“I am no Longer the River I was once” the very line that begins each of the hundred poems in the anthology titled ‘Cry of a Dying River’ penned by Prof. Rajendra Kshetrimayum, Department of Sociology, Manipur University engulfed me to an ocean of hope and, at the same time, yank in a state of despair; considering the state of Nambul as a river. The prose- poetry, which have had a broad base reader, enthusiast, environmentalist and activist during its weekly run for a hundred plus one weeks in the poetry section of The Sangai Express (English Edition) prior to its publication as an anthology, has uniqueness in multiple aspects – style, layout, narration and especially the context, the river whose name is most popularly heard but exceedingly polluted, degraded and politicised.
The Nambul River that meanders through the heart of Imphal town is continued to be “the dustbin” for decades in one hand and also portrayed as the identity and pride of Manipur, especially Imphal city, on another. It is also made to be served as the most prominent media friendly space, whose platform is strategically used to achieve a shooting fame and popularity for political and/or monetary gain in the name of its cleaning and/or saving the riverine ecosystem. Thank you Professor for your painstaking effort on lending a voice to the most ‘Neglected-ly Loved’ river of Manipur. Each poem in the anthology tells the love, dedication and efforts that shower on Nambul River by the people of Manipur by chocking its path, dustbin-ing, encroaching and degrading its pristine beauty and the overall riverine ecosystem.
For you, who are yet to lend a heart to the world of the prose-poetry “Cry of a Dying River”, most of the episodes are written in two paragraphs consisting of ten lines each. However, the two para consist of, and usually narrates two distinctively varied contexts forecasting two antagonistic pictures. One para, in general, draws the Nambul in its most promising and damsel era while the another entails its anthropogenic resulted misshapen state. The overall structure of the anthology-in its layout and meaning, connotes the messy social world of ours. The poems further enriches “the world of Lexicon” by introducing terms and phrases describing the current mental state, human behaviour and social conditions (which has a universal implication).
Some of the skilfully constructed thought provoking and derived terms used by the Professor include: “In this age of gun and guncracy” (3rd line, 6th episode), “In this Republic of Dust and Dirt” (8 th line, 11th episode), “The danger of deoxygenation” (5 th line, 17 th episode), “DPR (Distorted Project Report)” (11th line, 30th episode), “Voices of/from the ‘corridors-of-power’” (06th line, 49th episode), “The Heinou Makhong of Babupara” (06th line, 52nd episode), “Where ‘dirtyisation’ is a process unending and ‘dirtism’ a way of life” (7th and 8th line, 65th episode) ‘Chamcha intellectuals’ ‘Mutual Appreciation Club’ ‘mobocracy’ (in different lines, 69th episode)
Besides, the prose-poetry is also effectively abled in creating a mental image of Nambul River then and now. The poet beautifully details the history of the land through folktales and mythological narrations and then flows smoothly along with the world of our culture, ethnicity, moral and changing socio-environmental contexts. He also constantly amazes the readers with the beautiful world that intrinsically resides within the riverine ecosystem of Nambul River with much valued and loved flora and fauna of our land. An array of indigenous verities of fishes, birds and mammals; the everyday world of indigenous people revolving around the said river are well illustrated through the ‘deep description’ of children’s play, associating way of life of general public and economic activities in and around the Nambul River. It also introduces today’s generation to the story of Ebudhou Wangbren, ‘Haoba-Konu’ ‘Khamba-Thoibi’ and the legendary romance of Luwang prince to his beloved Toibi Leima.
Slowly “Cry of a Dying River” flows and sets us to the era of Japan Lan, AFSPA and the traumatic history of insurgency, counter insurgency and its associating event of “forced disappearance of men” and the resulting school of widows to the very recent incident of untimely demise of the young little girl-Babysana. Afterall, it is a thought provoking narration with slices of sarcasm and humour. The poet also elegantly reflects on the changing world of our so-called-modern society, its logic, behaviour and action.
Sarcastically describing today’s Manipur as “The land of ‘Godfather’(s) and ‘Godmother’(s)” “the land of MOUs” “the land of status seekers” “land of peculiar people, people who are damn good at pointing fingers” who is filled with “Encroachers of the third kind fourth kind and now the nth kind” “Encroachers who give a damn to the law of land” encroaching every possible inches and degrading the Nambul ecosystem by making it as “The river that’s decorated with thousands of pieces of floating plastics” “Chakravyu of plastics” and thus making the river as a river “battling for life” with a “turbid and flow half-empty with polluted water”. In the land which is further tagged as “The land of SIX C’s: Corruption, Commission, Committee, Cricket, Coalition and Corporatisation” where “Meetings are indispensible when you don’t want to do anything” and “a decision not to take a decision as a decision”, the poet reflects on the fondly follow strategies: “Loktak enthusiast and lovers’!! Join the rat race “SAVE LOKTAK” and FILL THY COFFER(S)”.
So, ‘Cry of a Dying River’ can be understood as a poem examining the historical discourse of Manipur through socio-cultural, political, historical, economic and ecological perspectives. It serves as a canvas painting the Hypocrite world of today through allegorical and analogical texts and contexts. Sometimes the Professor makes us to land in the world of dreams through skilfully paved path of poetic imagination. His way of describing a context in appropriately toned words even makes the situation to come in life vividly. Being an anthology with a hundred and one poems; the line unknowingly but abruptly echoes to my mind softly yet painfully:
“I am no longer the River I was once”. The very line riddles me and makes me curious whether: is it a statement or a mourn? Or is it a question or an answer? Or is it a beginning or an end? The line further and also again take me to those instances and stories where youthfully energised spring ends and the cemented beauty fades but the charm still lingers in mind with its golden taste. So, Nostalgia ? Will it be appropriate to term as Nostalgia ?
Prof. Rajendra Kshetrimayum’s ‘Cry of a Dying River’ is not a nostalgia but a voice; a voice of an environmentalist, a voice of a sociologist, a voice of a folklorist, a voice of a historian and a voice to today’s generation reminding our current action of cruelty and selfishness. So, instead of being simply termed as nostalgia, the poem explains the degrading human action by exploring its roots and prompt for an affirmative action. So, in today’s state of environmental pollution and destruction, the voice of Professor Rajendra Kshetrimayum is not solely for Nambul River; but for a general pollution free sustainable world where human can breathe freely and live happily. So, in today’s state of environmental demolition and degradation, it is the moisture ridden cool breeze in an afternoon of May; or simply it is the life saving mizzle near to the end of autumn. Afterall, all he asked is to hear the silent cry of the Mother Nature and starts acting at one’s own pace and position for the good of one and everyone. Hear what the poet in Professor laments ...
“You Have Destroyed What You Cannot Create”
“Lend me a voice! A voice is all I need”
The writer is a Research Scholar, Department of Sociology Manipur University and he can be reached at [email protected]