Monday, June 07, 2004

Pabungmacha was in the second time. Biki and I walked past an Army combing operation in Kongba, right outside his gate. His house is pretty well fortified. Pabungmacha, as every one calls him, is Khuraijam Dhiren, the KD of all the improved rice varieties of Manipur.

KD is a handsome retiree: urbane, courtly, a quintessential Meitei gentleman, Obviously of the old feudal ruling class. His brother, who he obviously still worships, was my uncle’s go-to man, So he has figured out who I am and made all the family connections for me, typical Meitei fashion. How long will his kind be around? He had just stepped out of his bath. He kept his towel on and sat down with us.

Pabungmacha has a gruff voice, polite and tentative with an "OK?” or an “Am I right?” ending most of his statements. He thinks his work was based purely on his own passion. He might have done more had he not been transferred so often within his Agricultural department. Obviously he harbors little patience for administrative types and senseless bureaucracy. Biki is all awed. He sits at the edge of the sofa, eagerly hanging onto every word. He thinks we should make a film on KD. His logic is that no one has had as much impact on Manipur as KD has had. Even uneducated farmers know his name, from all the various KD varieties of rice: Sana Phou, Leima Phou... I cannot but agree.

KD tells us of his hybridizing of some of the 170 varieties of indigenous rice with Filipino varieties, IRRI strains, Hungarian rice. It is absorbing... He brings out a panel of plastic pockets, each containing a sample of rice, of paddy. He is still appointed to the University. What a valuable resource he must be! KD says there are over 250 germs of hybrids at the Rice station in Wangbal. Imasi Noyonsana had said much the same: they are still mining the treasure trove he left behind.

He also tells us of Ok hidak, a natural rhizome insecticide that people have used. He promises to find some for us. What a guy!

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Tonight was the last night of the Lai Haraoba at Lai Awangba. Ima insists we go. Priti and she did the whole routine – praying up on the temple and all while I videotaped. The shaman priestesses were all men ion drag and not very prepossessing I must say. Drag has little to do with beauty.

Of course, Lai Awangba being my father’s neighborhood deity, we got a lot of strangers walking up to us an introducing themselves. One sees why Khurai is seen as somewhat cut from the same cloth – nothing of that level of community participation could have been seen in the more hip localities. Men, young and old, took knives in hand as they, along with the finely attired womenfolk, traced the body of the Python King.

What took the cake was the drag-king performance of Saphabee. A group of neighborhood women lip-synched (is that one of the drag genes?) both dialogue and song. Resplendent in male costumes, and moustaches bristling with virility, they were super. As there is no flat-chested drag queen, all drag kings seem to have luxurious facial hair. One wore glasses and had to be pushed around by the others. It was pure theater, pure art, with none of the unnecessary add-ons and the pure joy of performance. Where else but in a place of worship? We left exhilarated.

Rather, I had to be dragged away from the four drag-priestesses starting the final ritual with branches and fire. So all the men were women and all the women men to the great Lai Awangba.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Cheibi tournament. I discover another Manipuri martial arts. It was Priti’s do, organized by her school. I was underwhelmed. Looked like everyone was just flailing away with leather-covered sticks. Must hurt like hell though. War is not pretty and needs to be choreographed. Perhaps I have seen too many acrobatic slo-mo fights in Hong Kong films. (Self-serving note: I am partly to blame as Gerard would say, for the HK film festival I did in 1988 was the one that introduced HK actions films alongside their art films.)