Nongmaithem Tombi at his residence on April 10, 2021. Bishwapremee Shagolsem and I paid a visit. He talked to us about research for our Manipuri Dictionary Project.
Uchiwa, Manipur, 10 April 2021
Theater director and poet Ratan Thiyam at Nongmaithem Tombi’s book launch at MDU at Yaiskul, Manipur on 22 March 2021. Personalities like Ratan Thiyam should be photographed well, capturing the details of the person’s skin texture. Portrait. In their natural “habitat.” I took this photograph from a distance–the high-raised stage of MDU was a barrier even with a 24-120 mm lens.
Poetry is a way of saying something–a mode of expression. It is the way of saying what you say in your poetry. What is conveyed is not wrapped up in a mode inherent to its expression (there is no such thing as a mode of expression inherent to something), the way peas are wrapped up in pods, rice in husk, and the body in the skin. That something can be said in prose, or can be sung as a song. Be it poetry, prose or a song, that something would take distinctively different shapes when they are said, written or sung by different poets, writers and singers. You are a specific configuration (body, mental endowment and experience)–each one of us–and you say what you say in your distinctive way.
Something is poetry not by dint of what is being said but because of what makes it poetry–it uses devices specific to its kind, though other modes of expression often recourse to them for effect. Interestingly, these devices often demand material that runs the risk of being taken as what is being said. Extended metaphors, such much extended to the point of becoming apparently literal. Poets writing what is not verifiable by or anchorable to the reality in their lived life often run the risk of being accused of writing what is not true. I am subtly sarcastic about seeing poetry from this angle and repeat the word of those who see poetry in this way, dragging them further into where they lose all landmarks–I say poets are liars and poetry an act of lying, and they don’t know that is a punch because it does not dislocate their jaws like a physical freight-train punch would do.
Philistines and artists, especially verbal artists, don’t usually live well together. And more interestingly, it is difficult to live with certain poets–they come across as people who are mixed up in the mind, mixing art and actual life. But what is not lived art? What is a poet’s life if he does not live the life of his art? Unless he is a liar (liar as a person), the poetic world he inhabits or the poetic world he creates is his world and he lives that world, that life, and if anybody cares enough to communicate meaningfully with such a poet, they should read him like a poem–he is a poem. You may like it or hate it, but he is a poem. It is tiring to keep reading codes, symbols, traces, and apparently meaningless gestures. That is why a poet does not talk to you–he is not raindrops that wet things they happen to touch. He is electricity that flows only through a conductor–the mature emotional, psychological, intellectual and aesthetic endowment of a person.
… A broken man knows how to survive and manage his pain and memory. And if you have had anything to do with him, you may have reasons to fear him or love him, or you may even want him dead, even if he may no more respond to the person you have become now.
“How is your writing?” She does not ask how his health is. He had poor health, which once earned her loving care that has now turned into an upayable debt that he does not want to die with. Something you cannot wash away like dirt or remove surgically like a damaged organ even when you want to even if it means losing life. You may want to give away all you have or more than what is due if relieving yourself of something psychologically terminal by losing much or all of what you have rescues you from a mortifying debt.
“I am not writing about you.” He thinks this is what she wants to hear. “Not any more. That is emotionally killing that girl you were. To make her rest in peace.”
That relieves her–her deepest secrets from a decade-long life with him would know no daylight like aborted children, but in that sense of relief there seeps in a feeling of being in an unending, ever-present process of dying before she has a chance to live, before she wants it to end. An undiscovered life, a life eternally dying in the dark unattended.
He does not say that is a punishment. Maybe it is not. It is abandonment. Like you forgetting or knowing nothing about your past life, your past birth. Like you have nothing to do with it.
He feels like a wet patch of discoloration on an old, damp ceiling or wall that does not have a definite shape. The patch spreads its wetness into other areas of the wall or ceiling, giving the new places new shapes and giving them new names. Never the old shape and name he once loved. She is no more. New faces and new names only…
There is something in photographs (by dint of the nature of photographic images, though not all photographs avail this) that keeps us eternally enchanted in a critical moment. This enchantment is born of an unwilling surrender to a situation we don’t like because we stubbornly and irresistibly want more from what’s not going to give us any more. We humans are unaccustomed to freezes, which with their uncertainty and unsatisfyingness unnerve our keen desire for motion that naturally forms a course to an end. The end, whether it mends or shatters us, is always satisfying because it makes us feel dominant and reigning over what ends—we see it from one end to the other and there is nothing more about it that intrigues us further and it lies there powerless like a useless shampoo sachet whose content has served the purpose.
Most moving images can satisfy our short desires within their bounds—discovering a coin in a box (and the hitherto mysterious box no more intrigues us), the good guy killing the bad guy at the end of the movie (and our gratified vengeful desire is at rest now), having an orgasm (we are done with the porn clip), etc. This explains why we don’t want to come back to most moving images that we have once watched.
Certain sorts of moving images keep satisfying us beyond their bounds by keeping us insatiate, or by deferring us being fed up. The sort of satisfaction such moving images give us is different from the kind of satisfaction photography gives as referred to above. Examples can be of the moving images of a bird flapping its wings, a man walking across a swamp or a forest, leaves waving in the wind, clouds being swept by the wind, a field of lush green grass being tousled by a storm, smoke twirling up from a cooling fire, and suchlike. An entire movie can partake of the nature of such a shot though it can be made up of several shots. In such shots we see the meeting of moving images and photographic images, and we find the satisfaction of both.
Long takes with the potentials of gratification beyond their bounds serve a purpose not of the kind that makes us discover something immediately rendering the process of discovery useless. They keep us in the moment, faithful to the tantalizing moment, without ever being fed up. Giving up does not make a difference—you have had it when you watched for that much you did before you left for a different or more urgent need.
Cast: Mahesh Ksh, Tripti Thokchom, Niruson Nao
Writer, Director, Editor: Thoithoi O’Cottage
Cinematographer: JK Jotin
Assistant Cinematographer: Anil Kumar
Original Sound: Alex Nao, Thoithoi O’Cottage
Light: Robert Leishangthem
Location: Thoithoi O’Cottage
Transport: Niruson Nao, Premkanta Naorem
Cast: Niruson Naorem
Time: Twilight, January 10, 2021
Cast: Niruson Naorem
Time: Late October 2020
Smudged watercolor world.
After mosses have gathered on my roof
I put on my glasses
and hearing aids,
and walk down the streets the night,
twist and turn in alleys like entangled yarn
the curly windy way with nowhere to reach.
I meet unhappy teenagers struggling to be happy
or given up to the wind,
a frazzled woman worn out by the day,
a woman in the early stages of dementia,
a young man feeding a fire by the empty road,
the moans of a young couple who have sex so much
they don’t notice the dismal rain.
The night is still like a watercolor painting—
the wet roads, the blurred reflections of lights,
the fumes in the yellow light up from the tar left by the warm day,
a street dog or two arrested by indecision in the middle of the road,
an empty oil and gas station with cars meditating in the shades,
strange vein-like alleys off the grey street
flowing into black worlds with bright windows staring into the darkness
while the young couple keep moaning
in the cold night frozen but for the rain.
My glasses are drenched.
Gushing drains murmur in the dark.
11/12 January, 2021
Athappadagi matam sangna lakpa ngarang ahing thunglare anouba chahi lakpagi harao nungaibana langliba miyamgi mathum marang houba marakta. Lambida setlakpa phijol, yumlingdaba eina kadai kadaidano ngaihak lamdallingeida chakni phiniba manduna minungsi chaoba kanana nungsina pibiramba setna innaba phi loina amamam mathang mathang louthokle. Makhoina kuirabagi mamangda pibiramba houjikti chatnakhidraba sel achoiba kharadusu eigi athenba phuritkhao kharadagi chreng chreng leimaida taraki. Phi thongdana leimaida kunthaduna madusingdu amamamta khungatlaga likligi tenggot amada hapchillaga table mathakta thammi. Kana kanana pibirakkhiba lambigi uphul chasinkhraba chaba yararoidaba chana thaknaba khara adusu keidounagadabano khanpham khangdana table mathakta thammi.
Bathroom da changlaga eigi asangba, ikhoi khoiba, iyet yetsinnaba, taru taruba pamjaba kananadi heinaroidaba sam sit nanna kakthatle. Sam chabul chabulsingduna leimaida mathang mathang takhi eigi taibangpangi tongan tonganba kayatsingna amatta khaklamdana kinthakhiduna karisu thoktringei matamgi leimai onkhibagum. Eigi kokta sam amatta houdre. Koi pumnamak phandokle. Eisi ei oidre.
Nouna leiruba toothbrush amadi tongue cleaner sijinnaduna sengdokle. Lamda punsi chuppa ama leirakpadu ei tongue cleaner amukta sijinnarakte. Aingba aduda aingba isingna matam changna lujathokle. Eigi thaina hanna leijaba apaba ariba phijol setchille. Anouba chahi houre.
Ningtham ayukki aingba asida apaba phijol setlaga thongnao mayada leiba tableda phamduna leibasi ingngi. Thongnangdagi leichil nongphai paisillakpa aingba asida yumgi phong phong saba cha tapna tapna chinglaga thongnao mayada leibasi isana isabu mamang mapokta sakkhangnakhiba, lamlanba oiruraba maseng marangtamak khangba, lamlanba oiruraba kanagumba amaga kuinagi matungda, ningsingbana loige touba kaothokkhiba amasung khangdabaga tainaba maphamda thengnajabagi toupham khangdaba mitkup adu oi.
Anouba chahi houre. Lengdabagum makhol thoktana makhong thangliba mitkupna asum chatkhiduna minute kaya oirakkani, minute kayasina pung oirakkani, pung kayana mitmangmakta una una chattabagum mong hadanadi leiraga nongma, chayol, tha, chahi, adudagi chahi kaya, punsi asangba ama oikhiramgani punsigum. Loinaidabagum sangba matamsi punsigum iten tellamgani, atenba matamsigi manungda punsi houkhiramgani. Mahousagi matou asida anouba karisu leite. Anouba asi mitkup khudinggini. Masi mahousani. Mahousagi matouni. Anouba natte.
Phi inba heinadaba ei phi ama insille. Soktaba kuiraba che amasung kalam paiduna ei iba houre lairik ama. Punsi lakpagi. Punsi leibagi. Punsi chatkhibagi. Punsigi wari.
Houjik matam chatli. Makhol thoktana. Aronba thabk touribagum. Iphong phongna.