Remembering a people’s poet and cultural activist
Khutheibam Abdur Rahman (2nd Jan 1935-11th Sept 2020)
Md. Chingiz Khan
The Pangal community is one of the most disadvantageous communities in Manipur in terms of education, economy, society, polity and administrative affairs. Educationally, there is a bird’s-eye perceptive that the Pangals are educationally backward in spite of showing a high literacy rate considering both male and female literacy among the Pangals. Their total population is 8.32 percent based on the 2011 census against the 8.8 percent of 2001 census. According to the 2011 census, 80.33 percent of male Pangals are literate and 55.22 percent of female Pangals are literate. If we compare these figures with the literacy rate of other communities in the State, the figures are still low with for the percentage of male literacy which has surprisingly reached 80 per cent and become quite close to the State average. This is just the nominal figure without reflecting the real positional status from the ground level. It is not an exaggeration to say that in terms of literacy, the Pangal society is conceivably the least developed society in the State of Manipur.Their educational status was in colourless and in a dreary stage before the implementation of reservation-cum-quota system on 27th December 2006 in the State of Manipur which made a half-hearted change.
It is seemingly said that among the Pangals of Manipur, there are lesser number of writers, poets, scholars, civil servants, historians and intellectuals. Earlier, there were some poets, writers and scholars such as Maulana Rahimuddin, Kayamuddin Pukhrimayum, MA Janab Khan, etc. who are no more but their contributions in the Pangal society are being acknowledged and considered noteworthy. Of these lesser numbers, Khutheibam Abdur Rahman, the poet, scholar and cultural activist, is not an exception but he is no more with us. It is a great and prodigious quagmire and fatality to the Pangal community in Manipur that left a vacuum that would not be able to fill up. He was born in 1935 at Keikhu village belonging to Kshetrigao Constituency, Imphal East District, Manipur. He has, extensively and extraordinarily, written poems on different themes and cultural aspects of ethno-based historical account of Pangal community along with Islamic study in Manipur. He took admission in DM College, Imphal for Intermediate of Arts (IA) after having passed his matriculation from Churachand High School conducted by Guwahati University. However, he was not able to pursue IA completely as he faced acute financial constraints. He knew many languages such as Manipuri, English, Arabic, Urdu and Hindi. He held the post of Accountant Officer in Agriculture Department, Government of Manipur. He was the founder member of Writers Union, Manipur and founder president of Islamic Cultural and Research Centre (ICRA) and some other associations also. He played a key role in the up-gradation of Khetrigao ME School to Junior High school.
As per records, he contributed three chapters in three edited books. Of these three books, one was published locally and the other two were published Nationally. The first chapter written by him titled “The Culture of Manipuri Muslim (Pangals) and Meitei Influences” appeared in the edited book of Arambam Samarendra, Manipur and Meitei-Pangal, PS Printing and Stationery, Imphal, 1998. He also contributed one notable chapter titled “The Meitei-Pangals” related to Pangals history and cultural aspects in an edited book of N Sanajaoba, Manipur : Past and Present, vol. 4, Mittal Publications, 2005 though he was not a professional trained historian. Lastly, he also contributed one chapter related to cultural aspects of Pangal community in the edited book of H Dwijasekhar Sharma, The Other Manipur, vol. 5, Akansha Publishing House, New Delhi, 2013. The three articles are used monumentally by many research scholars in and outside Manipur.
It is clearly evident from MM Ahmed’s book, Pangal Saknaibasing, part 1, published by Writer’s Union, Manipur that he wrote some Islamic based literary books such as Roja in 1986, Yusuf-Zuleikha in 1987, Eid Ani in 1987, Muharram Amasung Karbalagi Lan in 1992, Islam in 1997 and others like Khangpham Thokpa Farj Khara in 2000, Khutwatul Wada in 2009, etc. He wrote some other general literature books like Thammoigee Khollao in 1980, Pangalgee Khunung Eshei in 1986 (co-authored with Kayamuddin Pukhrimayum), Eraldubu Karino in 2002, Sahir-Salima Luhongba in 2004, Ngaklaba Punshi in 2007, Echel Amasung Khonjel in 2011 and Shoklaba Thammoigi Khollao (Poetry) in 2017.
He bagged many redoubtable and illustrious awards for his gigantic and boundless contributions in the field of Manipuri literature. He was the first Pangal among the Pangals of Manipur who bagged the literary award Sahitya Bhushan in 2003 conferred by Manipur Sahitya Parishad. He was also awarded ‘Writer of the year’ in 2004 by Naharol Sahitya Premi Samiti, Imphal and obtained a Certificate of Honour for his commitment to literature in 2009 by State Central Library, Imphal. He was also awarded ICRA Life Time Achievement Award in 2014 by both Writer’s Union, Manipur and ICRA, Imphal. He was honoured by Senior Citizenship of Society in 2014. The last prestigious award which was accorded on him in 2019 during the function of World Poetry Day is Gopal Sharma Award. This prestigious award was provided by Sahitya Thoupang Lup, Imphal for his immense contribution to literature.
He has been considered as one of the pioneering and spearhead figures in the field of Manipuri literature, folklore-based history and Islamic related study among the Pangals of Manipur. His ideas are deep and insightful concerning the history of Pangal community in Manipur. He presented many papers in many seminars and conferences regarding the cultural and poetical facets of Pangal community. Starting as a son of true-blue social worker Sifatullah who took a responsible role for the setting up of Keikhu Balika Lower Primary Madrasa, his father’s sense of steadfastness and constancy penetrated influenceably in him that made him the undeniable pearl of Pangal society. He has been considered as the first and foremost literary figure among the Pangals of Manipur. His ideas, in poetry and short stories, are assuredly creative and prototype in nature. When I met him for the first time during my research work for M Phil, he was so warm heartedly cordial and his statements were soft that can easily be understandable but are deeper in meaning. He helped and guided many young and dynamic research scholars who had keen interest in academics including the author of this short article himself while doing M Phil in the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He invigorated opulently to the Pangal’s field of literature and culture. He was also one of the prolific experts along with other experts such as Prof Salam Irene, Dr Imtiyaj, Abdul Hakim, etc., who helped in giving great inputs to researchers while making some questions based on Pangal’s contributions to economy, polity, society, culture and administrative affairs of the State for inclusion in the General Knowledge of Manipur published by Ramesh Publishing House, New Delhi. Those efforts were very fruitful and rewarding.
Khutheibam Abdur Rahmanand Kayamuddin Pukhrimayum wrote a path-bricking co-authored work such as Pangalgee Khunung Eshei that highlighted a deep sense of the past and contemporary societal norms that are in existence in the Pangal’s way of life. This co-authored book is an acclaimed one and referred to encyclopaedically by many research scholars across the State.
The poet-cum-cultural activist, Abdur Rahman,is no more with us but his innovative ideas, ideological dedication and huge contributions in Manipuri literature will be everlasting and give a source of strength and for the forthcoming generations regardless of young and old scholars and activists. His ideas will awake the “token intellectuals” who are discernible apologists to search and gain new scholarship. Through this article, I pay my humble tribute to him. His brilliance and inventiveness in the field of Manipuri literature is comprehensively knowledgeable and recognizable.
The writer is a Doctoral candidate, Centre for Historical Studies, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.