In the midst of Goh Tong, Gang Wu and Tai yong

Prof E. Bijoykumar Singh *

Singapore - 2007
A glimpse of Singapore :: Pix - Martin Haobam

When the performance of Singapore was discussed as a role model for urban planning in the conference in Delhi in December, little did I know that in three months time I would be in Singapore experiencing the real Singapore in every way I can.

An invitation from the Institute of South Asian Studies (ISAS) in National university of Singapore would take me there to present a paper on our perception of the ASEAN-India connectivity. I will write about the seminar later. What I cannot wait to share with our readers is an experience which I thought was a stray thought. I am glad that a Chinese journalist took up my argument and after the seminar emailed her excitement over my view and suggested that we should pursue this further.

When you go to Delhi, all you see around are Sens, Nayars, Sardarjis and Modis. You are very distinct and if you are sensitive enough to feel the disdainful stare you are uncomfortable. You cannot help becoming self conscious. But in Singapore all you see are Chaobas, Tombas and of course Haokips - to be more precise their look alike. If development follows a linear path, what we see today in Singapore is probably what we will see in Manipur in the future.

How far in to the future I cannot say but I have a feeling that it will not be very different. You go anywhere in Marina Bay, Coleman Street, Woodland drive. The experience is the same. Back in India we are always with the Sens, Nayaars and Modis who cannot be blamed for misunderstanding us.

When I met the Arunachal Pradesh governor in the seminar, he asked me which country I was from. I do not blame him because among the delegates were delegates from Japan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Malaysia, Singapore and China. Though he proudly declared that he had spent the best parts of his life knowing the mountains and valleys of the north east, he failed in recognising an Indian from the region.

When we see all our bosses are the Sens, Nayaars and Modis and Chaobas, Tombas and Haokips are either salesmen or security guards we begin to doubt our capability. We are good in sports and dance. Paacha Meetei in his Sahitya Akademi award winning novel 'Imphal Amasung Magi Ishing Nungshitgi Phibam' had very correctly said "they want to see our sisters and daughters dancing for them".

We are innovators par excellence. Our classical dance came from Brindavan and the Rasleela of Brindavan we regularly see in TV is very different from our Rasleela in terms of aesthetics and presentation. Their Rasleela is very loud. It is an excellent example of our innovation. In others we are nowhere. But it is the other that is more important.

Not everyone is our Mary Kom or Ratan Thiyam. One of the worst effects of colonialism is the loss of faith in oneself. I have no other way to describe what we see around. You are taught to believe that you are inferior and in real life also you are second in command. You see it all around and you come to believe it. A tiger is convinced that he is a deer. How can you expect a tiger with a deer's perspective to behave like a tiger?

When I told Subir Bhowmick, a famous commentator of the north east, about this perception he was not very enthusiastic. He said looking alike was diferent from thinking alike. His perception of ground reality had made him very pessimistic in his outlook. He is a Bengali from Tripura now settled in Kolkata. I told him that the ASEAN–India connectivity would convince Chaoba that he was as capable as Chow. We are not destined to be Gurung, the gatekeeper when the eastern gate reopens for us. We will be gatekeeping our own house. Though we think differently, we can unlearn it.

We have come to value anything we donot have. We have come to believe that we have nothing. What will you export when the ASEAN Connectivity materialises? When you cannot even link Jiribam with Tupul, forget about Hanoi. When you import everything you consume, what are you going to export to the ASEAN market?

Yes there are problems at the ground level. Money is necessary but not sufficient. There has to be the will and the belief that we can transcend the barriers. I always say one of the best things of being in a vicious cycle is the ability to breach the cycle anywhere and it keeps on accumulating . When we believe that we can and should do, many perceptions will change. This breach will cumulatively build up.

How many phaneks a Sen in Delhi will demand? How many phaneks a Myanmarese Manipuri will demand in Mandalay? The former may demand one in his lifetime and Swe will demand several in a year. The sudden expansion of demand for our products by the Manipuri diaspora in Myanmar is bound to energise our industries and competition will bring in the economies of scale.

Our delegates to the Mandalay trade exposition had reported this possibility. In front of Singapore's famous Mustafa shopping centre I saw the dolls of 56 communities in China selling for three dolls per SG$ 10. That comes to Rs 430. Similarly Manipur can sell dolls of all tribes and every other community in Manipur.

When demand is large , economies of scale may become a reality and we may be in a position to make our price highly competitive. I told the delegates that Than Myint's book had very perceptively brought out the similarities. Crores of rupees and supreme sacrifices of many had not taught us the lesson that our future is in our hands. It is not in the hands of either Singh's at the centre.

Can such a belief be the Godot we have been waiting for decades? Such a belief should enable us to transcend the narrow domestic walls and enter into the land where mind is free from fear and the head is held high.

My neighbour's daughter Saroma has been teaching English in Singapore for six years. There are so many young people from the north east trying to get a foothold here. They have learnt to think big and that is very important. Learning to think in a well is very different from learning to think in an open space.

There are many cultural traits we have to unlearn if we want to move forward. ASEAN-India Connectivity will give us another opportunity, a chance in a lifetime, to learn that we can. We will become the tiger we were.

* Prof E. Bijoykumar Singh wrote this article for Hueiyen Lanpao
(The writer is at Economics Department, Manipur University)
This article was posted on April 15, 2013

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