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At a Meeting of the Manipuri Sahitya Parishad, Assam

A couple of weeks ago, a press release in one of the previous day’s newspaper made me so curious to go and see what the Manipuri Sahitya Parishad, Assam (MSP) is all about in this part of the world. I saw only their announcement about the gathering in one corner of Dispur district, but the next day I found as it happened, an annual district committee meeting and an election of the office bearers were to be convened as adverted in the news report. But that was no issue, as I saw it was in other matters rather than the meeting and election, where I found the usual hollowness in us when we talk about our relationship with the society and vice versa. The meeting place is situated hardly ten kilometres from where I’m putting up right now, and it is easy to commute through two bus routes. But the exact location is a place where I have to enquire a lot, because it is far from any known landmark and is in one of the interior parts of the town, where I have to take another rickshaw to enter from the main road in an uphill street.

Before reaching my destination, the May sultry air was deadened despite its scorching scream for I was adamant in knowing what the people do with Manipuri literature here. Like a butterfly in spring, I had anticipated that they would review Thangjam Ibopishak’s poems or Yumlembam Ibomcha’s witty stories or any popular Assamese Manipuri writer’s work or something on these lines. I might also find out where the Manipuri books are available. Little did I know that the MSP had already set their agenda for the meeting, which tested my patience in a very unfriendly way. Perhaps this is why people say we should have no too much expectation from people or place or thing or whatsoever.

So I finally reached my place of interest, around 3:10, ten minutes late to the time the MSP had mentioned on the newspaper. The rickshaw driver told me the address, a temple in Pattorkuchi—which I tried to remember its name through the newspaper clipping that I took along—is located in a Manipuri colony. Yes, when I reached there walking through a red muddy alley where the temple is, the first thing I saw was a couple of guys standing and shouting across the two sides of a broken bamboo wall. They were howling in our language in a well-disposed way. The address was a Krishna temple at the foothill of a mound, thick greenish and accentuated with patches of shaven red soils.

There were nearly a score of people, who had gathered there, and a couple of them welcomed me, addressing me as oja which they did throughout the evening. It is a typical way of addressing between teachers. Earlier I was surprised being me called an oja, but in such a meeting it was as common as soda is with whisky in this weather, so later I didn’t take more pride but felt humbly quite used to it. So there, we were assembled, sitting on the plastic mats around the elevated temple courtyard. The temple has an attached outhouse, which belongs to a caretaker who brought us tea during the meeting. He was a distinctive Manipuri Hindu priest whom we call khabei-chegap with respect. He played a major role with his silence, like some of the others, on why religion sucks and in sending a grim reminder how Hinduism is a blot on Manipuri literature. The doors inside the temple was kept open and the idols were visible — while I should admit that Krishna is not responsible for making me an atheist, he is one of the malefactors who divinely created a vicious identity crisis in us and who fucked all the horny goddesses — and the fact that we can see the gods from our sitting position was simply detestable.

The Beauty and the Priest
More attendees poured in. So ridiculously some of them tolled the bell at the entrance just like a hero and a heroine in Bolywood would do, when they reach a temple to get married after eloping against their parents’ wishes. Then I decided I should turn a blind eye to these religious craps. The meeting was conducted over four hours and more than half of the time was spent on an issue which was not on the agenda: it was a controversy about a young office-bearer whose position was revoked without informing him. It was a long heated debate that I lost track on and off what they were arguing about. But it apparently divides the gathering into three groups: (1) a group of young teachers (possibly?) between 35–45 years old; (2) another group of much older people; and (3) onlookers like me. Overall it only showed how effectively, rather ineffectively this literary organisation functions. A guy, who was sitting beside me, whispered that there are two MSPs in Assam, with the one headquartered in Hojai and established in 1917 being the older. And this particular district committee is a part of the MSP Cachar. Schism is in every Manipuri blood.

From the signature book, I could see there were around 50 men (with all their bloody names ending with a Singh or a Sinha) who were gathered for the day. Three women clad in white Assamese sarees were also sitting further apart on the veranda of the temple outhouse. I have no comment and I don’t want to point my fingers to Krishna anymore but it did seem one animal is not representing themselves well. For me, the world is divided into male animals and female animals and none of us are equal. However I would not support the superiority on which kind or the length, breadth and height of genitals we possess.

There was one interesting thing. Many of the newly elected office-bearers don’t seem to know each other because quite a lot of times after the election, I could hear they were asking each other their names and addresses repeatedly. Even the new podgy president, who looked like Joe Pesci and Johnny Lever put together, was not spared of the queries. Big place, bigger confusion! The meeting continued with some short lectures from the previous office-bearers and the new bloods.

It was encouraging to hear that there are proposals to rename the organisation into a more Manipuristic name but the speaker added pessimistically that it has to be done from the higher hierarchy and that it will involve a lengthy series of reviews and approvals. Another senior member spoke on the same issue using too many elegant Sanskrit words that made me nauseating. He was surprised that there are such proposals because he takes Manipuri, Bengali and Sanskrit are of the same tree. Oja, yajare! On a lighter note, there are also plans to use more Meitei Mayek in the MSP’s letterheads, slip books and others. Another expert so annoyingly spoke on art for art’s sake, citing the MSP is a non-political organisation and that there is no room for radical change. He sounded like a rock lover who keeps all the album collections of Led Zeppelin or a school kid whose love is confined in Korea. Please don’t be the reason why I had to puke on Manipuri prose books in my college days. (I didn’t know there are so many great poetry books then.)

All’s not well that ends not well. More than half of the members — closing the programme at the temple — started singing like impure Bengalis and playing conches, drums plus several hand-held, metallic percussion instruments. It was not good on the ears. It was not definitely in good taste. It reeks of cultural suicide. In the name of daily rituals and tradition and religion, I’m not sure what people can do. But I have heard there are only two things man cannot stand, being taken away from him: his wife and his property. I was feeling clueless so I went to the toilet and relieved myself.

Finally, I approached Biramani, who is one of the secretaries and paid him lupa 50 for a one-year general membership fee. After requesting him to let me know about any future event, I peeked at the closed doors that hide Krishna from the evil eyes of the night and left the place. There were some guys smoking and chatting near the gate.

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