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E-Pao! Opinions - US, THE PEOPLE

Us, The People
Thathang Lunghang *



Many things about my land and people annoy me. The most irritating thing about it is the capacity for self-deception. As a state, Manipur is less concerned with reality than with vanity. It is a most vain and self righteous thing, be it from hill or valley. Dozens die senselessly in periodic bouts of madness that regularly grip the land. Hundreds more live in abject fear and uncertainty for no logical reason.

Hundreds of crores of rupees are siphoned off into private coffers because local ingenuity is more potent than national law. Yet, comes along a car rally, and it hurries to cover up its shabby tracks, and expects the road to the East to be a smooth one. Comes along the good Doctor, and it echoes the "long live", or the "down with" recording, and awaits further reassurance that it is indeed the land of the Sangai and the sanguine. Publicly, Manipur personifies - or imagines it does - grace and countenance amidst suffering. Privately and collectively, it is the incredible sulk.

Manipur loves being different. It must surely count as the state most given to infuriating fits of sanctimony. It sneers at outsiders for their indifference. It sneers at insiders for more or less the same thing. It is the nation's largest self-styled militarist; the bandit kings of the sub-Himalayan; the eccentric revolutionary genius of the North East.

Like the self-obsessed Middle Kingdom that looked disdainfully at the foreign devils, we just know we are different. The economy takes a nosedive, our development is pathetic, we are at the top of the corruption charts, and we regularly take a beating - literally or otherwise. But different we remain, different we are.

It is a uniqueness that borders on the obsessive and rests on very fragile foundations. Manipur, we say grandly, is more than a state. It is a civilization. An ancient civilization. So ancient that we can't offer or take modern answers to our long-standing questions. So civilized that we can allow ourselves to recede deeper towards the Stone Age. We question India and ban Hindi, but still take up the latest Sunny-Rani masala jhatka-patka.

Heaven forbid we should ever meet them. They don't speak pukka angreji either. We flay western values and morality, but still die of AIDS. If the rest of the world were to question or analyze us, the results would not be too flattering. We continue to kill, abduct, and maim each other, loot and extort every other, spit our red bile anywhere, empty our garbage everywhere, bribe, cheat, corrupt, and swindle above and below all others. In short, we are inconsiderate towards everyone but ourselves. Them is a four-letter word. It's all about us. Usss.

Manipur, or so the myth goes, is not naturally individualistic. It thinks of family, community, and territory, in that order. But it's not very much in evidence in everyday life. It is very much a house divided on convenient individual insecurities. The geographical unity is at best an accident. Pieces of different brick compelled to stick to the same wall.

Different blood, same body, many deformities, and hence the many- headed Hecatoncheires and one-eyed Cyclopes. A healthy body it certainly is not. Especially with so many of its inbred monsters on the loose. All itching to tear itself apart in suspicious ritual purgation. The Japanese call it Hara-Kiri. We call it Hill-valley, Local-non-local, or whatever other term we can pronounce.

That was the famed eccentric North East genius. But how have we managed our house? On the credit side, it has barely got by. On the debit side, the list is more awesome than all the sub-plots of the Bold and the Beautiful. The already long list of public holidays is supplemented by at least fifty annual bandhs. To show that it counts, an organization must call a bandh. It is a ritual, beginning with the call and culminating in the inevitable shortage of essentials. Then, after the Human Rights and Enquiry teams have done their rounds, and resignations and suspensions have been demanded, another side has a go. Then it's a truce till the next unclaimed dead body. The morgue is the happening place for political preservation.

Even democracy has been savagely ritualized. Come election time, and the goon squads are out in action. Not merely to win, but to prevent the other side from even taking part. Voting is a luxury reserved for the overpriviledged. The rest of us needn't bother getting smudged in line. Someone with a gun is there to vote for us and the entire neighborhood. Might is twice better than right. Ask the happy legislator if you can find him in town. Neither the Election Commission nor successive ministries have succeeded in preventing thousands of deceased citizens from being resurrected as voters. How can they? Voters are not people. They are banks.

Education, it was believed, would be the great leveler. We are promised free education, decent education for all. They are all good ideas, just as School Chalo was a good idea, and Central University is a better idea. Noble intentions, however, sink in the quicksand of the Manipur reality. There are no figures to categorize the neo-literates, pseudo-literates, the badly educated, and those who graduated by deceit.

But there are figures for the educated unemployed. There are no figures to determine the number of school and college dropouts. But there are figures for part-time teachers on the way out. Never mind if most Govt. schools and classrooms remain empty most of the year. Most Indians wouldn't be able to place Manipur on a map. Most of us wouldn't be able to place any other place.

That is the awkward Manipur reality. That is why we give shortcuts to standards. Our vision of glory is fulfilled with the idol of our cherished progress - the cushy Govt. job. All pay and no work. It is glorious to be rich the Manipur way. Unemployment and mediocrity aren't points to ponder. They constitute the state agenda. And capping it all is politics - whether in religious bodies, youth clubs, or hill councils.

We need to intrigue, machinate, and plot. Native cunning is our state hobby. Even science and technology isn't spared. That's why we can't build individuals or institutions of excellence. That's also why we don't need holidays. Indian rule, self rule, President's rule, private sector, govt. sector, NGO sector, what's the difference? Life is one great relaxation, one great exercise in running each other down.

To understand Manipur, don't look at the Surf Excel politician or the Kalashnikov addict. Or even at the Olympic torch bearer or the SK petrol vendor. Don't look at the masked rickshaw puller or the masked midnight killer. Just look in the mirror to find the one thing in common. The common thing that we all think and say. The common word on all our different mouths. Us. Or to be precise, "Usss".


* Thathang Lunghang writes for the first time to e-pao.net
The writer can be contacted at [email protected]
This article was webcasted on 1st December 2004


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