On ‘Cry of A Dying River’: Conversation with Professor Rajendra Kshetri

Yumlembam Khogen Singh
This is the excerpt of the transcript of interview with Professor Rajendra Kshteri by the author. The interview was conducted on the occasion of publishing the 100th poem of a series of poems on the Nambul River penned by Professor Rajendra Kshteri and published in the Poetry Section of the english edition of The Sangai Express on every possible Sundays starting from 17th September 2017.
Kshetri Rajendra Singh: KRS
Yumlembam Khogen Singh: YKS
YKS: Sir, on the very onset, my hearty congratulations to you on completing a series of 100 poems on the Nambul River. To start with, let the many thousands of readers of your poems know what motivated you to persistently write 100 poems on Nambul River?
KRS: Thank you. I love this river, Nambul river. I was born and brought up on the banks of this river. I have had some wonderful childhood memories associated with Nambul. I spent my winter/ summer vacations playing indigenous games like ‘Nungshit-pubi’, ‘Cheitek-kotpi’, moulding sand castles, etc. Nambul was very clean. Water was drinkable and swimmable. The riverine ecology was in sync with nature. There were trees and plants on both sides of the banks. No soil erosion. No plastic pollution. And how could I forget those plentiful varieties of fish, small fishes that we used to catch and play around. How could one forget the tremendous charms and enjoyment of “Khoi-Choppa”. I am talking about Nambul of the Sixties. Today, the pathetic sight of Nambul and its level of environmental degradation and degree of plastic pollution is very alarming, appalling and shocking, to say the least. So, you could say that my childhood memories of Nambul and the current state of pollution motivate me to pen these poems. 
YKS: Your poems depict the agonies of the most polluted river of Manipur and ‘one of the most polluted rivers of India’.  Do you think people in general and the State in particular has heard these agonies? Can you see any impact of your poems on the general masses?
KRS: Yes, most of the poems depict the angst and agonies of Nambul- the most polluted river in the state and one of the most polluted in India. I would love to think that they- the agonies- have been heard. As far the impact of my poems, I can’t say with certainty. May be the poems have some sort of indirect impacts. Many people commented on my Facebook timeline sharing their concerns for the river. There were editorial comments about/ on the poems. I can’t say whether the poems have had some impacts on the State. May be it is a matter of coincidence that the ‘dream project’ of our honourable Chief Minister Shri Nongthombam Biren – the Nambul Rejuvenation Project – addresses these angst and agonies depicted in my poems.  
YKS: Sir, you seem to have not used poetic license, instead your poems look like some kind of literary public sphere based on facts which have gradually evolved into a political public sphere critiquing the state of affairs of the Nambul River and public apathy towards the most needed environmentalism of the present time. Here, I would like to know if you were inspired by any writer or social thinker.
KRS: I am not a poet in the literary and conventional sense of the term. I am therefore not overtly conscious of whether I have used poetic license or not. But yes, I do agree that there is a strong streak of political tone in all my poems. What disturbs me to no end is the public and the State’s apathy to the environmental degradation and ecological imbalance. Think of it. The State alone is not responsible for the state of affairs of Nambul and other rivers. We public are equally responsible.
My Nambul poems are not inspired by any writer or social thinker as such. If at all, it is my childhood memories of Nambul coupled with the stark naked pollution, plastic pollution of the river that prompted me to pen the Nambul poetry, rather I should say prose-poetry.
YKS: How do you envision the future of Nambul River in different time frames and contexts?
KRS: As the State and the public are increasingly getting conscious of the need to protect our environment that includes rivers, lakes and other water bodies; I see no reason why Nambul should not have a bright and healthy future. Ten and/ or twenty years from now, Nambul will be a river free from plastic pollution and other non-biodegradable pollutants. It is we people, not excluding State’s apathy and negligence that may be termed as criminal offence, who has destroyed the natural beauty of Nambul. Ironically enough, it is we people again, plus State’s much needed intervention, who must save Nambul and restore her pristine beauty.
YKS: Sir, what will be your suggestions to the people and the State to restore and revitalize Nambul River in its originality which you very often mention nostalgically in your poems?
KRS: Very simple. People should stop throwing/ dumping garbage, plastics and other non-biodegradable pollutants to the river. The State on its part must adopt a two-pronged strategy, short term and long term, strategies. As short- term strategy, the State must come up with some protective measures such as: i) setting up a ‘Nambul River Protection Force’; ii) keeping 3 or 4 police personnel at every strategic points of all bridges in the valley to stop/ check people from throwing garbage/ wastes; iii) imposing fine or penalty on those found or caught throwing garbage; iv) making garbage throwing a punishable offence, etc.
The long-term strategy could be initiated by formulating a Manipur River Policy based on extensive and intensive research. A separate Ministry of Rivers could be introduced as well.
YKS: Sir, your 100th poem on Nambul River appeared in the poetry section of The Sangai Express (English edition) on 3rd November 2019. So, it took more than two years of your life to pen this series of poems. On the other hand, there are more than four academic books in your credit. Therefore, could you tell me whether you have any plan to publish these 100 poems in the form of an anthology or book?
KRS: It hardly crossed my mind that I have been penning these Nambul poems for the last 2 years. How time flies! That said, I always believe that academicians should not confine themselves within the domain of their own academic disciplines. So I write/ comment on the social/ political issues of the state.
Yes Dr. Khogen, it is a matter of happiness and satisfaction that a National Publisher from Kolkata is publishing these hundred Nambul poems. The book will be hitting the stands sooner than expected.
YKS: Sir, thank you very much for your valuable time and all the very best for your future academic endeavours.
The author can be reached at [email protected]