The youngest daughter of Maharaja Sir Churachand Singh of Manipur, Binodini Devi, was a feisty beauty who authored the first recognised Manipuri short story, wrote the script for a film that won the Grand Prix at Cannes, and took Manipuri dance to the world. Yet astonishingly little survives of her work on record. Janice Pariat in Open:
Like many others, I encountered Maharaj Kumari Binodini Devi only after her death. She succumbed to a brief illness on 17 January 2011. My quest to write a profile on her was made more difficult by the fact that I couldn’t access her writing, whether through the internet or friends, no matter how well read they were or how large their collection of books. Her novel, Boro Saheb Ongbi Sanatombi (The Princess and the Political Agent), couldn’t be found in bookstores, her collection of short stories, Nung’gairakta Chandramukhi (Chrysanthemum Among the Rocks), unavailable on Amazon, and her collection of plays, Asangba Nongjabi (Azure Skies), not archived in any library I had been to. How was it possible, I asked myself, for such a prolific writer to remain practically unrecorded? For such a proficient writer to be so inaccessible? It would be tragic to explain it away with the fact that the bulk of her writing, whether essays, fiction or non-fiction, remains largely untranslated from Manipuri. I called people in Imphal. Aribam Shyam Sharma, Binodini Devi’s long-term collaborator-director, was unwell. And other people who might have known were polite yet firm in shutting me out: “We knew her well, but we’re not the right people to speak to.” It looked like a dead-end.
Until I met two Manipuri poet friends for nimbu-paani on a Sunny afternoon. “My mother went to school with her in Imphal,” Robin Ngangom told me. “They put up plays together.” Ngangom teaches English Literature at the North Eastern Hill University and is an established ‘Shillong’ poet who writes in English. “I grew up in the same neighbourhood where Binodini Devi lived,” Ibohal Kshetrimayum, a civil engineer and writer, added with a laugh. “Her nephews and I used to steal fruit from her garden. She called us hooligans and chased us away. I don’t think she liked us much.”
The two agreed she was exquisitely beautiful. “She was a princess, yet she journeyed out on her own, in rickshaws. It was unheard of for women from the royal family to do that,” said Ibohal. “She always ventured out with a flower in her hair, and we kids would run out to the road to watch her pass. I always admired her beauty and wished to marry a woman like her one day.” More
Maharaj Kumari Binodini Devi (1922-2011): See also obituary in Himal Southasian