(From the volume “Confluence Essays on Manipuri Literature and Culture” by the author, compiled and edited by B.S. Rakumar)
Hijam Romani Singh – what a crayon off God! Mahakavi Hijam Anganghal’s (l89I – 1943) son, the late Hijam Romani (1921-2017) had died at a ripe age of ninety-six. He was a dear benevolent person. Yet he was sometimes extreme to a fault, a diehard and an irascible person, yet he possessed an open mind. He also had the habit of speaking empathically. He finds satisfaction in speaking his mind out, spit and all. Sometimes he leaves decorum to the winds, but without crossing the limits. He might indulge in running down others using even vulgar words. Onbce he was talking with Surjit Singh of Samurou who was a very sincere companion of his, almost a son to him. They were sitting inside a tea stall at Babupara, Imhal. While talking with him, suddenly he might have been cut to the quick so much so tht he blurted out “You country bumpkin” to the younger fellow. A boy who had been waiting on them mistook it to be directed at him and got hold of a sharp instrument with which he was almost at the edge of attacking Romani. People intervened in time otherwise he would have sustained grievous injury that day. Yet on another occasion while he was working as Headmaster at Mayang Imphal, he ordered his staff to fell down the bamboos surrounding the school with the intention of using them for fencing work. As he had not informed the neighbouring people of the purpose they got the wrong idea, got angry with him and were about to attack him. It took some time to ameliorate their feelings. Such incidents happened galore in his life.
lt was in 2002. Once while he was warming himself in winter he accidentally upset the charcoal burner. He was badly burnt and bore the scars for life. It was an awful sight. And in 2003, he suffered a broken arm when he slipped down the stairs. A couple of months later he was found unconscious on the roadside as a result of a motorcycle accident, in this case being in the receiving end. In another case he suffered injuries when a bicycle rode him down.
His family found it a real hardship to prevent him from going outside the house. There was no restraining him; no smooth talking would deter him from going out as he usually spent his time outside the house as a habit. On many instances he was not informed about invitations from his friends.
On those days when he was not able to visit places he would take a walking stick, put on a waistcoat over his shirt, don a monkey cap and taking an electronic torch would sally forth to visit places. Among those, Manipuri Sahitya Parishad, Imphal was a regular destination in
the evening. His friends asked him out of love not to visit any more or advised him to come with a companion. He did not listen to any of these. Such a strong-headed and peculiar person he was. What a man!
Hijam Romani liked speaking in English very much. His speeches were full of English words. He was a skilled conversationalist too. Anybody who visited him at his house must indulge in a talkathon, as it were, for he had no way to escape from talking with him. He should take
tea or sometimes breakfast if it was in the morning. He took his habit to others’ houses also. He would ask for tea frequently. He would ask for a box of matches also.
After tea he would light a cigarette without fail. He did not carry a box of matches himself. He had been a frequent visitor to my house. At that time we were working together on a project. My wife used to have a good rapport with him . My father-in-law was also interested in play acting. He had played a minor role in the play Vir Tikendrajit. Tamo Romani also knew him. So in a sense he was an old family friend. Thus Tamo Romani would
enter inside the house straight to the kitchen where my wife was preparing food . He used to talk with her there also. Sometimes my wife would ask me in the sly not to let him enter inside the house up to the kitchen.
A rare quality of Hijam Romani should be said to be his ability to mix with all kinds of people of all ages as if a magnet had attracted them. He could share in every sort of discussion in almost any topic. There was no seminar or symposium in which he was present where he had not taken part in the discussion. During the question hour people used to comment out of his hearing – ”Now Romani is standing up.” But there was something new, almost an eye opener in his approach. He was a very much experienced person. He used to read The Times of lndia along with local newspapers very minutely. He knew the times well. He lived quite a life of an up-to-date person. His interest and enthusiasm was extraordinary. He remained a dedicated soul to literature, art, culture, theatre and cinema. He proved time and again his intimate awareness of these matters.
There are many types of man. Man’s habits and personal manners are different from one another. This kind of difference gives a new taste to men in the study of their Iives. Though there was hastiness and irascibility in his habit, an everlasting feature that we found in him
was his ability to welcome life and go through it with a blissfuI tendency. It seemed there was a young man’s heart in the life of this old man. He seemed to live in everlasting joyousness. His face could be seen ever smiling. He was not saddened with painful thoughts. He was such a romantic at heart. And his classic smiles till remains etched in every heart that knew him. Whenever he met someone he would inevitably say ”Hello, how are you” followed with a hearty handshake. Thus he instils a jovial mood in others. Meeting him was a pleasant experience. lt gave us a new taste of happiness.
He constantly reiterated – “I am an unworthy son of a worthy father.” lt is the truth as it were, because God has not shared with him the genius in his father, the great poet, Mahakavi Hijam Anganghal. He was neither a prestigious writer nor a scholar. His skill and talent could be seen in another field. That he was an activist in the field of literature, culture, theatre, cinema and their development, there is no doubt. For this, he joined
headlong quite a few prestigious associations. He was also instrumental in the development of their policies and programmes as well as in the making of their Constitutions.
He joined the Rupmahal Theatre in 1946. He was not simply a member but also one of the drafting committee members of its Constitution. He was also the Vice-President of the prestigious Theatre Centre, Manipur that was established in 1955. With its establishment there ‘was a fresh rush of enthusiasm among the artistes of Manipur resulting in the organisation of the first ever All Manipur Drama and Shumang Leela (courtyard play) Festival the next year. The festival continues even today under the purview of Manipur State Kala Akademi, lmphal. lt was a noteworthy contribution from his side. ln 1954 the
Manipur Dramatic Union (MDU) participated in the National Festival of Plays in New Delhi and bagged the first Prize in the folk play category with its entry called Hawrang Leishang Shaphabi. It really was a great event for the lovers of Manipuri theatre and Hijam Romani and Meitram Bira had co-authored a paper on Manipuri theatre in a seminar organised by Sangeet Natak Akademi (Sangeet Natak Akademi was established on May 31, 1952). It was not only the first paper on Manipuri theatre read outside Manipur but it also helped a lot in introducing the matter to people elsewhere.
He became the Founder-President of Film Society of Maniupr when it was established in 1966. HIjam Romani used his initiative and played a crucial role to set up the Film Society of Manipur. Film movement in Manipur was in its early stge in those days and people did not take much interest in matters related to it. Film Society of Manipur ushered in a new era in film movement of the State. It was instrumental in getting new as well as classic films. This writer too got the opportunity to view some of them. Next came the Manipur Film Development Council and again Hijam Romani Singh was in the forefront in shaping up the Council. He became one of the members of the Board of Directors of the Council which was established on November 11, 1980. The MFDC has been supplanted by the Manipur Film Development Corporation which recently became the Manipur State Film Development Society. Again Romani was associated with the movement and with the establishment of the Spinning Mill at Loitangkhunou in Manipur
Not much is known about Hijam Romani being employed in a government office or department. We know only that he set foot in the teaching profession early in life. He was one of the first batches of students of D.M. College, Imphal which was established in 1946 and graduated from this college under the Gauhati University. He also became the General Secretary of the Students’ Union of the college. He took part in the plays by students during his college life. He taught first at RamLal Paul High School, Imphal. He joined the Syamasakhi
Girls’ High School, Moirangkhom. It is said that he became the Headmaster of Mayang lmphal High School. Not much is known about his life at Mayang Imphal. But afterwards, he became President, Family Planning Association of India, Manipur Chapter in 1970 with its
office at Keishamthong. It must be said that he worked sincerely for literature and culture in association with many relevant organisations. He was a true social and cultural activist. He was honoured with the title ‘Sahitya Sevak’ in 2011 by Manipuri Sahitya Parishad, Imphal.
He was also presented with a ‘Scroll of Honour’ by the Senior Citizens Society in 2012. Panthoibi Natya Mandir, Imphal accorded him Minglen Khonga in 2007 and
Rupmahal Theatre also honoured him with ‘Meitram Bira Award.’
Though he had not become a famous writer like his esteemed father, we cannot forget his devotion and love towards him. He took up many memorable acts to keep his father, the late Mahakavi Hijam Anganghal’s memory fresh in our minds. He never felt tired in making efforts to further the great poet’s literature. It is very rare indeed of any children of famous writers in Manipur who had done so much as he had to perpetuate the memory of his father. He was a devout Hanuman in his devotion towards his father. He kept reading Anganghal’ s works in detail; knew them and critically analysed them. In his efforts to propagate Anganghal’s literature to a wider reading public both inside and outside Manipur he worked with many literary organisations. He used to organise and observe Anganghal’s birth anniversary regularly. He also organised seminars, symposia and poets’ meets. He constantly made effort to make Anganghal’s works available to the readers which, in
itself, was a noteworthy gesture of Romani as a son towards his sincere love for his father.
As a first step, in 1949 Romani and Meitram Bira dramatised Anganghal’ s Yaithing Konu and presented it successfully many times on stage of Rupmahal Theatre. This was the first instance of his aim to introduce Anganghal through the medium of drama. The long lost
manuscript of Anganghal’s play Poktabi (The Stepmother) was found finally and he gave his consent to Naharol Sahitya Premee Samiti, Imphal to publish it which they did in 1984. In those days it was difficult to publish literary works. Anganghal’s works other than those few
already designated as text books in B.A. and M.A. courses were not available readily. Literary publishers were quite few in number. Nevertheless Romani and his wife Sanajaobi (alas! she passed away before Romani) with hardship could get all of Anganghal’s works
published which in itself proved a veritable service to literature in Manipur.
In the meantime a new tum of event came about. In 1982 the 100th Birth Anniversary of Mahakavi Anganghal was observed throughout Manipur and also in places outside the State where Manipuris had settled. This writer while writing the obituary of the great poet had
the privilege to introduce the title ‘Mahakavi’ with justification and the people accepted it generously. Hijam Romani worked actively for the year-long anniversary celebrations. Next we find him working hand in hand since 1994 with an organisation called Tunggi Yaiphanaba Shemba Kanglup at Sharnurou, the place where the great poet grew up as a boy. This organisation has been observing Anganghal’s anniversary regularly still today. Romani was a leading spirit in such activities working without fatigue day and night to make such programmes a success. His guidance and advice remain quite valuable in this regard. Next, Romani started making plans to install a statue of the late Mahakavi at his birthplace in Yaiskul Hiruhanba Leikai, lmphal. There was some discord regarding the installation of the bust. In 2000 A.D. the Anganghal Statue Construction Committee was formed. This writer was also a member of the Committee and had worked for its success. After four years of strenuous labour the Committee was able to install a bronze bust of Mahakavi Anganghal on March 21, 2004 before the Central Library of Manipur University. This is the first bronze bust of a great poet offering people the opportunity to offer floral tributes. It was really a
great and remarkable historical event in the history of Manipuri literature.
After this, Romani was able to construct with great effort a memorial to the late Mahakavi at Ningom Thongjao where he breathed his last. It was opened to the public on April 25, 2014. From that day onwards the death anniversary of the poet has been observed at this
place. He had published The Complete Works of Mahakavi Anganghal in separate volumes besides critical works on the poet. This writer also had compiled, edited and published in 1998 a book entitled Mahakavi Anganghal Singhgi Sheireng as a mark of tribute to the great poet. Dr Jodha Chandra Sanasam has translated into English and got published Khamba Thoibi Sheireng of Anganghal in 2016. This translation has fulfilled a long cherished dream of introducing the great poet to the world at large. We cannot forget Hijam Romani Singh, son of the great poet Anganghal Singh who had dedicated himself to keep the
poet’s remembrance ever fresh in our minds.
The writer is a noted columnist and critic of Manipuri literature