TODAY -

Letter from the Republic of Dust
- Part 2 -

Rajendra Kshetri *

Fog In Summer in Imphal City ?? :: April, 2011
Fog In Summer in Imphal City ?? in April, 2011 :: Pix - Pintu Oinam



Yes! my coastal friend, you have got to be an Arjuna to rescue Sharmila from this Cantonization. She should not and must not be reduced to a mere symbolic symbol. This is your mission-Mission Impossible. Sharmila needs to be transported from the world's largest democracy to the biggest democracy of the world. And you, I have no doubt, with your proven skill of masterminding 'sting operations', can pull off a media coup and put Sharmila on the TIME Cover. Imagine "Sharmila: The Story of an Ordinary Woman with Extra-ordinary Spirit"- a cover story on TIME magazine. You never know, my friend, that may fetch her the Nobel Peace Prize. And you may land up with the Putlizer Prize. Wouldn't you love to see those red face(s) at 10 Janpath, Raisina Hill and 7 Race Cross Road.

So now, you do understand why I said that there is absolutely no point in seeking permission from the Home Ministry or the Emperor himself (of the republic of dirt and dust) or even from 10 Janpath to see/meet Sharmila. They would never. She is the most closely guarded prize-possession of the republic. She, therefore, must remain (read be confined) within the four walls of a ward. The republic is still yet to come to terms as to how she was snatched from its security enclosure and transported to Lutyen's Delhi a couple of years back. Now if someone comes up with a bright idea and lands her to the land of Uncle Sam? That would be Sharmila's Passport to the Nobel.

That is the apprehension of this republic of dirt. The secret fear of 10 Janpath. You know, as everybody does now, that anyone who aspires to be a Nobel laureate must do the elementary homework of working his/her way to Uncle Sam's web. We surely don't want to happen to Sharmila what had happened to Andre Gunder Frank – that most deserving Economist to win the Nobel but was not given as he was too critical of the development model/policy of the North. Imagine the bedlam in the two Houses of one billion plus 'Argumentative Indians'!. All hell will break lose. But you would love to see the Pandemonium. Wouldn't you ?.

That is one more reason, a very good one indeed, why you should take up this time around my standing offer of playing host to you in the land of survivors. Give me a chance, 'marup', or should it be 'monsieur', if I may address you in the language you love most, next, of course, to your vernacular, to repay for what I owe to that city of yours-the city that nurtures and respects the spirit of free independent thinking. I am no Godfather, far from it, I don't even have one, though, I must admit, it pays to be one or have one, in this land of contractors where everything is up for sale. But, 'nungshiba marup' , dear comrade, if I may add and paraphrase "Don Corleone" (of course, it is Mario Puzo, Stupid), that is an offer you can't refuse.

You are tired ? Yes, of course, you are. I could feel that given that you have to put some efforts to read what I wrote in long hands. You see, my netizen friend, unlike millions of your tribe, I still cherish and treasure penning in long hands as it gives a sense of authenticity, originality and personal touch. Be that as it may, you will finish what you have started. Of that I am sure, but of course, with one more beer. How many have you had ? Three, four ? So this will be your fifth ?

Fine, I know, I know, You are still sober and as cool as cucumber. So for the time being, go for your favorite brand-still hooked to French Champagne, la Martini ? – but once you landed here on your Mission Impossible, I shall treat you to the finest exotic beer on planet earth-'Sekmai Chamelei'. The very same and the one and only 'Sekmai Chamelei' that enthralled and eventually enslaved the Japanese soldiers during the Second World War. They are so enamoured of and enchanted by 'Sekmai Chamelei' that they forgot that they were actually fighting a winning war. And you know what happened. The Japs were able to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. They lost the battle-the battles of Imphal and Kohima-not to the disciplined British forces but to 'Sekmai Chamelei'-the 'Sekmai Enchantress'. The rest, to use one of your oft- repeated clichι-is history.

Now, history, history of the World War II reminds me of our little arguments on the greatest battles Britain had ever fought. Could you recall the evening – that late windy evening – of course you do, you have an elephantine memory. We were taking a stroll at Marine Drive – that glittering queen's necklace round the neck of the Arabian Sea – having come back from a movie 'The Bridge on the River Kwai'. A great war movie with a difference from David Lean. Isn't it ? Then suddenly you mentioned the battle of Waterloo – the mother of all battles – as the greatest battle in the military history of Britain.

I remember nodding my head not so much in agreement with your opinion but more in consonance with the name – "Waterloo" – that oft-used clichι – and its inglorious associationship with a certain Napoleon Bonaparte. I was half-convinced, you know that, you must have noticed that look of mine when I am not in total agreement. Great as it was or one of the greatest, the 1815 battle of Waterloo, I thought and was telling you, could not be tougher and fiercer than the 1944 battles of Imphal and Kohima. This, I was laboring to put it across you, was not because I was born and brought up in that part of the world and wanted to put it in the world map but because of those several real war accounts, stories that I grew up listening to. So tough, unstoppable and all-conquering were the combined forces of Japanese and Netaji's 'Azad Hind Fauj' that they looked invincible and unbeatable.

Among the natives, even to this day of the first half of the new millennium, the Second World War was not a World War. It was 'Japan Lan' (Japan War). But you were, as is wont with you when your point was not fully appreciated, half-hearted and not listening. And I did not labour my point further. That was the terminal point of our little friendly discourse and as it so happened we were almost at the terminal end of Nariman Point. But I forgot to share with you, deeply engrossed as I was, what I overheard a small kid, must be five/six years old only, asking his Mom, they too were taking their evening stroll and enjoying the Sea breeze holding each other's hands, 'Mommy, tell me what is the difference between a house and a bungalow'?.

I was, you see, awestrucked, dumbfounded and what not. Imagine a small kid of five asking a Newton-like question. I couldn't help thinking then, I still do, the kind of parenting and family education the mother must have imparted to that boy. That memory, that moment still lingers and every time I walk down my memory lane, especially those long but intermittent seven superb years of my academic sojourn in the city of 'Midnights Children', it all came back flashing and flooding – just like your notorious flash-floods in the ivory streets of Flora Fountain.

That was a gracious call you made informing me of how the battle of Waterloo lost the war to the battles of Imphal and Kohima (not that I wasn't aware of). So, dear 'marup', the verdict is finally (and officially) out. The little known, unsung and less celebrated battles of Imphal and Kohima have been chosen as Britain's greatest battle in a contest organized by the National Army Museum in Chelsea, London. Now, don't let any astray thought enter your head, I have no intention whatsoever of scoring any brownie point (over you), you know me better, on Britain's greatest or for that matter, smallest battles (who cares anyway?).

Time, passage of time have taught me, made me realize, dear comrade, that winning points/arguments is far less important than winning friends and smiles. But you do care, I know , as much as I do, for those brave souls who fought, laid down their lives for a war they dare not question – 'their's is not to question why ( forgot your Tennyson!) – a war that served humanity no cause or purpose. One of the sites you must not left unvisited while on your mission impossible is a visit to the memorial to 'The Forgotten Army' at Kohima – a four-hour drive from the Capital city of 'republic of dust' – famously known as 'Kohima Epitaph', which, I tell you, is the most sublime epitaph that one ever comes across: "When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say, For Your Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today".

"Never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime". Familiar ? Definitely ! A voracious reader that you are. So, don't even think of pointing fingers at me of plagiarizing your favourite 'numero uno' novelist. By the way, have you finished translating his 'The Old Man and the Sea'? Must have, I am sure, you never kept things pending, unlike this lazy bum of yours. Do bring a couple of copies so I shall keep them as collector's items. You can take home some copies, if you wish, I mean, vernacular translation of Hemingway's 'mangnum opus' by two local enthusiasts.

One is a word-to-word translation in the 'Tomba (read Ram) is a good boy' mould, and the other a tad better with some finer nuances and finesse that one expects in translation works, especially of classic authors. Anyway, translation is not my cup of tea and moreover having no recognized certificate of understanding - COU – with any of the socio-cultural-literary organizations, I am the least eligible figure to comment on the quality – rather lack of it – of their translations. Mind you, these COUs (official/semi-official/non-official) are not issued on paper, no stamped, nor signed. They are reached and/or are to be reached – perhaps you would prefer to term it manoeuvre – through the fine art of subtleties by becoming paid member of any MAC – Mutual Appreciation Club – you know what I mean, 'you – scratch – my – back – and – I – scratch – yours' .

So now you know, who gets what, when; who gets nominated for this award, that award and when – all predetermined, prearranged, preset.

If you don't fit into their scheme of things or if they perceive you will not, then, you are out. A 'Persona-non-grata' . This, then, my dost, is the literary scenario of this republic of dirt and dust. But then, so what, what is the big deal, you will say, it is the same everywhere-it is the age of mediocracy. Period (I couldn't agree with you more). All said and done, the fact remains that your favorite – all-time great-author has been translated into vernaculars. The vernacular readers now have a taste of Hemingway and his indomitable spirit. You know one thing, I mean, did you discern one thing-all through his writings Hemingway emphasized on man's spirit-indomitable spirit. Man can be destroyed but not defeated.

That, in essence, is what he conveyed and told the world in his Nobel prize winning work. That is the paradox-the Hemingwayite paradox-if I may coin it. Or else, could you figure it out and explain why did he end his life the way he did. Hemingway and suicide!. Was he destroyed? Was he defeated? By his own (indomitable, impregnable) spirit? Some food for thought, uh! Do some serious thinking and come up with creative ideas, insights and, I know, I know, what you would say, perspective. I shall arrange a lecture, a special lecture at the University of Little Paradise where you will have a chance of a lifetime to connect, would you want me to say, interact, with some great minds of the republic-intellectuals of executive, nay, corporate class whose art of kissing the backsides of authorities is something not even the greatest of artists could visualize, let alone paint.

Not the Da-Vincis-Mona-Lisa is badly hit by the recent economic recession of Europe and is seriously thinking of taxing the salaried class for her enigmatic smile-and the MF Hussains-how he loved painting the backside of Madhuri Dixit-of this world. So you see, friend, this is a God sent opportunity for you to come down to this republic. There is no way you can not learn-given your receptive and probing mind-a thing or two from the republic's Intellectual Artists: the crafty art of reaching the higher/highest echelon of academic world. So go for another beer, I shall have my gin and let us celebrate: Cheers! Cheers! to translation? Hemingway? No, my 'jigri dost,' no, Cheers to Mediocracy. Let's celebrate, go all the way, leave no stone unturned, the age of mediocracy in the era of mobocracy.

'A Flower on Lofty Height', 'A little Paradise on Earth'. No, these are not the opening lines of any poem from John Keats, William Wordsworth or John Milton. These are memorable and unforgettable lines of eulogization of this lush green valley from unknown soldiers and forgotten army who fought in the '1944 Japan Lan'. There are several anecdotes from Japan Lan that I would love to share with you. But this one is special-you can be sure and I assure you that it is not from any of your favourite 'Readers' Digest' assortment on Humour in Real life or Humour in Uniform – and original.

A group of Japanese Officers, on patrol at a countryside, saw a woman vendor selling vegetables and other eatable items at a street corner – a common sight in those days. They approached the woman vendor and one of them, presumably the leader, spoke to the woman, in Japanese, of course, presumably enquiring about the items on her 'lookmai'. The woman, a native, without battering an eyelid and oblivious, nay, unmindful, of the language (foreign) spoken to her, replied in chaste 'Meiteilon' (native language), This went on for a couple of minutes, each one amusing each other, to the delight of the small Japanese crowd. Then, everyone including the woman, broke out into a loud simultaneous laughter. No, hold your breath, this is not the end.

What took the cake is what the woman uttered: 'theeda-h! nokpadi Meiteilon na nok-ee-ne-se' (what nuts! they too laughed in Meiteielon' – you will have to bear with my translation, I mean, rough translation. As I said earlier, I lack the finer nuances and sophistications). Point proved, if any more is still needed, isn't it!. Laughter has no language and that is why it is the best medicine.

Don't you want to set your foot and see yourself how green is 'my valley' – I know, you have told me of your little trip and sojourn at Kashmir Valley last year. How you felt 'alive', 'far from the madding crowd' and concrete jungles. Happiness, peace, trance and tranquility was how you texted me. All this and more, despite and in spite of the prevailing mood in the valley which was more sullen than usual following the hanging of Afzal Guru. To that you add 'bliss' and 'bless' and you are in the valley of 'ponies' which gifted the world the game of polo and showed what 'polo' is all about and how it is played.

Concluded


* Rajendra Kshetri wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is a Professor of Sociology at Nagaland University is the author of "The Emergence of Meetei Nationalism". This is an extract from his forthcoming book "Wonderland: Thy Name Is Manipur".
The author can be reached at aardhikshetri(at)gmail(dot) com
This article was webcasted on Ocotber 28, 2013.


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