An Odd Ode to a Few Innocent Memories


Knowledge has its own pros and cons. Meanwhile ignorance is bliss. Ignorance and innocence, in my view, are almost synonymous. An ignorant fellow is unlikely to be found guilty on many aspects and hence his innocence remains intact.

At times, I do wish to be ignorant about many social, political and historical aspects about our society. What seemed so picture perfect in the past somehow becomes a reason for introspection at present. This introspection has many side effects. To relate a simple example, the ongoing festive season leaves many deliberations open on my mind.

When we were kids, Puja vacation was one of the most awaited breaks from school. We used to contribute our pocket money to adorn the Dol for Goddess Durga. We would also spend our last rupee buying bamboola of all sorts — Alu bomb, Kabok chaibi, Rocket paibi, Uru-ru ungbi and others. And on the Bali day (the third day of the celebration), we would relish a sumptuous curry together.

As for Wangkheilites, Durga Puja means one such festival that lasts for five days. Besides the worshipping part of the Goddess, Puja vacation also means five days of merry-making. Leela, cassette dance, tambola games etc. are events exclusively meant for late evenings. The best part is however the series of live Shumaang Leela played by as many parties.

We would rush to Puja Lampak with moraah in our hand eager enough to watch the plays. Everything seemed quite picture perfect then. We grew up with many memorable celebrations of Durga Puja and of many other festivals. I have missed this vacation for quite a long time and was eagerly looking forward to it until reality intervenes.

Here’s the part of my absence, where I would particularly prefer to be ignorant and innocent. It’s more or less like a transition of a colour television to a black-and-white set. What was once so flamboyant suddenly seems so unoriginal and plain now.

This mindset, regarding the change of heart, is perhaps because of a few results related to our history and origin. It’s like an absurd discovery — something one had never expected about but is accurately true. It would perhaps be not fallacious to state that we are standing at the threshold of an age of awakening ready to step out from the confused era. Once we step in, we have to pay odd odes to many flamboyant memories of those innocent days. And if we don’t, we are prone to become more restless and frustrated by our own choice and action in the near future.

We can never withstand the fact that we would be called the mindless generation without any root if we do not make this move now. And if we do, we are equally aware of what we are going to lose forever. The recoil has however many ill effects than demolishing a few memories. If things are meant to change in the future, this is perhaps the transitional phase. And if they are not meant to, everything will be the same as before. We will live with a false identity, follow a faith that we were forcibly lured to.

I do not abhor any particular religion. What I cannot digest is how we were forced to follow a faith that was never ours. I do not question the spirit of secularism but I have questions a many for abolishing an already established faith and culture that we once had. Perhaps one can say that colonialism found its new meanings then with religion as one of the easiest tools. We have been the dumb, moronic and mute spectators for all these decades. And when the age of awakening finally comes we find it tough to bid adieu to many precious memories and habits. Baah! What an absurd confusion indeed!

This article was published on 21 Oct 2012

A Frantic Search for Wangkhei Phee


Beauty is contagious. So is it evident in the intricate artwork of the Wangkhei Phee. Its origin can be traced back to those of Mama-Shija Leisaringei days. A saagei abok right from our kolup, (late) Akoijam Ningol Anabi, is credited for introducing the Wangkhei Phee. It might have taken an artistic ingenuity to design and weave the first of such a fine and delicate piece of cloth.

In the early days, older folks narrate Waikhu Matha and Thaangjing Tangkhai were two of the most popular designs; other designs followed sporadically. In the world of handloom and handicraft, Wangkhei Phee has found its niche, winning the hearts of connoisseurs and designers alike from across the world. However there is a catch.

Of late the trend of weaving as well as wearing the Wangkhei Phee is becoming out of fashion. When we were kids too, almost every household in our locality had a yongkham, the weaving machine, and at least one female member of the family was adept in making the finest Wangkhei Phee. But the times they are a-changing. There might be reasons, of course, for this downfall. Yet whatever these are, we can see there is a great chance of Wangkhei Phee sinking into oblivion in the near future, if the present trend continues.

No wonder the number of Wangkhei Phee weavers has drastically decreased in the last decade or so. I did a little survey on this issue and found a couple of reasons. Most of the weavers are simply not interested to weave and keep its tradition alive. Now the potential customers are going for the cheaper, though beautiful alternatives that are available galore in the market.

Another obvious reason is the demise of the pioneers of this type of garment. Most of the skilled weavers have also gotten married and are running errands, earning a livelihood from a better means. Also some of them have got other opportunities of employment.

Weaving is quite an art. However, pursuing it as a lifetime occupation is not an artistic endeavour, but literally a pain in the back for many weavers. So, most of them prefer to opt for an easier career option that does not require long hours of sitting, bending and weaving. Earlier, there were a few means of earning income for the unmarried and married women in our society. Weaving was, thus, one of the easiest means to start earning a livelihood. But the situation is different now.

At present, for some keen weavers who want to culture this practice, weaving is a passion rather a preservation of a precious art. They make it a lifelong passion and strive to pass on their skill to the younger generation. Thanks to them. But for the major chunk of weavers, who used to take up weaving as a means of earning a nominal income, they lost interest in it once they have a better means of income. Needless to say, most of the skilled weavers seem to have taken a collective resolution not to pursue their weaving interest these days.

With wedding season round the corner, young and old have started importing Mayaanglamgi Phee. A friend’s wedding is scheduled in the last week of this month. I asked my two sisters about a decent Phee to wear on this occasion. They suggested a lot of options – Jhamaki Thinbi, Lighti-Fitting types and all.

I feel sorry for them who are spending only on the export-quality products, while doing away with the original and aesthetically pleasing Wangkhei Phee. An appreciation of alien beauty is ubiquitous at the cost of losing our own culture and identity. Well, it’s not their fault either. That’s the hard-to-digest, yet prevailing reality.

We are not keen to preserve what we have and what is ours. We are stingy enough to buy a locally woven piece of garment but when it comes to a swanky piece of imported cloth from a different region, we do not mind emptying the pocket. The expression ‘Lamgi Sun-na Machi Saang E’ has found new meanings.

I hardly have any suggestion; neither has it been clear whose attention we have to draw in reigniting an interest of weaving among Wangkhei weavers and those from elsewhere. But I’m planning to dig deeper and find a few more details about Wangkhei Phee and other types of garments that were once popular in Kangleipak. Beauty is indeed a joy forever and it is found abundantly in these kinds of clothing. My frantic search for ‘Wangkhei Phee’ and its weavers is a reason to spread the beauty. This hunting can also be a reason to be ridiculed by many people from our modern society — the so-called ‘Standard Ta Netpa Kaang-goo’. But I can ignore their cynicism for I’m used to it. Que sera sera, the pursuit is on!

This article was published on 14 Oct 2012

The Curious Case of the Missing Housewives


Cases of domestic violence and crimes against married women have reportedly increased in recent times. In our society, most of the time, womenfolk play the dutiful role of scapegoats. They endure anything and everything to run their homes. Manipuri women have been generally glorified with many adjectives such as akhaang kanbi, thouna leibi, mapuroiba ningbi and so on.

Of late, there is an astonishing discovery related to the changing mindset and nature of Manipuri women. Some of the married women break all the social norms and elope away with guys of their own choice. It has infact become chajik news for us to find out reports in the paper such as ‘mou maangkhrey or chenkhrey or hanjillaktrey’. I was quite unaware about it until my sister cracked a joke about it. She told me, ‘Hujikaangi chatnabini, akhoi asomgi mou amasu mayum ahumlak paankhre’. I had found it hard to believe but I started believing. Welcome to Modern Manipur (At least it sounds so modern).

THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY

If I have to share my thought salad on this issue, I think it reflects two sides of the same society where we live. On one hand, it is a death blow to the age-old patriarchal norms set by the over-hardworking Manipuri men. These women dare to break the cocoon built by these male lots. They have, all in all, proved that the dominating attitude of male folks and their chauvinism are an 18th-century tale.

On the other hand, it can also be considered as a blot to the typical image of Manipuri women. For all these years, Manipuri women have been glorified as epitome of various virtues. History has witnessed how Manipuri women have been taking active participation in many sociopolitical and economical causes.

It is debatable, however, if these new range of women belong to the same category or not. We would not be astonished to find out that a married woman has eloped with another guy on a few grounds.

It would be understandable if the woman elopes away with another guy — if her husband does not provide a good life, treats her badly and is a master of domestic violence. Shockingly true but some married women deliberately do it even when their husbands provide a decent life and treat them well. Some of these women run away from nupamayum at the cost of ruining their own married life. Some of them even abandon their own kids; and then, endure or simply snub the wrath of our society’s wathi.

TOOLS IN THE MONKEY’S HAND

We do not probe much into the reason why this is trending so fast in our society. Don’t you think we have to discuss why this is happening in our society? Has technology got anything to do with it? The answer is yes. Technology is perhaps a responsible factor.

Let us be bold enough to admit that we do not have any sense of civilization but we make the best use of every technology that is available in the market. And that’s because we can easily afford it. For example, mobile phones of all brands have flooded the market. There is such a craze of mobile phones among us.

One does not have to bother if there is enough grocery at one’s home. But it is really important to recharge one’s mobile balance. It is really sad to acknowledge how the value of relationships has been compromised in our society. Simply put, the mobile phone is a product of the industrial society, but in our shanty town, it is like a tool in the monkey’s hand, so out of place.

MISSING HOUSEWIVES’ CLUB

For married ladies whose husbands are off to work (or off to date other unmarried girls) they want to occupy themselves with something interesting. A random missed call given to a random guy is a reason enough to spark an extramarital affair. No one has the shame and there is no feeling of guilt to indulge in illicit acts with their new-found boyfriends. All in all, they do not have any shame leaving their nupamayum just to elope with a different guy. The case of ‘mou maangkhrey’ is therefore nothing shocking if we can see our super-modern trend.

There is no remedial measure for this unwanted trend that is spreading so rampantly. One cannot blame the Manipuri government for such cases. In our state, even future teachers can block the highway and the government is accountable for it. It is responsible for every mess. Sigh! Our government is at least not responsible for the missing housewives.

This article was published on 7 Oct 2012
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