Root and being are inextricably linked. What are roots but another name for home, for the ultimate destination that one leaves only to return? And what is rootlessness but another state of homelessness, exile and prolonged yearning? These coterminous conditions can also spawn zealous, self-proclaimed protectors and a corresponding number of homeless ‘strangers’. Cultural movement is to roots what migration is to rootlessness. Or is it that simple? If we consider roots as also having to do with (shared) values, how do we draw the line between claims for indigenous rights and the ethical necessity of acknowledging contemporary tragedies surrounding the gentrification of spaces and identity?
A far deeper sense of belonging than any physical roots are the spaces we traverse in our imagination, that indestructible space we inhabit as a community. One cannot overlook the contestations between tangible territories that roots occupy and the ‘imagined communities’ transcending physical locations or boundaries. Could we reimagine this neat dichotomy and see rootlessness itself as a kind of alternate moorings? The idea is to try to disentangle ‘roots’ from ‘origins’ and to acknowledge new, fractured and temporary practices akin to finding roots. It thus entails moving beyond the search for one’s origins. As clichéd as it may sound, some individuals and communities have roots and the weight of origins thrust upon them.
At the heart of our engagement for the spring issue of Yendai, 2018, is the very idea of being, living, and surviving in their different imports. We also focus on the position of the self- the individual or community through which figure(s) the varied trajectories and phenomena of home and exile, location and displacement, self and other, routes and destinations, and memory and forgetting are played out. Roots carry poetry, visual poetry, short fiction, essay, and review that enrich discussions on the above concerns.
There are four poems and a visual poetry featured here that present the lyric poet in a fraught equation with their roots. Sukla Singha’s “3 AM” is a kaleidoscopic view containing snippets of time and spaces from different cities, all merging in an early morning’s musing. A play of the senses aided by its vivid imageries, it is nostalgic while temporally placing us in the present. Amrapali Basumatary’s “Home is No Place” is a rich poem, its plaintive tone nuanced by the nostalgic tenor. It brings out the dichotomy of nature and cityscapes, reminiscent of the recourse to nature that many poets from the northeastern states of India adopt for their self-expressions. The poet’s self-imposed exile and her rootedness in her ‘loss’ give us a glimpse of not just being home despite exile, but in exile.
The untitled poem by Debanjali Biswas extends the connection between nature, self and home. The personified autumn breeze comes home navigating lanes and caressing the mundanities of everyday life. The living, the inanimate, local legends and beliefs are skillfully wrought together under the aerial then intimate view of the autumn breeze. In sharp contrast, Tingthounu’s “Mapoksida II” (This Birth), a translation of a Manipuri poem by Thawan, presents to us a malevolent nature. Complemented by a set of images, this graphic poetry overturns the timeless notion of nature as giver and depicts it as stunting the poet. Ambivalently though, the poet becomes a reservoir of flowing experiences of the past.
Such experiences are housed in the self, at times leading the poet to an outpouring of emotions and questions, as is the case with Banamallika Choudhury’s “F**k No! I Don’t Belong”. It addresses the issue of citizenship and legitimacy on the one hand and alienation and inclusiveness on the other. It locates the self in broader histories of the state and ancestry often held with suspicion in the grand scheme of identity profiling.
“The Burden of Names” by Aribam Uttam Sharma delves deeper into the link between identity and roots, and the concomitant question of allegiance. It all boils down to such a seemingly simple thing as one’s name, and by extension, naming. The St. Lucian Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott had consistently and profoundly tried to grapple with this predicament in his works, only to have reconciled with embodying contradictions and celebrating roots that are multi-coloured. The self is, as Sharma also shows, a rich repository of past and present, ‘oppressors’ and subjects, history and guilt.
In her review of Teresa Rehman’s The Mothers of Manipur (2017), Soibam Haripriya cautions against collective profiling that have trailed even well-intentioned projects such as this book, which is about the emas that held a naked protest at Kangla on 15 July 2004. In a state like Manipur where multiple communities thrive and the image of the ema (mother) has been valorised, it dangerously slips into conflating the entire state into one community and such protests as commonplace. In doing so, she highlights the important link between acts of writing and reading.
Kumam Davidson’s “Imphal Express Bus”, a short fiction, brings roots closer to the idea of a friend or lover. Centered around a burgeoning young love between two boys residing in a boarding school at a time of socio-political unrest, the story redefines the idea of home in Pari’s search for Ningthem who in turn has gone back home following his brother’s death.
We see home as a physical embodiment of experiences ordinary and eventful in Bobo Khuraijam’s poignant “Our Yumjao”. It is a nostalgic tour of the years that are now part of memories wrapped in the warmth of the hearth. It is an affectionate glance at the people who outgrew the yumjao, the ancestral house. But home is—despite the wear and tear of the years, change, or even displacement.
However, home is not always constant, nor is roots culturally and territorially confined. Homen Thangjam highlights this in his “On Belonging and Home”. Some families struggle against change in the face of inevitable uprooting. Some ‘outsiders’ find home in alien surroundings, embrace their culture and is in turn embraced in unlikely places. As he reminds us, belongingness rises above nations or states. Likewise, each of the writings in this issue of Yendai teases out the idea of roots as vital to being and becoming.