His language as a human first and foremost is one speaking of aspirations in peace, even when he does not need to employ words of the conventional kind to deliver his intentions in that universal regard for the world. Endowed with a specific penchant for the arts, with art indeed being his mode of identity, the capabilities of Kongthujam Maikel Meetei in pouring his heart out on paper by painting a canvas of myriad hues- each speaking of an emotion harboured deep within the human heart, is one of much flourish. The ever immersive domain of the emotions is indeed what had kept him going and does still as well, in his recognition as an award winning artist of freelance pursuing. But there is another dimension to this ‘recognised’ image of his- one that he had in no way intended to discern himself in but which had come to be by the sheer wickedness of a scheming fate.
Young still, despite his much established stature in accomplishment, the story of Meetei who hails from the north eastern state of Manipur in India, is one of some pathos. A graduate in Fine Art from the Imphal Art College having attained a First Class Bachelor’s degree under Manipur University in 2010, the course of his life had been curated a couple of years before his emergence in the trained identity of what he today is. Of course his flair in the creative did not need any ‘inspiration’ to scout a way in expression but that he met almost with his destiny in a misfortunate chancing upon irony sure would continue for ever to be an entanglement in his identity.
Defined he might not be by an occurrence of fate but it would be fateful indeed a recollecting in memory that the then student of the Imphal Art College would be one of the victims of the Pourabi Blast. On the 16th of December, 2007, Meitei was returning from his college after participating in a painting competition that he found himself in the middle of the explosion that shook the entire region. Meetei was aboard a bus on the road where the powerful IED had been planted and happened to find himself at that exact spot of what had been very evidently a terror attack. And while he was one of the 30 injured in the incident that would come to be condemned as Black Sunday, the case for Kongthujam Maikel Meetei’s unfortunate finding of place among the list of the victims of the blast that also killed over half a dozen of innocent civilians perhaps emerged as the starkest assertion of the ugly reality that terrorism forever has been perpetrating of.
Stark it had been indeed in physically disabling a young talent who was returning just after painting his hopes of peace in a very ironic reminder of the disparity that exist in the human world and not just in deliberated accounts of it. But that it could not shake the faith of a youngster just beginning to reach his way up to the real world speaks also parallelly of the perseverance that nestles in the soulful fore of the arts. Art has always been succor for a species otherwise hankering for more ambitious pursuits in not so much worthwhile extents of it. And for a boy whose very penchant for the creative had led him to envision an identity for himself worked out with those very strokes of the imagination, it was art indeed that proved to be the rescuer for a spirit shoved to waste his dreams away in the reeling depths of a grim reality.
The premise of course was far from ideal and while the incident wasn’t in any way the foundation upon which Meetei’s now distinguished career of own intention came to be, it still was crucial enough in stirring a narrative that perhaps would not have been otherwise received in as much poignancy. With his left leg lost to the inhuman intensity in which the blast occurred and his other leg having to be amputated in January the following year, Maikel found in art his only hope for and perhaps way in living. His career in painting already stemming out of his passion as early as his teenage years, with him choosing for himself this expression in identity by the turn of the century itself, the then budding painter had but his village roots to thank for this revelation of his sensibilities.
Born to a farmer father Konthoujam Mohon Meetei in 1989, it had been the scenic exuberance of nature that stirred first a young Meetei’s interest in depicting that account of immense beauty. Before his institutional education in that stream of the art, Meetei had already been learning the skills of it from one Longjam Shashikumar. Therefrom he decided to pursue his academic career in this very leaning of the artistic and propel himself even further along this course of own choosing. And yet, even in very definite unfurling of his painting skills, the humble background of existence meant that Maikel would be limited indeed by physical many a calling of the world.
As someone who could not afford paint, Meetei came to assert his artistic skills through the medium of the collage, piecing up intricate realities in art through scraps of paper. He soon began experimenting with acrylic colors as well, having managed to impede the issue of the resources but little did he knew that very soon he would be challenged by a greater barrier in existence itself. The loss of a part of his body and with that a specific ability of functioning was more than enough darkness settling upon Meetei to dissuade him from a pursuing of life itself let alone passion. And that would be what would script his reality indeed, if not for the manifestation of his art that helped him sustain through that period of tragedy.
Not just in helping him hold his resolve though, painting his way out through that dark time of life and winning over it with flying colors was what would entail out of Meetei’s innate love for aesthetic expression. But even more profoundly it would help him also to pursue with even greater devotion a belief in the language of peace, so much so that it has spurred indeed a very conscious effort on his part to be guided by a ‘dream of peace’ in his paintings. Soft spoken still but powerful in his deliverance of such art more than potent in the striking expression of the equally resilient call against violence, Konthoujam Maikel Meetei has managed to paint for the world such images of peace that resound with a conviction many times greater than what the deafening blast of the bomb more than a decade earlier had managed to assert as.
And thus in both the distinctly occurring phases of his existence, Maikel has never ceased to emerge as a true artiste- first as an excited youngster practicing strokes of his own dreams of much promise and then having been cruelly jolted out of that fancied realm of impeccable beauty to realise instead his truer talent in being a bearer of the emotional range of beauty of what the arts encompass. Throughout this split up journey in making not just the colors but also the different mediums of their exploration his own, Meetei has come to reside in numerous connotations of his creative identity. Asserting as a freelance painter and contemporary visual artist and spinning magic also across associated trails of handicraft and book cover designing is this young still talent, more than esteemed in his skilled parlance of the arts to be boasting of many a different awards and honours to his name.
Even as someone who had just started out exploring his love for painting, Meitei managed to earn the Gold medal in the Korasala’s Wonder Art World International Children’s Art Competition cum Exhibition 2002, 2004, 2005 and the distinction of being awarded the International Best Child Artist Award 2003 by Korasala Art Society, Amalapuram. Also claiming a Gold Medal in the All India Children’s Art Competition organised by the Konaseema Chitrakala Parishad, Amalapuram in 2006 as well as numerous such similar accolades at different competitive events in both Manipur and outside has been this talent of an unconventional identity indeed. Another Gold Medal and National Award followed in the 13th All India Children’s Painting Exhibition 2006 in Hyderabad after which a Gold Medal in the Collage competition and a Silver Medal in Poster making in the East Zone Inter-varsity Youth Fest. 2008, Ranchi accrued as well to him. The XXIV Inter-varsity National Youth Fest 2009, West Bengal too saw him claim the Gold medal in Collage Making while he settled for the 2nd Prize in the All India Drawing Competition a year later.
More prestigious accolades continued to validate the true skill of the artist that Maikel Meetei is, finding Honorable mention in 2009 by the Manipur State Kala Akademi. He would also be bestowed with the State Handicrafts Award 2011-12 by the Directorate of Commerce and Industries, Government of Manipur while a couple of years later in 2014, Meetei would find international recognition dawning upon him, having been awarded the Five Star Awards for the Greatest Artists by Best of Artist, Malaysia.
The exemplariness of what emerges out of the art of Konthoujam Maikel Meetei is indeed what has led him along such avenues of recognition. But beyond his practice of such art that is perceivable, it also is the life story of Meetei that occurs as no less an art itself. For indeed if the power of the arts is such that has us humans seeking solace in them while seeking inspiration out of their folds as well, then the very mannerism of going against the odds to persist in life with as much passion is what makes Meetei even greater an artist. Delivering lessons indeed in the spirit of living by fostering opportunities out of hollowness has been this ever humble human proudly standing up however to this essence of himself as an identity not any less real even in its unlikeliness.
Very fittingly therefore, a Manipuri film documenting the entire life of this man who would have been doomed to the fate of identifying as a blast victim if not for his belief upon himself thrust through the arts, had been selected for screening at the 53rd International Film Festival of India 2022 in Goa. Beyond Blast occurs as a hard hitting tale of a reality that one would not want to live, but it is exactly in living that very tale in as much strength without losing any iota of his own conviction in harmony, whether in living or in practising his art that Konthoujam Maikel Meetei has asserted indeed his worth as a really exemplary living artist.