Some cairns from the way: An artist's retake
- Part 2 -

Aribam Syam Sharma *

9th Dr Thingnam Kishan Memorial Lecture at Imphal Public Library, Urpok Sorboan Thingel :: 28 June 2018
9th Dr Thingnam Kishan Memorial Lecture at Urpok Sorboan Thingel on 28 June 2018 :: Pix - Shankar Khangembam

(Text of the 9th Dr Thingnam Kishan Singh Memorial Lecture on on 28 June 2018 )

I have had trainings in music. Though I cannot claim an institutional training in film-making, I had been 'trained' through serious involvements. And I make it a point to re-iterate that there has to be 'training', apprenticeship in the craft aspect of the arts. Intention is not enough.

This is underlined by a negative appraisal of a performance as "Radha Keina Chahoure Hairabhou Mittagi Pi Tadehe!" For a devout vaishnav, the very mention of "Radhe" evokes spiritual emotions. If the singing that Radha is being eaten by a tiger fails to even water our eyes then something has gone wrong with the artistic effort. The saying, though from a particular context, has a larger bearing. And that is, how you say is as important as what you say.

That is one reading. Another reading is to identify emotive response as the parameter of success. That it cannot be the sole parameter comes from an observation that all of us here can relate. I have heard many times a movie or a lila, drama etc. recommended with the justification yam kappani, 'there was lot of crying'.

Whether the crying was done by the audience or the actors, or both has to be decided. While deciding, one can keep in mind the amount of crying in dramas on radio, films on cable T.V. etc. I asked myself whether we are a nation of cry babies. I believed otherwise.

This crying business could also have come from another direction i.e., from a mistaken sense of realism, the idea that art has to reflect the real. During my involvement with theatre, I learnt one very simple but important lesson – never put a real tree on stage to represent a real tree.

We have faced destructive forces from within and without with a different kind of cry, the cry of challenge. When we are angry, really angry, our eyes don't flare, they squint. In the stereotyping of crows in a game that we played as children, we identified ourselves with the not so loud crows.

The meitei kwak is a silent one, perched on the bamboo top not demanding too much attention, not creating too much fuss. However our times demand that we become discursive, we participate on talk shows, and of course …deliver lectures. We fear the rare crowing of meiteikwak. Yet, it is not bereft of rashi.

This word "rashi" might have been an import but the content that we have given to it places it in a different semantic field. If it is an import then originally it could have been something to do with the patterns of the stars and what they have in store for us. But we have given it such adistinctive meaning to the extent that it has become a unique aesthetic concept and category that cannot be translated successfully into any other language.

This reversal has happened in some other areas also. I now see that this ideal was working in some of my works too. When I want to be expansive, to be more detailed, to work on a large canvas something pulls me back. This has to be the ingrained sensibility of rashi. The works of some of the masters of Cinema are of epic proportions with fantastic visions drawn upon ever enlarging canvases. They work consciously to change the grammar of Cinema to claim a language.

My works and the works of the masters cannot be compared for that would miss the mark by quite a breadth.We say of a marksman that misses the mark as someone whose aim is not 'right' (makhutchumde). Our word for 'right' and 'truth' is the same. And our conception of beauty has within it the mark of what is right and true. This is what is captured in our aesthetic concept of machutaba. This is also revealed in our not so charitable appraisal of a work as "khadrakni da" or "khadrakmallida".

I am perceived as someone asking for opinions from each and everyone but at the end do what I wanted to do at the outset. As with perceptions, this can be a wrong one. I do not work in a vacuum. I ask for opinions because it gives me traction and footholds. Another trait that irritates others is that I change my mind at the last minute.

It's not a pleasure to irritate others but sometimes I do what I have to do on the realization of what is to be done, even if the realization of what is to be done comes a bit late. One of the most fruitful of my creative processes has been the discussions I had with none other than Sanaibemma Maharajkumari Binodini.

She had written of our discussions as a creative process resulting in an end which erases the authorship of the ideas that initiated the discussions. Discussions in our collaborative artistic process has been one of evolution and deliberated decisions at important junctures. These discussions, in the time of mangoes, ended with her giving a basketful of mangoes from her garden for my children. These would travel on the cane-basket on my cycle from Yaishkul to Thangmeiband.

In my life there are two women who were born princessesbut in my estimationmore than queens. Without Sanaibemma Manipur Matam Eshei, Theatre, Literature and Cinema might have been a different story. The other princess who is more than a queen to meis my Kakaibemma, Maharajkumari Phandengsana, daughter of Chandrakirti Maharaj.

Her compassion changed the course of the lives of a family and its descendants for the better. It's pretty sure that I won't have been here delivering this lecture if not for her.

Everytime I go to Nambol, I bow in obeisance to Lainingthou Khorifaba on the hills "between heaven and earth. And I am never tired of telling the storyof how he was separated from her mother. Whether one is mortal or divine, to be separated from one's parents is painful.

It must have been painful for Bhagyachandra to exile himself from the navel of the earth – Kangla. We believe that the land was submerged in water and we made the descent from the hills when the valley was drained of flood. Kangla was the area to dry first. There were floods during our times as was the case recently.

But the difference is that our time was when Naga was a turel(river) not a nala(drain). There was life in this river. Every monsoon we witnessed the migration of different fishto spawn the next generation – Ukabi, Pengba and others across the adjoining fields.

If we are a few lakhs of people now, we can imagine how many it would have been of our ancestors. Our ancestors who have handed down the Lai-Haraoba, the myths, the epics, the many Puyas on every imaginable subject written in a script incomparable, the Nat-Sankirtana, the Ras of Manipur must have been a few thousand heads.

Those few gave the world the sports of Polo, the Thang-Ta.

How was it possible for such a small population; how could they find the time and creative energy in between sowing, harvesting, fishing and going to war? Such spurts of genius happened in other parts of the world. It happened here too. That would be the only explanation. To sustain that genius is a challenge of extraordinary proportion.

For me, whose faculties have grown old, who now have difficulty in hearing the harvest songs carried from the Kabui community on clear winter dawns; for whom the bells of ShriShriGovindajee have been drowned; for whom the radio no longer air the remarkable Marifat, the feeling is that time has indeed changed.

With that comes the challenge of another era. We sang Anouba Jugki Anouba Asha in acceptance of the challenge thrown to us. That particular epoch is passing but what the song was about still remains. The present generation cannot afford not to sing it. The only freedom they have is that it is for them to sing that song in a register of their own choosing.


* Aribam Syam Sharma gave this speech at 9th Dr Thingnam Kishan Singh Memorial Lecture on on 28 June 2018 which was published at The Sangai Express
This article was posted on July 11, 2018.

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