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Sandrembi Cheishra: Book Review

James Oinam *

Sandrembi Cheishra - From Ksh. Subadani's book 'Illustrated Folktales of Manipur'
Sandrembi Cheishra - From Ksh. Subadani's book 'Illustrated Folktales of Manipur'



Author: Memchaubi
Year of Publication: October 1993
Publisher: Arambam Samarendra in association with Manipur State Kala Academy

In this book, the Manipuri folktale Sandrembi Cheishra is written in poems. The story of the half-sisters is pretty well known. Towards the beginning of the story, Sandrembi's mother who had turned into a tortoise after dying is being cook by her daughter at the command of Cheishra's mother. She dies bit by bit (referred to as drowning, water rising from feet to head).

Sandrembi, who is weak, is unable to stand up against her half-mother tries again and again, by putting out the fire, to save her mother from boiling to death but is reprimanded by the half-mother to boil the tortoise again and again. The author uses the same stanza, with minor modifications, to narrate this part. Reading this repetition made me realize that the story in many places teaches us the importance of patience and perseverance. The following portions of the story are about perseverance:

1. The king had to persevere to win Sandrembi. The first day he meets Sandrembi and Cheishra, he ask Sandrembi to give him some water to drink, but Sandrembi requests him drink from Cheishra. The king decides to remain thirsty rather than drink from Cheishra. Next time Sandrembi gives him water to drink.

2. After Sandrembi dies due to hot boiling water being poured upon her, she turns into a pigeon. She wants to turn back to human again to go back to her husband and child. She had to tell the king's servant again and again to inform the king about what has happened. After the pigeon is killed by Cheishra, she turns into a lemon fruit. This is also about perseverance.

But before Sandrembi grew into such persevering and strong person, as a child she is shown as impatient and weak. Also, she gets punished for her impatience:

Phathabinaba leitraba angangi thamoi
Lakpinanaba leitraba pukning shagol
Lotna chetna thamjaba
Phirup makhum hangdoklak-e
Lhirol marol taretmak
Mathang mathang tanik tanik
Haidoklak-e Sandrembi
Khangprekpu khang-e khanghaude
Thawai chekla anikhak
Matam oirakpa ngaijaramba
Thawai chekla anikhak
Ni-ngamdana laojarammi
Emagi ebemma emana taibangda
Amuk lang-onge khaurangababu
Oiraroi handak lang-onshigi
Nama eibu warauganu
Chatle chatle chatle


[ A child's heart with no one to control
Wishes running like wild horses with no one to reign them
That which was kept secretly
Wrapped in cloth
Folded and covered in seven layers
Sandrembi opens
Taken aback by suddenness
When two soul birds
Waiting for their time to come
Called out in despair
My dear daughter, my wish to be back in the world
Won't happen in this life time
Forgive me
Have to go, have to go, have to go
]

There is a small twist in this version of the story. When Sandrembi turns back to human, Cheishra, who is living in the palace disguised as Sandrembi, claims to be the real queen. Here the king uses his wisdom to find out the real queen. Two swords are offered to them to fight with—one sword looks old but is sharp and the other is shiny and new but its blade is blunt.

Cheishra, for whom only the looks mattered, takes the shiny but blunt sword. And thus Cheishra dies at the hands of Sandrembi. Interestingly, in many places, the king is also referred to as Lainingthou (literally god-king), a title used for a household deity Lainingthou Sanamahi.

In the version of story by Ksh. Subadani in the book Illustrated Folktales of Manipur, Cheishra takes a metal knife and Sandrembi takes a wooden knife to fight the duel. Here we can say it is due to Sandrembi's skill (and divine intervention?) that she is avenged.


* James Oinam wrote this article for e-pao.net
The writer can be contacted at jamesoinam(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was posted on May 17th, 2018.


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