On your fields today
Your heavens above are filled with smoke
The long slumbered ancient seeds
One day at dawn
Arambam Somorendra, 1989
In Memoriam : Arambam Somorendra
On 10 June 2000 at 10:40 a.m. at the northeastern outskirts of Imphal town an unknown youth fired two shots at Arambam Somorendra while attending a seminar on Women's Shumang Leela (Courtyard Plays) in Manipur. The assailant was whisked away by another on a scooter. Arambam Somorendra died on the spot. His body was kept in the morgue at Regional Institute of Medical Sciences for the day, and the next morning thousands gathered at the hospital and took his body to his ancestral home at Sagolband Meino Leirak in a procession. On the banners were inscribed a line from his poem "On your fields today, lie scattered the blood drops of your sons". On the 14th more than two thousand representatives from the field of culture, literature, theatre, Shumang Leela, Women's organizations and various walks of life offered flowers at the spot where he was shot and his bedecked photo was taken in a cortege and the entire congregation marched on foot to his abode for the Fifth Day (Ash Collection) Ceremony. On June 22, at the Laana Thouram Ceremony (Shraddha), a multi-religious gathering of his friends and associates offered prayers in non-Hindu Meetei, indigenous Tangkhul, Zeliangrong and Kom, along with Manipuri Muslim and Christian Kuki prayers. Roop Raag, a music organization of which he was a founder member, gave patriotic numbers. A proper Manipuri Hindu-Meetei and Meetei-Meetei ritual were solemnly organized, where white-clad mourners numbering some five thousand congregated at his residence during the ritual. All cinemas, theatres and entertainment programmes were voluntarily closed on this day.
Some two hundred organizations condemned his killing and public sentiment was aroused to a fever pitch. Manipuris at the banks of the Barak River at Cachar (in neighbouring Assam) organized rituals for his Shraddha. Articles, condolences from friends, associates and admirers filled the daily columns of newspapers, and the Governor of the State and politicians including the Chief Minister, the BJP leaders of the opposition and others sent letters of condolence to his family. The state of Manipur had lost a beloved son, a compassionate fighter for Manipuri Unity and Development.
Arambam Somorendra was the eldest son of late A. Dorendrajit, a renowned poet, dramatist and Sanskrit scholar. Born 12 July 1935, he was educated at Johnstone high School and received his B.A. at D.M. College (1958) and finished his M.A. at Pune University (1963). His grandfather was the late Meino Singh, the first Sub-Inspector of Police, who married into the royal family. His grandmother was the youngest daughter of Maharaj Surchandra (1886-1890). As a student leader he took part in a student agitation in 1952, picketed the Khwairamband Bazaar along with his friends. He was beaten up on the bridge by the police and thrown down onto the riverbank below. He became the first student Senior Under-Officer of the National Cadet Corps established in 1955-56 at D.M. College. In 1955-56 he, along with some close colleagues, formed the Amateur Artistes Association and merged with the Aryan Theatre to become a vanguard for change and modernization in theatre. He was also associated with the founding of Pan-Manipuri youth League in 1968, an active youth organization for the unity of the Manipuris in Manipur, Cachar, Myanmar and Bangladesh (former East Pakistan).
In 1969, the Government of Manipur and the Government of India came to realize that underground organizations had emerged in the state and the search was initiated to arrest their leaders. Arambam Somorendra disappeared from the social scene and from contact with his family. It was discovered later that he along with followers of the erstwhile revolutionary leader Hijam Irabot (1898-1951), and a few tribal activists from Thadou Kuki and Zeliangrong communities and some young Meitei had formed the United National Liberation Front in 1964, and its aftermath has been written in the turbulent contemporary history of Manipur. He was Founder General Secretary and later Chairman of the U.N.L.F. until he retired in 1975.
During the pre-emergency days of the Manipur Peoples Party Government in 1974-75, he came above ground through the general amnesty and devoted his remaining life for the uplifting of culture, literature, theatre and women. He wrote his first play when he was twenty-three and during his lifetime produced twenty-four full length plays, nine short plays, eight radio drama scripts, and six film scripts.
Tirtha Yatra was the short play from which Matamgi Manipur was made into the Manipuri film that won a President's Award in 1971. His first published play Judge Sahebki Imung (1969) laid the background for the search for identity of the Manipuris in the false atmosphere of progress, modernization and development where the issues of understanding the self against the cultural other was thrashed out in the form of a middle-class family drama. His Kaarbar (Business) emphasized the overpowering domination of trade values in human relationships that dehumanizes the simple and the poor. Machinations of corrupt officials, social women who became pimps in the lure for money, adultery, and sexual exploitation of the sisters of office employees were vehemently dramatized in the narrative. His Yeningthagi Eshei (The Song of Spring) got him the Manipur State Kala Akademi award for literature (1981). Nong Tarakle (1992) simply put the plight and existential situation of the poor persecuted simple folk during counterinsurgency operations. Sak-Khangkhidaraba Lanmee (The Unrecognized Soldier, 1988) depicted tha interfactional fight for power and advantage amidst the so-called revolutionaries during the independence struggle against Burmese occupation (1823-1824), where the unknown leader of the struggle was shot by reactionaries. Hi Chingnungi Thawai (1991), a historical study of Jadonang, the Zeliangrong anticolonial hero, brought him the Ambedkar Fellowship from the Dalit Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi. Leipaklei (The Earth Flower, 1995), a simple sentimental portrayal of woman's struggle for survival and dignity amidst adverse social conditions, brought him the Jamini Sunder Gold Medal 1995 from the Manipur Sahity Parishad and the National Sahitya Akademi Award 1995.
His translations include Lady Gregory's Rising of the Moon, Jean Anouilh's Antigone (1994) and William Shakespeare's Macbeth (1997). He also edited two volumes of Manipur plays published by the Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi, a collection of short plays (1997), and three plays from Manipuri authors (1999). He had also serialized Leo Tolstoy's stories for All India Radio.
During his lifetime he was associated with a number of theatre, literary and cultural institutions, including the North-East Zone Cultural Centre (Governing Body member), Manipur Sahitya Parishad (Executive Body member), the Aryan Theatre (President), the Manipuri Playwriters Association (President), the Writers Forum, etc. He is survived by his wife Memchoubi (author and poetess) and four sons.