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E-Pao! EI - When a Manipuri filmmaker met Delhi

When a Manipuri filmmaker met Delhi
Episode 02 :: Absolute struggle for identity

By: Oinam Doren*



Prologue: I was born in a remote village in Manipur. At the age of 6, my mom's profession relocated the family to a small town-Bishnupur, 27 km. from Imphal with a prefix -lawai. I am referring my place of origin as it influences people's perception. By the way, Bishnupur is now the district headquarters of a valley district by the same name.

I am ignorant why in school I used to have a tinge feeling of insecurity among my Imphal friends. How I used to wish I were born in Imphal and indiscreetly eliminate the lawai brand in me. When I shifted to Shillong for college, unexpectedly the lawai-Imphal demarcation vanished. When people enquired about my state of origin, I unequivocally would reply 'I am a Manipuri'. What a profound relief! I started feeling like a real Manipuri and not 'lawai'. As I relocated to Delhi, I was branded as northeast ka ladka (northeast boy). The Manipuri found a redundant dustbin peeping up scarcely when I bump into somebody from northeast. Now my Imphal brethren also call me 'meitei macha'. What an intense relief! Now I am no longer 'lawai' but a meitei. Retrospectively, the term 'lawai' had affected me only when people associate it with 'derogatory or lowly images' that used to happen at times. Imphal origin is a status symbol for many people. However, the ultimate truth is -I was paranoid and disgruntled with the lawai brand due to my low self-confidence and the superiority complex often flaunt by some Imphal citizens.

In my futile quest for an identity-social, political, economical, physical, cultural, the journey has been precipitous like the Koubru hill. And this unanticipated struggle has vehemently exerted in ambiguous representations. In my teens in the early 90's, MTV and the conspicuous rock bands permeated its way into our room too. Grand posters of rock stars, a guitar, and the raucous metal music reigned my world too. Such is the pervasive miraculous power of identity; this lean guy called Kurt Cobain (Nirvana) from an unheard place called Seattle somewhere in an unseen America has stormed a small lawai (I love this term) place in Manipur. In addition, of course Guns n Roses, Metallica, Iron Maiden and the whole gamut of longhaired dudes that kicked our ass. The explosive sedated influence was so overriding that I told myself, 'GOD! I WANT TO BE A ROCKSTAR'. Other than the hectic strumming of guitar before school and after school, listening to music before school and after school and trying to write music before school, in school and after school, my kid brother and me has adapted a new bizarre image. Tight jeans (I must have look like a walking bamboo with my thin body), black t-shirts painted with a SKULL, caps painted with a SKULL, accessories in the form of rings, wristband, and necklace with more SKULLS in them. In notebooks, bags, there were SKULLS everywhere. Wished my progressive mom and dad of planet lawai were SKULLS. I would have looked like a SKULL too. Music needs a SKULL to represent itself.

My high school first grade results (thank god my dad didn't see any SKULLS in the marks) promoted me to a higher class. Inspite of my intuitive creative calling, a close ally of mine, Bungo who top Manipur in twelfth commerce '94 somehow inspired or convinced me by his dual hard work to be an accomplished chartered accountant (with a SKULL). I wistfully remember I used to have this pencil sketch poster of a man in my room. The guy's vertically split body would be half attired in suit with a handbag and the other half, long haired, grimly clad in jeans and with a guitar. I told myself 'GOD I WANT TO BE A CHARTERED ACCOUNTANT (with a SKULL)'. That elevated me to another world of Marwari classmates and friends, Pankaj, Pradeep, Ramesh, Mukesh, Babli, Bobby and Rita. Often tall, well groomed with their skin tanned and glowing immaculately dressed, I was wooed. Everything about them hurled me inside a mug of Hayward's 10000 beer. Splash! Frankly, I was getting insecured of my self. My greasy oily skin, cropping pimples of adolescence and self-loathing thin figure put me in a pathetic situation of low self-esteem. Consequently, I told myself, 'GOD I WANT TO BE A MARWARI'. And so, the SKULLS faded slowly. The music remained. And I inadvertently rented a new image (without my kid brother who is an artist now). Baggy pants, well buttoned full sleeve shirts, leather chappals, hair aptly styled to look like a Marwari. Everything in me was glued with Fevicol like a Marwari with my striking height except for one thing. I didn't have the archetypal Aryan moustache or the beard. When my Marwari friends jovially write 'Doren Jain, in my notebooks (without the SKULLS), I used to metaphorically sink in a bottle of whisky. Splash! They told me, 'you grow a beard to marry a Marwari'. Wished my progressive mongoloid mom and dad of planet lawai have beard and moustache too. I could have easily customized into a Marwari wallpaper.

A sub plot that could not be submerged is that, though my admiration for the Marwaris has unleashed its manifesto in my feign appearance, my creative calling frantically kicked my womb (years pregnant) trying to forge ahead. Cute baby poems, lyrics, articles, short stories used to toss my enamored Marwari friends metaphorically inside a bottle of vodka. Splash! They told, 'Doren we would never be able to write like you'. And of course I would never be able to become a Marwari. I couldn't grow a beard.

My graduation transported me this time to cosmopolitan Shillong. With some mini-skulls in my marks (due to the gargantuan depression of my first love), I somehow got through the entrance test in st. Anthony's college. This time I saw myriads of strange creatures; Khasi, Jaintia, Mizo, Naga, Nepali, Bengali, Bihari, Bodo, Assamese, Tripuri, Tibetian, Irish, Tamil and the cocktail gang. Who would lure me this time? A Khasi, a Naga or a Mizo? My Jaintia roommate Sam who completed his secondary school in 4 years like me (due to the gargantuan depression of my first love and he due to the gargantuan love of passion) impelled a favor with me. The first night in our memorable room no 39 in Stephen hall saw him frenetically reading the bible for hours. I thought this good-looking guy (with a spec) must be a holy virgin and a topper in school. Soon I unearthed his history. He unearthed mine. And we cried 'brothers'. We still make great company. He tortures me with frequent SMS from Bangalore.
(I would tell you a story someday-about Sam, a Hindi ignorant guy dating an English ignorant Nepali beauty.)

Shillong saw me gelling with almost every race in the northeast planet. I like people. People like me. I frequently haunted the Naga church, the Mizo, the Baptists, Presbyterians, and Catholics. They accordingly haunted me to amalgamate with them. I prayed with them, sang their heart wrenching songs, dine their scrumptious cuisine. I would have crushes on Mizo girls; Naga girls had crushes on me. The girls I liked never liked me; I never liked the girls who liked me. The girls who never liked me like me now; but I do not like them now. And definitely, now I like the girls who liked me; but they do not like me now. It is a capricious chemistry, a lousy phenomenon. LIKE ride jazzy fast cars. LOVE takes pilgrimage in sluggish bullock carts. If you cannot love, it is better to like. If you cannot do both, you are death. Leaving the liked pretty girls in a café for a while, lets move on. Every race (including the girls) profoundly moved me leaving a permeating impression in my subtle spirit. I like people.

However, the frantic Christian prayer sessions had one devastating effect at home. Whenever there was a ritual or a pooja in my Hindu (meitei) family, I could no longer pray in my Manipuri tongue.

I would often start a few lines in my native dialect and proceed incongruously in English as if inside the church. I desperately require the English language for my spiritual prayers. Satirically, I used to inquire my progressive parents of the lawai planet whether my local gods could understand my prayer in English. Baptism however never came my way. I like to be spiritual, not religious. I like people, not religion.

This is my personal journey in my quest for an identity. I know you have one. Tell me if you like. Now I am based in Delhi and the first episode 'baptism with bahadur' must have enlightened you how Delhi welcomed a northeast guy. Now the wind blows in my favor. And I will blow with the wind like Bob Dylan sings. Now I sport a jazzy identity that of a DV filmmaker. And I doll my filmmaker's uniform; a loose jean or corduroy, flamboyant kurta or kurti, a sling bag dangling on the side with nerdy long hair for that creative look. The pimples have gratefully disappeared and the skin glow like my Marwari classmates in school. Now I look like sensuous Susmita Sen. If I accidentally happen to sit on the ladies side in a crowded bus, girls don't hassle me for the legitimate ladies seat.

If you inquisitively check my skin 2/3 years back and now, you would be flabbergasted. Well ask tons of Clearasil packets, besan, tulsi leaves, haldi, eggs, cucumber, potato, tomato, milk, Dove, Fair & Lovely, Ponds moisturizer, cucumber face pack, chandan, rose water, Lakme cleansers, Ponds face wash, lemon juice. They have pragmatically erected bunkers in my face since school like US armies in Iraq. If I speak English well, ask my absolutely deaf and dumb tape recorder that heard me screaming and shouting volubly everyday. If you think I am confident, ask the heaps of positive thinking, personality development books I have avariciously consumed and applied in life. If you think I write well, ask the heaps of notebooks (word processor now) I have intensely scribbled. Ask me how much concentration and extensive hours of pain it took to create this article. I am deliberately telling this to prove a point: it demands protracted labor to carve ones identity.

Epilogue: I could not become a noisy rock star nor a chartered accountant (with a skull). I could not become a Marwari as perhaps I couldn't grow an Aryan beard. Even I flunk miserably in my first love. Shillong made me multi-cultured but couldn't shape a Christian out of me ( I don't want to be a Hindu either). Cynical Delhi couldn't baptized me into a Bahadur (I am not anti Bahadur anyway). Now I have become a DV filmmaker. Maybe I was destined to be here or incessantly driven by my efforts. I never muted my creative calling. I kept on doing the stuff I am wild about; writing, watching films, music, books, my scrapbook since I was a kid. I eventually realize now my identity is a relentless evolution and revelation of my inner self. I cant' be somebody else. It has to be me. The real me.

My triumph is that I feel awfully happy doing it. And most importantly, I am blessed with the gift of touching people lives; not a few but in clusters irrespective of space, time or color.

And I crave to hang on even if it has to be on a cliff and expand this identity to reach an unheard place called Seattle in an unseen America.

Concluding episode: The Manipuri identity.
(Find out how Delhi has changed towards me. I will introduce you to a flock of narrow-minded Manipuris. Also, revel at the real Manipuri identity. Don't miss the last episode to catch the essence of the first two episodes).

Read other episode(s)
When a Manipuri filmmaker met Delhi - Episode 01 :: Baptism with Bahadur
When a Manipuri filmmaker met Delhi - Episode 03 :: The Manipuri identity
The writer is a DV filmmaker based in Delhi. Besides currently engaging in a political project and making a music video for a band-Snowhite, in spare time he is writing a script for a Manipuri feature film-KOKEN dedicated to meitei woman for local & international audience. You can contact him at [email protected]

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