I am a conspiracy theorist of my atiya body.

Travel Fellow Kuumpiilei from Imphal shows us the writing in the Meetei night skies.

Illustrations by Iram Malik
Illustrations by Iram Malik

I am a conspiracy theorist of my atiya body by Kuumpiilei is the third step in the author’s Yaang-Huuk-Uun (YHU) project. 

The author has worked with Kashmiri artist Iram Malik, and this piece is about feminist readings of two cities: Imphal and Srinagar.

A little bit about the project: The YHU project started in 2019 with the support of BangaloResidency-Expanded, an initiative of Goethe-Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan, Bangalore. The author worked with the SouthEast Asian (SEA) community as a resident at Zentralwerk in Dresden. In 2020, the second edition was a project within the framework of Five Million Incidents 2019-2020, conceived by Goethe-Institut / Max Mueller Bhavan, New Delhi in collaboration with Raqs Media Collective, where the author worked with a cross-section of the Meetei community living in the city of Delhi.

This piece with The Third Eye is the third step in 2021.

In late 2022, it will be a full-fledged performance game production running in different cities and libraries.

k

KOK: HEAD

This is the tail end of Imphaan. A group of farmers, who can be called old, look at their fields and think of their children. What would it be like to have our children walk these fields with their heads buried in books? Our village can become a world.
So, they give away their fields to make their village a world where their children can bury their heads in books and become worldly.

The books came. The world came. The books and their world buried the fields of the farmers in gates and walls and keys and locks.

The farmers die. Their children now hold furious flames over their heads, looking at a field of gates and walls and keys and locks and think of the village before the world came to them with books.

s

SAMM: HAIR

When you play volleyball in spring in March in Imphaan by the riverbank, it is the perfect time for your straight black hair to fly in the air and then fall to sit down on your sweat-flecked forehead.

I believe that day the game was set to 100 points. No 15 or 25 or 30.

The game ended at a score of 19:84. The sky turned loud.

The things you can escape by a hair’s breadth while playing volleyball in Imphaan are quite hideous.

l

LAI: FOREHEAD

Lai is forehead.

Lai-bak is fate.

Imphaan is full of umbrellas. In summer and monsoon. Against the sun and rain. Imphaan is also full of umbrella-like, round hillocks. Long time ago, you could climb them, digging a long, folded umbrella along your path for grip. Now you wonder if the second-hand market near GM Hall sells bulletproof umbrellas that can save your fate and forehead when you walk under the shadow of the bullet-hillocks.

m

MIT: EYE

This road begins at 0 KM Imphaan and leads to Loktak where, nine years ago, a young fisherman trusted his eyes when his mobile camera recorded a flying object in the sky – oblong with a tail. He called it a wonder object. He said he felt wonderful and something jolted his nervous system. He fell unconscious and did not wake up for 18 hours.

Men who were not fishermen like him told him on the internet that his cheap Chinese mobile phone with defective CMOS sensors must have created a black sun effect. They told him that he must use his eyes to google black sun. They told him that if he stared at the sun with his naked eyes for way too long, his nerves would collapse.

p

PAA: EYELASH

Have you ever sliced your eyelashes off?

I saw a video of 30 government tractors running through 600 hectares of ripe rice fields and destroying them. It was just a few weeks before harvest. The farmers were wailing outside a wall of armed guards. The government said it was land acquired for the expansion of the Imphaan airport. The pain I felt was not in my heart. I felt the pain inside my eyelids, as if big blades were running along their edge, ploughing, and peeling off my eyelashes.

n

NAA: EAR

Aerial drills of two Sukhoi Su-30MKI filled the air of Imphaan for two autumn days this year. A newspaper reported that a 90-year-old Ibetombi had a panic attack because she thought she heard the sound of war. Young people who could be her grandchildren were angry with her because they believed Sukhoi jets were obsolete and could crash into any of their houses and kill them; if it were a war, the jets would not have been obsolete. Old and young people not from Imphaan were mock-resentful that they were too disadvantaged to even hear obsolete jets ripping through their marginalised air.

c

CHIN/L : LIPS/MOUTH

t

TIN/L : SALIVA

S

KHOU : LARYNX/VOICE BOX

This must be the only stretch of street in Imphaan that has no potholes. It is wide. It has big footpaths. It must be around 300 metres long. You enter through an arch and at the end of the stretch you see a gate and behind the gate is Chonga Bon, an unremarkable building in ice-cream colours and half-hearted domes which was/is called a palace because a group of residual royalty shifted there at the beginning of 20th Century.

Chonga is Jungle Myna. They say it is a highly adaptable bird, but it is rare to spot any chonga in Imphaan now. A few decades ago, chongas were a common sight.

Chonga has a yellow beak with a taste for insects and a voice box that can be trained to mimic a human voice. 

Come to think of it, this stretch with its Chonga Bon has many other extremely unremarkable buildings sharing something very peculiar in common. They were all built to produce a kind of noise that mimics the voice of the people here. I am told chongas are gregarious birds. No wonder these buildings are also gregarious and constantly make noise on behalf of people like us here who can never quite understand what their noise is all about.

z

NGOU : PHARYNX / THROAT

H

THOU : CHEST

w

WAI - NAVEL

There is a geometry to the shapes of pharynx, chest and navel. Pharynx is cylinder shaped. The chest is rectangular shaped to me. Navel is circular. 

The navel is a scar left on the abdomen when the umbilical cord is cut. Wai is also called khoidou in Meeteilon. One expression for bitter rage is khoidou thitpa. It is quite apt that a form of rage finds its origin of expression in a scar. 

Thou is chest; e-thou means duty and thou-na means courage. 

Thou and wai together become thouwai / thawai. It means heart.

Pharynx is throat. It filters the rage rising from the heart.

On the northern outskirts of Imphaan, there is the face of a hillock that grows many trees wrapped by over a hundred species of orchid. The geometry of any orchid flower looks like a fractal of ngou-thou-wai. A wai is at the centre, surrounded by different slices of a thou, held by the length of a ngou.

Not far from this hillock face full of orchids, two brothers were found with scars on their chests and throats full of sekmai sand.

y

YAANG : SPINE

h

HUUK : LOWER SPINE

U

UUN : SKIN

I am told my ancestors did not bury or cremate corpses. An open, nail-less coffin was made. The skin of the corpse was cleansed, and the body laid on its spine inside the coffin. It was taken to a remote, open field and left under the sky. I think they call it sky burial in English. The family would visit the field after a year to mark the first death anniversary. Anything that was left of the dead inside the coffin was collected and put inside an earthen pot for a second burial. I am not very sure where my ancestors buried such pots.

I

EE: BLOOD

Let us not talk about blood. Can we not talk about blood? Do we really need to talk about blood?

ee-ma ee-pa
mit na uuba lai ni
blood-mother blood-father
divinity made visible to our eyes

f

PHAM: PLACENTA

Pham is placenta.

Pham-laangba is rape.

Manorama. We will never forget what they did to Manorama.

A

ATIYA: SKY/SPACE

When you turn your back to Kangla at sunset, climb up the over-bridge that shakes above another bridge and come down looking at the sky above, I believe each climber can find a spot and a moment on the over-bridge where all the Imphaan noise stops and only the sound of the obscene clouds and colours of the evening sky fills the climber’s face. We do not have a quiet sky here.
Kuumpiilei is a dying iris of the Imphal valley paat.
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