TODAY -

Romancing the Tribal Culture via Modern Theatre
- Part 1 -
- An experience with Khenjonglang at Sandang Shenba Maring Khun -

BC Khuman *



It was the first ever Maring modern play in its true sense of the term. A play, based on Maring cultural life that the audience withnessed on the evening of 2nd October, 2010 at the village of Sandang Shenba Maring Khun, a picturesque village, perched on the famous Nongmaiching ranges, to the east of Imphal.

Imagine a Maring play in the modern sense of the proscenium theatre—dramatisation of a popular folk tale of the Maring tribe, being enacted by local performers (Maring artists) and designed so as to suit the taste of the unsophisticated audience of a typical tribal village, with plenty of Maring cultural artifacts used on the stage as props.

It was indeed a great experience for this writer to be there to witness the play "Khalteba", after having enjoyed memorable speeches of the dignitaries on the dais, at the closing function of the 45-day Theatre Workshop cum Production on Maring Traditional Culture, an ambitious venture of the Khenjonglang, a theatrical unit based in Imphal, in collaboration with the Karyemkhu Kanthouna Cultural Repertoire of Sandang Shenba Maring Khun, under the extension programme of the National School of Drama, New Delhi.

The workshop director Dr Thanil Leima is a well-known theatre practitioner who leads Khenjonglang. She is the first lady in Manipur, graduating from the prestigious NSD, New Delhi. An MA in Linguistics, she received her PhD degree from the Manipur University for her thesis on contemporary Manipuri theatre.

This was the second time that Dr Thanil Leima of 'Khenjonglang' did such a theatre workshop on tribal culture under the aegis of the NSD. The first one was in respect of Tangkhul culture, oragnised successfully with the earnest co-operation of the villagers of Tongou (Ukhrul District), sometime during May-June in 2009.

The closing function of the workshop I attended on the 2nd of October, 2010, was evidently a culminating point of the foregoing programmes of the one and a half month workshop. I could easily assess the overall achievement of the workshop, not only by attending the function but also by talking to the participants and the villagers.

Above all by watching the play which was the workshop production. Along with a few invitees from Imphal I had to spend my evening in the Maring village, enjoying the hospitality of the local people and discussing the outcome of the workshop with my company and the villagers as well.

Ever since the Tongou experience I have been deeply impressed with the innovative idea and thoughtful options entertained by Thanil Leima. Her honest feeling about the dying cultural practices of the tribals, her belief in the power of theatre in preserving the rich cultural heritage of the tribals, her emphasis on launching a distinctive theatre movement among the tribals of Manipur, without which the modern Manipuri theatre would be incomplete, and her passionate dream of integrating tribal artists with the mainland theatre artists and activists - were indeed, as I believed, the driving forces behind the success story of the Tongou experience in Ukhrul last year.

Following the newspaper reports of the Tongou experience, the intellectuals of Manipur could also see an interesting offshoot of her unique venture in the prospect of promoting emotional integration and communal harmony amongst the diverse ethnic groups of Manipur, especially between the hills and the valley.

It is true that even a man can't work with a homely feeling in the hills for days and weeks, unless he is dedicated and strong-willed and above all he shakes off his superiority complex and sophisticated airs to come down virtually to the level of the villagers both in attitude and aptitude so as to allow himself to mingle with them freely, sharing with them every moment of joy and sorrow, trials and triumphs. Happily Ma'm Thanil Leima (as the tribals lovingly call her) fits the bill.

She is down to earth in her approach to the simple tribal folks. And there is no affectations at all in her demeanour—no improvised acting so to say. How can a lady from the capital town of Imphal manage so effortlessly to mingle with the tribals and live with them for nearly two months as one of their members. This is a vital part of her personality even a man would envy.

It was really enlivening to watch her work with the tribals, making herself acclimatised to the strange environment—dining together with them, teaching them and practicing with them, interacting and debating open-mindedly with them on various issues other than theatre during leisure hours, since understanding the theatre requires understanding life itself in its totality.

All the above ratings of Thanil Leima as a theatre worker with extraordinary calibre that had been visible at Tongou were found still validated at the Sandang Shenba Maring village this time. A villager sincerely told me : 'Ma'm is so good. She has opened our eyes. She has aroused a new consciousness in us. We love her so much as she loves us boundlessly'.

Later on Thanil Leima narrated to me when I met her one evening at the Iboyaima Sumang Leela Shanglen at the inaugural function of a workshop cum seminar on Sumang Leela there : 'The villagers were crying like small children when I left them for Imphal. Crying aloud, uncontrollably.' With these few words she stopped short. Remained silent.

But her silence was so much eloquent to me. It mused inside me—culture has something unique, something mysterious that binds people, that rejects the temporal biases and conquers mutual hatred in human hearts ! That is what her silence revealed to me. I visualised her students—the workshop participants—crying aloud like children, embracing her tightly, unable to say good bye to her at the time of parting.

Surely she returned home, not empty handed. At least with a heart, filled with genuine and priceless love. Let that seed of love sprout into magnificent flowers some day ! May God bless this courageous lady and fulfill her dream one day, for she has chosen to take the unbeaten track.

To be continued....




* BC Khuman wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on December 08, 2010.


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