A Tribute to Laishram Samarendra (20 July 1925–2 June 2016)

In the last couple of weeks, Manipur has been burning inside out, suffering from a chronic illness of which nobody knows the cure. Amidst the madness, this time around, there have been protests and counter-protests for enforcing the Inner Line Permit System. In the cacophony, one man, an irreplaceable litterateur—who wrote in the Manipuri vernacular Meiteilon—passed away, silently and gracefully. If we do away with all the shitty sentimentality, Laishram Samarendra left this world for all the good reasons. No more would he have to be a witness to the insanity in this part of the world. Significantly, he has left behind a substantial legacy for us and posterity.

In a writing career that spanned more than five decades, the acclaimed writer had published seven books: six poetry collections and a compilation of non-fictional essays.     

1. Waa Amata Haige Telangga (Poetry; 1962, reprinted in 1996)
2. Mamang Leikai Thambal Shatle (Poetry; 1974, reprinted in 1991)
3. Khul Amagi Wari (Poetry; 1985)
4. Kabi Samarendragi Khomjinba Lairik (Poetry; 1997)
5. Sana Kiethelgi Laiphaddabi by Tonu Devi (Poetry; 1999)
6. Wakching-gi Kabita (Poetry; 1999)
7. Swargada Awaba Amasoong Nungaiba (Prose; 1999)

The following pieces are a translation of Laishram Samarendra’s poems that I have been posting on this blog. These have been translated with a consciousness that if you want to read on a certain topic and cannot find it, then you write on it. If you cannot find the translation of quality Manipuri works then you do it. Simple as that and add in it the joy of re-writing one’s favourite poems despite the linguistic and poetic challenges faced by an amateur like me.

Translated titles/Original titles

• Multiplication Table      Suplak
• Yes Sir!      Yes Sir!
• The Story of Poverty      Lairabagi Waa
• Babyland      Babyland
• Of Man and War      Mi Amasoong Laan
• Li Hao Chu      Li Hao Chu
• Kerosene      Tersing
• No Time      Matam Leite
• On the Last Day of the Earth in Imphal      Imphalda Prithivigi Aroiba Numitta
• Water      Ising
• Everybody’s Crazy in My Family      Ngaodaba Yaode Kanamatasu Eikhoigi Eemungda

Multiplication Table
Suplak (Khul Amagi Wari, 1985)

In each locality there is a liar;
And four liars are one dealer,
And four dealers or 16 liars are one leader,
And four leaders are one member,
And six members are one minister.

Yes Sir!
Yes Sir! (Mamang Leikai Thambal Satle, 1974)

Yes sir!
If he comes by himself
Yes sir!
These are all the truth
Yes sir!
Yes sir!
Those who have come by themselves
Yes sir!
Finish them first
Yes sir!
Those who do not confess
Yes sir!
They are wrong
Yes sir!

A Story of Poverty
Lairabagi Waa (Waa Amata Haige Telanga, 1974)

Once Poverty visits the family of the forlorn
Poverty comes and sits by its side
Poverty gives a big stone
‘Hit yourself on your forehead with the stone,’ it said;
     I don’t know the words of Poverty
     Late night
     I came alone
     For the forlorn family.

Babyland (Khul Amagi Wari 1985)

In the land of the baby
Everybody is a baby
All babies—emotionally and psychologically.

The wooden water tap in the land of baby
It has no water
The wooden power grid in the land of the baby
It has no electricity.

An old man was hit on the head with a slingshot stone
He had laughed at the babies
He had bothered the babies
The babies were told the truth.

Of Man and War
Mi Amasoong Laan (Wakchinggi Kabita, 1999)

The men gathered and buried the gods
God is always the reason behind wars, they say,
In Egypt and Israel and Africa and Bosnia
For the sake of getting rid of the cacophony of gods and wars
The British chanted the name of Jesus Christ
And they fought against the Germans
The Germans recited the name of Jesus Christ
And they fought against the British
With Ram on their lips the Hindus opposed the Muslims
With Muhammad on their lips the Muslims resisted the Hindus
The gods had been useless, it was accepted
The gods be damned; the gods be dead for good
Deng Xiaoping and Mao Tse-tung and Ayatollah Khomeini     
Everybody’s agreed: God is the cause of all the wars

Soon the supreme leader emerged
The wisest amongst the wise
And soon he became a god
Another wisest amongst the wise emerged
And soon he became a god too
Again the new wisest soul emerged
He became a god as well
Ah! Men cannot live without gods
Men cannot live without wars
In the name of the new gods
The wars resumed.

Li Hao Chu
Li Hao Chu (Waa Amata Haige Telanga, 1962)

Li Hao Chu!
Li Hao Chu!
Are you a ruler or a farmer?

Li Hao Chu!
Li Hao Chu!
I’m no ruler and I’m no farmer

Li Hao Chu
I do Li Hao Chu.

Tersing (Wakchinggi Kabita, 1999)

My dear brother
Since the other day I’ve been coming here
Running hither and thither
Just for kerosene—for just two litres!

And in my kitchen I got no firewood
And I got no money to buy the firewood

For these two litres of kerosene
The local dealer has intervened
Before we come to fetch the oil on Monday
We have to fill up a form on Saturday
If it runs out of stock
We have to come on the 5th, next month, another Saturday
And we have to fill up the form again
And on Monday, the 7th
Before 7 o’clock
We can get the kerosene, he says,
I have considered doing away completely with this deal
But here the kerosene a litre is only eight rupees
In Gouransing’s shop it is ten.

PS: The government of India has a grand scheme of food security system called the Public Distribution System, or simply PDS for the poor and the marginalised. The Union Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution ( and the state (provincial) governments handle the management of subsidised food and non-food items that mostly include wheat, rice, sugar and kerosene. The government-owned Food Corporation of India maintains the PDS while local dealers, through public distribution shops or ration shops, deal in the direct distribution of these items. The entire system offers an ideal case study for corruption.

No Time
Matam Leite (Wakchinggi Kabita, 1999)

i got to make haste
i got no time to waste
i had left home in a hurry

now i got to return quickly
my home might disappear before i reach there
my wife, my children—my family might disappear

my whole village might disappear,
become just like an unclaimed incinerated cadaver
    they might as well be there
    my folks &
    my family

this little amount of rice am i carrying
i want to feed my children
and am i making haste
i got to rush & race against myself
i got to reach home soon

but did you hear any gunshots?
did you listen to any wailing?
did you see any lifeless body—taken away?

i got no time & i’m leaving for the day
i got no time at all

On the Last Day of the Earth in Imphal
Imphalda Prithivigi Aroiba Numitta (Khul Amagi Wari, 1985)

As earnestly we expected
This time is 100%ly sure; it is the end of the world
Let’s chant the text from the scripture
Let’s chant the text.

An Earth there will never ever be
Again there will never ever be, very soon
All the truth and all the reality and all the beauty
—All will be gone
All the artificial wonders and all the natural wonders,
Time is impartial and are we going to lose them all,
All the beautiful brooks and rivers and forests and lakes and flowers
All the beautiful cities and buildings and houses and the Taj Mahal
Every Shakespeare’s magical works, every Kalidas’ masterpieces;
Oh, it has been all futile and it is all nada and it is all going to end
Useless are those books and so are religion and truth and peace
Knowledge and science and Buddha and thoughts
All will be one and all the truth and all the falsehood will be gone
Purity and impurity and beauty and ugly
The world will be gone tomorrow.

My house, my drawing room
My sofa, my dining table
My terrace corridor, my garden
My lockers, refrigerators, stainless steel utensils
My bronze from Tanjore;

My Japanese camera, my bank balance
My wife, my kid, my son Tomba though he did nothing
My wife, my kid, my money, my bank balance

Just as the Japanese bombed and destroyed Imphal
Just as the fire that engulfed Imphal
Some people fled and some people, the rich people, did stay on.

Now the inmates are vandalising the prison
Stronger are the people who can destroy the Khwairamband Market
A matter of do-or-die it is and why would I be afraid?

In black the smoke moves up from government offices
In the fire are the piles of cash books and registers and ledgers
The cashiers and the clerks has had a happy life
Only the stupid people are fooled and the poor become only poorer
And some people they flee from the engulfing smoke
And the others they fleece and last out, never contented.

Some people did not flee in the Seven Years’ Devastation!
Some people did not flee in the Japanese onslaught!
Now some people are not running away.

On this last day of the Earth!
The timid mortals put their shutter down and hide
The brave brethrens scamper for their lives in all direction
Everybody was in a whirlpool of motion
And the elected representatives appropriate the lands and shops,
The election losers run around and borrow from everybody
And they take grants and they take loans,
The scholars arrive with the big bags of books,
The poor snatch and loot and rob,
Hither and thither the people are running
Conscious of nothing, unconscious of their bare bodies
The people have nothing to do with each other
They don’t see each other; they’re not ashamed in front of each other,
The old man who has been running amok
A passing vehicle has ran him over
The shopkeepers laugh and enjoy the spectacle,
Four men assault a girl
The girl has been humiliated in front of everybody
There no one is, alas, to save her;
From north to south and south to north

From the east to the west;
The sun is setting soon—all we have is this one day
Let’s chant the text from the scripture
Let’s chant the text.

Ising (Wakching-gi Kabita, 1999)

all the experts gathered
all the superiors, all the masters
but from the pipeline the water ran not, never

the experts exchanged ideas
the superiors talk’d over
but never the water ran

then in a flash of light the lady arrived
she looked like the wife of a master or an expert
‘why should not the water flow
it can never stop’ that she shouted
it will surely be streaming in and she left
then pitter-patter, gushed forth the water

Everybody’s Crazy in My Family
Ngaodaba Yaode Kanamatasu Eikhoigi Eemungda (Wakching-gi Kabita, 1999)

Everybody’s crazy in my family
Crazy about tea, my first uncle is crazy about tea
The morning tea, afternoon tea and evening tea

About the cigarette my aunt
My boy, my cigarette, get my cigarette
And the thirty-three crores of god present themselves
Before her eyes my aunt says when she takes one hard puff

Bollywood songs are one thing my brother’s brainsick about
There is no song he knows not, no tune he hums not
No matter it is morning, afternoon or evening
No summer, no winter
No rainy days have passed without his songs

My second uncle is lost in chanting the verses from the Gita
Seldom does he stop but carry on the incantation
But does he stop while he preach
Gandhi’s work, Bhave’s thoughts
Tilak and all their ilk
If it is in Sanskrit it is the truth
Stooping shoulder, scrunching eyebrows really he minds his business

My brother-in-law Kulachandra is mad about elections
The general elections, the assembly elections
The municipality elections
The public distribution system in the province
The allocation of kerosene and sugar in the locality

Yaima, my saner brother-in-law is crazy about money
Sleepless nights he spends counting his money
Keeping accounts of his daily groceries
Keeping accounts of his trade
Never he stops blabbing about selling fields
Other dealing and mortgages paying off
Cash handling, borrowing, lending

In Krishna my grandfather Krishnadas is committed full-time
Ever he throw himself down at the god’s feet
Cry, in some epiphany, proffering, praying
Everything’s is in the name of the lord for him

And amongst all of us it is my brother,
He hears not, the mortal saying nor the divine talking
But only in the wisdom of science and history is he occupied
And I,
They say we are the craziest.    

PS: A sigh of relief. Today is the 90th birthday of Allen Ginsberg.



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