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Khamba Thoibi and Poems on Manipur :: Book Review

James Oinam *

Khamba Thoibi and Poems on Manipur : Book by Vimala Rain
Khamba Thoibi and Poems on Manipur : Book by Vimala Rain



Khamba Thoibi and Poems on Manipur
Author: Vimala Raina
No. of Pages: 102

The book is in public domain and can be downloaded from Librivox archive (https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.460207).

The book under review was written by the author after a ballet of Khamba-Thoibi directed by her was received with much acclaim.

The book has two main sections. The love story of Khamba and Thoibi written in poetry forms the first section. Most of the poems in this section follow a simple a, a, b, b rhyme pattern with few a, b, a, b pattern thrown in.

The following passage from the book depicting the first encounter between Princess Thoibi and Khamnu, elder sister of Khamba, depicts this admirably:
Her young heart thrilled with the market place
She moved with happy radiance on her face
When suddenly she heard a cry and saw her fall
A maid fair, lovely, slender and tall
Carrying a heavy burden of dry wood
Pushed by some uncouth youth who stood
Staggering unbalanced with too much drink
So Thoibi was touched when she saw her sink


Clearly this is one of the versions of the well-known mythology as the author has herself admitted towards the beginning of the book that due oral transmission from the time of Chingkhu Telheiba, the king of Moirang kingdom, there are many versions of the love story of Khamba and Thoibi.

The author has borrowed heavily from Hindu folklores/mythologies. After being orphaned, Feiroijamba does not recognize Khamnu because of a curse much like Shakuntala was forgotten. In two places, at least, we find Khamba plays flute and lures the heart of Thoibi, quite akin to Krishna who lures his love with his flute.

The picture of Khamnu setting free their domestic bull to wilderness as they were unable feed him is particularly poignant. The author creates such touching scenes throughout the story.

To accept wrestling challenge thrown by Nongban, Khamba had to be knighted by the Yuvraj with a sword as Nongban considered it below his dignity to fight a commoner. This seems a flight of imagination just like the description of waves of the Loktak crashing against the rocks. I doubt it was a historically accurate practice among nobility of that time. But we might call these artistic licence.

Much of the harsh storylines have been softened up. Thoibi is not sold as slave but given to Burmese king to take care of. The capture of the bull who had grown wild is beautiful. In the present version of the story, Khamnu calls out to the bull to stop him from mowing down Khamba. Only then the bull remembers his owners. We find many poetic justice here and here. Khamba asks to spare the life of the bull on one hand, and on the other, Nongban after getting mortally injured by a tiger asks for forgiveness from Khamba for his jealousy over Princess Thoibi.

Above all, the elephant set upon Khamba by the Yuvraj and Nongban does not trample him to death as the elephant was raised by the same Naga chief who took Khamba and Khamnu into his care when they lost both their parents.

From all this we get a much mellowed version of the great mythology - that is until the end when Princess Thoibi kills her beloved husband Khamba because of a mistaken identity when Khamba played a prank on her. She stabs herself with the same knife that killed Khamba in remorse.

The second section of the book has five poems written by the author on Manipur: Manipur, The Tribal Wench, Ladies Market, On the Way to Tamenglong and To a Naga Wood Seller. The poems dwell on the idyllic but tough lives of people of Manipur.

Following stanza from the poem To a Naga Wood Seller highlights the essence of the poems:
'Will you buy my burden!' asked the maid
'The price is cheap and fair
It darkens my smile, but it shines my pride
As I straighten my back from care.'


This later section seems to depict the culture of the hill tribes of Manipur more accurately than the culture of the plains people, compared to the first section. The author even mentions the name of a Naga god Laggong. It is a good novel written in poetry.


* James Oinam wrote this article for e-pao.net
The writer can be contacted at jamesoinam(AT)gmail(DOT0com
This article was webcasted on November 22, 2017.



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