Translated from Manipuri (Meeteilon) to English by Akoijam Malemnganbi
The most striking feature of this poem is its ability to embed the element of layered oppression of women while instilling a sense of empowerment in the women in Manipur. It was important, as a translator, to retain this theme in the poem and therefore, I took extreme precaution while translating so that the English translation reflects this essence in its entirety. I made as little interference as possible when translating culture-specific words and images such as leima, meifu, mahaprasada, yempak, khwangchet, kokset, meinam, and meira. They are elaborated in the notes at the bottom so that readers grow familiar with these terms and understand the context where they were mentioned.
As far as diction is concerned, this translation makes an attempt to retain the sense of urgency and redundancy embedded in the original version. Therefore, the translation is line by line with several repetitions, and many words are arranged in series separated by commas as in the original. The imagery in the original is overwhelmed with repetition of the mundane household chores. The sense of performing a repetitive action which is tedious and inescapable is presented in the translated version as well. This reflects the life of a typical housewife across the world. Another recurring image in the poem is that of the ‘meifu’ that represents the comfort that a home provides. It is bright and red, which is alluring and provocative in the cold. In spite of being the one who kindles this comfort in the house both literally and metaphorically, Nupi Leima herself could only steal a glance at this comfort once in a while; her comfort is secondary to everyone else.
The clanging on the electric post towards the ending shows the double layered oppression she has to face as a housewife in Manipur. In Manipur, women take an active role in protecting the male members of the indigenous communities. They are popularly known as the Meira Paibi, the torch bearers, since most of the violence happens during the night and women have to hold torches while assembling to mitigate the situation. The ending provides a sense of empowerment as well as shows the readers a glimpse of the uncertainties of life and death of living in a conflict zone; the dual burden of taking care of the family as well as the community.
Freezing cold, early in the morning
Nupi Leima gets up,
as if the cold doesn’t bother her.
She kindles the meifu one by one,
for her mother-in-law, her father-in-law, her husband.
She runs around the house to finish the chores,
sweeping, swabbing, scrubbing, rinsing,
she has taken a bath and freshened up.
While walking across the room,
she glances towards the burning meifu once or twice.
She prepares food for the family and
everyone has eaten and is full.
Leima eats what’s left by her husband, his Mahaprasāda;
everyone has left the house for their jobs.
But Nupi Leima, she starts working again,
her duty, which she cannot escape,
sweeping, cleaning, doing the dishes, washing clothes,
bathing her children.
But, oh my, her own heels?!
One can sow mustard seeds,
her head almost like a yempaak,
she doesn’t remember which day it is.
One day comes
Another day goes;
Only this, she feels.
Tomorrow comes and leaves like yesterday.
Today, tomorrow, today, tomorrow,
by and by, they all went.
Nupi Leima, what has she ever really done after all?
In her heart, she tells herself,
I shall conquer the Himalaya,
I shall dive in the ocean and collect pearls.
But when the day begins
and the night approaches,
unavoidable chores crop up one by one.
What she felt in her heart vanishes into thin air.
Nupi Leima, you must do this,
you cannot do that.
While following this and that, the night draws closer.
Just like a while back, her duties come like a marching band
One after another, in a precise manner and order.
One after another, her inescapable duties.
When night falls, it brings its own unique series of work.
She kindles the meifu one by one,
For her father-in-law, her mother-in-law, her husband.
One after another, in a long queue.
The order must be maintained.
Everyone has had dinner,
All have gone to bed to sleep.
Nupi Leima, walks and runs to finish her work,
To make it easier for the next day
For an early meal in the morning,
For her husband, for her children.
Freezing cold, late in the night,
She has to sleep very late
As if the cold doesn’t bother her.
Her husband is watching the television
Sitting near the meifu.
Half asleep, half awake.
He cannot bear to stay awake now,
He’s gone to bed, her husband,
dying for sleep, dragging his feet.
He calls out to her lovingly,
‘Nupi Leima–this meifu is all yours.’
Someone strikes the electric post*!
Again and again, again and again.
Someone is shouting outside, ‘Come out womenfolk, come out!’
The voice is heard again and again.
Nupi Leima changes her clothes quickly, khwangchet around her waist, kokset on her head.
She kindles the Meinam Meira.
Hesitating not even a second
Nupi Leima runs out.
The meifu remains burning red and bright.
Leima: a married woman of the Meetei noble family
Meifu: a traditional charcoal-based heater made of iron or steel that has many holes on the side and is open on top
Yempak: a traditional wide straw hat that is used while working in the field to shield the face from sunlight
Khwangchet: a piece of clothing worn as a waist-support belt
Kokset: a piece of clothing worn on the head while working. When a person wears a khwangchet and a kokset, it signifies the readiness to handle a physical confrontation
Meinam Meira: a traditional torch used while going outside at night
*In Manipur, the sound of striking an electric post repeatedly signifies the occurrence of an unwanted incident. It is a call to the neighbourhood to assemble immediately to face situations ranging from mitigating a ruckus created by drunkards to stopping the Indian armies from picking up neighbourhood youths usually at midnight or at dawn, in the name of controlling insurgency in the state.
Illustration by Rohini Mani
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