Friday, December 30, 2011

For him


His nectared name
will colour my lips,
till another mouth
will hold it
between her rubied lips.


There, we were,
without any need
for exaggeration of held hands,
just aloof in love without promises.

There, when he offered me
to explicate
the delicate matter of the heart,
amidst the cutlery
and blunt knife
and bored diners,
My ‘No’ stuck in my throat
unable to tumble and collide
with his expectant eyes.

How terrible were partings then,
when we kept meeting
after we bade our ‘goodbyes’.


Shards of glasses
broken long ago
in a corner
untouched by the tapering wisp
of the aged broom
suddenly pricked my fingertips today
not even
the moist edge of the mop
could cajole it out
And now it was
beneath my skin –
A glittering of pain
A slight warm blood ©

Monday, December 26, 2011


Beyond the courtyard
moss grown
where the cement had lost
to the repeated lashings of annual rains
I picked her bone
with the last withering steel-gray of ash
Around my neck
I offered it to her
wrapped in hues of saffron
She, given to fluffy pillows
and softness of downy bedcovers
Now a wooden clasp for pillows
Bedcovers she had none
Just a parasol of palm leaves
to tide over the dark world of mud, water and stars

asti- A Vaishnav Hindu funeral ceremony observed usually on the 6th day

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Funeral for the living

The blades
of the sickle moon
Shone upon her gray tresses
chopped after four decades
What remained
of the tapering gray
ponytailed wisp
was akin to amputated
leftover stumps

Slow, wheelchaired
when the plastic chair
broke under her weight
and much fidgeting around
She turned to each sound
With her hyperglycaemic gaze
Sisters came to conspire
Gave her sweetened tea
Behind my back
To cheer her bored sore afternoons

She died expected
And un- sudden
After tolerating
The foreign tube
in her balloonous tummy
for six long years

As a family
The crowd gathered
For the ritual mourning
It was tragedy
and a joke
and oh! Why didn’t he come?
The food was judged,
And so were the ritual songs
The singers
bend with age
braved the dusk
with a bared torso

Aunt, garlanded
and young
beyond the vagaries
of diabetes
from the gold gilded frame ©


The night
with phairen’s sudden showers
clears up
Outshined by the moon
freckles of stars
remained obscured
in its usual pattern
The freshly cleansed breeze
Brought news
of his release
from a once dreamt dream
But like me
he was caged
His heart beneath his ribs
mine beneath my bosom
Yet from within
his prison of bones
one day
he will summon
love’s tender weakness
I will dream
of charting out
in the abject vastness of the sky
with a stars studded map
I will embrace
the season of nuptials
with fear of exile
with hope of a genesis
with another heart
in another chest
one rib less
than mine ©

Saturday, October 29, 2011


It was an absence chalked out,
like the cold circular rim of gold,
a clasp of an ornament
where a glittering stone once adorned
Absence was
the presence of a rim;
a clasp;
a remnant ©


Would a God undo the lurking lack?
Would a companion do the same?
There is no antidote to absence.
We were borne of it,
in hopes of a completion
We are to carry it to our graves ©

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Fleeing Dove

They have arrived
after the bullet has been shot
after the bomb
has spewed its shrapnel
to take stock
of the situation
When the streets
bleeds with splinters
and undressed torso
and limbs
They'll arrive
-the patriots
in white
the cowardice
and assure
"The culprit will be booked
and tried under law"
Of course
the Government
is pained
and so will numb
Another blast
with another ex-gratia
And we plot
to kill
the shrapnel
with flowers
and a fleeing dove? ©

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

No bonafide address

I have lived
a decade
without an address
in this city
I have lived
without a paper
to declare my existence
A concrete mesh
housed me
yet scared to contain me
trembles when asked
my whereabouts
and deserts me
When I offered
to be chained
hand to hand
One by one
they'd link
the ridges of my fingertips
All ten of them
My eyes -the iris and pupil
the tears and anger
They will now
give me a number
Armed with this
I am told
I'll get
my bona-fide address ©

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The exasperation of existence

The last leg of festivities
an indecipherable
warm lump of loss
akin to funerals
the mournful cries of the conch
Excesses of ties
tripped on my
every weary step
Immersed in saccharine sweet
of the familial
I pine
A slice of razor sharp bamboo
to severe
the invisible umbilical cord
To drown
the enigma of birth
screeching through
the latitude and longitude
of my being
at every rite-
At every rite-
the exasperation of existence
draw me closer
to a sharp depthless
edge of the razor
I will leave
a legacy
of the last feast
of existence ©

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Random notes


There are talks of time that has come, and time that has stretched beyond its time. My stay was one (they said). I nurtured the illusion of home but had none. The expanse lay like the limitless boundaries of an unwritten poem and yet none, not an inch in this wide landscape could house my home.

My brother is indignant at my anger that follows me like a cloud and spits from my throat like fire, it must have burn some. But he is just a man, a mere man, would he know how it is to live as if in the fluid surface of water, not knowing on waking where my windows would open to? They who gouged out my heart are indignant at my anger, they who are eloquent of their homeland are indignant that a woman wants a piece of earth to hold close to her bosom.

Don’t ask me to begin anew from a room emptied for my intrusion. This time I will carve from my skin and bones a house of my own. It will speak to me alone. It will be wrapped in mud and cowdung, scented blue smoke of mekrup will emanate from the porch. The moon would rest for awhile –on my pond of blue lilies. I will begin to love the dusty wind-blown lanes that lead to my solitary house. I will allow none within its walls for they will slowly uproot me, surely they will bring in their beloved and their off springs and I will be relegated into an unlived corner. No, not one will uproot me, not even love. I will not love something so mere, so meagre and yet sinister beyond imagination as a human being. I will dig a shallow grave and when the time comes I will rest and cover myself for eternity with a blanket of dried blue lilies.

Random notes

I gave you
The subtle souvenir
Of my hand
When we walked
The last autumn’s golden field
You withdrew
at my brazen ways

The winter afternoon
Buried amongst fog
You walked with me
In the bare field
You lifted
My phanek
My breast woke in surprise
Strained against my shirt
Yet my hand
Remembers your autumn rebuttal

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Ode to my Brother

I, Uninvited
at the hour of white garlands
will hide behind
the door of another coast
She will come to claim
the Gods I had forsaken long ago
The morning will begin
with her incense
and the night
locked in her embraces
I insist you keep a nook for me
a corner for me
safe from her infinite embraces
Her laughter
would waft
from the window
and erase
our evening tea of lemon
she will now garnish
the afternoon's limpid siesta
He and I will die,
and be born to new beginnings ©

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Ode to my umbrella

My umbrella
Stood at the corner
shedding its profuse tears
Broken by snow
and rain
Conspired against
by wind and hail

Broken limbs
piercing its skin
Silver sunlight
filtered through
Every dusty droplet
left a grimy tattoo

I promised to
take him
some sun burnt evening
He would
spread his wings
close in on me
In his perforated embrace
In that great sea of nothingness
I would leave
clutching the sudden gold
seeping through the punctured roof ©

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Notes on longings II

Evening will untie the bird trapper’s knots
Dusk will unto the fishermen’s nets
I will tear the woven fabric
Let the thread fall apart ©

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Clash of the Campaigns: Loktak Lake as the site of contesting knowledge systems

Thousands have lived without love, not one without water - W.H. Auden

One has often been bemused by the elusive ethno-philosophy that guides the conception of the landscape covering the panoramic Loktak Lake. Of late, contesting knowledge systems seem to have saddled on a site considered simultaneously sacred as well as profane by myths and history. The vociferous argument for the protection of the Loktak Lake has emerged with two simultaneous campaigns. First is the ‘Save Loktak Our Life’, supported by the Loktak Development Authority. This group comprising of (not without irony), “environmentalist, social workers, politicians and police officers” in the words of the Project director of Tamna who informed the media in a briefing organised at the Classic Hotel on the 6th of April 2011. Second, a campaign launched by people living in and around the lake against the Manipur Loktak Lake (Protection) Act 2006 (MLLPA). Incidentally, as part of the second campaign, various organisations from the Loktak area held a public discussion on the MLLPA on the same day at Ningthoukhong Keithel. The sites of these two campaigns and the people comprising the campaigns are too stark to go unnoticed. The first one conducted in a three star hotel speaks the language of exclusivity. The second was held in a market place where women vendors’ earn their livelihood. In solidarity with the campaign, these women bread earners had given their space for the women and men who had congregated to participate in the public discussion.

Indeed both the campaigns fall back upon the idea of the lake, the meaning of the lake as derived from folk songs and poems and tutelary deities. The Save Loktak campaign in one of the music videos produced for the same juxtaposes a modern narrative with that of the folk and expresses fears for the life of the lake. The second campaign by the inhabitants of the Lake area seems to follow the same narrative. While both the campaigns state the same objective – Save Loktak Lake and use the same narratives of the sacredness of the space and also lament for the weeping mother (Loktak), the arguments put forth seem to be fractured beyond reconciliation. One starkly representing the state looks at fisherfolk as encroachers who are set to deplete and destroy the lake and its resources. Indeed the idea of saving Loktak to them seems to mean saving them from the people who source their lives and livelihood from the lake. The second campaigners see themselves as the rightful claimants and protector/guardian to the fishes and vegetation of the lake. However, the term lake itself now seems to be an anachronism of earlier usage as the lake is now not a lake but a water reservoir. The drastic shift from the conception of a lake with legends surrounding it to a modern day water reservoir began with the construction of Ithai Barrage in 1979 as a part of the Loktak Hydro-Electric Project.

The idea of the lake is not limited to its natural resources like waters and gradually disappearing indigenous fauna and flora. It is now saddled by the juxtaposition of competing knowledge systems – indigenous and modern. The modern being far removed from the context while the indigenous speaks in the language of people of the lake and follows the lake not just through the lives of people but also through cycle of seasons, through breeding of fishes and vegetation and sees the lake as inclusive of its Phumdis, Athaphum, the Khangpoksang build on the phumdis and the people who live in them.

The unfolding narratives could be clearly seen on the 6th of April 2011 wherein three events connected to Loktak Lake were held. First, is the one day Discussion Programme against the Manipur Loktak Lake (Protection) Act. 2006 which was organised by All Loktak Lake Floating Hut Dwellers & Fishermen Progressive Committee (Apunba Lup); All Loktak Fishing Workers Association; The All Manipur Thanga People Welfare Association; The Loktak Peoples Forum and All Loktak Lake Floating Hut Dwellers & Fishermen Progressive Committee (Nupi Apunba Lup). The event discussed the Act and highlighted fundamental problems not only in the Act but also the knowledge as well as intentions behind the conceptualisation itself. The predominant language used during this discussion was the language of rights – cultural as well as socio economic. The mass discussion took place at Ningthoukhong ( Keithel), a fishing town by the lake and forms a part of Bishnupur district. The venue was well chosen so that there could be as many participants from Loktak lake areas hinting to an endorsement of inclusiveness as opposed to the meetings that took place simultaneously (on the same day) at the other two sites –Mantripukhri and The Classic Hotel.

The market of Ningthoukhong is a concrete structure dilapidated in some parts. Women who earn their livelihood selling produce from the hills, valley and the lake in the market also supported the event by closing their stalls and giving space to women who had come to participate in the discussion programme. Most women were dressed in the traditional mourning attire (of the Meiteis) and also of the more than seven hundred people who had congregated, ninety percent were women. Though one also noticed that in a space marked by exclusivity such as the simultaneous meeting that took place in Mantripukhri one would find the same percentage being reversed, giving the picture than more and more women will be sieved out as one goes up in the chain where one knowledge system and its corresponding language become more dominant than the other.

The men and women who spoke at the discussion at Ningthoukhong began with salutation to the Mother goddess of the market – Keithel Lairembi, to Mother goddess Loktak – Ema Loktak Lairembi and also to directional tutelary deities. Women and men who spoke described the lake as intimately as their lives explaining the life of the Athaphum, the breeding of fishes and well as the waxing and waning of the lake according to seasons which is now disrupted by the Ithai barrage. Ironically, the discussion was interrupted when armed personnel in military uniform climbed up the dais to ask the reason for such a congregation (this in spite of the banner being put up). Two more soldiers in military fatigues could be seen behind the market complex which disturbed the peaceful ambience of the crowd. A woman from the crowd came up the dais and through the microphone requested the audience to remain calm. Some women and men had in fact gone to the uniformed armed personnel to speak and explain the content of the gathering. The same woman encouraged the rest of the women audience to face the state whether it is in the form of fighting the visible oppressive state that come dressed in military fatigues or meeting the representatives they had chosen and even suggested boycotting of the forthcoming general elections. The three uniformed personnel stood at the venue for about ten minutes facing the gathering.

While the mass discussion was on there was also the flagging off of a training programme supported by Bombay Natural Historical Society and the Wildlife Wing, Forest Department. The training programme which began on the very day for Forest Department officials and volunteers of Loktak Lake on water bird conservation and management was held at Central Forest Division, Mantripukhri. In the few minutes shot of the meeting which could be viewed only through the local cable television network ISTV, one could hear the often repeated particular concern for the conservation of endangered and dwindling flora and fauna of the Loktak lake areas.

Not much different from the above both in terms of narrative content and knowledge system, the meeting with media persons was held on the very day at Classic Hotel, an upmarket three star hotel (the only one in the state). The meeting was called by Tamna Sanggai, an organisation with the stated aim of saving Loktak. The campaign of Tamna entitled “Safe Loktak Our Life” had also produced music videos as a part of their campaign and the media briefing announced a musical tour to New Delhi and Bangalore on the theme of the campaign. It was also stated that “the campaign was undertaken to contribute its might in saving Loktak from possible extinction”. Interestingly the project was supported by Loktak Development Authority, the authority re-constituted under the MLLPA which also pitched the campaign against the people of Loktak. Article 20 (Prohibition of certain activities in Core Zone) prohibits discharge or emission of sewage/domestic waste (assuming the lake to be polluted by the inhabitants of the lake conveniently forgetting that all major river system that drains the Imphal valley falls into the lake). The other clauses of the Article 20 prohibits deposition or fixing of stones, bamboo, log, net into the lake, while this clause renders fishing impossible the state continue to state that the act does not prohibit fishing per se.

One could only record as unfortunate that the various debates around the Lake do not inform each other. It is people that give values and judgement on landscape and classify them as either sacred or profane in the sense of the lake either being a sacred mother with plentiful provision or a hiding place for insurgents. Indeed the difference with the people’s campaign would be the desire to learn and discuss the Act and the various arguments – whether ecological or socio-political whereas the other campaign, being directly supported by a state body, does not have the space for critiquing the Act.

One could in fact map the varying interests in the lake, not to state the people as being a collective, far from it there are differences between the fisherfolks, between those who are unable to resist the state, think it safe to accept the resettlement amount, between those with large fishing tracts and the fisherfolk with just a net and a boat. Those supporting the Act also are fractured with varying interests –one, being purely a sentimental pursuit of iconifying the lake as a symbol of the state (having made their decisions and affiliation without having thrown as much as a glance at the Act), another being the state’s policy of cleansing the lake and yet another being the much cited security concerns of flushing out insurgent cadres from the lake, for which hovercrafts were purchased from USA. Undeniably, the state also takes pride in the arrival of the hovercraft with it being looked at not only for insurgency operation but also, as stated by the Chief Minister “the machine would not only be helpful in saving the Loktak from encroachers, it would also complete the task of flushing out militants”. This once again highlights the highly problematic lens of the state that more often than not looks at the people of the lake as encroachers as well as ‘insurgents’.

This article was published in The Imphal Free Press on the 17th of April 2011

Monday, April 11, 2011

Notes on Longings

The rains
have melted
the lowly roadside dust
of Thanga-Karang
creating a pasty puddle
that cling to your shoes,
the edge of your trousers
or sprayed in little brown droplets
by your sandals
all over the back of your legs
I wish my insignificance
would dye you
like the muddy droplets,
all over you,
without you knowing
I would merge with your garb;
without you thinking,
you would breathe in
the odour of my earth
soaked with the first rains of Lamta ©

Monday, March 14, 2011

Hangleipak: Strings Attached

There are ways of bridging gaps between people and communities through cultures. The professed theme of the recently concluded North East Theatre Festival (19th to 28th February, 2011) in no uncertain terms says it all. As a part of the festival, plays from Manipur, Nagaland, Meghalaya and Assam were staged. The festival that opened with Budha Chingtham’s Mythical Surrender, directed by Ningthouja Deepak of NT Theatre, maintained the tempo and at the end gave a befitting climax with Habib Tanvir’s Charandas Chor in Assamese directed by Anup Hazarika. For theatre enthusiasts, the festival's immense task of “Bridging the gap through culture” reflects aspirations of communicating through the medium of theatre. One could however refrain from the oft repeated rhetoric of the mainland-marginal or the topographical pattern of the region as a reason to reach out to one another and look at this medium first and foremost as connected to oneself and one’s milieu. The festival did exactly that, connect us to ourselves and make us look at oneself through the eyes of a Greek tragedy like Antigone, stories from the Mahabharata, Ee teiraba numit, an Ao-Naga folklore, Lichaba’s Daughter or the understanding of freedom so subtly underlined in The Fire and the Rain (Mei Amasung Nong).
Among many other plays I had the opportunity to be enthralled with, Hanglai (marionettes), a play by Y. Rajendra. The director welcomed the audience as hanglai(s) to view a play Hanglai directed by a hanglai himself. Indeed the absurdness of the whole situation, within and without the play, and the brutal depiction of 'selves' were put up on stage for all to see. In a play which had stories within stories, the sense of the absurd, not as in absurdism, had the arsenal to fire 'realities' beyond realism. Hanglai, (I regret missing it in Delhi, 2007) had characters, Tathei and Takhut of the Marionette Repertory Theatre where they led the performance of marionettes – Mahadev and Parvati. They received a letter from Sanakhya. Sanakhya wanted them to discard the old marionettes and enact a contemporary play written by Sanakhya himself. Tathei's effeminate gestures can be taken by many an attempt at caricaturisation of the third sex. However, the effect of this on the play is brutally truthful when Sanakhya in his anger with the news of the marionettes refusing to play their part in his play, asked Takhut and Tathei to enact the part of the uniform man raping a woman after planting a camouflaged cap and a gun on Takhut and an embellished inaphi on Tathei. The symbolism employed here is potent and possible through the process in which the audience whose lifeworld have been enveloped with layers and layers of cruel social and political fact. While the antics of Tathei drew laughter, one can look beyond to understand that it is but a saturated mockery of ourselves. This play refuses to be an interweaving of text and performance alone but carries a message beyond absurdism and realism.
Certain moments which drew laughter of the audience like when Tathei rebuke the lamenting Hangma (mother of the hanglais) stating that the role of the meira paibi is yet to come or when the people of the land of the Hanglais – Hangleipak revolts against the powers that pull the string with placard that reads – “Marionettes have the right to revolt” or the scene when a hangcha when shot at looks at a place to die and asked Tathei-Takhut whether it was alright to die at a particular spot, it is as uncomfortable as looking at a murky pukhri to see the ugliness in oneself and yet in a bitter irony, some laughs at the reflection taking it to be someone else’s.
It is those who pull the string who decides everything. They decide when a mother should lament, when one should weep and where one should die. The Hanglai who cut themselves off the strings are sure to die. Therefore, even in dire situations, they resist the desire to severe themselves off the strings. The mother of all irony here is: All Hanglai derive their existence from and through the strings and it is Tathei and Takhut that gives them life and yet the strings do not stop there; Sanakhya pulls the strings of Tathei and Takhut and the closing scene depicts yet another pair of crimson hands pulling the strings of Sanakhya. Hangleipak – the land of marionette is a grave where the dead walks. And the dead here walks when commanded: S/he weeps, love and lust when the 'strings’ are pulled, the final brutality being that one doesn’t know where the string stops. We gave a standing ovation at the end of the play in a sweet insult to ourselves and life’s endless strings that we have ceased to see.

This article was published in The Imphal Free Press on the 6th of March 2011

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Gods Smile

The atheist has paid
Her morning obeisance
Brimful of water
Adorned with
A decapitated flower
This, her duty
She is told
She will close
the familar evening
the red eyed incense
the trailing blue odour
The Gods smile
at her broken will
They had their victory
in her genuflection ©

Sunday, February 6, 2011

On shifting ...

A half decade
of my life
neatly packed
in boxes
brown taped

The walls
now naked
its tears
amongst moist patches

Blue stars
I plucked
patches of grey

Some corners
Still unlived
hold its secret

Some would come
certain nooks
where I found love

I would unpack
chocolate hued boxes ©

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

I’ll ask for stone

I hold grudges
Count them
On nights of boredom
And mazes
Of emotions
I kept them locked
in a boxful of woes
to open every evening
And count them
And add some more
Some words
of yours
I etch in stone
I will take them
to my grave
Masked in grave silences
you simmer
my suffering
I claw my heart away
I’ll ask for stone instead ©