THE SILVER LINING CLOUDS OF LITERATURE IN THE HORIZON OF MANIPUR
By Prof Jodha Chandra Sanasam
This article was originally published by Hueiyen Lanpao on 2 Jan 2013 and Epao on 3 Jan 2012
Admixed with the rasping noise of corruption, grating voices against misuse of funds; cacophony of bandhs and blockades; odour of burnt sulfur, spent bullets and blast-out explosives; acrid smell of raw blood; stench of decomposed clots, reek of putrid flesh of corpses, and hue and cry against loathsome crimes that filled in the air of Manipur in the last four decades, momentary whiffs of the friendly smell of new paper, prints and fragrance of literary words also have been continually pervading in the last two decades more strongly pronounced in the last one year.
The nights may be gloomy, the taps at the kitchen may be dried up, the roads and vales may be rugged, the hill-terrain may be left out to parch and wilt, the electronics may remain non-functioning without invigoration of recharge as the power is ever short; but, of recent, a subtle sweet song is reaching the ears of the neighbourhood in the city, in the villages far-flung and nearby, in the townships and also in the hamlets of the far mountains of Manipur. And that is the song of literature, art and culture with a new tone, with a fresh tune and with a vibrant enthusiastic energy.
A silver lining around the literary clouds, gradually collecting to become thicker and thicker, and wafting this way, that way is definitely visible in the horizon of Manipur in this decade. And these clouds, maybe literary-rain bearing, are emanating a natural gentle scent or a synthetic perfume of a promising atmosphere of literature in the air of this tiny state.
In a way the revolutionary movement in Manipur, maybe real serious or shamed, is a boon in disguise. Along with it, has come a boom, an explosion of literature as well. '... French literature in the 18th century, the century of French revolution, offered a rich collection of works in all genres, and brought together, rather than opposed, the philosophical and analytical views of the Philosophes and Lumieres with the more subjective and personal views of the romantic movement. ... The century produced a number of writers who were great both for the originality and importance of their ideas and for their literary talent; writers such as Voltaire, Rousseau, Montesquieu, Diderot and Beaumarchais, whose ideas are still quoted today. They used their novels and plays as weapons which profoundly changed their society, while expressing their own personalities and feelings. Thanks largely to these writers in the 18th century, French became the language of culture, political and social reforms, and across Europe, and as far as America and Russia (18th-century French literature – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia).'
During American Revolution too, 'Verse was the servant of morality and politics, capable of making their percepts more deeply felt and more lastingly remembered.' Many writers felt that poetry had the same patriotic work to do in America as it had done in classical eras like Iliad did' (American Revolution and American literature – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia). Joel Barlow named his poem Columbiad. The American revolutionary movement inspired and continues to inspire – a vast body of literature, much of which, like William Blake's poem 'America, a Prophecy', attempted to allegorize the fledging nation's birth and cast its genesis in the language of archetypal struggles and timeless human themes.
In a span of half a century beginning in the last three-four decades of the 20th century to the first decade, now two more years gone by, of the 21st century Manipur too produced quite a good number of poets like Elangbam Nilakanta, Laishram Samarendra, Nomgthombam ShriBiren, R.K. Madhubir, Thangjam Ibopishak, RK Bhubansana and many more; novelists like Pacha Meetei, Kshetri Bira, M. Kandesh Singh and a few others, short story writers like Khumanthem Prakash, Nongthombam Kunjamohan, Elangbam Dinamani and many more; and critical writers like L. Damodar, N. Tombi, L. Joychandra, Sharatchandra Long-zomba etc., all to do with the emergence of good literature in Manipur. Some of them had already been in elderly age but the fruits of their works started to bear more in the last fifty years or so.
The other day a Manipuri young guy in a literary meet at Imphal, seeming to have a very deep thinking and a penetrating vision into the depth of years to come in future in Manipur, raised a question. He said writers in Europe and other countries brought great changes in their homeland, and he sadly lamented that no such writers have emerged in Manipur. All of us felt a bit upset and disappointed to hear such a discouraging remark, that too from a youth of Manipur. However the fact of the matter is that youths of Manipur, for that matter the larger section of Manipur's population, do not read Manipuri literature at all. There is no dearth of highly valuable material in Manipuri literature too. I personally feel this way.
The number of books released in Manipur is persistently increasing year after year, at an average rate of 3 books a week in the beginning of this century. This year 2012 had more of such releases. On the other hand UNESCO has included Manipuri language in the list of vulnerable languages of the world. Some gloom merchants among the literary men of Manipur are repeatedly spreading the bitter message that Manipuri is in UNESCO's list of endangered languages, so a dying language.
The word 'endangered' is in fact much more severe than the word 'vulnerable'. We were thinking Manipuri literature has had its boom in the last two decades; but this contradictory documentation of the UNESCO has definitely upset us. Maybe the reporter to the UNESCO about Manipuri language is a biased one or somebody who has little knowledge of the language like somebody from Kolkata, or if he is somebody from Manipur he must have been a person averse to the state native language.
Because we feel that its status in the literary world has rather become much stronger than what was before. Before it was limited to Manipur only, now it has taken its leaps and bounds reaching the Manipuri populace in Assam, Tripura and now Bangladesh. Bangladesh Manipuris are determined to see to it that Manipuri literature is firmly rooted in their country too. The language has taken a strong role to bring a secure binding of Manipuri populations of different places far and wide.
The Nagas would have been much more appreciated across the world if their expansionism were focused more on the promulgation of their culture all over their places in a way as this Manipuri paradigm instead of undertaking blood-shed deeds in the name of Naga freedom and proclamation of the size of their land. Christianity alone is not color enough for a true culture.
At this present rate of growth of Manipuri language that we see now before us the idea of it disappearing may be taken as a remote possibility. However it is worthwhile for the Manipuris to see that their language does not dwindle.
In this current year of 2012 ending now after two weeks more, we can see that the air around Manipuri literature is rather more blended with the fragrance of the past products as revealed by the awards that have been proclaimed this year than what was achieved by the emergence of the new books this year.
However the events of workshops on Tribal Language Study, Manipuri Poetry Criticism and Literary Translation Works conducted via the Sahitya Akademi under the leadership of Prof N Khagendra Singh, Convener Board of Manipuri Language, Sahitya Akademi, definitely are some novel things in terms of literary achievements in Manipur this year.
Also the emergence of some renowned literary works translated into English as well as that of a novel in English and another book of short stories written in English, and on other aspects like on culture and some more are definitely encouraging.
Also the pronouncement by the Education Minister that the present Language Cell will be elevated to a Directorate is a good step to give some real good nourishment to the unfortunate Manipuri language that has been suffering perpetually under the fateful whip-lashes of history.
Indeed a silver lining around the clouds of Manipuri literature is visible in the horizon of Manipur at this end of the year 2012.