Grooming Young Tribal Artists with a Passion :: Part 3
Thaninleima's craving for a changed scenario in Manipuri theatre

B.C. Khuman *

Asang Eina Aton, a Tangkhul folk play
Asang Eina Aton, a Tangkhul folk play :: Pix - Enaomacha Salam (Hueiyen Lanpao)

Sorrinchon, a XII class pass, who is planning to continue her studies after a gape of some years, side by side her theatrical interest, has something interesting to relate. Her villagers always wondered how she could comfortably work amongst the valley people as the differences between the hills and the valleys of Manipur in the matters of religious belief, food habits and cultural practices are so conspicuous. To that dubious anticipation what is her reaction now?

Unpretentiously she says, "I feel at home at Eche's (Thaninleima's) family. I have had so far no uneasiness working on the premises of Khenjonglang. They all treat me with love and affection. We (the artists) are good friends on any account. We all live like a family during any workshop or any rehearsal session. In fact she is popular among her mates of both sexes as their beloved 'Sorin'.

Talking to Sorin and Keising Teon on the premises of Khenjonglang, I was happy to see before me a living example of the catalising force of culture in creating 'emotional integration' amongst different communities. So the writing on the wall is loud and clear : "Politics divides people; culture unites them', which is one of my favourite quotations.

Sorin's newly discovered belief in cultural activities as an efficacious tool of harmonizing communal disparities is readily shared by Keising Teon, a student of B.A. III Semester. This Maring girl from Sandangsenba Maringkhun of Nongmaiching hills also sees no, instances of communal differences so far having intruded as a stumbling block in the way of cordial relationship between the Meiteis and non-Meiteis while living under the same roof of Khenjonglang. There has always been mutual co-operation, trust and respect between one another within the precinct of their theatrical establishment. They live as happily as a single family does, she announces proudly.

Ruwngthung, the boy from Chandel, though senior in age, yet junior it theatre experiences to these girls, is all excited to have landed on a new world of creative energy that is the world of theatre, which is basically characterized by its composite art form. On being asked about his experience of working with the Meitei guys, he says that the binding force of culture is simply wonderful.

This articulate Anal youth, who is also a good socialiser, affirms unhesitatingly that the 45 day workshop brought the participants closer to each other emotionally by cutting across the social and cultural barriers, thereby paving the way to emotional integration. And I think emotional integration is the prerequisite of national integration, which is badly felt at present in the context of Manipur, the land of ethnic diversities.

Ruwngthung comments that when the participants of the workshop were taken not only to the complexes of Kalakshetra, Chorus Repertory Theatre, Manipur Dramatic Union and Rupmahal, but also to a state-level seminar at Kakching on the topic of contemporary Manipuri theatre, the objective of the organiser was to give them sufficient amount of exposure.

But the said tours were significant pointer for him as they truly revealed that the scholars, intellectuals and professionals of the advanced community (the Meiteis) were ever ready to help and guide the minorities in certain fields where the latter are far lagging behind, and this realisation deepened his gratitude towards the Meiteis for their genuine feeling of co-operation and guidance, he says.

This writer was overjoyed when he saw with his own eyes, to his pleasant surprise, a glaring example of the harmonizing effect of culture during a recent visit to Chandel town just to witness the harvest festival of the Anals, Moyons, Monsangs etc. known as 'Chavan Kumhrin'. A team of media persons and culture enthusiasts, under the initiative of director Thaninleima, went there in the hope of seeing some ritual items at this festival which they would love to record minutely. However this hope was not fulfilled.

But then on my personal account, the trip was a memorable one - a really precious one. Why so? Because I unexpectedly discovered a living truth there where we visited Ruwngthung's house. His family received us warmly, treated us to tea and biscuit, followed by steam-boiled maize as a mark of the ongoing harvest festival. The small, tin-roofed wooden house was reverberated with radiant smiles and joyful laughter of the receiving party and the received one.

Lo, what a surprise - among the hospitable members of the host family there were three other boys from the valley. Yes, on further scrutiny I recognised them. They were also participants in the last workshop. Before long I realized that the bond of friendship that had been created during the recent workshop had now developed upto this extent where the valley boys had been invited by Ruwngthung et al for a few days' visit to Chandel in connection with the great festival of the district.

The three Meitei boys had been there at Ruwngthung's residence as guests of the family since a few days ago, waiting eagerly for this day of the festival. Interestingly one of the boys would be participating in the traditional fashion show a crowd pulling slot of the festival. I found the three of them as exhilarated as the local youths under the shadow of festival fever.

There was something extraordinary about these theatre artists that is clearly visible in their adaptability in a culturally new environment. The kind of training they have got to respect other people's cultural traits have always stood them in good stead. This is a by-productive effect of cultural integration imbibed by the 45-day theatre workshop which may be outside the agenda of the sponsorer NSD, New Delhi. However this particular by-product is so much pertinent and effectual in the context of today's Manipur. Hats off to NSD with all sincerity for its commendable role in this prospect too.

Talking to Ruwngthung over a cup of tea and biscuit on the wooden veranda, I tried to measure out his receptiveness, enthusiasm and intellectual responses to the call of theatre. He happily acknowledged that the recent workshop had opened his eyes as to the potentials of theatre. He now understood that theatre is not only a powerful medium of addressing and critiquing socio-political issues of the society, but also a beautiful medium of propagating, popularising and preserving cultural identity of a community.

Today he starts thinking seriously to study and practically collect and document Anal folk songs, folk stories and folk musical instruments to know them better, to love them better and of course to use them better in more challenging perspectives. Now he has a wish that if they could ever host an NSD-sponsored workshop in Chandel, it would go a long way in enlightening the district intellectuals, elites and the youths of Chandel in the field of theatre and its educative role.

He says, reflecting upon the impact of the last workshop, that he wants to do something in the field of theatre, for which target he would certainly need the help and guidance from the advanced practitioners i.e. the Meiteis. If he would do that he shall be the pioneer among the Anals, Mayon and Monsangs etc., I was guessing.

But what about his parents' opinion to his choice. "They do support me. I have their blessings. That's very fortunate of me", he clarifies. His three siblings do not have any objection either, he adds with jubilation. At this moment I recalled what Thaninleima once told me the other day that she would manage to send some of the tribal artists to the NSD for formal training in theatre, provided they have talent and seriousness.

We had a photo session prior to our departure in the late afternoon. The small wooden veranda became alive with smile, jokes and laughter for few minute. The camera was ready. Yet Ruwngthung's mother would not allow a click before she is fully adorned with her necklace of traditional style - colourfully beautiful necklace, the mute but eloquent symbol of a proud heritage.

Warm handshakes between the guests from the valley and their hosts, the hill dwellers. And then waving good-bye to each other. Two younger sisters with angelic smiles, a shy boy of athletic built, a jovial mother and a generous father (government employee) - everybody was left behind at the quiet foot-hill on the bank of the Maha river. We steered our way through a jubilant crowd of old folks in festive mood, youngsters in high spirit. The loudspeaker from the nearby festival spot enhanced the festive mood even more.

Way back to Imphal, following the meandering roads flanked by greeneries all around, we were heading for the capital city carrying in our hearts sweet memories and above all a deep echo of humane feeling. Not only Ruwngthung, but the other workshop participants from Chandel namely Hl. Boyesh, Lh. Ningjahring and Sr. Rita were also remembered by the returning party for all they had done to make the day a memorable one for us.

The dusty road appeared to me as a symbol of the unstable political situation in Manipur, which keeps on promising us to better the quality of life but never make it realized. Once again my favourite axiom rang through many ear loud and clear : 'Politics divides people; culture unites them'.

Once again hats off to NSD that has provided a platform for the young minds to know each other better through cordial relationship and thus eke out 'emotional integration' via cultural interfaces. That's' the need of the hour by any account.


* B.C. Khuman wrote this article for Hueiyen Lanpao (English Edition)
This article was posted on January 02, 2012.

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