Nongmaithem Tombi Singh's contribution to the making of Hijam Anganghal a Mahakavi
- Part 1 -

Surjitkumar Loitam *

 Prof. Nongmaithem Tombi Singh
Prof. Nongmaithem Tombi Singh

Mahakavi Anganghal has been lifted today to a lofty position and honored and worshipped by every one of us by bowing down our heads, but he was not regarded as so before 1992 CE. It only came to happen so after 50 years of his death when in 1992 a State-Level Mahakavi Hijam Anganghal Centenary Celebration Committee was formed to commemorate his 100th birthday giving him the title of Mahakavi with widespread functions and programs being organized throughout Manipur under the aegis of the Manipur Government and the Indian Government.

An attempt to reveal Anganghal as a great poet

Ever since 1967 Oja Nongmaithem Tombi, as he began his career as a teacher of Manipuri at Imphal College, invested time and energy in the in-depth study of the pioneers of modern Manipuri literature, and started tracing them, especially those of Chaoba, Kamal, and Anganhal. One thing he did was to investigate the grounds why Chaoba and Kamal were considered more prominent than Anganghal by the then critics.

Eventually, he could discover that Hijam Anganghal who had made gifts of many valuable books like Khamba Thoibee Sheireng, Singngel Indu, Jahera, Yaithing Konu, Thambal, Ibemma, Poktabi deserved to be honored with a lofty position in Manipuri literature and started seeking ways and means for proclaiming it publicly. He then introduced the matter to his circle of friends.

In the year 1978, he along with Konjengbam Hemchandra, the secretary of the Naharol Sahitya Premi Samiti, which was founded with his major role, organized a State-level symposium at the State Museum at Imphal on Anganghal's Life and Works.

He himself gave the keynote address and six distinguished scholars- Rajkumar Jhalajit, Thangga Mangoljao, Sairem Nilbir, Phurailatpam Iboyaima Sharma, Shijagurumayum Nilbir Shastri, and Joychandra read out papers. On that occasion which was organized seriously and ardently, he was infuriated at the absence of a participant-to-be. Furthermore, he even wrote a letter asking the scholar the reason for abstaining from presenting his paper.

He used harsh words saying that he would file a case in Court for not keeping his word and would summon him to the Court. He didn't remain sluggish in the attempt of making Anganghal the supreme writer of the Manipuri Nation even after successfully organizing the function.

He spent almost all his time pondering over the logistics for showcasing the hidden dignities of Anganghal to every nook and cranny of this land. Over and above this, in his leisure time, he incessantly visited the less-known erudite people who were adorned with many qualities of his choices and collected their biographies.

While doing such multifaceted activities, he could start building up the visage of Anganghal by writing sporadic critical articles. In one essay titled Manipuri Theatre gi Yaonda Anganghalgi Khudol (Anganghal's Contribution to the Evolution of Manipuri Theatre) of his first book, Manipuri Sahityada Anouba Mityeng Ama (A New Insight into the Manipuri Literature) published in 1985, it reads as follows:

Anganghaldi kavini.
Meitei langgi fijet settuna punsi lomkhiba...
kavi Anganghalgi punsidi kavita kavi oiba punsini.
Adubu angakpadi madi sinfam sui.
Sahityagi maru oiba hiram loina khut tharamba aibadi mahak matomtani.
Masimakna magi matamgi khutmaba aibasingdagi thoidok hendokpa magun ama oiri.

Anganghal was a poet to the core. His life was the life of a very poet that ended up wearing only the attires made out of the Meitei Lang. But surprisingly he was multi-dimensional. He was the only author who could write in all major genres of literature. This made him a distinguished writer with a special trait among his contemporary pioneer writers. (pp 202)

He believed that only intermittent speeches made on sporadic public platforms wouldn't do much good in making Anganghal known well extensively. He adopted initiatives of writing in newspapers and journals to enable the masses to read thinking that it would be a better alternative that would help elevate the dignity of Anganghal.

In 1992 when it came nearer to the 100th birth anniversary of the poet, Oja Tombi began to work to the utmost of his caliber. By this time The Manipuri Sahitya Parishad, The Cultural Forum, The Naharol Sahitya Premi Samiti, and many other organizations began to converge on a synergic conversation for the observance of the birth centenary.

This led to the formation of the 'Hijam Anganghal Centenary Celebration Committee, Manipur', and started seeking financial help from the Government of India and many places in Manipur. The committee received profuse financial assistance from the public too.

In a special meeting of the Committee convened before the function, it was proposed and discussed an agenda to bestow a title on Anganghal on his 100th birth anniversary. When the lengthy discussion failed to arrive at any consensus, Oja Tombi, taking the long-awaited advantage, stood up abruptly and put forward the proposal of bestowing the title of "Mahakavi" to Anganghal and explained the grounds deserved for the title. By then Oja Elangbam Nilakanta retorted, "Tombi, will everybody just accede to whatever you say ?" RK Jhalajit too reacted, "What about if it declines after awarding him the title ?"

Thus they got into a heated argument on the matter of bestowing Mahakavi to Anganghal and then Oja Tombi, unable to sit any longer, walked out before closing the meeting, saying, "You all please stay back; for me, I have bestowed Anganghal the title of Mahakavi and I think there is no flaw in it."

Consequent to that, prior to the Centenary Celebration, on 28 July 1992 in the newspaper of Poknafam he challengingly published an article with the caption, "We have received the one and only one Mahakavi of ours."

The key role played by him in proclaiming Anganghal as the only one and precious Mahakavi of this land was vividly described in two articles written by Aribam Chiteshwar Sharma and Sharatchand Thiyam.

It was profusely reiterated in those articles that in the meeting when a bitter argument erupted among the senior members of Manipuri Sahitya over the point of whether Nongmaithem Tombi had the right to bestow the title of Mahakavi or not, Oja Tombi firmly stood up and affirmed that the title should be awarded. Pabung Hijam Romoni, the son of the Mahakavi, whom I had long associated with, also told me time and again that there was an immense role of Nongmaithem Tombi in bestowing the title of Mahakavi.

At length, the title of Mahakavi was awarded to Anganghal as the oldsters of the then Manipuri literary circle came to a consensus after a prolonged and detailed discussion.

Thereafter the Mahakavi Hijam Anganghal Centenary Committee adopted a resolution to organize a yearlong celebration and thus the Centenary Celebration of the Mahakavi was inaugurated on 28 July 1992 at Rup Mahal Theatre by GC Tongbra and continued till 28 July 1993.

Functions were held extensively throughout Manipur and Oja Tombi also took part and delivered speeches in them on the Mahakavi. He spoke well about the Mahakavi in a function held at Shamurou, the birthplace of Anganghal, jointly organized by Centeneray Celebration Committee and Mayai Lambi Integrated Development Organisation.

When he came for the function, he joined the coterie of enthusiasts who had planned to confab with one Salam Ibohal Singh, a living erstwhile student of Anganghal residing at Shamurou Market, now an oldie whom Hijam Anganghal once tutored, to explore a new facet. From that oldie, it was possible to collect many stories of Mahakavi Anganghal's early days. Oja Tombi could discover from the interview that Anganghal was a very versatile man.

To be continued....

* Surjitkumar Loitam wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on February 28 2023.

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