Like the pairing of two townships with unpronounceable names, writes Elise Valmorbida, I’ve been ‘twinned with’ Kynpham Sing Nongkynrih, a writer-member of International PEN. Some of my names are Elise Francesca Valmorbida.
John Simmons, founder of 26, thinks that the names Nongkynrih and Valmorbida are a good match for each other – so I should get on very well with my twin.
26 is so named because of the number of letters in the alphabet. Not the Italian alphabet, though. The Italian alphabet is ‘missing’ five letters, among them the letter K.
Kynpham Sing Nongkynrih is a Khasi poet. What does that mean? Khasi the people: a matrilineal society living in hilly north-eastern India, near Assam and Bangladesh. And Khasi the language: historically mostly oral, until a Welsh missionary captured it in Roman script. But how Roman is this?
Ka Khrismas kum ka tlang ka wan pa ka iai wan
ban pynshoh bieit ia ka mynsiem da ki kular jong ka bneng.
Ka jingim ka shim ia ka dur riewkhuid bashongshit,
ba ibeiñ, bad ki kseh ki duh noh ia la ki kti ki kjat.
Hynrei u mahajon shalakki na ki thor u thnem ka khaiï,
u die ia ki khlur la kum ia ki bindi.
I read this exotic text like a person staring at dark reflective water. I can only see the surface. Apart from the veiled glint of Khrismas. I like it with a K. I can see there’s a lot of K in Khasi. But what lies underneath? My K poet sends me an email on his way to Kolkata.
Christmas like winter comes again and again
seducing our hearts with promises of heaven.
Life takes on a cheerfully, sneeringly
devout look, pines lose their limbs.
But the cunning dealer from the plains
does a brisk trade selling stars like bindis.
Khasis take to Krismas but, my K poet says, they don’t take too well to Hindi – English is the language of secondary school and university. I guess that makes English the stepmother-tongue. It links Khasi people with other kinds of people who live in India, who speak hundreds of languages other than the 18 official – national – ones. It links my K poet with me. So English, another kind of cunning dealer, does a trade that is brisk. (I had to end with a K.)
26 member Elise Valmorbida is author of The TV President. Her latest novel, The Winding Stick, is due out in May.