The Strange Affair of Robin S Ngangom

Introduction

About the poet

          Robin S Ngangom is a bilingual poet from Manipur who writes both in English and Manipuri. Ngangom describes his poetry as “mostly autobiographical, written with the hope of enthusing readers with my communal or carnal life — the life of a politically-discriminated-against, historically-overlooked individual from the nook of a third world country”. “When You Do not Return”, “Curfew” and “The Strange Affair of Robin S Ngangom” etc. some are Robin S Ngangom’s vibrant portrayals of the turbulent political situation in Manipur.

Bird’s-eye view

          “The Strange Affair of Robin S Ngangom” is a politically charged and the most ambitious poem about his homeland among all Ngangom’s poems. “The Strange Affair of Robin S Ngangom” discusses primarily the political turmoil in Manipur caused by the conflict between the insurgents and the armed force. “The Strange Affair of Robin S Ngangom” is about the horrific change of pristine land into hell, filled with hunger, suspicion, turbulence, and destruction.

Social Background

          Once Manipur was a prosperous princely kingdom but due to British colonialism, it changed forever. Manipur was freed and became a part of the Indian Union under dubious circumstances. There were distinct transformations in the political and social life of this former feudal state. Manipur became just another corrupt and disillusioned state under the new dispensation. Poets began responding to these changes from the very beginning. The new poetry of the 80s and 90s voices out to the social condition of Manipur.

Summary and analysisThe Strange Affairs of Robin S Ngangom

          The poem “The Strange Affair of Robin Gnangom” starts with the assertion of the poet that he is not involved with the ‘wheel of fire’ which suggests the destruction, bloodshed in his state. As we have mentioned above that Manipur was once a happy princely state. However, due to the change in the political atmosphere, Manipur undergoes social, political, and cultural changes.

          The lines “misplacing/ a bronze bell” could be a suggestion of losing its cultural identity and the changes in Manipur experiences. This is emphasized by the line “I left behind many untended hearths.” The change in him uprooted his origin which makes him envious of each element associated with that land. The new changes cause Manipur to lose the traditional values of the culture.

          The people in Manipur believe that their past is unspoiled but due to the cultural, political dispossession, the present turbulence is intertwined with their lives. As a consequence, the starving people take “begging bowls in hand”. Upon seeing this horrific condition of his people Ngangom seeks to tear and burn the traces of present condition so that suspicion cannot write their bloody history.

          He talks about the youth who return home at Christmas with hate and fear, they take a long and indirect route to home so that they could outsmart their enemy who would be happy in the birth of a merciful son. Because they don’t want dissident sons who could be a threat to them. When these boys reach home, their dreams will come dressed in blood.

Terror in the lives

          He draws attention to the conflict between the Indian armed forces and insurgents in the land. Therefore Ngangom turns to his land with a heavy heart to describe the suffering that land is bearing. “When I turn with a heavy heart/ towards my burning land/ the hills, woman, scream your name.” The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) permits the armed forces the authority to shoot anyone based on mere suspicion and it renders the loss of lives in Manipur(source).

          Soldiers with black sçarves are compared to mime artists who killed the people instantly without speaking a single word. The youth of Manipur died in turmoil and instead of peace in the hills the air is filled with the acrid smoke of explosives and pyres. He feels sorry for the ravages done to his motherland. He is appalled by the wound it received, that is why he demands “who branded the moonskin of my love?” and asked who used his motherland like a toy doll.

          Ngangom points out to the trucks carrying the instruments of death and devastation. Ngangom is also critical of the Indian armed forces for turning his “fabled land” into a hell and graves of youths who died in turmoil into only milestones of the land. Ngangom also points out to the rise of capitalism in his land in the lines, “He cut down the remaining trees/ and carried them away/ like cadavers (corpses) for dissection.”

          In a similar poem, “Curfew” by Ngangom describes people who were killed in a lawless firing. He seems to be sad for the forceful union of Manipur with the Indian Union and says, “at cockcrow one morning we found/ ourselves belonging to a nation/ What happens when our bodies leave us behind/ and even our songs must lie/ damp in a corner?”

          Things have become so usual that news items in the morning newspapers have become bland like adulteration of milk. The abuse of women, extortion, ambushes, campaigns, etc. has become a normal scenario in the land and it is emphasized by the use of the phrase “the usual”. In this regard, Sisir Kumar Das says that the “narratives of pain and suffering” are always a collective narration of a community’s suffering.

Decline of values

          The poet points out that words like patriotism and uprightness have lost their values. Worthiness is cherishing a new faith to set free ideological horror. Ngangom appeals to the young generation that patriotism is the need of the hour.  Ngangom also asks to be patriotic by mourning for the fact of the merging of Manipur with India. Patriotism is honoring those souls who died in midst of chaos, and patriotism is declaring that their native customs and traditions, their literature, and performing arts should be preserved.

          In reality, the meaning of patriotism has been distorted. Now patriotism is admiring the youth of Manipur who takes grenades in their hands, “patriotism is proclaiming all men are brothers” nevertheless, his brothers have been deprived. Patriotism is playing the chattering of guns to the child who is sleeping in the womb.

The suffering of the people

          The poem “The Strange Affair of Robin S Ngangom” presents the scenario in the land. Different tribes impose bandhs, road obstruction with an intention to fulfill their demands. The bandhs often last for many days, weeks which ultimately affect the economy of the state and the uncertainty of the lives of the people and shortage of essential items are described in the following lines:

Nothing is certain:

oil

lentils

potatoes

food for babies

transport

the outside world.

          “The Strange Affair of Robin S Ngangom” is a vivid depiction of horrific change experienced in Manipur. Moreover, he emphasizes that things like fire, water, and air have become commodities.

A tired land and exhausted people

          Things have changed Manipur so drastically that the people are now exhausted. The poet says that during childhood there they celebrated the festival of lights. Now the widows cannot light lamps anymore. Their happiness, smile lost somewhere in the smoke of explosive devices. The land is tired of seeing blood. Men are tired and are tired of being men because they could not protect their motherland.

          Therefore Ngangom wants to flee from his homeland but he knows deeply “where can I flee from your love?” that means his love cannot let him separate from his motherland. Therefore the poem “The Strange Affairs of Robin S Ngangom” ends with a pessimistic tone that he has been bound to live in this prison-like homeland forever from where he can’t escape.

The significance of the title

          The poem “The Strange Affair of Robin S Ngangom” is narrated in the first person, the “I” in the poem stands for the collective voices of people of Manipur who are suppressed, oppressed and suffered because of political conflict. Placing his own name in the title of the poem suggests his affinity for his motherland. The poet has experienced what he has narrated in the poem. His experiences are the experiences of the people, the whole Manipur. So his strange affair is the strange situation that Manipur faces due to political reasons.

Conclusion

          The poem “The Strange Affairs of Robin S Ngangom” is Ngangom’s attempts to present Manipur vividly and an outcry of a helpless person. The poet has become tired of the events which are taking place in the land. Therefore, Robin S Ngangom, through his poem “The Strange Affairs of Robin S Ngangom” is hopeful about the peace in his land.

        Have you read – A Poem for Mother by Robin S Ngangom

Works Cited

  1. Bezbaruah, Dipen. “Voices in English Poetry from North-East India: Robin S Ngangom’s.” The Strange Affair of Robin S Ngangom” Journal of Xi’an University of Architecture & Technology, Volume XII, Issue V, 854-855,2020.
  2. Chadha, Priya. “ANALYZING DISPLACEMENT IN NGANGOM’S POETRY”, VerbosIncendium, issue 2, 2016.
  3. Chettri, Champa. “Historicising Manipur’s Social and Political Issues through the Poetry of Robin S Ngangom.” Language in India, Vol. 19:4, April, 2019.
  4. Das, Prasanta. “Waiting to be Taken Onboard: the Poetry of Robin Ngangom, Desmond Kharmawplang, and Kynpham Sing Nongkynrih.” www.academia.edu/2467910/. Accessed 26 April 2020.
  5. Hazarika, Kalyani. “POETIC VOICES FROM NORTH-EAST INDIA: A STUDY ON ROBIN S NGANGOM’S AND DESMOND L. KHARMAWPHLANG’S POETRY.” MSSV JOURNAL OF HUMANITIES AND SOCIAL SCIENCES VOL.3 NO.2.
  6. Singha, Sukla. “From the Mnemonic to the Literary: Exploring Memory in Select Works of Robin S Ngangom and Kynpham Sing Nongkynrih.” Bharatiya Pragna: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Indian Studies, Vol. 1, No. 3, 2016.
  7. Subramaniam, Arundhathi. “Robin S Ngangom”, Poetry International. https://www.poetryinternational.org/pi/poet/11771/Robin-Ngangom/en/tile.
  8. “Contemporary Manipuri Poetry – An OverviewRobin S Ngangom”, http://yogish.co.in/
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