Ukiyo is a bookstore opened by 29-year-old Martin Thokchom. Martin has a great love for books and anything to do with the world of books. Established in Imphal, the little bookstore soon discovered that there were many eager readers in the city of Imphal who were so ready for just such a store. The existing bookstalls, forced to live a commercial life, or more likely run by owners who saw books as just another commodity to earn a living, catered to students by stocking up with textbooks and syllabus books which guaranteed sales. Ukiyo came in as a little beacon of hope for true book lovers, and bestsellers as well as quality writing appeared on its shelves. Martin made every effort to bring books that were not easily available in the Northeast. When Ukiyo was about to turn one, Martin saw his dream of an Ukiyo literary festival becoming reality when writers and publishers both from the Northeast as well as other states and cities responded enthusiastically and came to the festival.
The two-day festival took place on the 11th and 12th October, and was a resounding success for a first-time festival. The Ukiyo team were a bunch of young, energetic people who pooled in their various talents and managed to pull off a very hectic but enjoyable two days of hosting more than fifteen writers and publishers and an audience that numbered hundreds on both days.
Of course, anyone who had heard about the festival asked, what is Ukiyo? Ukiyo, according to Martin, is a Japanese word that describes a certain feeling one gets when reading a particular passage in a book or when hearing a certain phrase or word. It was apparent that young Martin had experienced enough Ukiyo to be inspired to name his bookstore after it.
To hold a literary festival in the Northeast or any festival for that matter, is a great challenge. Technology can fail at the last moment. The Ukiyo team had to face all these challenges which they overcame gracefully, picking up tips and lessons for the next festival. Ensuring that sessions started in time, or as close to the stated time as possible was a constant challenge when the unexpected would happen with the PA system, or lighting, or an unforeseen triggered by the traffic jam in the city. In spite of the snags, all the important sessions were interspersed with beautiful interludes of Manipuri dancing and excellent vegetarian Manipuri meals.
The team was comprised of young members, many who had been educated outside the state, but returned home, for Imphal is now a growing urban estate offering employment and opportunity for its inhabitants. The team was welcoming and hospitable and very smart. Working together smoothly, they ensured that all the hindrances that beset the festival were quickly and efficiently sorted out. School students, college and university students made up the greater portion of the crowd but there was a group of very interested and engaged individuals from the general public who attended all the events. The support from the public is an extra blessing that Manipuri literature enjoys and is one of the biggest factors why Manipur literature is at the level that it has reached through the years. That’s another leaf for us to borrow.
Praise has to be recorded for the Imphal Hotel where the guests were lodged. It used to be the Tourist Lodge and former visitors remember it was not doing so well a decade ago. It has a whole new face thanks to the previous chief minister of Imphal who encouraged and supported the owner to revamp the lodge so it could host a high-powered Burmese delegation to Imphal. Today, the hotel with its wide lawns, offers very clean, upgraded rooms with a restaurant that has an impressive menu offering besides Meitei cuisine,delectable Indian, European and Chinese dishes.
The lesson for us here is that our youths could also emulate what their counterparts have done in the neighbouring state. The Manipuri team had no government funding. They did some crowd funding, found some sponsors in the city and still managed to cover travel expenses and hotel stays of their guests for two nights as well as taxis and all the expenses that the extensive PA system and hall hire must have cost. If they could do it, no reason why our youths cannot rise to a similar occasion.