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Martin Thokchom (first from left) with some school children and teachers from a far-flung hill district in Manipur outside his bookstore Ukiyo
Martin Thokchom (first from left) with some school children and teachers from a far-flung hill district in Manipur outside his bookstore Ukiyo|EastMojo image
OPINION

Ukiyo: A one-of-its-kind literature festival in Manipur

Of the ones I’ve had the privilege to attend, this one holds a special place. It is incredible for an independent bookstore to pull off something this big in just a year of its existence

Vishü Rita Krocha

I return home to Kohima after what I’d call a weekend filled with delightful things. For a book lover, anything to do with reading, writing, or getting immersed in a world of books is sheer pleasure. To add to that, a rediscovery of Manipuri cuisine all over again— the whole thing infused with such warm hospitality, the kind that warms your heart.

Ukiyo Literature Festival, for me, is something out of the ordinary. Literature festivals are everywhere today with almost every major city hosting one or planning to organise one. And out of the ones I’ve had the privilege to attend in the past, this one holds a special place. It is incredible for an independent bookstore to pull off something this big in just a year of its existence.

I have followed Ukiyo Bookstore Imphal with such keen interest ever since I discovered it on social media exactly a year back. It is the kind of place for me, where I can easily lose myself or the sense of time. And while I am drawn to every bookstore that I come across, what makes Ukiyo Bookstore even more special is the story behind it.

To open a bookstore at this age is a very brave thing to do. At a time when everybody is relying on technology and barely anybody seems to be interested in books or reading for that matter. What’s more is that 29-year-old Martin Thokchom, the brainchild behind the bookstore and the literature festival has brilliantly shown how it’s done.

A postgraduate in English Literature from the University of Delhi, I learnt that his love for hot summer strolls in the streets of Daryaganj fuelled his love for hoarding books and sparked the idea of starting a bookstore in Manipur. Choosing English Literature, Martin Thokchom says “is the best decision of my life so far!” And ‘the idea of opening a bookstore of my own had always been in my mind for long, thanks to my love for classics since my childhood, the numerous strolls in the streets of Daryaganj to hoard books, and my ambitious dream to own all the books in the world. Also the lack of bookstores that catered to non-academic books in Manipur had always bothered me”, he goes on to say in the article titled “One day at a time: The birth of Ukiyo” that appeared in ‘Lamai’ (meaning pages), a literature and art magazine, which was launched during the Festival celebrating writings and narratives.

The lack of non-academic bookstore resonates with a state like Nagaland. Apart from CROSSWORD in Kohima, there is barely any bookstore that shelves enough book titles for an avid booklover to choose from. And so, the birth of Ukiyo (a Japanese word meaning ‘living in the moment, detached from the bothers of life’) Bookstore is the ideal place for any bibliophile and I can’t be happier for booklovers in Manipur whose ideal place can be easily this.

Sometimes, the lack of something may blind us from pursuing a dream that may be buried inside us- just waiting for a spark to ignite it. So many dreams are lost to the lack of platform. For lack of knowledge that something like writing can also be pursued as a profession. Some of us grew up without even knowing that we possess the gift of writing because there was barely anybody in your time you could look up to and emulate in that sense. So, it’s direly essential that we introduce as many creative fields as possible to young people, as much as we do other career options. So they can discover and choose for themselves what they are best at.

Ukiyo, in that sense has begun a promising journey that spells hope for many more aspiring writers and those in the creative field, and more so, not only confined to Manipur but the entire region of North East and beyond.

There is nothing like a dream that you hold so dearly, for so long, and one day, when you are not even aware that you have actually been working towards it all along, comes true. I would like to quote Martin Thokchom again, who expresses in the first edition of “Lamai” Magazine: “Just like everybody, I dreamt. I dreamt. I dreamt that I would get a job, work my ass off, save some money, and then open a bookstore and live happily ever after. Never had I imagined that one day I would be dreaming, and the next, my dream would become a reality— except for the fact that I didn’t have a job or any savings.”

Everyone has a dream but many of us are just waiting for the right time, for enough resources and savings, waiting just to have sufficient to embark on that dream. But usually that dream works only if you start somewhere, and follow it despite the odds. And I think that’s exactly what Martin Thokchom has done, and how beautifully that dream of his is already flourishing.

To be able to bring 21 speakers from different parts of the country for the Ukiyo Literature Festival in commemoration of the first anniversary of Ukiyo Bookstore is highly commendable. Among them were authors and publishers of repute. I think literature festivals like these are important because it brings together people with similar interests. To share ideas and conversations, bringing together literature of different communities and how storytelling can actually change the world, one book or one story at a time.

The most striking thing about the Ukiyo Literature Festival is that the team behind it consists of a young, vibrant group of people from different professions, but who are drawn by one common love -- books. Even for a first edition, the festival qualifies as one of the best I have been to. I think we need a generation of this breed. A generation that reads. A generation that writes. A generation that tells stories. And we need this because books are forever. They will be there even when we are gone to tell our stories and stories of our people.

(Vishü Rita Krocha is a poet, author and a journalist by profession with experience in the field for over 10 years. She also runs a home-based publication house called PenThrill Publication House. Views expressed are her own)