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E-Pao! Education - Introducing the Manipuri script

Introducing the Manipuri script

By: Lt Col H Bhuban Singh (Retd) *



Manipur is in the process of introducing Meitei Mayek also known as Manipuri script. I have deliberately called it Manipuri script because of three reasons.

Firstly, it was this script which was used for writing in all Royal Chronicles of Kings of Manipur.

Secondly, on the Jeeree Agreement of 18 April 1833, Shree Joot Rajah Gumbheer Sing put his signature in Manipuri script, implying that all his courtiers - tribal including General Thangal of Senapati District who had served five generations of kings like Gambhir Singh, Nara Singh, Chandrakirti, Surachandra and Kulachandra as well as non-tribal courtiers-knew Manipuri script and all his Royal Orders were issued in Manipuri script only.

And thirdly and most importantly, the Manipur Legislative Assembly under the leadership of the late Yangmaso Shaiza, a full-blooded Tangkhul Chief Minister of Manipur, approved the introduction of the twenty-seven-alphabet Manipuri script way back in 1979, amidst contesting claims and counter-claims. The controversy is still on and successive State Governments had taken this controversy as umbrage for their lethargy in introducing the script. Thus, almost three decades had been wasted.

Now there is a spurt of activities under the leadership of Akaba to force the introduction of Manipuri script, though some of his actions like the burning of Imphal Central Library were not appreciated by the public. Also the process of blackening of sign boards is a childish prank which will benefit only the hardware merchants in achieving a boom in their sales.

After all, if a signboard of a pharmacy is obliterated, the sufferer will be the purchaser of medicine who may be the sick person himself. Blackening of sign boards will not hurry up the process of introduction of our script, which I also love as much as you do.

But, you or we have to be patient. Just as the waiting period of your son to come out is a minimum of ten months after marriage, not one week, you cannot quicken this pace of introduction of our script. We may have to wait for ten years or may be twenty years for the complete introduction of our script. Now, the State Government has responded with knee-jerk reaction of approving some teachers of Mayek only.

For the time being, let us leave aside the methodology of introduction of the approved Manipuri script, but try to resolve the issue of numbers of alphabets.

Subject to correction as far as I know, the main opposer to the twenty-seven alphabet Manipuri script is N. Khelchandra Singh, who is a very respected and renowned scholar of Manipuri history and culture. His objection seems to be that the approved Manipuri script cannot read all the old writings on stones, copper plates, brass utensils etc but his thirty four or thirty five alphabet script, can read all.

All of us and I must agree with his contention since he knows best. But just because one cannot read all the old writings, we should not conclude that the twenty-seven alphabet Manipuri script is non-workable. We can utilize the services of scholars like him to decipher those old engravings when needed. Similar arrangements are made everywhere.

I have seen the photocopy of the original Magna Carta signed by King John of England in Encyclopedia of Modern History and I just cannot make out anything though it was supposed to be English. But there are scholars who can decipher those old English writings.

Therefore, for the present, let us all agree to the introduction of twenty-seven alphabet script, which is workable and has been officially approved.

Looking from a modern, scientific and technological angle, what, after all, is a script meant to perform? This is just a vehicle to translate our thoughts in writing.

Therefore, the lesser is the number of alphabets the better will be, its performance in terms of ease of learning, lesser number of keys on a type-writer or on a computer key-board etc. The English script or Roman script has twenty six alphabets, with single inverted commas, double inverted commas, colon, colon-dash, three types of brackets, etc, in addition to many discardable alphabets.

The late George Bernard Shaw sometime in 1960 or 1961 announced a reward of one thousand pound sterling to anyone who could reduce the number of English alphabets to less than twenty. He gave examples and suggested that the alphabet 'f' can be removed as under:
(1) 'faculty' to be written as 'phakulty'
(2) 'father' to be written as 'phader'

Therefore, if our Manipuri script can further be reduced to twenty one alphabets, it will be better still, rather than increasing to thirty-five.

Coming to the methodology of gradual introduction of Manipuri script, the effort of Manipur Government seems to be direc-tionless, I think, the State Education Department has appointed Mayek teachers to teach alphabets only.

Learning alphabets is the first step but it is not the end-all of introducing the script. Along with it, primers like William Pettigrew's
"Ojah lak-ee phan thao; Tada lak-ee chak hap-oo"
etc are to be taught, just like 'A' for apple or 'B' for ball etc.

Then, text books on literature, geography, history, biology, chemistry, arithmetic etc are to be prepared before actual switching on to Manipuri script. There is no quick-fix solution.

If we are to force Manipuri news papers to print their daily papers in Manipuri script from to-morrow, there will be no buyers. Newspaper industry will close down and right to information will become meaningless. There should be a method to madness.

Twenty four years ago, I had published an article in the then weekly called Resistance dated 24 Aug 1982, wherein my views on emergence of multitudes of scripts in India and my plea for an all-India common script, was aired.

For whatever is the worth of this article, now that a common script is not in India's agenda. I am reproducing it in toto :

Page (4) RESISTANCE August 24, 1982
MEITEI SCRIPT IN THE NATIONAL CONTEXT
By H. Bhuban Singh
Member, Manipur Public Service Commission

As one travels from east to west of India one comes across Assamese script, Bengali script, Devanagri script and Gurumukhi script. When one encounters Urdu script, one then realises that he has strayed in to the domain of General Zia though Urdu should have had a place of pride in India too.

It is easy to know the State your train is passing just by reading the railway station sign boards, provided you know the scripts. Such is our India. That being so, it is no wonder that there should be agitation hunger strike even riots and bloodshed for introduction of Meitei script and throw the Bengali script but by the nearest window.

Cool down, cool down, why lose your cool just because 'other regional chauvinistic fellows are hotting up. Imagine an India where there will be only one script. How lovely!

If only one can read the sign boards, one does not have to enter a medico shop and ask for general stores, say in Madras whose Tamil is as foreign as Gurumukhi. How magnificent it will be if one can read the kilometre stones by the roadside while driving from one corner of India to another.

Why create pockets of foreign-country-like-image within the same country? Just because you are madly in love with your script, why forget realities? There are limits to which your emotions should be allowed to go and not beyond.

For the good health of all of us, the whole of India can have one script. After all, a script is simply a tool which enables us to write the spoken words of a language. It is of course, an index of cultural progress. It is precisely because of this cultural arrogance that we refuse to accept the common script. The movement for Meitei script seems to arise from aping the activities of other regional languages (and script) chauvinists.

Shed the arrogance, it is easy to accept a common script. The benefits are plenty. Learning other Indian languages will be easier, for the ability to read is a big advantage. The nightmare of IAS/IPS officers with regional scripts will be over. The literary richness of some Indian languages can be shared by all. National integration will be faster.

Looking dispassionately at the problem of script, if one can transcend the emotional barrier, a clearer picture will emerge. George Bernard Shaw was so irritated with the lack of correspondence between spelling of Roman script and pronunciation of English language that we gave away a sizeable amount of money for developing a new English script.

Mao Tzedong repeatedly expressed the desirability of innovating a simple Chinese script in place of the present script of some 2,500 symbols (actually the present day Chinese script is no script in the real sense, as they represent words and sometimes complete sentences).

Going back into history, Lokmanya Tilak advocated a common script for all. Indian languages Gandhiji also favoured this. A bit earlier, the Bengali reformer, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar wanted Devanagari to be learnt as an additional script.

At present, the idea of one script is somewhat nurtured by Acharya Vinova Bhave at his Paunar Ashram. The word 'some what' is used because the Acharya's idea is to have a link script while retaining the regional scripts. The half-hearted official support given to the idea of a common (national) script is now reduced to one-quarter hearted affair due to sluggish performance.

In 1956, the Official Langu-ages Commission declared the Devanagari to become the common script in due course. Five years later, the same thing was asserted in a Chief Ministers' Conference. But sweet nothing has happened so far. The private effort of the Gandhi Smarak Nidhi's Nagari Lipi Parishad to popularise Nagari is feeble. Incidentally, the head of the Parishad is not a Hindu fanatic but is Dr Mallick Mohammed.

It is therefore prayed that Devanagari script be accepted as a common, national script for India. Almost the whole of Europe even, has one common script which brings closer European unity. All India Museum, New Delhi is big enough to accommodate the discarded Bengali script, the Telegu script, the Gurumukhi script and all Meitei script not excluded.
(End of Resistance article dated August 24, 1982)

My own personal view is that India should have one common script to unite us emotionally. I fully support language commission's view to declare Devanagari to become the common script for India.

Look at what the currency, Euro, and how the existence of European Union, have bound so many European nations now, who had earlier fought many local and World wars.

Notwithstanding this private opinion of mine since an all-India common script is now not acceptable reality bites me and tells me that Manipur must introduce Manipuri script as fast as possible.


Lt Col H Bhuban Singh (Retd) wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on September 26th, 2006



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