By- Thingnam Joyshree Devi
Keisham Priyokumar (1949- ) is an eminent short story writer of Manipur. He has contributed five short story books in Manipuri Literature. He has received many awards like Sahitya Academy award (1998), Manipur State Award for Literature (2014) etc. The problem of insurgency and issues related to communal clash could be seen in Priyokumar’s third book, ‘Nongdi Tarakhidare’ [1995 ].
The colonialism era have ended when the British left Manipur but there are a lot of discontentment in the heart and mind of the youths of Manipur. This is due to several reasons. When the natives thought that Manipur, being an independent state, would be a full-fledged state of India, the government kept Manipur in a very low status as part C State. People thought that democracy would be benificial but the opposite of it happened. The fruits of democracy and its benefits were not given. The people of India also could not view the Manipuries as Indian citizens. Due to these reasons the youths of Manipur demanded its independence back and gave birth to the idea of anti-colonialism. The political chaos also increased. The seeds of insurgency began to saw in the 1960s. The people demanded Statehood and finally Manipur got its statehood in 1972. But the anguish and hatred that started in 1960s still continued. And in 1980s, the conflict of insurgency heightened. The changes that came with time were seen in the works of the Manipuri writers who were also a part of this society. The writers felt the miseries of common people due to the insurgency and the conflict between state and non-state actor. These issues were reflected in Manipuri Literature. The Manipuri short story writers kept the burning issue of insurgency far away from their works. But within a decade the writers showed the various issues faced due to insurgency. The age long insurgency struggles from its strongest time until it slowed down that is, the wave of insurgency could be found in Keisham Priyokumar’s three short stories. We could see the communal clash in the hilly areas of Manipur in 1990s in his works. The themes of insurgency and communal clash could also be seen from his book, Nongdi Tarakhidare published in 1995. Later on “Lan Amasung Mang” and ‘Nongkhong Tamna’  were published based on the issues of insurgencies, ethnic and communal conflicts. He experimented on a new style while writing these fictions. Some features in which the writer encounters while sketching these significant revolitionary issues and their effects are:
1. The life of the common people between the state actor and non-state actor.
2. Sorrows and suffering faced by the parents whose children enlisted themselves in the revolutionary army.
3. The mental reflection of the changed feeling of home-sickness or return to home experienced by those who have been already in the revolutionary armies.
4. The psychological set up of those who surrendered.
5. Fake revolutionary armies.
6. The painful effects of ethnic conflicts.
1. Life of the common people between the state actor and non-state actor
In ‘Tha Amasung Rahu’, ‘Grahagi dasha’ [Nongdi Tarakhidare,1995], the agony of the common people who suffer while existing between the strong forces of insurgents and those who stand to suppress the former is depicted. The story ‘Tha Amasung Rahu’ has been developed with the background of a bus which travels from Senapati to Imphal. The long awaited monthly salary has been forcibly and completely robbed on the journey towards home by the insurgents at Sapermeina. Thereafter, hard frisking is done on the protagonist immediately after crossing the Pheidinga Bridge blaming him to be one of the insurgents thereby giving repeated trauma. The story reflects the unwanted activities and fear caused by the state army in the name of suppressing the insurgents and this can be vividly known from one of the writer’s line : ‘Grandmother worries only about her granddaughter when the arrival of army is heard’ [Priyokumar, 1995: 55].
The writer compares such an agonising sorrow of the common people with the moon eclipsed by Rahu. Again in Grahagi Dasha a family gets ill fated for the army claim all the family members to be insurgents because they have given shelter to some insurgent. In it, a young daughter without the permission of her parents provides a night’s shelter to two young insurgents. But, on the very night, the police came and take the two lives away with the ultimate result of the ill-fate and suffering got by the daughter and her whole family. Such a terrible situation is frequently experienced by the people of the state in reality. During the whole activities of getting independence by the state revolutionary armies and of suppressing the former by the state security forces, the innocent and common people always suffer.
2. The agony faced by the parents whose children unlawfully enlisted themselves in the revolutionary army
In ‘Meisha’ [Nongdi Tarakhidare] and ‘Shiningbagi Wakhal’ [Lan Amasung Mang, 2000], the sorrow and agony experienced by the parents whose children have become insurgents are portrayed. Meisha depicts the grief of the innocent life of Chaoton who resides at the edge of the Chakpi river growing maize and collecting Khanggra leaves. In the story, Chaoton’s daughter marries a non Manipuri man who takes shelter at Serou resulting in an unhappy married life. Although he gets societal shame, he lives in the hope of his son who studies at Imphal. However, the son turns out to be insurgents and gets involved in a military encounter and gets killed. This sad news put another sorrowful burden on the life of already grieving father, Chaoton. He then becomes a father who gives up the hope of living. ‘Siningbagi Wakhal’ outlines a grief stricken father who feels like giving up life because his sons have become victims of insurgency and drugs.
3. The mental reflection of the changed feeling of home sickness or return to home experienced by those already enlisted insurgents
‘Lan Amasung Mang’ was published five years after the publication of Nongdi Tarakhidare. The work mentions the feelings of the insurgents when they are far away from homes. The feeling to surrender after becoming insurgents, the longing for home return and the feeling of disheartenment on the side of the revolutionary armies are strongly depicted in ‘Uchek’. A home-sick insurgent, Chingkheinganba’s mind is symbolised in the bird. Chingkheinganba who has been already an insurgent yearns for his home return after numerous months. As he eagerly waits to return home at dusk on the dense hill near his village, a bird flies freely over him in the sun setting shy to return to its nest. The situation vividly symbolises this young man’s mental longing for a return to home as reflected by the writer:
[Priyokumar, 2000: 52]
4. The psychological set-up of those who surrendered
‘Nongkhong Tamna’ published in 2013, is a portrayal of the long period of anxiety gone through by the young surrenders. The story ‘Khongup Boot’ in this book shows the mental and emotional anxiety of a young surrender. The story evolves from only a night. It reflects the agonising condition and anxiety of a surrender who was at one time an active insurgent. Though he presently lives at home, he is unable to have mental peace or to get the better of his past bitter experience. Sanatomba (Malemnganba) has surrendered and has been in a marriage bond but he cannot lived a peaceful life. Even if he stays at home, he faces the fear of encountering both security and militants. The whole story clearly reveals the fear and anxiety of Sanatomba’s inner mind experienced at just a night. The killing of surrenders on the pretext of fake faults by calling them out of their houses by the security forces and by the real insurgents is a frequent incident in this conflict prone region. Such a terrible news often haunts the mind of man like Sanatomba. He wishes to smile freely and happily with his mother, wife and child but he hardly does so because of frequent fear. When his wife informs him about the news of surrenders got killed kidnapped, he remembers his past life and consequently fear overpowers him. He feels that such an incident could also happen to him anytime which panics his existence. Meanwhile, Sanatomba wants to hear something new that will make his heart delighted from his wife. He wishes to live a restful life. The barking sound of the dog with the thundering storm in that night might raises his hidden fear. Then, he hears the sound of stepping boots, he becomes more fearful. He can’t even breathe. The sound of the boots can even panic the sense of stepping of the readers. He starts to feel the grief of his young and charming wife:
“I am devoid of any accusation now. Don’t be worried. What I am concerned is your being like a newly bloomed flower,” [Priyokumar, 2013: 11]
5. Fake revolutionary armies
The short stories ‘Ngaiba’ and ‘Bomb’ in ‘Lan Amasung Mang’  depicted the unfortunate condition of the poor, powerless unemployed and disoriented youths turning into fake revolutionary armies. Ngaiba sets its background on two fake insurgents who, on a stormy night wait for the money they have demanded from quite a rich man. So, in their act of waiting, the desperate lives of their past and of their unsettled future yet to come could be seen. They know well that what they are doing is not right, but they want to have the last attempt thinking that they could make the last attempt thinking that they could make the better of their lives with the whole lot of money they are going to get. While showing hesitation over their act, they can see a vehicle coming towards them. When they come closer to it, the persons inside it turn out to be more powerful and able and they lose their lives in those unknown hands immediately. Instead of depicted the punishment owing to facing insurgents, the reader could feel genuine sympathy for these unfortunate youths for their helpless situation trying to make a well off destiny. ‘Bomb’ shows the confused mind and life of Mohon who is an educated unemployed and who has lost all hope and ways to get employment. Mohon has a confused state of mind because his sick father, divorced sister and their property on mortgage for getting a secure job. Consequently, he wants to have a test of power after testing a bomb which has been left by a young man owing to inconvenience. The flow of his wild quick thought ends when the young man comes to recover the bomb. ‘Shiba kiba Amasung Kidaba’ reflects the situation in which one needs to hold a gun in order to survive and live. The writer shows the unfortunate condition of those young contractors’ whose cheques have not sanctioned whereas the powerful contractor’s cheque has been sanctioned. In such a situation, the powerless ones are conditioned to get guns and pressurize the authority to sanction their required cheques. The story drifts down with a great pace. The writer even brings in the incident of two youths stuffing an engineer inside a sack and hiding him at a bushy side of a river. The description of the gun which frightens the engineer could be seen at the end of the story.
“The gun off his belly has been thrown away into the river. The dark gun flowing down at the moon-lit night could be seen clearly.”[Priyokumar, 2000: 52]
‘Mang Macha Amagi Khongchat’ in Nongkhong Tamna has been represented as the double faced look of insurgency. Whether the insurgents are making money on the pretext of revolution or whether they are really fighting for their motherland is being displayed in front of the readers. The writer shows that some of the insurgents are doing revolutionary business and making a huge amount of money in the name of fighting for freedom. The protagonist Amu in the story is a young man who has sat in many interviews but has not yet got a job. However, he enlists himself in the insurgent army after encountering the leader of seven insurgent parties. Then, he gradually realized that their leader is a multi-faced one. But he gets involved in the activities of making money lose trust on one another blaming each other with an extremity that they try to kill one another. Later on, he tries to survive hard instead of making money. Finally, he succumbs to his death pit and ends the journey of his short dream.
6. The painful effects of ethnic and communal conflicts
The Naga-Kuki conflicts in the hilly areas in the 1980s spread like a wild fire in the hills. Such a fiery incident was depicted in Nongdi Tarakhidare for the first time. Nongdi Tarakhidare reflects the sorrowful and agonising condition of hilly people who have becom victims of communal riot and clash. When they were accounting their income in a hopeful moment waiting for the seasonal rain the writer depicts a heartbroken Chongnikim remembering how Lungjahao was killed by crucifixion in the communal war between the Nagas and Kukies. Chongnikim’s heart could not be soothe even if the seasonal rain could bring greenery in the surrounding hills. She had to leave her village to an unknown one in order to survive when she was still unable to cope with her husband’s separation. The theme/idea of communal conflict which started with Nongdi Tarakhidare took a new form in Lan Amasung Man. The images of heart and mind could be clearly seen as compared to the incidents. In Ahing Ama [Lan Amasung Mang] the setting is the consequences of killing due to communal conflict of a night. Stephen (Naga) and Lingpao (Kuki) were living for four years as brothers. But the bond of lone and trust between them were destroyed due to the communal killings in their village. When Lingpao’s brother was killed by Nagas, Stephen’s mind was filled with doubt that Lingpao might want to avenge his brother’s death. The writer clearly depicts the restless minds of both Stephen and Lingpao
From the stories discuss above, we can’t find any insurgent protagonist. The writer depicts the pain and miseries given to various people in the state and community due to the emergence of armed insurgent groups. The distress of common people between insurgent and the power to subdue it, misery due to communal clash, thought of the youths involved in insurgency, testing life by the doubtful and hesitating youth and the wavering mind of the surrendered youths are depicted in Priyokumar’s works. In the story, Mang Macha Amagi Khongchat, which is in his last published book, ‘Nongkhong Tamna’, the issues between the ideas whether the war is fought for the motherland or the insurgents are earning money in its name is very confusing. The writer has shown that the 30 years long insurgency conflict is a mere war for earning money. If we discuss the writer’s works, we could see that the issues and problems of insurgency is in a chaotic and confusing state.
Rinku Khumukcham, Editor of Imphal Times has more than 15+ years in the field of Journalism. A seasoned editor, was a former editor of ISTV News. He resides in Keishamthong Elangbam Leikai, with his wife and parents.