CLOSE READING - Reflecting folk life : Ramlal Sinha

Ramlal Sinha takes a close look at DILS Lakshmindra Sinha’s collection of folktales that mirrors the community’s life accurately

WHEN a reader goes through any of these tales, she sees a vivid picture of what the rural Bishnupriya Manipuri life looked like and to some extent, still does

The folklore of a community comprises its traditional beliefs, myths, tales, and the practices of its individuals, being transmitted orally from generation to generation. If one wants to know a community better, the surest and most effective route to that is through understanding its folklore. Folktales are an essential component of folklore, and the oral tales of the Bishnupriya Manipuris are no exception to this.
Treasury of Bishnupriya Manipuri Folk Tales
DILS Lakshmindra Sinha (ed and trans)
Pouri, 2011
BD Tk. 200, 115 pages
The Bishnupriya Manipuri folktales, called Babeir Yari or Apabopar Yari (the tales of forefathers) by the community members, can be categorised as (1) Apangor Yari (tales about simpletons), (2) Raja-Rani baro Rajkumar-Rajkumarir Yari (tales about royal family members), (3) Bhootor Yari (tales on ghosts), (4) Soralelor Yari (tales about the Rain God, Indra and his seven scions), (5) Pahiyapolei baro Jibojantur Yari (tales of birds and beasts), (6) Porir Yari (fairy tales), (7) Etihasar Yari (tales from history), (8) Myth and Legends, (9) Funny Skits, (10) Thogoar Yari (tales of frauds), (11) Pabitra Yari (sacred tales), (12) mucky tales or mucky jokes and the like.
This collection and translation by DILS Lakshmindra Sinha, founder president of the Bishnupriya Manipuri Writers’ Forum (BMWF), has enough tales that depict the wit, intelligence, fancifulness and sense of humour that Bishnupriya Manipuris are richly endowed with. Poetic justice — an outcome in which vice is punished and virtue is rewarded in a peculiarly or ironically appropriate manner — is glaring in most of the tales in this collection. This indicates that the Vaishavite Bishnupriya Manipuri community respects justice and disapproves of logical fallacy entirely.
This collection comprising 26 folktales in English is the first of its kind among writers from the community. It gives readers the taste of a wide variety of folktales from Bishnupriya Manipuri folk literature, and from this point of view, the collection can be termed an inclusive collection. It is indeed a valuable documentation for posterity.
It is worth mentioning here that G A Grierson had collected three Bishnupriya Manipuri folktales from Manipur and included them in his Linguistic Survey of India (Vol. I, part IV, published in 1891) along with their English translations. Sinha has incorporated all the three folktales collected by Grierson. The author has also adopted and translated the folktale ‘The Lawyer and the Merchant’ that had been collected and published by Upendra Nath Guha in his Kacharer Itibritta’ (1971).
From my personal contact with Sinha, I have come to know the modus operandi followed by him while collecting these folktales. He had to wander from village to village and arrange some sort of story-telling competitions among old women, who got a meagre remuneration for each story told. Often, the same story would vary in its telling from region to region. Sinha has taken these variations into account while collating the tales.
The success that this collection has achieved is obvious from the fact that when a reader goes through any of the tales in it, she sees a vivid picture of what the rural Bishnupriya Manipuri life exactly looked like and to some extent, still does. Characters found in ‘The Idle Woman’, ‘The Silly Peasant’, ‘Two Brothers’, ‘Apang the Thief’, ‘The Tale of a Bitu-Titu’, ‘The Story of Pani’, ‘Gokulsena and His Wife’ and the like, look no different from rural Bishnupriya Manipuri folk.
This collection has added yet another feather to Sinha’s cap. He has as many as ten volumes of poetry to his credit already, besides a volume of short stories written in the Bishnupriya Manipuri language. Some of his poems have also been translated into Assamese, Bengali and Hindi. A select number of his short stories have also been published in English translation. Treasury of Bighnupriya Manipuri Folktales only goes to prove the versatility of this noted writer.

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