Nongmaithem Tombi Singh's contribution to the making of Hijam Anganghal a Mahakavi
- Part 3 -

Surjitkumar Loitam *

 Prof. Nongmaithem Tombi Singh
Prof. Nongmaithem Tombi Singh

It was just a hint of what he did every day incessantly. If it was a holiday or a Sunday, he would go to Romani's house in the morning too to make some progress on the work. And at other times he, along with the members of the committee, would go to the Sharma Arts and Crafts at Khongman Mangjin to inspect the progress of the statue that was being carved out there.

For that period of nearly three months, he used all his energy and wisdom wonderfully at his utmost. Without showing any sign of fatigue, he worked hard so that failure shouldn't be met. Thus came the journey and on 21 March 2004, a bronze statue of the Mahakavi could be erected in front of the Library Building at Manipur University. Oja Tombi gave the welcome address at the statue unveiling ceremony.

Persuasion to reprint the out-of-print Khamba Thoibee Sheireng

It had been nearly 18 years since Mahakavi Anganghal's Khamba Thoibee Sheireng went out of print after the bumper sale of the second edition in 1986 and ardent readers have been searching for a copy for a long time.

He felt sorry for those readers who missed reading this valuable epic because of unavailability at the market and so frequently persuaded Hijam Romani, the Mahakavi's son, to reprint the book and make it available to the public. Romanai accepted it and made arrangements for a new edition of the epic. Oja Tombi took the responsibility of proof reading. He also wrote the summary of the book on the flap as requested by Romani.

Mahakavi Anganghal's Khamba Thoibee Sheireng is an epic epitomizing the treasure of the heart of the Manipuri race. In this epic where all the characteristics and traits of the world-famous epics are embodied; the collective aspirations of the Manipuri Nation, customs, beliefs, valor, and the sublime perspective of life, idealism, and policy insight are all vividly expressed.

This epic, like the never drying spring in Manipuri literature and other art forms, is giving inspiration of the heart and . . .also is the hankering of the rich treasure trove.

Oja Tombi generously conceded the request of the Mahakavi's son not to include his name as the writer of the above summary to keep it pure and pristine as if it was only of the Mahakavi. As a result of his altruistic succor and intense persuasion, the third edition of the Khamba Thoibee Sheireng was brought out in 2005 and made the book available to the masses of this land.

There is no reason to nullify the fact that Oja Tombi did contribute much to the promulgation of Hijam Anganghal as a great writer, and a venerated bard. Poet Laishram Samarendra also made a mention of Oja Tombi in one of his articles that was left unpublished—"Nongmaithem Tombi is an ardent lover of Mahakavi Anganghal."

Today because of Oja Tombi's relentless and manly exposition of the truth, Mahakavi Anganghal has been regarded as the Mahakavi not only of Manipur but also of the whole of North East India.

The journey of those who worked for Anganghal before Nongmaithem Tombi

It has been from many years ago that right from Kavi Chaoba, the local literary persons and not only the family members, but the nonlocal distinguished persons also started tracing the footprints of Anganghal. Kavi Chaoba, a contemporary companion of Anganghal, in one of his articles, described Anganghal-"Anganghal was an assiduous man and a precious bard."

In 1947, when Dr. Sunitikumar Chetterji, the then president of the Sahitya Akademi visited Manipur, Romani, the son of the Mahakavi showed the manuscript of the Khamba Thoibee Sheireng.

Being amazed at that he said, 'It would appear that the late Anganghal Singh (I speak to correct not knowing Manipuri myself) is the greatest writer Manipur had so far produced.. . . . . the great poem running up to over 39,000 lines (It runs 1,300 pages with 30 lines in each page) embodies the most beautiful romantic story of Khamba and Thoibee which this eastern frontier of India has produced.'

The family as well made the effort to extol Anganghal publicly as he wrote many priceless books for this land. Even Rajkumari Sanajaobi, the daughter-in-law of the Mahakavi, sold out her jewelry for the publication of the manuscripts that were left behind by Anganghal. When they faced a shortage of funds, Romani's two friends, Tongbram Mani and Laishram Thanil helped them tremendously.

Thus very arduously Anganghal's books were made available to the public. As the books were made available, the ways for tracing the footprints and exploring the identity of Anganghal also began to open. Anganghal who was only for the coterie of erudite scholars of the Imphal area had now become gradually, by dint of these books, for the whole of Manipur.

Romani, the Mahakavi's son, and Meitram Bir pioneered in adapting some episodes of the Khamba Thoibee Sheireng for staging as Khamba Thoibee and another Yaithing Konu at Rupmahal Theatre and began producing frequent shows.

The then stalwarts, on behalf of Manipuri literature, like Rajkumar Shitaljit, Ashangbam Minaketan, Elangbam Nilakanta, Takhellambam Thoibi Devi, Hijam Guna, Leimapokpam Damodar, Chongtham Manihar, IR Babu, Elangbam Dinamani, etc. after having read Anganghal's books, began to produce their personal reviews and perspectives one after another as measures to popularize the blaze of glory of Anganghal and his books to the then masses.

These steps proved to be an effective way to unveil Anganghal. Elangbam Dinamani published his own three books attempting to establish Anganghal by making exegeses on his works.

Thus, the intellectuals of this land, since early times, including the family members, had been supportively working for Anganghal. But Oja Tombi's contribution was an integral part of the efforts to make Anganghal enduringly and extensively popular.

He worked for more than fifty years to popularize Anganghal and still endeavoring to spread Anganghal's glory worldwide. With a long-term perspective, he has been developing, based on the documents, a new visage of Anganghal.

As a Luminary person to impel for the translation of Khamba Thoibee Sheireng into English

Oja Tombi who had been working for a long time to promote Mahakavi Angang-hal did not cease to think of accomplishing subsequent pursuits for the Mahakavi. He hankered after translating the Khamba Thoibee Sheireng, the very sparse one of its kind in North East India, into English, which would be an arduous task for him.

He strongly believed that if the task could be accomplished, it would be more evident that Manipur has been established by art and culture, and sports. So, on many occasions, if the situation permitted, he would mention the pending job of translating the epic. Whenever he happened to chat with his coterie of friends and acquaintances at the college or university, he would propose the matter.

He would rather inspire mainly the teachers who were doing literature and well versed in English. Despite his persuasions, a long time had passed without yielding any fruit. But he didn't lose hope that one day someone plucky son of Mother Manipur would take up the task.

Fortunately, the Sahitya Akademi New Delhi, entrusted the work of translating Hijam Angang-hal's Khamba Thoibee Sheireng into English to Prof. Naorem Khagendra in 2013 as a special project. Prof. Khagendra, without letting the opportunity lose, took up the task promptly right after the consent letter was submitted.

Prof. Khagendra, because of his advanced age, conceived the idea of taking help from someone whom he could approach thinking that if he single-handedly attempted the task, it could remain incomplete or a fiasco. So he sought help from Jodhachandra Sanasam. As it was a good task, Jodhachandra Sanasam also instantly consented.

To be continued....

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

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