I come from a small state called Manipur surrounded by lush green hills...all the more reason why whenever I see hills, reminds me of home. My mother tongue is Manipuri which I speak fluently although my writing and reading skills have considerably slowed as I have disengaged myself from writing and reading except going through headlines of local newspapers. Now that I stay a thousand miles away from home, I feel all the more reason to upgrade myself on all that information which I have ignored for so long.
In an attempt to explore my Manipur, I recently started digging up literatures related to Manipur and my best friend knowing my fixation, gifted me a book which I have wanted to read for so long “Bor Saheb Ongi Sanatombi” – the story of a Manipuri princess who fell in love with a British political agent in the British era written by renown author M. K. Binodini.
Its the first time I have read a Manipuri novel. I have heard a lot about this book. Although I struggled to read at the very onset, I gradually gained pace as I got hold of the plots and characters. I could imagine the princely state of Manipur in all its glory as described by the author and its gradual descend as she lost her independence in the hands of the mighty English army.
“Sanatombi” was a princess who chose to live life in her own terms, who had the courage to question every unfair rule imposed on her unlike other princesses who consented every word of the king; a princess who demanded equal rights like her brother and remained unconvinced that being a girl, she ought to live her life in a way dictated by the society. Perhaps her defiant nature made her special, worthy of a story that will stand the sands of times and cherished by generations to come. The story of a princess who believed that love is more about sacrifice and not merely just about getting married, a love which spontaneously redefined every form of relationship she had. A princess torn apart between her love for her country and her love for this man who had come to conquer her land, a man who was apparently her enemy but who had made her understand love like no one else had.
Even today, Manipuri society is an orthodox patriarchal society and till date a married woman have no right to fall in love again. Even if a woman lost her husband at a young age or if she got separated from her husband, she has to severe all ties with men that will fulfil her physical and emotional needs for fear of her character and modesty being questioned by the society.
Imagine the Manipur of those times, who made love impossible between a Brahmin and a non-Brahmin, a royalty and a commoner and yet even under these threatening conditions, love did happened and love bore the pangs of separation and embraced death silently. Sanatombi saw it all and marvelled these mystical forms of love that made her Maisna decide never to marry again after she realised that her beloved had died. Even after her first marriage, Sanatombi failed to feel such consuming and unfathomable love. Thus, when a married woman like Sanatombi fell in love with a “foreigner”...the speculations and inhibitions she felt was only intelligible. And it was a love she never felt before...a love that brought forth her best and worst times.
Since childhood, Sanatombi was a little rebel and stood against prejudiced rules. May be this was the reason why her defiant self let her hair down and felt the winds in her hair as she rode her horse proudly alongside her beloved dressed in man’s attire unlike married woman of those times who are supposed to tie their hair in a bun let alone dress like a man. And sure, no one ever looked as beautiful and enticing as her. Such was the charm and solemnity of this princess!!
A few months after her beloved left her with a promise to return for her again, she fell sick and could never really fight back to be herself again. As her frail body lie on her death bed, her mind filled with a thousand memories, in a state of trance, she could constantly hear the faint sound of horse galloping away...sound of her beloved fading away, her life, every step leaving her behind.....just like her father became a blur memory, just like her brother galloped away. And thus, she rested in the protective arms and undying love of her “Sanakhyamashi”.
I have heard so much about this book and in an instant, I agreed to all that has ever been written about this book. I have always felt a sense of emptiness after reading a good book. Sanatombi and her love will forever haunt my mind.
Read it to know your roots and history.
Read it to understand love in a better way.
Read it to realise that it takes someone who stood odds to create a fascinating story.