This article is a brief reflection on the contemporaneity and reality of North East Indian Poetry.
TO DISCUSS poetry written in North East India, it is an enormity of tasks. Firstly, to share commonalities from the different matrixes and cultures of the region; secondly, to pin point the major themes of the poets writing in different languages invested as they are with stark realities. To complement this, there also exist a group of English poets, who share the Romanticism and mythopoeic vision of their vernacular count.
North East Indian poetry is characterised by the kind of tension which generates all great poetry; it may be at one level, the poetry of violence, of torpidity and fear but it is also the poetry of searching, soul searching for peace.
Among the poets who write in English, there is a remarkable expression of mythology and folk-tales, whether in the poetry of Robin. S. Ngangom, Desmond. L. Kharmawphlang, Temsula Ao or Mamang Dai. The search for the past is no escapism; it is a hiatus, gripping and painful, between past and present. The myth of Nohkalikai for example pervades the bi-lingual poetry of the poets in Shillong. Even in Robin. S. Ngangom’s poetry there are such typical and mythological allusions- he has been living in Shillong for the last thirty years or so; but is originally of Manipuri descent.
However, where does one begin in a discussion or poetry in North East India? Often considered a homogeneous unit, North East India spells ‘notoriety’ of heterogeneity. We have Manipuri poets, writing in the Bengali dominated Barak Valley of Assam, for example.
Yet fears, ghostly apparitions and shadows are omnipresent. Thangjam Ibopishak the Manipuri poet says:
“… Volcano… you cannot erupt
Volcano, stay asleep…
Lava remain slumbering…”
(“Volcano You Cannot Erupt”)
Desmond. L. Kharmawphlang makes the myth of folklore an archetypal and enduring vision:
“I became a folktale…
I became a proverb…
I became a riddle.”
(“Last Night I dreamed”)
Dreams, visions enter the mindscape like haunting motifs and recurrently, obsessively. This is evident in Chandrakanta Murasingh’s ‘ancient’ love narrative: “The Stone Speaks in the Forest”. There is a myth-making capacity in this poem of a “golden deer” and a “broken heart”.
In Saratchand Thiyam’s poem: “Sister” there is a frantic plea:
“This rain has not yet let up
Don’t go out yet, sister…
Haven’t you heard this
Don’t you go at all.”
Yet, Kynpham. S. Nongkynrih who predominantly writes in English can envision the prophylactic of love in the midst of ethnic conflict:
Yesterday one of my people
Killed one of your people…
Through a fearful breeze
Please let your window open...”
When Temsula Ao speaks lyrically in her poem: “Stone-People From Lungterok” there is an animated discovery and re-definition of the past.
“Lungterok, The six stones
Where the progenitors
Of the stone-people
Out of the womb
Of the earth.”
The North East Indian poets have an ambivalence, towards militarism, love for the land, ethnicity etc. But, these are transcended into love: love for woman, love for the hills, ravines and deep gorges, precipitated by gushing waterfalls; in short love for the land. They are able to transmute the chaotic into the subliminal. That is, in the final analysis, the poetry of peace; out of disorderliness, an orderliness. Politics and love complement each other with lyrical utterances. The public and private voices mingle into rhapsody:
“You are very pretty,
… Barak river; when
your waters soothe
the fiery heat,
the desert smiles
(“Barak River You Are Beautiful”, Ilabanta Yumnam)
(All references in this article are to Dancing Earth; Penguin Books, New Delhi, 2009)