Behind the serene melody: My short interaction with Penna Donna

Linthoi Chanu *

Within today's rising young Manipuri cultural crusaders, Penna Donna (Donna Ngairangbam) has successfully marked her own reputed spot as one of the most prolific young Penna musician. Age nineteen, she currently lives with her family in her Singjamei Oinam Thingel residence and pursuing her B.A degree (3rd Semester) and folk music (1st year) simultaneously.

As a musician, we all spot her performance with 'Rhythms of Manipur', sometimes, accompanying the band of energetic lady drummers. Her harmonious voice, lively tune of Penna and elegant appearance is always a fascination for many.

Yet, behind this young girl's radiant smile and congenial presentation, there were bitter sweet memories of ordeals which she shared for the first time over a faithful cup of tea with me. I am deeply honoured for her trust in me and also inspired by her resilience and determination in chasing her own dream despite all the odds thrown at her.

She narrated that her admiration for performing arts came to her at an early age of eight when she was recruited for a Drama Performance organised by NSD and SACH. An audition that her father took her just to try and getting the part as a child singer by default; she never expected it to be the beginning of an influencing journey ahead.

She recalls struggles for perfection during this initial stage, inexperienced but fixated with harvesting perfection. When asked if she have any regrets about her first performance, Donna gave a satisfied 'I tried my best' as an answer even though she admits she was as awful as any beginner can be.

Observing her strong zeal towards art and entertainment, was her father who immediately poured out all his effort to see her daughter strive further. But as a poor day labourer in a brick farm, Donna's father had next to nothing to begin with his expectations.

Looking for the most affordable way to provide a platform for his daughter, he admitted Donna to Bal Bhavan and she is still adoring her father for making such a resourceful decision towards her life. Perhaps to mention an incident as an example for her doting father, Donna recalled an accident where her father borrowed a bicycle to run errand for her many auditions.

Due to severe potholes on one of the streets, the bicycle broke into two and she and her father returned home holding apiece. Donna laughed at this recall even though it caused a huge family turmoil dueto shortage of money to pay back for the broken bicycle back then.

Donna joined the Bal Bhavan camp regularly and experienced exposures that would add her in her later years as a performer. In one of the summer camp, a renowned Penna musical by the name Ngasem Drugeshori came as one of their visiting instructor. Donna saw her first ever Penna performance in this class and was completely mesmerised by Drugeshori's skill in the instrument. She immediately begged her for more lessons and she happily agreed.

There began the fated encounter but Donna as an originally Drama student participated in several theatrical workshops and begged several awards while she went to Drugeshori's house to learn Penna in her spare hours.

Donna lovingly expressed her gratitude towards Drugeshori, whom she now called Ene Drugeshori out of their close acquaintance and mutual affection, for her altruistic nature. She didn't charge a single rupee for teaching her Penna and also provided her own instrument since Donna was not able to effort one at that time. To note, Ngasem Drugeshori herself was a struggling artist.

By the time she join eighth standard, she accompanied KMTR under Y. Sadananda (Director, KMTR) who came forward to support her through a theatrical career. It was during this period that her Ene Drugeshori suddenly became ill and was unable to teach her any longer.

However, as any ideal teacher would do, Drugeshori didn't let her inconvenience impair Donna's passion and directed her towards an institution called 'Laihui'. Shortly after, Drugeshori left for Delhi due to failure of both her kidneys.

In 'Laihui', Donna was exposed to the most sophisticating side of the profession of Penna Musicians and learned the art form's excellent groundwork. Her love for the instrument grew stronger than ever that she gradually sifted her attention from theatre to this sole art. She deeply appreciated the teaching of Oja Mangangsana in Laihui and his daughter Mangka (We already know this queen) who taught her folk song, since without them, she wouldn't have been exposed so deeply towards the cultural splendour of Penna music.

She also finally brought her own Penna, generously remuneratedby Honourable Speaker Shri Y. Khemchand as an encouragement (salute to this ever supportive gentleman).

The difficulty of pursuing her passion didn't come from her poverty as Donna expressed sadly. She did admit that there was time when she thought of giving up due to severe financial problems but with her ever supportive parents, she was always reassured. Instead, it was the harsh criticism for being persistent with passion. She talked of the stereotypical notion that our society have over artists and athletes that academic achievements is a far cry for them.

She said she used to get constant remark about wasting her time on Penna and that she made herself a wrong delusional choice. Sometimes, even threw School or Penna for a solitary choice. Anyway, Donna proved them all wrong by grabbing both.

Knowing that Penna Music would be her 'Ace', she devoted full energy to it and bagged CCRT scholarship under Oja Padmashree Khangembam Mangi. After her Laihui apprenticeship, she met Da Robert, a Pung Musician who introduced her to the institute of 'Rhythms of Manipur', where she took a clear professional stance. She later even went on to compose her own song (she didn't reveal it was her creation until recently due to sare timidness).

She did pass her high school exam with decent score and expanded her profession while maintaining college. When she met her Ene Drugeshori after two years in Delhi, the woman praised her with teary eyes after learning that she followed her footstep all the way. Donna seems to have many wishes to return more of all the love and support she gets from her many gurus and teachers.

And I believe she will, just a matter of time. My tea didn't taste so ordinary after all that I have it with Penna Donna.

* Linthoi Chanu wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is the Author of 'The Tales of Kanglei Throne' and can be contacted at Ln(DOT)potz(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was posted on 01 July , 2018 .

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