A book review by Monica Ingudam
Book Title: The Letter
Author: Jamuna Devi Advani
Publication: India, Partridge India, 2014, 197 pages.
This book is a memoir by Jamuna Advani, born in Manipur and presently at San Ramon, California. This book captures her memories of her 1940's childhood days in Jiribam, a remote place in the state of Manipur in North East India and her life in America.
I had interviewed Mrs. Jamuna Advani during Season 1 of FindingTheVoices way back in 2013 where we spoke about her poetry book “Land of The Dancing Deer”. Her poems depicted a beautiful family history and reflections about her memories, beliefs and stories of her life’s journey. Her writing is an inspiration to me and I remain grateful to her. Her poems heightened my creativity, improved my consciousness to observe and listen to nature more closely.
I started reading this book “The Letter” in a flight back in 2014 during a trip to India. I was very excited to receive a copy from the author herself. Last weekend I was beginning to miss reading so much, I had to read and was browsing through my piles. I picked “The Letter” yet again.
Reading the initial chapters kept me totally engrossed going through the details of a child’s thought when her father brings home a second wife, a grandmother’s belief in rituals to drive away the other woman and a voiceless accepting wife. It dawned to me that I am reading a memoir and it’s a glimpse of the reality of life in Manipur, the reality which many will not talk about. As I read through the pages, I was very intriqued with the stories touching different human relationships.
She has touched upon many aspects of life and articulated her dreams, fears, insecurities, love, courage, adventure and human relationships. And in her narration, she wrote very well about sensitive topics in a delicate manner and yet portraying her heartfelt feelings. I love the narration style of the book giving me a feeling of time travel, way back to the nineteen forties, with a mix of letters, poems, historical events and photographs. I love the details and in depth description in the book (E.g. Elders using Hookah/”Hidakphu”, the art of making tea, walking barefoot, ways of courting, traveling by foot, boat, bus etc.) giving an opportunity to understand a different time and ways of life. And truly, I felt the book as a gift to learn about origin, ancestors and learn a bit about the ways of life within the Meitei community.
I wish the size and resolution of the photographs in the book are higher and the recent photograph are in colors. My fascination on the stories left me wanting for more photographs of the earlier times at Jiribam. I wanted to know more about “mother” and her silent feelings.
To me, this book is about the strength, courage and growth of a woman keeping up with the fast changing time and place experiencing life’s journey from the east to the west. It’s about coming in terms with past events of life, accepting the people the way they are. It’s about healing and letting go of resentments accumulated. It’s about questioning the unspoken accepted norms set for woman in Manipur. It’s about rising through education and openness to adapt and change with the pace of time and place.
I would definitely recommend you to read this book. You will get a glimpse of the life of women in Manipur, the unspoken and accepted polygamy system, caste/hierarchical system which comes out strongly during matchmaking, the choice and length people go for a male heir within the “Meitei” community that might change your perception of woman’s status in Manipur. And you will surely feel the high spirit and strength of a woman following her heart. You can get the book from Amazon.