A round of applause for N Biren Singh, CM of Manipur

Dr Irengbam Mohendra Singh *

N Biren Singh, CM of Manipur  at Opening Ceremony of Mera Houchongba at Kangla on 05 Oct 2017
N Biren Singh, CM of Manipur at Opening Ceremony of Mera Houchongba at Kangla on 05 Oct 2017 :: Pix - Shankar Khangembam

About 40,000 years ago, Homo sapiens, with brains just like ours, became Homo religiosus as human brains grew large enough to be able to think about human existence and Nature. They began to believe that there were things or beings in the cosmos to which they owed their life. They began to develop a set of practices designed to affirm that the landscape that surrounded them was divinely animated. As a result, every community or tribe as in Manipur, has evolved a kind of liturgy, which was the beginning of modern religions.

For many people, particularly in the West, there is no agreed faith structure, while some people in certain faiths feel very threatened when their religion is challenged. Meiteis in Manipur, though they have been living with gods of Hinduism, are still practicing their prehistoric ceremony, whilst the great people living in the hill ranges of Manipur, who have become Christians, are also still unable to wipe out the memory of their old rituals.

To keep track of history, let me begin this critique with a little story from the Bible. I'm not a Christian but a Bible reader; not that I believe in the pre-Judaic mythology of Creation. Combining my narrative sweep with archival research in early Christian theology via Augustine, Adam was born in God's image as a perfect man, and was perfectly happy until he began to listen to the whispering of a woman, over divine command. He then ruined everything. He had two children. He saw one kill the other, and spent 930 years labouring to get his living from the ground. And for Eve's sin, women are biologically destined to suffer in childbirth – "in pain thou shall bring forth children."

The biblical story allows us to look back and make us understand that ritual has long been a cornerstone of anthropological thought among the various communities in Manipur, a regular engagement of a society with abstract divinity. Let me paraphrase it with poetic licence that, we have been involved in doing something that has no value in survival terms. Indeed, Manipur's economic development has been retarded by strikes and other communal activities which owed least to public support. It's time for young people and students to do some serious, not sensational thinking.

The animated thinking should grasp the paradigm shift in Biren's emotional culture and other happy stratagems for new ways of living in Manipur. He has just given a bittersweet salute to the revival of the lost age of collective annual gathering of 'chingmees- tammees' (hill & valley people) with the state sponsorship of the age-old Mera haochongba on October 5 2017. It's in the spirit of cohesiveness for all the communities in Manipur for a start. More things to come. Though previously unknown to me, it's not breezy to say we owe the extraordinaire Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren Singh well-deserved gratitude.

Biren is brandishing what seems to be a bold thesis – to forge the modern mind of young people to challenge the prevailing view of politics with tribalism by a change of emotional attitude towards a non-tribal political system. For the first time, he is gearing up to change the face of Manipur tourism by organising the annual Sangai Festival that began in its present form in 2010, by opening it on November 19 2017 at Keibul Lamjao in the Loktak Lake, the birth place of the Sangai – a rare species of deer. The benefit returns for the Sangai deer from enhanced tourism, speaks for itself.

Summoning courage to ring a change, he has for the first time ever, completely outwitted his predecessors by sowing the seeds of tourism at Ukhrul, the birth place of the rare Shirui lily, by organising an annual Shirui Festival this year, followed by the Annual Barak Festival at Senapati.

Perhaps, both as an insider, and hyperconscious outsider in Manipuri society, I'm peeved to say that, Biren is creating an atmosphere where all Manipuris could breathe the same fresh air. Though the figures at its heart at the moment, do not manage to intrigue, they do elicit a genuine effort.

It might sound like a Catholic confessional where it can be hard to hear some of the things people say, but it's real. Biren's opening of "life in the evening", which he calls "plaza" by the Kangla moat is bracing up for better evening life in Imphal, the like of which has never been in Imphal. It's hard to believe, but it's happening. My only fear is how long he can try to live up to this ideal, being at ease with inherent Meiteis flaws of easily lapping up other people's works, and quickly ending up as a testament to failure.

I need to digress to kill the boredom in the sermon … I recall, adopting the persona of early adolescence, Imphal never had 'a life in the evening'. After sunset, life in Imphal was dead, stone cold. During my student days the only life we had was to go to the Maxwell bazaar at dusk, where there were three cinema halls. Friends met there for half an hour and stood by the curb side for the evening's entertainment. That was to watch men and women going to see movies. By 7pm we would all go home where there was nothing but boredom.

There is no universally accepted definition of boredom. But the boredom I knew in Imphal as a young college student who was returning home in winter or summer holidays, was due to sheer lack of leisure activities in the evening. The emergence of Meitei insurgency and counter-insurgency in the mid 1960s threatened the liberties and the social lives of people living in Imphal. Life in Imphal ground to a halt with the temerity to tread outside the moment the Sun hid behind the hills with shame. It was only about 3 or 4 years ago that people in Imphal began to move about at night though not without crumbs of anxiety.

Why plaza? Plaza is an open place – a gathering place – in a town or city. It's generally created because people need to unwind after a day's work, as weekends are a time to relax for maximising human efficiency and productivity.

My columns in The Sangai Express are mostly aimed at students and the youth. I'm politically neutral but not naive. I believe we all learn from the mistakes of history and know that those who haven't learned from historical mistakes are doomed to repeat the same mistakes. It's time for young Manipuris to write their own destiny. The road their elders dictated is a narrow one and is not the road to wisdom. The future politicians of Manipur are now in class rooms. Students need to focus on their education and not allow themselves to be distracted by current politics. There are many adults who are quite capable of dealing with situations as they arise.

It's early days. We must make do with the present government's delightful sundries as the main course in previous governments has always been lacklustre, not helped by bunds and blockades that were as useless as grave diggers in a crematorium. Though young students are not exempted from judgement in the political dimension of history they should be concentrating on their studies to be able to upbraid the present for failing to live up to the politically correct ideas of the 21st century

Hill and valley people need a deductive approach to the philosophy of living together in fraternal equality. Today we are living, but we are not living together. Deductive approach is a hypothesis developed by Rene Descartes, which is concerned with reasoned conclusions from the present premises and propositions.

I'm not a reformer or revolutionary in that the change I wish for is very small. A mere transcendence outside the cloistered boundaries of Manipur's recent history, with an openness that is visual. It's a simple suggestion that we respect the courtesy extended by CM Biren and his government, in their attempt to unify the hill and valley people, the fracture of which has been espoused by some politicians.

Difference of opinions among the hills or the valley, and between the valley and hill people will always be there. It's human nature, but the differences should be sincere and honest. Je Mustafa once said: "Maintaining difference of opinion is commendable but not at the cost of respect to whom you differ with." The problem in Manipur at its core, is the intolerance between the hill and valley people. That comes mostly from old prejudices. We spend so much energy on racial profiling, being suspicious of each other that hardly any vigour is left even to ponder over what is good for ourselves.

As civilisation by colonisation that had stopped on the other side of Manipur's mountain ranges has just begun to seep into Manipur, let's give it a helping hand to bring us general socio-economic improvement. Let's cultivate a more unified philosophical system of living together. Let's make this 21st century a culmination of a half a century's intolerance of each other and not leave it as a question mark.

Hurray! Shouldn't you be joining me in giving CM Biren a round of applause for "what he is going to do" for Manipur?

* SDr Irengbam Mohendra Singh wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is based in the UK
This article was posted on November 03, 2017.

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