Kynpham Sing Nongkynrih’s Manik is a wondrously layered retelling of an old Khasi folktale. Manik touches on key issues of love where a bond is severed by strictures and cruelties of society.
Manik believes in asceticism and abstinence as a path to cleanse himself of his past misdeeds. He finds solace in playing his sharati (Khasi flute). The most melodious of tunes beguiles Lieng Makaw, a beauty who finds him in the fields. Though a brief meeting, yet Manik is rejected when he later approaches her mother for marriage.
Manik, as Nongkynrih paints him, is a man doleful but resolute that he must suffer for society’s wrongs. Despite living a simple and artistic life for years, he is still seen as a criminal. Nongkynrih, in constructing Manik’s character, inexplicably philosophises that love was that beacon of hope. It was that emotion that Manik felt would cast him away from his wretched world.
The construction of dialogues is sharp and crisp with touches of quick wit and ribald humour. Sapho, dead drunk in a pata (Khasi bar), when asked by Lyngkien how Manik’s funeral pyre looked, trivialises the whole situation. For a matter concerning the death of Manik, Sapho offers rich comic relief by saying, “Why are you all sneering? You think I can’t speak like a poet?”, to which Lyngkien, angry, throws a stone at him.
Such interpolations into the art of retelling by Nongkynrih is a marker of original thinking. Nongkynrih is able to create realistic scenes in a pata filled with lowlifes and crackpot drunks. But the particular exchange of conversation between Sapho and Lyngkien comes as a breather. For when the reader comes to grips unease learning Manik will soon die, Sapho lightens up, representative of the layman’s inability to alter such cruel imposition. The Lyngdoh’s sangfroid nature not only in instructing the Syiem of the Shaman’s discoveries but also in calming villagers is skilful by Nongkynrih. As in such situations of confusion, frustration and anger, the Lyngdoh’s words bring to clarity that logic and reason is the only manner to solve things.
However, there are a repetition of certain words like “strange” and “strangely” when protagonists describe Manik’s disposition and dress. Also, repetitious lexicon is utilised in describing Manik’s lyrical and haunting tunes.
The lovers, Manik and Lieng Makaw, are destined that even the shamans could not decipher how Manik is not an adulterer. For “Ka Hok”, the spirit of virtue and truth, was completely on his side.
Manik has suffered greatly as an ascetic, and is thus forgiven by God. He is blessed with the love of Lieng Makaw because he had underwent tremendous darkness and despair. For having been cursed by society for his past sins, and not interfering into the lives of others, he composes beautiful tunes. He knows deep inside that such music will resonate most with Lieng Makaw.
Both die in the funeral pyre to meet in heaven, unperturbed by society’s cruelties. Love that is destined by fate is unshaken even by supernatural powers of shamans or rules imposed by the Syiem. There is rich poetry in the dialogues mostly in the scenes towards developing to the climax. Manik is described by Kynih as “a royal dancer… grander than Pa’iem himself”, just before Manik jumps into the pyre.
Nongkynrih has an ear for how Khasis speak and converse. He is able to level down his intellect to the common mannerisms of laymen. His writing is visually enhanced by imitating human speech. If there were to be the best translated play from Khasi to English, it would be this one. But the actual case is that it is in English. I state this for verisimilitude to society is achieved greatly, with high aesthetic sense and strong knowledge of this folktale.
This article first appeared in Sunday Supplement of The Shillong Times October 21, 2018 (link: http://www.theshillongtimes.com/2018/11/11/an-ingenious-retelling/ )