TODAY -

Open Letter to V Shanmuganathan (Governor of Manipur) on the Definition of Culture
- Part 4 -

Kshetri Prem *

V. Shanmuganathan : Governor of Manipur
V. Shanmuganathan : Governor of Manipur :: Pix - DIPR



I am trying to convince myself that the 'hundred words challenge' was a well intended pun. I almost convinced myself that Your Excellency was indirectly hinting towards the present culture of corruption, fake encounters, culture of distrust, counter culture on ethnic lines, culture of ideological difference, culture of competitive identity politics, bandh culture, economic blockade culture, culture of ethnic violence, culture of disrupting classrooms, upland lowland dichotomy, the lawai and Imphal divide, 'you know who I am' culture, murder of human rights, culture of silently observing a failed state, assisted democracy, 'happy class' culture, culture or negligence and denial (the list is limitless), etc. brewing in Manipur.

But, I am wrong and Your Excellency is not hinting towards any of these cultures cited above. I have come to the conclusion that Your Excellency has little knowledge or no knowledge about Manipur or the region. Not to talk about India or India's diverse cultures. As I pointed out earlier, it is just impractical and impossible to promulgate one definition of culture and consider that definition as an all encompassing and definitive definition of culture.

I can throw big big names in the field of Cultural Studies and Popular Culture for that cup of tea (western theorists and thinkers). But I would not do that. I will, at the same time, refrain from quoting Shri S. Radhakrishna or Shri Aurobindo or Prof. Abid Hussain (Indian theorists and thinkers, just to show that I have heard about them). I would just say that the English word 'culture' has its roots in Latin colere which means 'to till the ground'. There is an element of 'cultivate/ion' in the word and the idea transmitted by culture. And, of course, one must also know where and when to till because what one sows one surely reaps.

Your Excellency, chakcha yuthak is a Manipuri expression. It means 'the way in which one eats and drinks'. We Manipuris believe that someone's way of eating and drinking will reveal much about the character of that person. By extension, it also means the way someone carries and conducts himself in the public sphere. If I were you (Your Excellency) I would definitely tender an apology to the people of Manipur. Because, what you (Your Excellency) did was nothing but an act of denigrating Manipur and Manipuris. However, the decision is yours (Your Excellency's decision).

Having said that, I would like to conclude this chhoti muh badi baat wala letter with one quotation, something that makes us think. This is from Verrier Elwin's book A Philosophy for NEFA in which Jawaharlal Nehru wrote:

I am not all sure which is the better way of living, the tribal or our own. In some respects I am quite certain their's is better. Therefore, it is grossly presumptuous on our part to approach them with an air of superiority, to tell them how to behave or what to do and what not to do. There is no point in trying to make of them a second-rate copy of ourselves. [21]

Vande Mataram.

Yours Sincerely

Kshetri Prem
Assistant Professor, Dept. of English
Tripura University, Suryamaninagar – 799022
Agartala, Tripura, India
kshprem(AT)gmail(DOT)com, kshetrisingh(AT)tripurauniv(DOT)in


I took the liberty of preparing some notes for your kind reference

1 Ch. Manihar Singh, A History of Manipuri Literature (New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 2003), p. 107.

2 Kshirodachandra Raychaudhuri, "Banglar Borbor Jati", Nabya Bharat (Boishakh, 1886), pp. 30, 33–35, cited in Swarupa Gupta's Notions of Nationhood in Bengal: Perspectives on Samaj, c. 1867–1905 (Leiden: Brill, 2009), p. 203.

3 "The thing which is not" is a phrase used by Houyhnhnms in Gulliver's Travels, Book IV, to describe the word ‘lie' as such a word does not exist in their vocabulary. Jonathan Swift here says that a human being can degrade himself by lying and speculating. His idea alludes to the ‘lie' the imperialists tell to expand their colonies as depicted by Joseph Conrad in Heart of Darkness.

4 Joseph Addison, "Remarks on the English by the Indian Kings" in Eight Essayists. ed. A S Cairncross (Chennai: Macmillan Publishers India Ltd. 2009), p. 51.

5 Quoting Savarkar (1922) and Golwalker (1938) Romila Thapar points out the difficulties of ascertaining the meaning held by the term Aryan in recent times. See, Romila Thapar et al., India: Historical Beginnings and the Concept of the Aryan (New Delhi: National Book Trust, 2010), p. 19.

6 According to eminent Indologist Prof. Suniti Kumar Chatterji kirata is a Sanskrit term which indicates ‘wild non-Aryan tribes living in the mountains, particularly the Himalayas and in the Northeastern areas of India, who were Mongoloid in origin'. Prof. S. K. Chatterji prefers to call kiratas Indo-Mongoloids.

7 Chandra Dhar Tripathi. Aspects of the Medieval History of Assam (Shimla: Indian Institute of Advanced Study, 2002) p. 2.

8 Believing in the false superior European ‘knowledge and power', the colonisers took upon themselves the burden of civilising the uncivilized natives. Joseph Conrad equates ‘knowledge' to ‘the Bible' and ‘power' to the ‘sword'. By the same token, J. Shakespeare opines that the Sanskritisation of Manipur was carried out by Indian religious/cultural imperialists through a Brahmin's ‘scrolls and sanctities'. See, J. Shakespeare calls it ‘J. Shakespeare. "Religion of Manipur". Folklore, Vol. 24, No. 4 (Dec., 1913), pp. 409-455.
< http://www.jstor.org/stable/1255647. > Accessed: 06/07/2012, 02:34.

9 Explaining the postcolonial experience in Africa, Ngugi Wa Thiongo opines that there are two traditions followed by the people of a former colony. They are, an imperialist tradition, and the resistance tradition. He furthers goes on to say that those who follow the resistance tradition tries to protect their original culture, religion, language, etc. But those following the imperialist tradition remain agents for the colonial power to disseminate the coloniser's neo-colonialist agenda. See, Ngũgĩ Wa Thiongo, Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature. (New Delhi: Worldview Publications, 2007).

10 Some Meiteis want to do away with the Hindu tag and return to what they believe is an essentially tribal root. Hence, there is a section of Meiteis who demand Scheduled Tribe status.

11 Translated with the help of Rajkumar Jitendrajit Sinha. "Manipur", Janmabhumi, Part 1, Number 4 (Chaitra, 1890), p. 224.

12 Pandit Ningthoukhongjam Khelchandra Singh lists some 120 Manipuri texts burnt at Kangla on the insistence of Santadas Goswami. See, Khelchandra, Ariba Manipuri Sahityagi Itihash (A History of Old Manipuri Literature) (Imphal: Khelchandra, 2011), pp. 39-41.

13 Suniti Kumar Chatterjee, Kirata- Jana-Kriti, The Indo-Mongoloids: Their Contribution to the History and Culture of India (Calcutta: The Asiatic Society, 1998), p. 160.

14 While Nagas construct and promote Naga identity, Kukis fight for greater political and cultural space in Manipur. Meiteis, the dominant group, on the other hand, are embroiled in an extremely complicated situation as Meiteis have identified themselves with Manipur's history, culture, and society.

15 John Parrat, "Atom Bapu Sharma and the Religious Roots of Integrationism"
Accessed on 02/12/2014.

16 Rajkumar Jhalait Singh, A History of Manipuri Literature (Imphal: Public Book Store on behalf of Manipur University, 1987), p. 16-17.

17 L. Iboongohal Singh, Introduction to Manipur (Imphal: S. Ibomcha Singh, 1987), p. 9.

18 "Manipur", Janmabhumi, p. 221.

19 Romila Thapar, "The Historigraphy of the Concept of ‘Aryan'", India: Historical Beginnings and the Concept of the Aryan (New Delhi: National Book Trust, 2010), p. 17.

20 Rajkumar Jhalajit Singh, p. 18-19.

21 Jawaharlal Nehru, Epigraph. Verrier Elwin. A Philosophy of NEFA

Concluded.....


* Kshetri Prem wrote this article for e-pao.net
The writer is Assistant Professor, Dept. of English, Tripura University and can be reached at kshprem(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was posted on August 21, 2016.


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