IMPHAL, January 17: Eminent writer and descendent of the royal family, Maharaj Kumari Binodini, reverently known as Imasi to generations of Manipuris, breathed her last this evening at 8.04 pm at her Yaiskul Police Lane residence. She was 89. Imasi is survived by two sons and two grand children.
MK Binodini is the youngest daughter of the late Maharaj Sir Churachand Singh and Maharani Dhanamanjuri also known as Ngangbi. She was born in the year 1922 on February 6 at “Sana Konung” (Manipur Palace). Imasi was till this evening the last surviving sister of the four sibling princesses, the others being Tamphasana, Sanatombi and Tombisana.
Imasi received her early education through tutors, like the late Waikhom Selungba, and a British governess, Mrs. Jolly in her childhood. Education for girls those days was taboo, however, her father Maharaj Churachand being of modern mindset was against the practice, and let her daughters to be educated and every one of them studied under special tutors in the Palace.
Later, when she grew older Imasi was sent to Pine Mount School where she had a formal school education.
Shillong in those days was the capital of the British province of Assam.
She returned to Manipur to complete her secondary education at Tamphasana Girls School (popularly known today as T.G. Higher Secondary School at present) which was built and dedicated to the name of her eldest sister Maharaj Kumari Tamphasana.
She was again sent back to Shillong for higher studies at St. Marys` College and later transferred to Vidyasagar College, Bengal.
Binodini`s life took a significant turn when she stepped into Vishwabharati University at Shantiniketan to study art. Vishwabharati University was established by Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore, the renowned literature Nobel laureate, to impart studies in literature, philosophy and other Kala Sanskrit of India in a traditional environment.
Vishwabharti University years provided the talented girl a rich addition to her maturing personality.
It was at the Kala Bhavan of Vishwabharati University, where Maharaj Kumari started her studies in the field of sculpture and painting, and she quickly became a well known sculptor and painter.
But it would have been difficult for her to achieve the heights she did as sculptor and painter if she did not come under the tutelage of renowned Gurus Ramkinkar Vaij and Nandalal Bose.
She learnt various forms of sculpture under the watchful eyes of Kinkar-da and she was also deeply influenced by Nandalal Bose.
Fired by the exotic princess artist of Manipur and her enthusiasm and potential, Ramkinkar Vaij executed many portraits and paintings of the young MK Binodini as a subject. The entire Binodini collection of paintings by Ramkinkar Vaij was acquired by the Gallery of Modern Art housed in New Delhi.
After completing her studies from Vishwabharati University, MK Binodini returned to Manipur but the things were not the same compared to the lifestyle of Shantiniketan. When she came back from Shantiniketan she was fluent in English, Hindi and Bengali as well as in the field of Arts. She self professedly always drew inspiration from Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore`s poetry, writings and “Rabindra Sangeet”.
She tied the nuptial knot with Doctor Laiphungbam Nandababu Roy, FRCS, and had two sons, Debabrata and Somi.
Married life forced Binodini to withdraw from her many artistic passions and became somewhat tied down by domestic and other family commitments.
It was then she began writing short stories, song lyrics in Manipur as well as scripts for the stage which were telecast on the All India Radio, Imphal. Her work immediately acquired a fan following amongst the audience.
And in 1965 her play “Asangba Nongjabee” was performed and also produced as a radio-play. It also later became part of a published collection of plays by her under the title “Nungairakta Chandramukhi”.
The book brought her to the attention of the world of literature.
In 1966 she was given “Jamini Sundar Guha Memorial Gold Medal” by the Satitya Parishad of Manipur.
“Asangba Nongjabee”, was released in the year 1967. And in 1976, she released her first and only novel based on the true life story of a Manipuri princess, daughter of Maharaj Surchandra Singh, known as “Boro Saheb Ongbi Sanatombi”.
The book was received with accolades everywhere and she received numerous awards including from Sahitya Akademi Award of New Delhi and State Kala Akademi Award, Manipur.
The same year “Boro Saheb Ongbi Sanatombi” was published Binodini was honoured with the Padmashree by the Indian Government for her contribution in the field of literature and arts. She also released another book called “Amasung Indrajit” which was a translation of a book by Badal Sircar.
In her illustrious career, Binodini was the secretary of Jawaharlal Nehru Manipur Dance Academy for 16 years during the 70s and 80s, and while she was the secretary she went to Mexico, USA, Canada, Germany and France in 1976 leading a troupe of dancers from the academy.
She wrote a travelogue namely “Ho Mexico”, and in the year of 2008 she was awarded the “Ningombam Pramodini Literature Award” and in 2009 she was awarded “Seram Mukta Award”.
She also acquired a reputation for herself as a films script writer. Among her memorable works in the area are “Olangthagee Wangmadasoo”, “Eshanou”, “Imagi Ningthem” and “Sagol Sanaabi”. All of these were put on screen by renowned film director, Aribam Syam Sharma.
“Imagi Ningthem” received the Grand Prix at the Festival des Trois Continentes at Nantes, France. “Eshanou” participated in the International Film Festival at Cannes. All the movies were entered in the Indian Panorama and bagged national awards. Dozens of her songs were broadcast on radio. She also wrote two short films “Paokhum Ama” and “Mayophigee Macha”.
Binodini was an ardent campaigner for the preservation of the Manipur culture. She has been a steadfast supporter of the traditional arts and artistes, a close friend of the maibis and pena players of Manipur as well as an enthusiastic supporter of the culture of horsemanship and the polo.
She is presently the lifetime patron member of All Manipur Polo Association and also a patron member of Red Cross Society. She also played an important role in the development of the Manipur University as a Senate and Syndicate member. An ardent admirer and enthusiast of the cinema in Manipur, she was a key player in the establishment of the Manipur Film Development Council, and later, of the Manipur Film Development Cooperation as a member of the Board of Directors.
She was thrice a jury member of Indian Panorama section of the National Films Festival. She was also a founder of Roop Raag, the music group based on modern cultural Manipuri music and had served as its president.
She also founded “Leikol (Leimarol Khorjeikol)” which is for women in Manipur who loved literature, and was its life-time president; and she has made huge contributions to the different organizations based on literature and culture in Manipur, and also served as president of IPTA (Indian People`s Theatre Action) Manipur.
Throughout her life, Binodini has been a very active and energetic woman with a deep social consciousness. She has always provided the impetus in moving forward the movement of Manipur culture.
Apart from being an author and cultural activist, she spared time to go abroad to represent the state in country like in the USA, Canada, Mexico, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Canada, France, Germany, the erstwhile USSR, and Hungary.
She traveled to the newly liberated Bangladesh in 1973 to visit the Manipuri Diaspora there and to renew her acquaintance with friends, and express her solidarity with the people of the nascent country.
She not only showed her talents in the field of literature and other forms of arts abroad but also made Manipur proud of her. Her never tiring spirit led her to visit Silchar, Tripura, Assam and parts of Bangladesh where Manipuri are spread and made them come together and reestablish bondage and and love with those in Manipur.
She had also always been an outspoken critic on social issues such as the environmental crisis, human rights, and women`s rights. Her ballet “Sangai”, performed by the Ballet Unit of the JNMDA, received international accolades for its conservation message and was later filmed by the Sangeet Natak Akademi.
She supported the Nupi Keithel and strongly lent her voice and weight to the market women`s struggle against erosive threats that endangered the very existence of this traditional institutional and economic pillar of Manipur. A woman of letters, she contributed regularly to local dailies such as Poknapham, Naharolgi Thoudang in Manipuri and the Imphal Free Press in English, writing letters to the editor, stories, articles and commentaries on current social and political issues in Manipur.
Imasi was also honoured by the American Manipuri Association in United States of America in the year 1992 for her outstanding contribution to Manipuri culture.