The idea of a book club Imphal

Pooja Elangbam
When I decided to come back to Manipur to work, a lot of people asked me if it would give me the space and freedom to achieve my potential in work, if I would find the atmosphere for literature and the arts. Even as I weighed the pros and cons of living and working here, in my heart I knew that my deepest inspirations have drawn from the places and people of Manipur. I have seen over the years, having just finished school eight years ago, the bleak and dull lives inhabited by young people, flitting like flies between one tuition to another, drilled by well-intentioned parents and teachers to score high marks, because that is seen as the only gateway to success. The prevailing system has made young people victims of a cruel, unforgiving climate that doesn’t recognise the unique abilities of every person. Our society continues to churn out an assembly line of doctors, engineers, bureaucrats who are never taught to think on their own, who never learnt to question their lives or the world around them, who never dared to dream beyond the confines of a narrow restrictive outlook.
I grew up mostly preoccupied with my books, feeling terribly alone with my love for the characters who didn’t exist. There was time I would confuse reading a book with watching TV, that was how vivid and real the world of books were to me. I would carry a book with me everything, to boring family functions, to picnics with friends, to shopping , to parties. Even now I still carry a book with me even if I don’t get time to read it, old habits die hard. I have also been incredibly lucky to find friends along the way who loved books as much as I did, people who I could bounce ideas with, share books, movies, poetry, collectively cry together over a fictional character. In LBSNAA, we had a Cinephile group of friends where we would share books and movies and then have intense conversations about it.
And once I got back home after my training in LBSNAA, Mussoorie, I realised it was not enough for me to do my job, the intricacies of which I am learning and enjoying, but I also needed to fulfil my creative urge and to give back to society the little that I have been privileged to learn in my twenty five years. The Book Club Imphal is a small endeavour in this regard, to introduce young people to art, literature, beauty, collaboration, interaction but most of all, to show them that learning is not drudgery. Learning can be enjoyable and it goes beyond classrooms and books, that learning happens even when you travel, read poetry, participate in a quiz or debate, perform a play, dance or sing, when you go running, bicycling or walking, when we speak up and tell our own stories. It happens in our everyday conversations and our everyday lives. As Robin Williams puts it in Dead Poets’ Society, “Carpe diem! Seize the Day! Make your lives extraordinary”.
I have been fortunate to meet incredibly passionate, brilliant and hard working youngsters since I had the first Book Club Meeting in the beginning of June and our family has been growing ever since. The Book Club is an interactive platform, a safe space for people to discuss and come up with new ideas and activities to engage the youth. This is an organization of the youth, by the youth and for the youth. We meet atleast twice a month and talk about music, poetry, books, mental health, anything under the sun and hold events. We recently visited RKCS art gallery where we learnt the history of Manipur through paintings. We also managed to pull off Loushing, an inter-college quiz for undergraduate and post graduate events.  We have a lot more events lined up in the coming months such as Inter-school quiz, Model United Nations, film screening, career counselling, painting workshops, photography session, on the spot poetry and short story writing competition.
The Book Club and in extension this magazine, Heeden da Chumthang, symbolizing a safe harbour for diverse thoughts and creativity that is manifested when people collaborate, is an attempt to capture the joys and frailties of life, a reflection of our lives and the world around us, to initiate a discourse on the issues that affect us individually as well as collectively. To tell stories and to paint is a fundamental human urge and a socio-cultural renaissance can only take place when these urges are given a platform where young talents can be encouraged , sustained and given an outlet.  Manipur is no stranger to eminent artists and writers and it our generation’s turn to carry the torch forward.
The writer is IAS, Assistant Commissioner, Imphal West.