Friday, March 5, 2010

Scratching at the Surface of our Society: In Celebration of Being Alive

A popular tract, Bobok-na hai, from the album Kangjei by Eastern Dark satirically captures the fear or rather the contemporary lives in Manipur as follows: 
Bobok-na hai mapan thoka-nu
Pupun-a hai konthong langa-nu
Pupu-Bobok nungshibi
Eyum-shi-ni ei-na kiri-ba
Pupu-Bobok chamjabi
Eyum-shi-ni ei-na kiri-she
Lambi-da chatle adum ki
Office-ta leire adum ki
Sumang-da leple adum ki
Emung-da phamle eki-da ki
Phamung-da hiple hennadum ki
Kadai-da leiraga hing-ga-doi-no (…)
(Loose translation:)
Grandma says do not venture outside
Grandpa says do not go beyond the gate
Loving Grandpa and Grandma
It is the home, I’m afraid of
Innocent Grandpa and Grandma
It is the home, I’m afraid of
I’m afraid when I walk on the road
I’m afraid when I’m in the office
I’m afraid when I stand at the courtyard
I’m afraid when I sit inside the room
I’m more afraid when I sleep on the bed
Don’t know where I will be safe (…)

The tract is revealing and powerfully renders few symptoms of the prevailing conflict in Manipur that has made us psychotic: fearful of daylight as well the night and any given places in the State. Visitor to this land (other than police or military officer and high ranking officers and MP) often remarks that Manipur is a warfield looking at the number of military check-posts and chain-like defence/police personnel in combat fatigues. Extremely unnatural!, they often exclaim. But for the dweller of this State, the unnatural have been so entrenched and etched in our lives that over the years they have become normal sights.
If the unnatural and exception have become a part and parcel of our lives, then again there are other spheres that equally adds misery to the denizens of this land. For example, a walk on the road, visit to the hospital or any Government office, post office, bank and the petrol pump can kill you. Rude and rent seeking officials, and disorderly mob who mock at the culture of queue (more akin to hungry chicken) can literally take away our sanity. One does not return home without losing her/his temper. Such incidents are today regarded as the normal aspect of our lives without bothering for a moment to ponder over that such behaviour can be described in Daily Planet (a popular travel guidebook) as “the essential or genuine character of Manipuriness”. To cite a corollary example, it is stated in the Daily Planet, “Staring (akin to visual rape) and scratching of the scrotum by male Indians are essential or genuine character of Indianness!”
However, Yenning has reasons to smile amidst the chaotic and murky state of affairs in Manipur. Call us apolitical or a vagabond optimistic columnist but we simply cannot remain insulated from the blast of colours washing over us season after season. To share our view you simply need to scratch at the rind of our society and see the celebrations of life as well as the celebrations of being alive performed in a cyclical manner rhymed with the cycles of season. Then perhaps, you’ll agree that Kanhailal or Ratan Thiyam did not emerge from a vacuum and also, the likes of Kunjarani, Omega, Dingko, Jollyson Tangkhul, Mary Kom, Renedy and so on. Here, the likes of killers masquerading as politicians and law enforcers and arsonists who could burn down houses of knowledge in the name of culture and nationalism are not included. Perhaps, they can be regarded as mutants of our society although very much part of our society.
Harvesting the Artistic Instincts
The already brimming bowl of deities, Gods and Goddesses of the Meiteis and cognate brethrens in the hills were overflown with the arrival of Hinduism and other religions. Even today, the list does not cease to stop. Associated rituals and forms of merrymaking in which dance and accompanying music are central continue to bombard our society. Observance of a particular religious festival provides the opportunity to youngsters and adults alike to showcase their talents: not only dance and music but also other forms of performing arts.
Once a friend, popularly christened Oja (you can say an all rounder who teaches not only Lai Haraoba dances but also freelance musician who plays harmonium, flute, conch, and drums of various shapes and sizes) remarked:
“Take any festival in Manipur and enthusiastic participants; they can put professional artists to shame. You just need to watch an inter-college or inter-university festival in Manipur. You’ll be amazed by the degree of professionalism. And imagine, today, artists are not only cultural missionaries of the State but are also bread winners unlike the recent past.”
Our conversation took us to our childhood days. For example, how writing a love letter brought out the poetic talent from us. And the times we spent composing a poem or song which never reached the press or a singer. Moreover, the competitions our lila troupe had with others in the neighbouring leikais. We also fondly remembered the days an Oja would freely teach dances or dance drama for the upcoming Lai Haraoba or Raas Lila. Perhaps, the days of (love) letter writing are over when mobile phone and internet have made inroads to our society. But amateur artists continue to thrive in Manipur be it poets, singers, dancers and so on. Indeed, it would be wrong to say that Ratan Thiyam, Kanhai Lal, Thangjam Ibopishak, Robin Ngangom and so on did emerge from the vacuum. Visit any locality in Manipur far away from the madding political and economic chaos in Manipur. A recent Christmas visit to Bungpa Khunou justified our view. The religious ceremony was followed by cultural and artistic shows. More Ratan Thiyams shall be brimming Manipur, yes, likes of him from the hills, too, in the very near future.
Harvesting the Sports Instincts
The recent movie, Nobab, showcases a superstar in the form of Rennedy but the success of the film lies in its ability to strike a chord with the sports loving people of Manipur. It would be rare to find a person in Manipur who did not have a tryst with Nobab (the fruit) or a Kangjei in their childhood days (obviously the urban Gen-X & Y are excluded). Most of us, the football and hockey lovers, have fond memories of braving the straw stems in the paddy fields or river-bank tiny fields strewn with thorns and the misery of applying glycerin after bed time washes. And also having a hasty after-school meal at around 4.30 pm and running frantically to field so that we’d be in time to be in the playing list.
Christian readers would certainly agree with Yenning that Christmas is a time of celebrations and games and sports have become a permanent fixture in the spirit of heralding birth of the Saviour. Children and adults alike participate and such events pave the path for enthusiastic persons to choose sports as a profession.
In the valley areas, among the Meiteis, Yaoshang is again the time of celebrations, and games and sports have become permanent fixtures. In a way, such events have harnessed the wild side of the Meiteis. Take for example, few years from today Yaoshangs were anonymous with Thabal Chongbas in which brawls over maidens were compulsory episodes. Numerous popular jokes abound: Ghari ama khulle, khundangshu yao-ee-nehe (loose translations: A watch has been picked up; there is also a wrist attached to it). Also, there was a time when the huge HMT-Matam wrist watch was a popular item during Thabal Chongbas as it could protect the wearer from sword attacks like an amour!
Some of the events associated with Yaoshang are missing today. For example, Joyp’ra and Nakathengba have become items of nostalgia; although one gets Joyp’ra, its peculiar smell is missing and are no longer considered to be compulsory items as once were. Today Yaoshangs have become anonymous with games and sports; well Thabal Chongba, too. But given the kind of conflict prevailing over Manipur, Thabal Chongba grounds have turned into sites where muscle flexing Commandos showcase their strengths. An interesting occurrence happening in the multi-religious Meitei society is the event of Yaoshang being used by other Hindu sects as an event of celebration. Here, we are referring to the followers of Sai Baba. Yenning was thrilled when encountered a sports camp for children organised by a section of Sai Baba-ites in the name of Yaoshang. Yaoshang has truly become secular.
Today, talent scouts are undertaken by various sports organisations by organizing camps. Problem with such camps is that very often the deserving do not get a chance to participate, and thus of being selected. We believe that pay-off of such concerned authorities will be more if unexpected sites are targeted during the festivals of Christmas and Yaoshang. Likewise, talent scouts in terms of culture (dance and arts) can be undertaken by TV channels and other interested bodies during the times of Lai Haraoba and Christmas. Each village in Manipur is a unique sporting and cultural unit celebrating the joy of being alive.

This article was posted on The Sangai Express on Sunday, February 28, 2010

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