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Modern Manipuri Poems by Saratchand Thiyam

"THE WAVES"  - A collection of Saratchand Thiyam's poems translated from
Manipuri by B. S. Rajkumar into English, and published by POKNAPHAM
PUBLICATIONS, Imphal (1995).
 
 
THE AUTHOR  6. CALCUTTA CALCUTTA MY CALCUTTA
TRANSLATOR'S NOTE   7. AFRICA
1. THE WAVES   8. THE EARTH
2. MY SISTER   9. SEPARATION
3. IMPHAL   10. A SHAWL OF OLIVE GREEN 
4. THE SNOWY WILDERNESS   Critique
5. SOLDIERING, MY STYLE 

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THE AUTHOR

Saratchand Thiyam (b. 1961 at Imphal),  an engineer by profession, started
writing poems in a very early stage.  His first book of poems TENGALI
KAARBA  PODON  was published in 1980 followed by two other anthologies, CHHO
CHABOON (1989) and AFRICA (1993). His fourth publication HAJILLAKPA EISHING
GI   MANAKTA (1994),  a travelogue, is a by-product of his poetic
interaction with the South Indians in Kerala.  The craft, style, language
and voice of his poems suitably put Thiyam in the "post-modernist" catagory.

The poetry of Thiyam breathes comtemporariness of the human society
reflecting the pain and agony of mankind, often prophesysing the ruins of
moral.  Humanism is the cliche of his poems.  So, one can also call Thiyam a
philanthropic-poet. THE WAVES, the first book of his translated poems, will
expose Thiyam for a wider reading.
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TRANSLATOR'S NOTE

A couple of years back, Saratchand Thiyam  broached  the matter of
translating a few of his poems into English. It had been, for me, a moment
of little seriousness -- I said, "Yes".  And both of us joined heads and
lost no time in bringing the enterprise into a successful culmination, the
publication of THE WAVES.

Saratchand Thiyam is a young Manipuri poet, belonging to the so called
"Third Generation" or "Post Modernist".  His poems are quite different from
the products of the period of modernism of the 70's-80's in Manipuri
Literature, especially in the realm of expression and diction.  Most of his
poems, as one could see from the last collection AFRICA (1993) are full of
verve,  though subdued and lyrical.  His poetic innuendoes become forceful
enough for a murmur to become a roar.  His poems are peopled with not only
living things but inanimated objects also.  As one goes through his works
one is surprised to find his intimacy with some of  the  relation indicating
words like, grandpa, grandma, aunt and sister. As I find, among the symbols
he used, the predominant objects are stone and ice.

The poet's overwhelming sensibility to the sufferings of the people,  both
young and old, in strife torn, blood spattered Manipur is well noteworthy.
He is also at the African peoples' all too frequently recurring lot of death
from hunger and bullets.  Moreover, he is not concerned with philosophical
questions and abstruse ideas.  He may start creating a world of his poems,
but that world in very much at the bottom of this earth.

Now, to translate these poems into English, in order to get a wider circle
of readers - that is something Manipuri literature needs urgently at the
moment - was not an easy task for me.  I thought and I was made to think.
But, as the iron was hot and the anvil waiting, I decided to do it.

If the readers are able to get a glimpse however brief of what the original
would be like while going through these translations, I am amply rewarded.

B.S. Rajkumar

(The following are Ten poems out of the Thirty Three).
________________________________________________________________________________
 

1. THE WAVES

Waves rise.

Every surface is ever in  turmoil,
waves upon waves
rush in silence.

Seas and oceans are
in motion eternal,
the crests hit and press
and embrace the barren face
of the hard and dry land.
The shores seek shelter
leaning against the concrete walls.

I see the hardy crests
toppling over those walls
and the change in my grandmother
- her face has slowly taken
the shape of the rough uneven waves.

The time is such
Sundays and Mondays
count for no more.

The huge crests have swallowed
many Buddha Purnimas
they had hidden Ids,
and untold Merry Christmases
and covered Krishna Janmas
and had taken away many Cheiraobas
beneath their wings.

Once she used to count
Sunday Monday Tuesday
and January February March -
her fingers that counted thus
are now occupied
with a walking stick.

The waves
silent or violent
lose no contact with the land
wet or dry.

The waves -
they are a journey endless
where there is not returen.
 _________________________________________________________________________

2. MY SISTER

Strong is the rain still my sister
don't go out in such a hurry.

Darkness mingles with everything
it's daytime only in name -
since the moment he left behind
his father's house to live with
Night, his wife in her house
our Day is no more
his old good self.

Useless, useless is to think, my sister
you can protect yourself with
an umbrella and remain dry
in this downpour heavy and violent.

Loud is the sound you are listening to
but it's only the children playing
that had filled every room
with their clamour and twangy noise.

Now the rain is getting worse,
sister don't go, don't go, please don't go
look sister every courtyard is
now become a Mangarak Kanbi.

Clear is the sound you are listening to
now it's the sound of soldier's boots
that now ring everywhere
sister, don't you go out now.
It's quite certain you shouldn't go
hide sister, please, you must hide
somewhere inside safe and sound.
 ____________________________________________________________________________

3. IMPHAL

1
They lament here
the golden ear-ringed kids

2
Imphal Dimapur Road
Imphal Jiribam Road
nerves and arteries

3
Mini deserts
these flower pots
the water drops the little girls
sprinkle over these bonsaied trees
drops of tears
(these big fishes decoration pieces
and their momentary smiles)

4
Drunken foot-paths
now misbehave with pedestrians

5
Buses
one after another
from all sides arrive here
with bundles of dust
on their backs

clean dressed people and
people in soiled dresses
are daily mixed and kneaded
at the hands of Khwairamband Keithel

poor huts
unable to clothe themselves
feel so ashamed
they cover themselves
with large newspaper sheets

6
The flower basket is pretty
and full of flowers
on sale

devotees come to worhip
but they do not clap thrice
a deal is made for the flowers
and they take them somewhere

7
Fire
water
air
inseparable they are

8
A foreign tourist
kisses the broken rim
of a glass of tea
at a road-side tea stall

9
Rice
pulses
edible oil
salt
business profit buildings

10
Imphal
the corruption of Yumphal
 ____________________________________________________________________________
 

4. THE SNOWY WILDERNESS

Blackened people of dark country
come out to wallow
and play in the snowy wilderness.

These blackened people of the dark land
now have set out in search
of a land where light ever is
since they have known
that the onrush of light
that had illuminated the dark gorge
from time to time
was but the lightning.

A loud blast, reverberations
gelignite smoke shuts out everything
and the sky rubs vigorously
its two eyes. They become blood-shot.

Under the sky
amidst the smoke
the sound of gunfire rolls
on and on.

A boy lies fallen on the highway
covered with a white sheet,
his company but a swarm of flies
that plays on his body.

A tender girl uncovers him
her heavy tears drop the question
- were your dreams
about this white sheet?

The blackened people of this dark land
are scattered by the wind.
They are strewn here and there
white sheets cover them
on this wind swept floor.

These people, black
on a land, dark
still leave behind the dark gorge
for the snowy wilderness
crossing the expanse of the white sheet.

 __________________________________________________________________________________
 

5. SOLDIERING, MY STYLE

I see no way
out of this besieged battlefield.
Still there is a door left ajar -
death calls me out through it,
that is not my escape route
so I must turn back
so I must run away
never to set my eyes upon him
never to remember him
and not to weaken myself.
I will escape cutting away
a way through the enemy.
I am sure I have got
my own kind of courage.
But I do not understand
why my old mother
still keeps on looking down the path
lantern in her worn hands
till I come home.
If life was not there
in that narrow dark lane
we would have been all alike.
Now our hands are bound
tight together on our backs
and we go on fighting like dogs
so the battle spreads out.
The crown of banyan leaves
on my head, the whirling storm
throws down on the ground.
Then why he crushed it
all into pieces into his feet.
As if not satisfied
with just throwing down.
Even as I hurry up
to pull down the tall builings
that time is bound to destroy
why do I weep,
to look at the long hair
of that charming little girl
abruptly shorten by her aunt,
and why my feet
used to marching alone
beat a retreat by themselves?
Soldiering, fighting, my style -
I have known it,
I will be felled on this battlefield.

_______________________________________________________________________________

6. CALCUTTA CALCUTTA MY CALCUTTA

Black smoke
bleched out through the muzzles
of gaint factories
have ceilinged the vast
canopy of heaven.

Children that ought to play and gambol
arrive here to beg by the train windows
even before the dawn stirs.

Inside the hovels
by the railway platforms
children are trained
in singing and dancing
for artful begging
by their mothers.

Calcutta, your parks are peopled
by old people walking hand in hand
and flowers try to show their colours
everyday struggling against the onslaught
incense sticks.

Calcutta
to flee away from you is
to find open fields
converted into open toilets
populated by people of nature's dress
in horrible huts.

Though stunted in you growth, Calcutta
you never stop conceiving
the survivors in your abortions
peer through the windows
of orphanages
in countries throughout the world.

Yet Calcutta, people across the seven seas
throng your steps
crossing the hanging bridge
to hear the melody of Rabindra Sangeet
sweet pulsating alive.

Calcutta my Calcutta
this Calcutta is my real Calcutta
in the past or in the future
forever.
  _______________________________________________________________________________

7. AFRICA

Fissures

These wide fissures
had trapped and broken
many a leg unwary.

Numerous children flying kites
had been gobbed by these mouths.
Even the vultures and crows, birds of prey
had flown away to hear them cry.

Half-grown girls
one step into womanhood
the other still in childhood
tears into pieces their tattered dresses
munch on them heartily
to end what is endless.

A sombre fall out, a long procession
of hunger mad-people
their bodies unable to move
only their necks and eyes moving
look up at the aeroplanes overhead
waiting for air drops
of food parcels or bombs.

Shadows of young people
of what they used to be,
stand in groups by the fissures
the slice off their own ears
and munch on them tastily.

Innumerable gourmet tounges
are uprooted and stewed
on this vast African earth.

These fissures will be mended
one day with corpses upon corpses.

 _________________________________________________________________________________

8. THE EARTH

Mother Earth!
The zoo in your  bosom today
is slack in security.

The long rope you had been
preparing, twisting and twirling
for ages upon your thighs
has now been sucked
into the dark abyss.

Little birds
guardian of the skies
once flew in freedom
and came back to you.

The empty skies are today
filled with swarms
of iron monsters that escort
satellites, delivered without check
and they quarrel among themselves,
exhort to fight and
strike at one another -
for right of orbit
for feeding grounds
in the sky.

The flocks of birds
that once guarded
the independence of the skies
have flown down to you
with pieces of iron
caught in their beaks
for the hungry little ones, in
their nest, instead of fruits
fresh and cool.

 __________________________________________________________________________________

9. SEPARATION

Yet another day.

But the mother and her child
asleep on a cot yesternight
are today separated found,
tenants of different cots.

Fresh morning air rocks the screen
of the unclosed ropy window.
The child had stepped out
with a single look behind
at the perspiration drops
on her forehead.

She is a mother,
she starts looking for
her suddenly lost child
her only link to him
the jingle of his bangles
echoing wead and far away.

Age start covering all
with many thick layers.

They are not united yet.
The mother looks
for her child -
and the child continues the journey
to find, the mother.

  ________________________________________________________________________________

10. A SHAWL OF OLIVE GREEN

During my childhood.

Linthoi and I played dolls everyday,
she clothed
every doll with pieces of olive green
and I took them out
only to cover them with
my choice golden clothes.
The olive green pieces that I hid
she searched out to cover our dolls
and discarded the pieces of golden shawls.

We quarrelled many times
our long hair
underwent a hard time.

Married now.

Linthoi and I have gone separate ways,
have become mothers, too.
My hair, dancing on my hips
now reminds me of Linthoi -
the wonderful figure
the ever glowing face,
her hair velvety
(And it trembled at my sight)
will be there unchanged.

Last meeting.

She was asleep inside a coffin,
her hair that trembled at my sight
was dishevelled, unbound -
it wept as I extended my hands.
Her choice shawl of olive green
I tried to cover her with -
but cover her I could not
a small boy stopped me,
said he, aunty, please don't.
This cloth olive green
was my mother's enemy
this colour destroyed her.

A dim vision comes to my eyes
of the pieces of cloth I hid
olive green in colour
that she searched out
to cover the dolls with.
  ____________________________________________________________________________

Critique:

1. Robin S Ngangom

For many years now, Sarachand Thiyam has been quietly writing poems away
from the internecine world of the literary market, and  consolidating his
craft  while lesser poets were touting their work.  And reading this slim
volume of   thirty  three poems,  there can be no doubt that we are in the
grip of an authorative voice.  What kind of a poet is Saratchand Thiyam? Is
he a ‘romantic', a  ‘social' or, a ‘post-modernist'?  These questions do not
really matter.  We keep on inventing labels and spouting theoretical jargon
which cannot adequately ‘define' anything.

But perhaps Sarachand Thiyam can be called a ‘modernist' in a very broad
sense of the term.  His poetry is new  because it represents a break with
traditional models.  Thiyam's poems doggedly question the certainties of a
social mindset,  its prescribed codes of behaviour, and standardized morals.
  "Literature that is not the breath of contemporary society, that dares not
transmit the pains and fears of that society, that does not warn in time
againts threatening moral and social dangers - such literature does not
deserve the name of literature;  it is only a facade", said Alexander
Solzhenitsyn.  Living in these precarious times,  it is reassuring to learn
that Thiyam's poems instinctively fulfil,  the often dangerous role,
assigned by Solzhenitsyn - the prophetic note in poems such as "My sister",
"Imphal", "The snowy wilderness" and "Soldering, my style" is plain to see.

It is believed that poetry once belonged to ritual in primitive societies,
and was part of a collective experience; but it has now become esoteric  and
  inward-looking.  What may be the reason behind the shrinking of vision?
It has become commonplace to lay the blame on the pursuit of consumerism,
the practice of the philosophy  of acquiring more.  But there is also the
belief  that the peotry is now being written mostly by academicians, and is,
therefore, divorced from a wider range of experience.  All this has resulted
in a type of poetry which has borrowed deeper into itself, verse which has
retreated into a shell of obscurity and isolation.  Being an engineer by
profession,  Saratchand Thiyam has written poems,  which are refreshing,
free from abstruseness and vain displays of intellect.

One gets the feeling sometimes that Saratchand Thiyam is struggling to
escape from the prison of subjectivity. He has avoided the purely personal
poem, and what Cesare Pavese calls the ‘falso lyric poem'. Concerned as he
is with social issues,  he has often adopted the ironic posture.  But his
irony is compassionate, and frequently  directed at himself.  There is a
marked absence of emotional subjectivity in most of these poems, but tension
is constantly generated when Thiyam uses personal experience to adumbrate
contemporary brutalities.  At times, he also resorts to stock themes; but
sincerity of feeling is the mainstay of his poetry, and his honesty of
feeling rescues poems  such as ‘Calcutta Calcutta my Calcutta', ‘Africa' and
‘The earth'.  I feel that even  this slender volume reaffirms Camus's belief
about art, which is a means of stirring people by offering them a
"previleged picture of common joys and sufferings".
 

2. Jayanta Mahapatra

"Saratchand Thiyam's poems are ambitious. I wish I could have read him in
his original Manipuri. Even in these translations one is conquered by the
sheer strength of his feeling. Poems that bring out the deep, wounded parts
of the self.  Often memorable.  Thiyam deserves a wide reading."

"Thiyam is a poet to be read and reread."
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