TODAY -

Please say "Please"

Akham Bonbir Dhwaja Singh *



One morning two lads approached me near the gate of my house. They were lovely boys of seventeen or eighteen. One of them told me, "I want to ask something (Karino amata hang gene)". I instantly knew that they were sons of my friend and they also knew who I was. I also knew that they wanted to eb respectful, but they didn't know how to address an elderly man or how to speak respectfully. So they sounded so rugged and rustic. Another story is about a niece of mine, a nice young lady who has done her masters in business management. She also does not know how to use "may I ask..." or "may I know..." etc.

She would say "I want to know..." or "tell me ..." without the word "please". But she is not alone; it is with many in her generation. While we are so intently trying to rebuild our language, such things matter a lot, but more harm is done by eroding the social and moral values, because, one's habit, moral standards and the words he speak are closely interrelated. But how the people having such a wonderful history of decency, well organised social structure and a rich culture could have allowed such degeneration is the issue today.

Issue here is simple, the fault is with our generation, we cannot blame the language. Because, it is one of the best language, rich and soft. There is no dearth of courteous words, beautiful words, words of address etc. in it. It is not the matter of language, but it is the temperament to use good word, may be in local language or English, whatever the case is. I shall blame myself and my generation for this phenomenon. The generation which have bloomed with both 6th plan period and post 6th plan period with what we called sixth plan liabilities (but in seventh plan period), under which a huge number of people were recruited.

People got easy jobs, those with reasonable education and knowledge got it easy without paying any money, those with less knowledge and education might have got after paying money, not as high as it is being paid now, I suppose. Anyway, that is not the line of my story. My point is that in that period, that is 70s and early 80s, we had a large opening and people got the jobs easy, so they took it easy, they were easy going, as too many people were recruited, rather too suddenly, there was no arrangement to inculcate work culture. People prior to that generation, like my uncles, father, etc. they had it tough because jobs were only a few. Their education was tough and thorough. Their basics about any subject, particularly English (grammar), Manipuri and Mathematics were wonderful.

Jobs were not many, so their generation had high ethical values and extremely well mannered. By and large, with our generation also manners are okay, because we learned from our elders, but problem is with our offspring to whom we have imparted wrong values with easy moneys or not imparted the right values. We have turned them to uncivilised and uncultured beings. Some of them have become loathsome and despicable, beyond comprehension.

There is one school of thought that this culture/lack of culture came from two different directions, out of contempt of lower class by the middle and the upper class and vice versa. The middle and upper class wields a lot of power of money and muscle and shows sheer contempt towards lower class. I have seen arrogance of wealth in young children and adolescence and it is real pity. I have seen the arrogance of power too. This arrogance and contempt is contagious and is spreading thereby creating a fractured society. Gradually the same is reciprocated from the other side.

How the reverence of lower class to middle and upper class is is in everybody's knowledge now. Forget the middle or lower classes, it is with everybody. Another school of thought is that speaking respectfully is thought to be submission and hence it is deliberately attempted to avoid the courteous words. So, those feelings are expressed in words, making one highly unlikeable. And then the verbal altercation and street brawls are so common in Manipuri society nowadays. This is in stark departure from our olden tradition. A good friend of mine used to tell a story.

About a decade and half back, in Churachandpur, the elderly people used to tell the youths, "Learn from those Meitei boys. In a street scuffle of twenty youths, if one elderly man intervenes, the boys on both sides quietly agree, they are so disciplined." Actually, this phenomenon was here in other areas of Manipur also a few decades back. Unfortunately, now it won't be, it isn't. These can no longer be seen, elderly people do no longer dare to intervene.

When columnist Mr. S. K. Datta Ray wrote "Death of Courtesy", he was right, one is obsessed with himself and his interest only and world does not exist beyond him. Not only in words, it is dying in thinking also in all walks of life. A disturbing element, why people are all turning to be sadists. Why the refined "noblesse oblige" is missing from amongst us? But what I am worried is not the thinkings, but the words, whatever thoughts we have, can be expressed in better words with better effects. Let us remember A. G. Gardiner's essay on the virtues of good words. Swears and obscene words are not the words of decent man. These words come out as a matter of habit, they are bad habits. These words will vitiate any atmosphere and resulting atmosphere shall never be good for anybody. It is wrong notion that we express our firmness with harsh words. Our children shall be victims of such circumstances.

We do not want them to be. We know of many lives lost only for lack of courteous words, really precious loss, but useless losses. A good word could have saved those lives. According to Rudyard Kipling good words are like drugs, life saving drug. Bad words on the contrary are like poisons, which kills. They are not good for negotiations either. There shall be little cooperation from either side. Can a society prosper without cooperation?

The moment you are speaking good words, that very moment your mind is filled with good thoughts only, there is great link with what you speak and what you think. Words are taken to be index of what you think. So colloquial etiquettes are measures of a person's manners. Secondly, good language works as ice breakers in tough situations. Negotiators and diplomats use them as their tools. Good words are like flowers. They can change any body's mind towards positive. They have soothing effects to those who listen. They act as stress busters, come handy in good deeds.

I am not a social scientist, still, in my opinion; the condition of the society has little to do with use of bad words and lack of courtesy. I feel that there are two reasons for not using good words, people are habituated in use of bad words or they have lack of knowledge of good words. But then, I can tell you with a high degree of certainty that the bad words and swears are picked up by the children from their family, mostly parents and grandparents, some from the neighbours and uncles and aunts. You cannot simply disown them, because you have used them so often that your children could copy.

If you have not taught them good words, they will pick up bad ones from outside. Similarly, good words are also to come from you. Of course something also can come from teachers and friends, but the temperament to use good words has to be from you, from the family. After all, charity begins at home. That culture is from you. It is not from the society as many of us believe, but it is what we give to the society, through our children. So, regarding courtesy and good words, your children are your mirror image, so better be beware.

Good words are like miracles. Good words need not submissive. There are words, bold and beautiful. Courtesies are wonders. Use them lavishly and see the return, how manifold it is, you won't believe. It is not late now also, however grown up they are, teach your children how to use good and respectful words. That will change him and his personality. He will become a gentleman; remember the saying, dress and address make a man. It is good men who make the world beautiful, so make him a good man. If you missed him, then catch up with your grandchildren. It is never too late.

Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind. -Rudyard Kipling.


* Akham Bonbir Dhwaja Singh wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on February 24, 2014.


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