Imitation for better or worse?

Sundari Yumnam *

A scene from a Manipuri movie ''Chayetpaa Tomnao' Gee Nungshi Lamjel'
A scene from a Manipuri movie ''Chayetpaa Tomnao' Gee Nungshi Lamjel' :: Pix - Green Chillies films Production

The meiteis are known the world over in the field of intellect, culture, dance and sports. Endowed with the richness of inborn talent to perform excellently in all spheres, they are also second to none in copying and imitating the changing trends in the surrounding environment thereby blending it in their own culture.

Many of us reside outside the state for studies, posting for work, business etc. In the process, we imbibe the culture, food-habits, dialect/language, lifestyle of the resident locals and assimilate it into our own. We learn from them the art of longing out in late night parties, breathing out a few smokes of cigarettes in the thin air and getting drowned in some pecks of whiskey of any favourite brand. We feel vulnerable and tempted on seeing others shake their hips in discotheques and pubs. The hustles and bustles of life's situation might have brought us in the ambience of a call-centre or a private company making us not only befriend the corporate world but sometimes making it a forever destiny.

In case we happen to be a student of the reputed St. Stephens College at Delhi, we absorb the academic atmosphere in our blood hence making us walk the road to the coveted IAS and other such exams easier. Are n't we so fetish about studying in reputed institutes outside the state for seeking learning grounds in extra-curricular activities, language, personality grooming, etiquette, sharpening our mentality and exposure apart from academic privileges? We feel a sense of superiority complex and better equipped to face life's challenges than our colleagues at home. No doubt after well polishing, it also brands and tags us as a product of that institute. Makes us feel like a white-collared officer being a Stephanian or a JNU-ite even without a steady job at hand.

Lets see the different aspects in which our costumes, customs,food habits, language, mindset, ideas and ethics are moulded by the versatile experiences we come across during our dwellings at varied places in India and abroad. Lets take dress for instance, we prefer wearing salwars, saris, jeans, trousers and skirts to the traditional phaneks and pheijoms as the former is more convenient and fitting than the latter in the present workplace. Even the salwars that we wear are of various kinds-normal, churidars, baggy(Patiala) that owes its origin to the Panjabis. Shorts varies from full to mini or even micro.

I am no exception to this practice as I cannot deny salwars and jeans very much comfortable and adaptable as an everyday wear over the traditional garments. Our traditional phanek mappanaiba is too heavy to carry off in today's fast life. Suppose a guy is chasing me, it will be a tough task to escape from his clutches and protect my dignity wearing this phanek! Seems like the traditional garments are exclusively left for religious ceremonies and social occasions and rarely in use. Tatoos and nose rings are now not alien to us. Mehndi and henna are ingredients of our make-up room.

Lets now come to food - we are indulged to adjust to the North-Indian cuisines like rajma, curry-chawal, sambar, bengan ka bhartha, shole-bhature, paratha, puri, sambhar, kofta, bhindi-simlamirch sabzi, paneer, dahi, idli, dosa during our hostel days. Golgappa, alu-tikki,gajar ka halwa, chicken biryani, burger, patty, French fries are one of our hot favourites. Mausami juice and nimboo paani helps us keep in a sobre state during the hot humid North Indian summer. We go weak on our knees at the sight of pizza. Yes, ngari & shingju, kanghou-bora have not lost their value till today!

We are also linguistically influenced by our friends staying in other parts of India in tone, accent and pronunciation. Therefore, we are inclined to add a little bit of Hinglish in our vocabulary and use it every now and then in our conversation.

Even in architecture, interior decoration and dowry culture, we are fast catching up with them. Traditional Shangois and ponds in our homes are losing weightage today.

We tend to fast copy their lifestyles and outlook and fit it in our culture and very existence. My friends working at MNCs in Gurgaon are living and breathing the corporate culture pretty well working at a lengthy stretch of 9 am to 6 pm schedule sometimes even extending to wee hours of the morning to 3 or 4 am. The weekends(Saturdays and Sundays) are a routine affair for parties. Night life is very active. Going regular shopping in Pantaloons and Lifestyle, watching movies in PVRs, driving luxury cars and dining out at big restaurants and five-star hotels have become very much a part of their everyday habit.

One of my friends working at the US narrated how life in the cosmopolitan city of Maryland have broadened her horizon and outlook in life. She said, "Amidst the skyscrapers and highly developed sophisticated urban culture, I feel so lonely sometimes staying some thousand kms away from home. Everything here is so robotic.....for doing anything, an ATM card type is to inserted. Feels very much automated and machinated ... it gives me a very horrible, unnatural feeling. Eating outside has become a necessity to suit the workaholic lifestyle. Human attachment is very much lacking. I have become much independent and stronger than before, that's the basic difference."

Many of us Manipuris are settled outside the state and even abroad in the pursuit of career advancement and for some other valid reason or the other. We assimilate their culture and ideas into our own by bringing it at an equilibrium state. The film Western Sankirtan by L Prakash depicts the fusion of the western elements into our soft, gentle, reserved culture. We try to apply the principle of entropy to our physique and mind. Rightly said by Mahatma Gandhi in an exclusive chapter about the imitation of the English gentleman in his autobiography "My Experiments With Truth". There is the unnoticed fear of losing the originality of our indigenous values, thoughts and behaviour leave alone the crisis of brain drain.

Even though the banning of Hindi films are a boon to the growth of the Manipuri digital movie industry, quality of the films simply cannot touch the standard of award-winning ones like the classic Imagi Ningthem and Ishanou of the yesteryears. Almost 80% of the films released in Manipur today seemed very much going along the lines of Hindi films in plot, theme, choreography and music. Music direction and lyrics are also following the Bollywood style. It's more about rhythm and less to do with melody. Although the quantity of the films has comparatively increased, the quality, having failed to do a similar magic, deteriorated and maintaining it seems like an uphill task.

To me, songs of popular youth icon Tapta (Jayanta) somewhat resemble that of American Grammy award winning rapper Eminem. Ranbir Thouna's style is a little close to Hariharan. Yes it is true and I agree when experts say-by following and imitating the superior, you are on the road to progress, so none of them is at fault.

Kids and youths are now swept by the Hallyu Effect (Korean wave) which has engulfed into our culture through Korean programmes telecast by the different TV channels. They are passionately imitating the Korean actors in hairstyle, fashion and even to the extent of learning their language. They are in sync with some of the common sentences like: How are you? In Korean: Chal ji-nae-sho-sso-yo? I'm fine, thanks! In Korean: Ne. Chal ji-nae-sso-yo. Just to cater to the needs of those who are in love with Korean language and culture, a foreign language dept. including Korean language was established a few years back at M.U. Walking down memory lane, I remember watching a Japanese serial during my kid days in which the protagonist is a character named Oshin who works hard and struggles like anything to counter the daily hardships. Oh! what a case of dejavu and feeling of nostalgia............

Right now ILP issue is going on in full swing in Manipur with the reservation crisis at M.U. steadily following suit. We are talking about protecting our indigenous race from the wave of non-locals diffusing into our land for some pretext or the other. We are planning to keep a restricting mechanism by scanning them while they trespass our territory so that the meiteis do not suffer the same fate as our indigenous brow-antlered deer Sangai which are on the verge of extinction in future.

I am not an anti ILP but in fact, a staunch supporter of the movement. But I am questioning my conscience whether we are diluting our indigenousness by willingly allowing the non-indigenous elements creep inside our culture in dressing, food, language, mindset and in everyday habits. Yes it is human to adapt ourselves to the various environments we are exposed to, modify ourselves as per requirements and integrate and assimilate into the changing trends. We don't want to sound out of the blue and look the odd one out. May be we are getting advanced and updated by copying their rich elements.

But are n't we killing our originality and endangering our indigenousness by doing so? So the hilarious point is-whether this imitation is for better or for worse? Whether the marriage of a Manipuri woman to someone outside the state has anything to do with affecting the indigenous populace considering the fact that a huge number of them are married outside caste over the last 5-6 years. Cross-cultural weddings are a common practice.

Philosophically speaking and psychologically thinking, the reality is we enjoy every bit of these foreign elements that have absorbed into the veins of our system, welcoming it warmly, embracing it and living it happily. As famous biologist Charles Darwin says-survival of the fittest, the meiteis have it in their genes to survive and adapt on any part of the globe.

* Sundari Yumnam wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is a casual assignee under Prasar Bharati, Imphal and can be contacted at yumnamsundari17(at)gmail(dot)com
This article was posted on September 27, 2014.

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