E-Pao! Features - Irabot the poet of the working class

Irabot the poet of the working class
By Oinam Anand *

When the present generation of Manipur looks back in the history of Manipur during the colonial periods of the British they have found a man who had sacrificed all of his life for his people, who had denounced his post of profit, who had surrendered the feudal privileges due to him for being a son-in-law of the Royal palace and had thought it fit to prefer to struggle for the masses.

And, today the people of Manipur join hands in celebrating the birth anniversary of this man which falls on the 30th Sept. He was none other than, Hijam Irabot (Irawat) whom people fondly call 'Jananeta Irabot'.

Irabot was born on Wednesday, the 30th September, 1896 at Pishum Oinam Leikai, Imphal. His father had died while he was in the cradle and his mother also died while he was still very young. He was brought up by his paternal aunt.

He was a man of multifaceted personality and to know him fully needs an exhaustive research (which is still going on) and needs a larger space. But one established fact is that he was a pioneer modern Manipuri poet in modern Manipuri literature. He had awakened the peasants, the downtrodden and specially the weaker section of the society of his land through his pen.

While he was actively involved in the struggle for the masses in the transitory period of Monarchy, colonialism and later the merger with India, his poems were taken mostly as political slogans.

But when his collection of poems 'Imagi Puja' which he had written while in Shylhet jail was published in 1987, he had also become a contender of the seat of the pioneer or the father of modern Manipuri poets, the seat which was already adorned to E Nilakanta and he was also regarded as a pioneer in Modern Mani-puri literature today.

He had done much in the field of literature. He had edited the first Mani-puri Journal 'Meitei Chanu' in 1922. He was the founder General Secretary of Manipuri Sahitya Parishad. At the same time he was also a founder member of Manipur Dramatic Union and was an actor himself.

In sports, he took great interest in hockey, football and cricket. He was also a founder member of the Imphal Town Club a premier sports club during that time. He was a good player of tennis and badminton also.

The span of his literary career extended from 1922 to 1947. During this period he wrote Lokmanya Tilak (Biography), Seidam Seireng, Imagi Pujah (Poetry) Jaymati (Drama) and Krishnakanta's will (translation).

He was also a lyricist. He wrote many lyrical poems but failed to compile in an organised volume. Most of his songs were meant for chorus singing and aimed at arousing the drowsy minds of the people at that time.

Irabot's poetic philosophy is humanism, love of mankind. His poetry is for all the downtrodden. His foundation of creativity was from the crude facts of life. He had awakened the masses who were kept like captives under the colonial rule of the British.

His works belonged to the generation which grew in the difficult years of a transitional period while Manipur lost independence to colonial regime of British and achieved maturity in the post world war period of Manipur.

Irabot's poems as already mentioned were specially written for the working class people, for those who had their roots in the vast stretch of paddy fields but did not own even an inch of land for themselves. His poems were for those bonded labourers, for those ploughman who tiled their land and sowed seeds but the harvest was for others.

Sharpen thy scythe,
O! ploughman/
The time of harvest has come/
Sharpen they Scythe, O! plough man.
(Thangol ado maya thanglo thouna...)

This song penned by Irabot had kindled the minds of many working class people in the post war period in Manipur.

With this dream he went on even to dream of a classless society where peasants would be free from bonded labour.

Let us go, brethren/
And make a land of the ploughmen/
(chatlo chatsi eechin eenaosa Loumee gi leibak semlusi).

These songs were the songs that had carried a message to raise the heads of the downtrodden. In the agitation of the women against the artificial famine which was record as 'Nupi Laan' in the history of Manipur Irabot paid tribute to the brave women of Manipur in his famous lines.

This night has spent/
Another day has gone/
Do your hair up Devi/
One Dec 12 has gone/
Another Dec 12 has come
(Ngasi Ahing Lelle/
Numit ama chatkhru/
Sham punsilu Devi/
December 12 Ama houkhere/
December 12 ama lakle)

Though the poems of Irabot is not complete for everything, his poems are guides to action.

To know the total Irabot one need a long journey of research of his works, his times but a truth here is that so long as there is inequality, so long as there is exploitation, so long as there is hunger/ Irabot will never die and so his poems will get its due place in Manipuri literature.

* Oinam Anand is a regular columnist for The Sangai Express and commands quite a fan following at Imphal.
He contributes regularly to
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This article was webcasted on 25 September 2005.

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