Poetics Of Violence In The Poetry Of Manipuri Women Authors
Of Male Aggression And Suppressed Voices
- Part 3 -

Linthoingambi Thangjam *

Sanjenbam Bhanumati, in her poem 'The Old to The New'/ 'Who is so Gallant' (translated by Ng. Iboton Singh), is an address from the Old Year to the New Year. Old Year states that she had been longing for New Year to come, as her end is here [Indira, ed., 2007: 55].

Laugh and enjoy for all the world is yours now,
While I mourn and weep
For all those lapses,
For the tall trees that cracked and fell in fearsome gales,
For those precious lives that sank in despair.

A new year is suggestive of the idea of new beginnings, of a change for something better. People look forward in hope for a change when they are not completely content with the old state. Old Year laments over everything that has happened throughout the year- the condition of life in the state of Manipur amidst strikes, protests, bandhs, blockades, disputes and untold deaths every day. And after each year, that continues just the same with no significant change, but still as a New Year sets in, Old Year wishes for 'new hopes and fruition.'

In 'Androgi Mei'/ 'The Fire of Andro', Arambam Ongbi Memchoubi remembers the historical episode of the hanging of the two freedom fighters of Manipur, Thangal General and Yuvraj Tikendrajit, after Manipur lost her independence to the British at the Anglo Manipuri War of 1891 [Memchoubi and Chanu, ed. 2003: 150].

But their mourners are a crowd of Meitei women standing all clad in white. And although they stand in silence, they are filled with rage which the poet compares to as a 'volcano inside'. This leads us to the episode of the two Women's Wars of 1904 and 1939, when the Meitei women came out to fight against the British forces.

The poet/ speaker call out to the Meitei women, who have been holding in their rage and discontent in their 'wombs' to come out and fight. Here, Memchoubi uses the myth of the undying 'fire of Andro'3 which she compares to the rage and discontent of the Meitei women that have been kept repressed for so long.

Erupt now oh, you
That's been holed up for many years
In the wombs of the Meitei women
The sleeping volcano within.
The sleeping volcano within.

Longjam Chanu Kunjarani her poem, 'Hugi Tenjei'/ 'Poison Tipped Arrow', lends a strong message to 'release' women so that they can come out of their domestic space to fight for justice [Ibid., 170]. Manipuri women have been for long confined to the household, imprisoned by the strong traditional conventions set by the Manipuri society.

Seeing their men standing weak and passive to 'the hunters right in front of you/ With the poison tipped arrows in their hands', referring the the state actors and the insurgents, the Meitei women calls out to their men to debar all their restrictions, and set them free. As in Memchoubi's poem, 'The Fire of Andro', The bottled-up rage and discontent that wants to be set free, is echoed in this poem as well.

Release me, let me go to the house of justice
To determine the right from the wrong.
What? why do you say I can't step out
Beyond your coloured curtains?

Irom Sharmila, civil rights activist and poet, who went on a hunger strike for 16 years straight (from 2nd November 2000 till 9th August 2016), against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, 1958, In the foreword to her poem 'Birth' [Vaid, 2013: 91], translated into the English by Tayenjam Bijoykumar Singh, Deepti Mehrotra writes of Sharmila: 'She is trapped in a web of deceit and hypocrisy, her fate sealed by violence and militarism.' [Ibid., 88]

Sharmila's menstrual cycles have also stopped, which signifies that she has stopped being a woman. She stands for all-men and women, equally affected by violence. In her long poem that runs in 1000 words, Sharmila touches on various subjects of power, greed, revenge, remorse, vanity, the indolent man and the diligent man, etc. The poem basically portrays the social and political scenario in the state.

'...Of the lost son, of the killed husbands,
The hard earned money of the widows is tainted with remorse
Because of the urge to take revenge for the unwarranted sufferings...'
[Ibid., 98]

As David Brion Davis, in his article 'Violence in American Literature' had observed that, 'literary treatments of violence have reflected certain historical conditions and circumstances' [Davis, March 1966: 28-36]. The condition of Manipuri society and women is also reflected in Manipuri literature.

In the selected poems of some of the Manipuri women authors that we have discussed, we can see how they have responded to violence of various forms prevalent in the state. While the pioneer poets like Anandini wrote in a less commanding voice, the poets of the later generation that followed like Borkanya, Angom Sarita, Bhanumati, Y. Indira, Memchoubi, etc. starting voicing on immediate issues of violence, human rights issues, causes and effects of the freedom struggle, militarisation of Manipur, AFSPA, etc. apart from their protest against the subjugation of women.


* Linthoingambi Thangjam wrote this paper which was published at Imphal Times
This article was webcasted on January 22, 2019.

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