Circumspection at the frontlines : Comforting the pneuma during conflict

Jasajit Ashangbam *

'You tremble, carcass ? You would tremble a lot more if you knew where I am taking you.' These were the lesser known but highly introspective words that the great general of Napoleonic France, Henri de la Tour d'Auvergne also known as Turenne, uttered in order to provoke himself when fear oozed inwardly and unto his psyche as he stood in the frontlines.

One may have to enquire upon the hermeneutics etched within this string of words for it may sound counterproductive to taunt oneself in this manner at an initial reading. But try to understand, at the sight of oozing blood, of those who were once considered friends and understood as foes, ensuing in a tantamount termination of men vastly alienated by ideology, only to be unified in death, what could Turenne have meant by this.

Etched beyond its surficial ironic essence is the reminder towards a necessity; the necessity to take charge and have control when faced with fear, to overcome it and to prompt oneself if found in a state of forgetfulness, again and again, that fear was never, nor shall it ever be the master. And though the body may tremble, it makes no difference. The individual decides who the master is.

Clearly, we understand from this assertion, at least a unilateral aspect of the psyche of those that are coerced to participate in the war. Panic stricken and yet the compulsion is earnestly heartfelt. If need be, one must be willing to chant what I would call Turenne's chorus, for that is the requirement in this hour of bloodshed.

However, war was never preached nor welcomed in contemporary Manipur, at least outwardly. But when every daybreak is met with crestfallen apprehensions of shells and shrapnel piercing one's frame, the same frame that each one of our own guardians once nurtured with utmost care and concern.

Before any venture, let alone a confrontation of this magnitude, the mother tenderly gnaws at the back of the palm of her child and sniffs on the head, as a ritualistic enactment of spoliation so that the child is no more desired upon in the spirit realm.

This is the Meitei way of assuring deliverance from evil. Now imagine this happening at all four corners of the Imphal valley, unbeknownst to the mother or her son, now a soldier by calling and not by choice, whether they would be fortunate enough to chance upon each other again in this waking life.

The moment the son steps out of those doorways so familiar, now a symbolic opening towards the becoming of the individual mother's son into the becoming of the soil's son, instigates. There can be no point of return as the feet turns towards the professed enemy lines. The volition of such men may not be questioned nor swayed anymore at this point.

Here and now, this concept of the 'enemy' as understood by both communities at war is extremely depthless and superficial if one was to recognize the temporality and impermanence that brackets human existence. At first glance, we fail to see beyond the first imprint, which are cries of hypocrisy.

Pertaining to the havoc caused on both sides, what does it mean when children as well as the elderly are set ablaze, homes razed to the ground, and yet mediums of broadcast solely display those of their preference, whatever attends best to their narrative. Some distort the reliability of narratives through religious sympathies. Some concoct narratives to generate political upheaval.

What does it mean when the directives as well as objectives become the inconspicuous and neat concealment of heinous activities committed by those that they consider 'theirs'. On that account, every other evidence and verdict that do not prove beneficial to each one's causes are voiced as fabrications.

Observing inwardly, through the eyes of those that you hope to be saved by, neither you nor I matter nor this community nor the other, carry any weightage in the perception of those that charade as gods. It is clear that they are indubitably playing the role of gods by the piercing silence so unwarranted, so unpardonable.

As the sufferers of the communities pray and hope for an intervention to revoke or at least mitigate the violence, even the silence of the omni-dimensional gods has not been as thunderous as the ones the people of Manipur have had to bear. Sequentially, many fail to see the origin as a capitalist implosion within the State, rightly so as it has been obscured by the bloodbath.

It points towards the favoured outcome of the tactics that the warmongers have been executing; now that the imagination of blinding of the masses with subjective violence has been realised. The elements that are obscured as of now, in the Manipur riots and warfare calls for another research. But falling back into what had been mentioned before, one may probe as to why the sniff and gnaw at the back of the palm is particularly significant at this juncture?

First of all, according to research made by one Timkowski, the rite is actually traced to the early Mongolians; the father would draw in the smell of the young child's head for reasons alike, which comes from a credence in the priority that is safeguarding the child. Now, one may argue upon the existence of other cultures who are similarly but vaguely accustomed to the aforementioned feature.

That is not the point of concern here. It is in the nature of our being as humans that we smell, touch and kiss. However, we do not want to find ourselves in the Darwinian loop of regressing back to the concepts of human evolution from apes, and apes sniffing their offsprings. What is concerned is the distinctiveness of the gnaw, as compared to that of a kiss.

In the Indian context, the first mentions of kiss or 'setting mouth to mouth' dates back to a surplus of the Satapatha Brahmana, and it is concerned with the intimacy between husband and wife, not the inimitable bond between parent and child. A kiss may well be perceived as pejorative if endorsed openly in the Meitei culture, but the bite or gnaw has deeper connotations.

Secondly, looking at it from a metaphysical prism, it reveals a case of deliverance of the 'innocent' from the 'void', the lamb from the wolves. And allegorically speaking, the deliverance of 'Henjunaha', the daring lad from the Moirang Kangleirol from the 'Saroi Ngaroi', the emblem of all that is evil and foul.

And if tribality is demarcated by uniqueness in their customs, laws, and rites (or as laid out by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, that it should adhere to 'indications of primitive traits' and 'distinctive culture'), this in itself is one of the many prima facie accounts of the linkage or traces of the Meiteis' profound rootedness in tribality.

Whether entities of bigotries and prejudices within and outside the State finds this circumstance as being in contradiction to their imagined aspiration, that is a subject of the judiciary of federal India to decide. Furthermore, within a Government, when a certain wellknown delegate of the legislature blames the judiciary for the eruption of violence, knowing quite well that the faults and errors appear everywhere else but there, irrationality and more importantly, misperception surrounding the disorder intensifies, rather than simplifying it.

Certain questions arise in due course of analysis of each thesis and antithesis. For one, if the cause of the chaos is alleged to a particular hearing made by the judiciary, then why did the other districts apart from Imphal and Churachandpur not scorch on the third of May when the supposed 'peace' protest was held across the whole State ? There is firm belief across all communities affected that even an ounce of sincerity in the method of investigation shall expose all truths upon which a great deal of shadow has been casted upon until this day.

Now more than ever, there is great necessity in the mentality of all that are affected to cease partaking in the carnage. Inhumanity cannot be condoned. Inhumanity shall not be justified. Riddled in identity politics, the individuals that bolster the group's identity need to critique as singular unique consciousnesses, not to be dictated nor influenced by speeches of hatred and bigotry.

For Nietzsche once wrote, 'the snake which cannot cast its skin has to die. As well the minds which are prevented from changing their opinions; they cease to be minds.' And conclusively, let not one community project fear unto the other and vice versa. If not, Turenne's chorus shall echo indefinitely in the perimeters of valley and hills. Let us pray for those that have been preyed upon.

* Jasajit Ashangbam wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is Research Scholar at The English and Foreign Languages University, Shillong
This article was webcasted on 12 July 2023.

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