Keisam Indu – Crafting charms of hills in the valley

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She works hard till late night to meet the deadlines whether for a ‘Huishon’, an engraved female crown worn by Tangkhul brides or ‘Nagthng’ of Kabui tribe for the magnificent Gaan-Ngai festival or ‘Nganuchin’ of Poumai tribe which is worn by males on their wrist during different events.

Keisam Indu Leima, a 62-year-old woman from Keishampat Keisam Leikai, is an inimitable artisan from the state, who makes available of a variety of ornaments and jewelleries of various ethnic tribes of the state. She has spent more than 40 years devoting her life in the work of brass and bell metal crafts. Indu works so hard that she sarcastically said that she did not have time to lie sick.

Her dedication and uprightness in the realm of tribal ornaments and jewellery-making has made her known as a craft-laureate enabling her to earn awards and accolades. She said that her 40 years long journey of hard work is not enough for her to think of retirement. She said, “I would love to work till my last breath, and still willing and would keep working until I leave this world “.

Unlike those mass-manufactured products of large factories of big companies, her jewellery items and the ornament collections of each ethnic tribe of the state are rare, unique and exquisite. The items are given final touches by hands and locally made tools. She also makes lustrous and engraved metal ‘Shtra’ of traditional Meitei ‘Kajenglei’. Heritems, which are put up at different shrines, received acclaims for her innovative designs.

Her aggregated end-products, in other ways, show an inextricable link between the people, and its rich culture and the traditions. And the whole agglomerated items that are displayed colourfully at her small but cosy work shed-cum-emporia, nestled near her home, picturesquely depicts a state of rest in unity among the various diverse ethnic communities of the state.

While having a candid chat with the Manipur Times at her work shed, located at Keishampat Keisam Leikai-Imphal, she said, “I took up this profession at the age of 18, just after my marriage”. She added, “I tried my hand in coated-jewellery (general gold-imitation) initially, later I shifted to tribal ornaments and jewellery as there were few people to make these items”.

Keisam Indu neither went to any art or designing school, nor she has a formal qualification but she has self-acquired skills through trials and experience. She learnt everything after having a close observation of each samples of jewellery and ornaments of each different ethnic tribe. She said, “When they asked me to make a product, I asked them to bring the designs and told them that if she could make only after seeing the design.She then added, “It takes a few weeks to fine-tune the forms but at last I was successful “.

Indu regards late Keisam Birachandra (state awardee) and late Keisam Ruhini (state-awardee) as her gurus in the field. Keisam Indu is an expert in making above more than 50 items of tribal ornaments and jewellery, including Ao, Angami Seema, Lotha etc of neighbouring state Nagaland. Her earrings, bracelets, armillary, necklace are becoming fashionable items among the young girls, and what she told to Manipur Times was that majority shares of the items in the markets and other outlets are her own-made and even she has made and delivered for previous Nagaland’s Hornbill Festival which she has received the contract through Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio.

Success and Challenges:

When Manipur Times enquired about the challenges in her journey to success, she said, “My work life is filled with full of happiness and work pressure as my work is hard and money is also hard to earn”. She further said she needed to deliver all the orders before the deadline. She said, “My work is time-consuming, demanding and exhausting, most of the time, I refrained myself from sleeping, I worked nearly 23 hours a day, skipping sleep to meet the deadline.”

She further said, “Besides this, when a client ordered the product for Rs2 lakhs, they would only give 25 per cent of the amount, as an advance money, which is not sufficient to procure raw materials. So, for financially weak persons like me it is hard to manage the business. So, I have to borrow the capital with interest to continue my business.  So, at the end of the day, I feel like toiling life for others as I do not get much profit.”

Though her work is laborious and time-consuming, her hard work and dedication have made her received State Award on metal craft from the Directorate of Commerce and Industries, Govt of India and also got an appreciation certificate from Manipur Renewable Energy Agency (MANIREDA) for her achievements and struggles in the craft of tribal metal ornaments for different tribes of Manipur. Besides awards and recognitions, she has facilitated many training programmes sponsored by various government agencies and also hired by other stakeholders to impart training on her craft to trainees. Alongside her endurable spirits to work without rest, regardless of rainy or sunny days, she also supports shouldering her family responsibilities as a wife, a mother and a grandmother and provides grand financial support in looking after and managing her family.

Her priceless integrity and commitments in work have also earned good rapports with various ethnic tribe of the state, who are settling far from valley areas. She is always invited in festivals, ceremonies and events etc, like Thangkhul wedding ceremony, festivals like Gaan-Ngai, Kut festival etc.” She laughs and humorously told to Manipur Times, “They said that they wanted me to reside in their village as they find exhausting to visit me. They silenced me sometimes that I must stay in their place, as I am the only one left who makes their things. She then laughed and humorously whispered, “I must stay in Nagaland or far hill now”.

Her Wish List:

Born in December 1951, she has a list of wishes she loves to do. She wishes to install a her own cultural-emporium in commercial areas of Imphal she could display and showcase all her items and where more people would visit, where she told to Manipur Times, “I wish, I could open a shop, where I can keep and display the whole ornaments and jewellery of the entire ethnic tribes of the state, but now I think I won’t be able to fulfil my dream as I have lots of capital deficiency”. She said, “Sometimes I also wish if I could die only after making available of the ornaments for the entire tribal community abundantly”.

Besides many aspirations, she just loves to have a spacious work shed where more workers can work together. She said, “What I suggest to my trainees and co-workers is that to learn all the skills before I die and to work beyond me, as they have lot more advantage than me”. She added, “They are more opportune, as they are educated but I am not that educated. There are lots of opportunities for them in their future”

 

Indu married to Keisham Mani of Keishampat Keisham Leikai, Imphal who is a retired government driver. They have five children – three sons and two daughters. Most of her children participate in her mother’s work.

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