan University, Phitsanulok, Thailand, working on Cosmology. Ronid can be reached at email@example.com.
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