Kynpham Sing Nongkynrih lives in Shillong in the Northeast Indian state of Meghalaya. He belongs to the Khasi tribe and writes poems and short fiction in both Khasi and English.
Nongkynrih’s poetry has been published in two volumes in English and three in Khasi. He works as a Deputy Director of Publications, at North-Eastern Hill University (NEHU) in Shillong. He edits the university newsletter, NEHU News, the university’s official journal, The NEHU Journal, and the first poetry journal in Khasi, Rilum. He was awarded a ‘Fellowship for Outstanding Artists 2000’ from the Government of India, as well as three bursaries for Khasi texts from the Government of Meghalaya. He also received the first North-East Poetry Award in 2004 from the North-East India Poetry Council, Tripura.
Some of Nongkynrih’s poems have been translated into Welsh, Swedish and several Indian languages while others are being studied for the MA programme in English in the Indira Gandhi National Open University, New Delhi, and the Nagaland University, Kohima. He has read his poetry in several cities in India, Bangladesh and in the United Kingdom, where he was invited to participate in ‘The UK Year of Literature and Writing, 1995’.
The poems selected for this edition offer a glimpse into the variety of modes and concerns to be found in Nongkynrih’s work. Several reveal a keen political edge, reflecting a zeitgeist of mounting unease and menace – a feature typical of much contemporary writing from the Northeast. In one of his most trenchant poems – a masterpiece of acerbic understatement – he speaks of Prime Minister Gujral’s visit to the Northeast: “He came with twin objectives/ a mission for peace and progress./ But he was a rumbling in the clouds/ a prattle in the air.’ As the people of the land watched and wondered, the stoic bamboos were not so easily perturbed for they were only ‘too used to the antics of men.”
In another poem, the poet’s strategy is less restrained, as he graphically catalogues a history littered with “gouged nipples, plucked nails/ lacerated thighs, mutilated organs and pulverised balls” and poses his question with ringing clarity: “What of the grief, the outrage, the hatred?”
While Nongkynrih believes that poetry must respond to the exigencies of his time and place, there is no facile parochialism to be found in this poetry either. His work draws on a wide range of literary and cultural references, as well as various styles and modes, from the political to the unabashedly lyrical. The result is a creative vision exuberant enough to speak of love, cherries, winter oranges and the ancient sage-like rocks of his land, as well as Indian prime ministers, Russian soldiers and Welsh forms of longing.
As a bilingual poet, Kynpham makes a persuasive case in the accompanying essay for literary ambidextrousness. He regards Khasi as the language of his tribe and English as the language that enables him to reject isolationism – this enables him (and he quotes Neruda to support his case) “to come out of that landscape . . . to roam, to go singing through the world”.
Moments, Writers Workshop, Kolkata, 1992
The Sieve, Writers Workshop, Kolkata, 1992
Ban Sngewthuh ia ka Poitri (Understanding Poetry), Gautam Brothers, Shillong, 1998
Ka Samoi jong ka Lyer (The Season of the Wind), Author, Shillong, 2002
Ki Mawsiang ka Sohra (The Ancient Rocks of Cherra), Author, Shillong, 2002
Ki Jingkynmaw (Remembrances), S. R. Lanong, Shillong, 2002
Anthology of Contemporary Poetry from the Northeast, (Ed) North-Eastern Hill University, 2003
The Hindu: Literary Review/ Book Review
Keki Daruwalla: Poetry and the Northeast: Foraging for a Destiny; a review of Anthology of Contemporary Poetry from the Northeast, edited by Kynpham Sing Nongkynrih and Robin Ngangom
The Telegraph – Calcutta: Opinion
Short review of Anthology of Contemporary Poetry from the Northeast
Poetry from the RI Khasi: A brief introduction to Khasi and some contemporary Khasi poets (including a poem by Kynpham Sing Nongkynrih)
Report about the ‘All India Tribal Conference’ in Ranchi (26 – 28 April, 2005) in which Kynpham Sing Nongkynrih participated