Towards a Poetics of Reconstruction: Reading and Enacting identity in Kynpham Sing Nongkynrih’s Poetry

Subashish Bhattacharjee, University of North Bengal, India


Saikat Guha, University of North Bengal, India


Literature from the Northeast is usually rendered with a homogeneous proliferation of signifiers that dissolve its native capacities. The Northeast Literature is structured as a possible stance against majoritarian discourses. However, most commentators who view this particular regional literature in terms of an assortment for access often fail to locate the displaced qualifiers which are integrated into such socio-literary practices. While a segment of the literary output from the region is decidedly an attempt towards integration or absorption into “central” discourses, there also exists a substantial voicing of the resistance which is offered by means of extending the regional identity. The question of this micro-politic endorsement is arguably bestthe poetry of the Shillong-based poet, Kynpham Sing Nongkynrih. Nongkynrih assumes the role of a revisionist who recapitulates the identity-experience of the Northeast in the form of a politico-poetics that distinguishes him from the mainstream Indian English poets or even from the largesse of the Northeastern poets. An essential denominator for Nongkynrih is his sublative poetic existence which owes muche historical, contemporary and lived-experiences which illuminates the ethos of a Khasi identity. The following paper would attempt to evaluate Nongkynrih’s poetry in light of the political, socio-cultural and literary scenario of the Northeast, and the imbroglio which is encouraged further by his poetic engagement.

[Keywords: Kynpham Sing Nongkynrih, poetry, indigenous, Northeast, culture]

Apart from the geographical disadvantages of the region, India’s Northeast’s condition of exclusion has been exacerbated by a step-motherly behaviour of the country’s mainstream politics. “Although the Northeast historically has served as the eastern gateway for the passage of people, commodities, and ideas between India and its neighbours,” cites Das, “the Northeast’s emergence as a separate region bounded nearly on all sides by other territorially defined nation-states brought such continuities and interrelations…to an abrupt end” (Das, 2008, p. 5-6). Surrounded by international boundaries, Northeast’s only route of communication with the mainland India is the narrow Siliguri Corridor. Such poor communication system, to a certain extent, hinders Northeast’s social, economic and cultural transactions with the mainland. As an obvious result of negligence of the Central Government and poor communication system the region is underdeveloped and underprivileged which result in poverty, dissatisfaction among people, and insurgent activities. Since the post-Independence era the intra-India hegemony, of which Northeast becomes a victim, renders the regional subject one step further down the hierarchy to the limit of an almost unspeakability. The Northeastern subject’s condition is aggravated by issues of underdevelopment, regional turmoil and fast disappearing ethnic heritage. In analogy to Spivak’s choicest “subaltern,” immolated Hindu widow or “sati,” who is a victim of two-fold oppression of colonialism and patriarchy (Loomba, 2005, p. 192-203), the Northeastern subject turns out to be a victim of a coercive Central apparatus and conflicts within the State which have a kind of complicity for mutual interest (Barua, 2008, p. 19- 24). What again deteriorates the condition of the Northeastern subject is identity crisis resulting from “the large-scale migration of population from outside the region during the past one hundred years” (Singh, 1987, p. 162). The clash between the myriad ethnic groups, some of which call themselves ‘native’ and label others as ‘immigrant’, mounts up to the palimpsest of multi-layered conflict. The rivalry between different ethnic groups each of which makes their own claim of negligence and oppression prolong the disorder. However, the cultural heritage of the Northeast is not completely lost as different ethnic groups of the region have begun to discover their cultural roots although much of their purity has been obliterated.

Usually considered backward and ineligible for ‘central’ contestations, the region has suddenly become the centre of social, political and literary activities, and the three elements often construct a combined survey of the ‘condition of Northeast’ question. The literary output of the region has been decidedly incisive in presenting the identity politics and other pressing concerns for the Northeast. This is particularly exhibited in the reconstructive poetics of Kynpham Sing Nongkynrih, one of the Shillong Poets, who has broken away from “the mainstream tradition of city based cultures and urbanized images which marked poets from Mumbai, or Calcutta” (Guha, 2013). The poetic and politic significance of these poets, emerging from a neglected region, is immense, as Mark Bender illustrates:

The poems here tend to converge on themes and imagery (of the region): origins, migration, material culture, rituals, and features of the natural and human-manipulated environment. Though the cultural and linguistic links between these poets may be ancient and modern divisions complex, many of their poems resonate in ways that seem to dissolve borders and create poetic homes for their respective voices within the terrain of this upland region. (Bender, 2012, p. 107)

Nongkynrih is aware of Northeast’s various conflicts, both intra-regional, national and international, which provide him with fertile themes for his poetic projects. But the poet maintains an aesthetic distance from the chaotic ambience of the region, never producing an opprobrium against any agency or over-glorifying a scenario….Access Full Text of the Article