A critique of the play ‘The Rebel Unsung’
By M C Arun
Name of the play: Shakkhangkhridaba Lanmee (The Rebel Unsung)
Playwright: Arambam Somorendra
Last played by Banian Repertory Theatre, Imphal on 10 June 2012 at J N,Manipur Dance Academy, Imphal, directed by M C Thoiba
This is no doubt about the fact that Thoiba, the protagonist in Arambam Somorendra’s play Shakkhangkhridaba Lanmee, is a total patriot. We do not have doubts on it. It is also true that he is courageous and certainly not a coward. He is so brave that he takes upon himself the historical responsibility of fighting the mighty enemy. Moreover, he is a good warrior; he is adept in guerilla tactics and knows the right moment and the right place of attacking the enemy – the Awa. The historical context of Chahi Taret Khundakpa (1819-1826) is irrelevant for this article; this small article attempts to analyze the patriotism of Thoiba and his political vision. His sense of patriotism is so strong that the enemy may be anyone who is a threat to the existence of Manipur on this earth.
It was a time when small bands having loyalty to various princes were independently fighting the Awa occupation forces with a stated objective of liberating Manipur. Thoiba does not like to associate with any one of these groups as they are averse to the idea of putting up a united front for fighting the mighty enemy. The enemy is not only numerous in number but also plays divisive politics among the general population. Thoiba is dejected at the unwilling attitude of the rebel groups towards the formation of the front; so he fights on his own with his loyal band of followers. His idea of a united front is supported by a few groups including that of Prince Meekhusana. The Prince likes to unite all the warring groups, but a first among equals from among the princes is needed to lead the liberation. Meekhusana’s “we cannot unite unless we identify the next King” sounds more practical than Thoiba’s mere sentimental appeal.
Thoiba does not like to work under any leader unless the groups are united. However, he does not have any blue print for such a united front. He has no political ambition or vision except his undeniable love of Manipur and her independence. Love is not enough. Patriotism is not the sole determinant of a political front. The formation of a common Front requires a blue print of future actions; it demands sharpening the rough surfaces of rebel groups and unification of goals of different groups. Historical requirements and demands of the objective condition could not be met by Thoiba who has only a few handfuls of soldiers – all equally determined for the political mission.
Another dimension is Thoiba’s confusion concerning his affections which gets entangled with his perspectives. He was confused when he heard of his protégé Prince Angosana making advances on his girlfriend Chingkheilembi, while he was in hiding. The same prince had forcibly taken her as his wife and went on to become the puppet king of the Awa generals. Yet Thoiba praises Angosana when his widow Chingeilembi narrated how he was killed while protecting his wife’s modesty from the enemy. He equates that with valour and courageous while he is blind to Angosana’s role as a puppet.
Is it right when Thoiba says he is not thirsty of power? He does not like to become ‘King’ after the restoration of Manipur’s Independence. He is an obsessive patriot. He takes himself as an ordinary person; he is ‘not a prince’. When he thinks kingship or ruler of the people is prerogative of royal family members, he loses his own ground of patriotism. His martyrdom becomes a problem. He is more of a romantic lover, not a leader who has a dream of a brighter Manipur and of a free Manipuri. He cannot answer the question of the future Manipur. His patriotism ended with a bullet from some unknown ‘person’ in front of his followers. Why was Thoiba killed? No answer is given in the play. Was there a political logic in Thoiba’s death? His followers are so sentimentally swept away by the sudden demise of Thoiba. They have only the soulless body, neither a legacy nor political ideology. It was rather the death of a flawed patriot. So, let Thoiba rest in peace as one of the unsung heroes. There is nothing to sing about in his short-sightedness, fanatic patriotism with no political vision. Yet, it is a great play.