Our Common Crisis: What are We to Do?
Part - 3

Niketu Iralu *

The write up reproduce here is an excerpt from the lecture delivered by renowned Journalist Niketu Iralu on the Arambam Somorendra Memorial Lecture

All developing societies face an extraordinary problem in their struggle to grow. It is well described in "10,000 Years in a Lifetime" by Sir Albert Maorikiki, the first Foreign Minister of Papua New Guinea (PNG). He was born on one of the remote islands of the country where, as he said, Stone Age practices still prevailed.

He found his way to a primary school run by missionaries, then eventually to University. He became one of the first graduates of the University of PNG just when the country became an independent nation. He was made the first Foreign Minister of the new nation. At the UN in New York he had to move with his counterparts some of whom came from the most advanced nations of the world. Fairly soon, as PNG is a member of the British Commonwealth, he became Sir Albert Maorikiki, knighted by Queen Elizabeth.

In his memoirs he described the overwhelming challenge he and his people had to face to bring their society up to the standard required to survive in the world. They kept failing and are still in desperate crisis. His people had to learn in a very short time crucially important and difficult processes of administration and development that people in advanced societies had learned over many generations by trials and errors. His people could not learn anything properly. The result was their development lagged way behind and problems multiplied, increasing the burdens of the Government and the people manifold.

We too are plagued by this crisis and our society has become stagnant and explosive at the same time due to incompetence, ignorance, mismanagement and corruption preventing speedy development. These failures and shortcomings are examples of defective or wrong responses to challenges of change, the common problem of most developing societies. Our failures and blunders are not because we are worse than others but because we simply have too much to learn in too short a time, made worse by our weakness for instant success and enjoyment.

To illustrate what I mean by this crisis of response that our people have to wrestle with I shall share here the story of three rat families who used to live in the garden of the property in Shillong where my family and I have been living for over 14 years now.

A few years ago Mrs. Helen Nichols-Roy who owns the property engaged a contractor to construct an underground water tank in the vegetable garden. One morning a monster of a Larsen & Toubro bulldozer and excavator arrived and roared into the garden. Its steel arms broke the branches of the trees in its path as if they were dry twigs. The fencing and the stone terraces were all flattened.

It then started to dig. At this point we and our neighbours watching the awesome operation discovered that three rat mothers were trying to cope with a terrifying crisis which they hadn't obviously encountered at all until just a few minutes earlier. Their nests behind the stone walls had been torn apart. In each nest were tiny pink baby rats wriggling helplessly, oblivious of the fact that their survival chances were nil. Their shocked mothers frantically dashed about to protect their babies getting drenched in the rain.

Then to the dismay of all watching the tragic drama, our two cats dashed across and ate up all the rats. My wife's outraged scolding screamed above the noise to her cats was in vain. The mother rats must have realized they would be eaten next by our opportunist cats. They dashed off with their tails up in the air into the bushes beyond the garden area. The father rats were nowhere to be seen.

As I watched the rat mothers running away from the scene of incomprehensible shock and horror that had overtaken their village, the thought crossed my mind that what I was seeing was actually the experience of the majority of my people. Are not the majority of mothers in our villages and towns completely at a loss to know how to protect and save and raise their children? The crisis of many of them becomes all the more overwhelming because their husbands so often are totally unhelpful.

In such a society people begin to think that to be opportunistic like the cats is normal. Only a minuscule few in our society who have become obscenely rich through ruthless corruption may think they are managing to handle change. But in reality they are disastrous examples of unsustainable solutions. Alas, they are the high profile role models in our society, and so many come to think to be shamelessly selfish is quite normal. Is it surprising our society is what it is now?

Can we do anything that can make a difference in our situation is always the question. It should be asked to keep us realistic. From my own experience I know that if we simply decide to be "The change you want to see in the world", as Gandhiji put it, more things happen in unexpected ways than we can imagine or understand. There is a verse in the Gita that says we are to do what we know is our duty leaving the results in His hands. There is more in this truth than we realize.

I shall cite two statements of conviction and commitment given to the world from the Middle East.

The first one: Landrum Bolling was a scholar, journalist and a widely respected worker for peace between Israelis and Arabs. He wrote, "The real issue, significant for everyone, is whether the sterile negative of today's life in the middle east, by which all men are imperiled, can be converted to a pattern of human co-operation not yet known or seen among men. This is not sentimental nonsense if we can believe that there are not hopeless situations, but only hopeless men."

The second one: In the third week of May this year the highly popular annual Euro- Vision musical extravaganza was held in Norway. An Israeli actress-singer and a Palestinian Arab actress singer sang together in the competition projecting their common dreams for their peoples. They were not strictly from within Europe. But that was not questioned by anybody.

They did not win the first prize but they stole the show by their vibrant presence and their sheer courage in taking a common stand. They said they were taking part in the contest to signal to their own peoples and to the world their conviction that "There must be another way" and it could not be abandoned, the way of "acknowledgment of one another's right to exist", apologizing for the wounds and hurts inflicted to one another and "sharing" in the building of a common future. They were demonstrating what converting the "sterile negative of today's life" in their devastated region to human co-operation would entail.

If there is to be another way, a better way, in all situations of prolonged disorder, distrust, vengeful hatred, despair and violence, the "sterile negative" in situations like ours in our region also has to be addressed with the seriousness that the problem deserves. "Sterile" according to the dictionary means, "barren, fruitless, incapable of producing offspring, results, ideas…" Is not this barrenness, this pervasive sterility that breeds despair and evil, one of the explanations of our crisis also?

We should know in what ways we are a part of the sterility and learn simply to end it for the sake of our common future we must build together.

I shall conclude what I have tried to convey by restating the main points of my talk:

- The quality of our response to the challenges and needs in our crisis decides the quality of our people and our society. This dictum of history allows no concessions.

- Evil is born and it becomes malignant when normal human failures and shortcomings, or mistakes and wrongs done, are denied, defended or justified because of pride, fear or selfishness. Hurts not transformed are then transferred causing wider damage. "The most terrible process of all is not the war-making that takes lives and villages and towns, but the irrevocable damages to the majority who survive. The killing may stop … But societies undermined by distrust, and burdened with criminalized economies do not recover".
(Martin Wollacott, writing in 1998 on the disaster that overtook the former Yugoslavia).

- Sustainability of our ideas and plans for solutions to our problems depends on our acceptance of reality and the ethical, moral soundness of the values we live by.


* Niketu Iralu gave this speech at Arambam Somorendra Memorial Lecture which was later published at Imphal Times
This article was posted on July 27, 2018.

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