The last chance saloon for Meiteis

Dr Irengbam Mohendra Singh
Let me begin this New Year of 2018 with ‘Surya Namaskar’ (prayer to the Sun, figuratively speaking) and wishing a Happy New Year to The Sangai Express and its readers. This is also my wassail to every Manipuri. I exist in London but I live in Imphal taking little memory night trains.
It’s my unshaken belief that the Sun will continue to rise beyond our Koubruching and Nongmaiching, which were the early settlements for Meitei ancestors, while the valley was full of water, following the tectonic uplift of the Northeast in the Cenzoic era, covering from 66 million years to the present day (cf. author’s How was Kangleipak raised …? 2012). The Sun will also set beyond yon hills of Tamenglong. That however, will depend on Meiteis making it to the Last Chance Saloon.
Meiteis are presently confused and sickened by the helplessness to stop the threat of disintegration of Manipur. Wordsworth comes to my mind. He exclaimed: “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,/ But to be young was very Heaven!”, recalling the outset of the French Revolution in 18th century. But given the terror that followed, this was a recollection in ruefulness. A few years later, Shelly wrote: “Gloom and misanthropy have become the characteristics of the age in which we live.”
Gloom and misanthropy are also characteristics of Meiteis living in this 21st century. We live with hope that the outcome of the ongoing Indo-NSCN talks, will not end with the partition of Manipur. But hope is not a self-filling fountain that we keep topping up with our desires. But our hope could make an independent contribution to motivation or reasoning, though hope without our having to do anything isn’t enough to accomplish goals. Our trajectory should not be a change from hope to disappointment.
I’m a great admirer of Nagas’ courage. They have fought hard and long, forcing the Union government to a ceasefire. They’ll get almost anything except sovereignty. Let them have as long as they do not interfere with Manipur’s interest.
Recounting how modern Indian politics affect Manipur in its happy stratagems for new ways of living, it’s not a bold and rich thesis that Meiteis shouldn’t fade into compromise and “accommodation”. Challenges to the prevailing boundary of Manipur have been gathering momentum for the past decade, making Meiteis walk a tight rope.
Having recently been to Imphal and read about AMUCO, UCM and CCSK camping in Delhi with a beggar’s bowl for a “darshan” (vision) of Rajnath Singh, the Home Minister, to spare our agony of a Caesarean section of Manipur, I’m still drenched in shame, in preference to wallowing in my own melancholy.
Federal politicians are untrustworthy. Rajnath’s “Arshibad” (blessing) that “nothing will be done without consulting Manipur” is ‘small talk’ that does not cover the topic of conversation. It gives a temporary psychological sanctuary to Meiteis. Remember the RSS catchphrase during the India-Pakistan partition: Muh pe Ram Ram, Bagal me chaku (say cordially Ram Ram and then stab in the flank).
The old Meitei emotional culture of Ima Leibak Manipur (Manipur my mother country) should have a paradigm shift to forge the modern mind to a startling way of seeing and feeling the probable politico-geographical change of Manipur. We must stop looking backwards, such as luxuriating in the past history, when an imminent danger beckons us to meet tiresome challenges. There is lots of evidence that living in the glow of past history reviles our new inventions, while history itself is always disputed as it’s written by the winners. The much-hyped Battle of Khongjom is “trifling” for British historians (cf. Caroline Keen. The Manipur Uprising of 1891).
Whether Meiteis had legendary courage or not, it’s indisputable that they bore the brunt of fighting to defend Manipur, and kept Manipur intact, along with a sprinkling of Kukis, Tangkhuls, Kabuis, and Pangals. It’s also true that when Meiteis were defeated at the battle of Khongjom, every tribe in Manipur lost its independence. But that was a long time ago, dead and cremated.
Yet, the newly literate, and the educated class, keep on writing endlessly, the worn-out stories of the 18th century conversion of Meiteis to “foreign” Hinduism by Garib Newas; the Khongjom Battle; the annexation of Manipur; the guesswork stories of where the Meiteis came from; or the mythological stories, which they call history, of Pakhangba and Sanamahi, Meitei books brim with ideas, many unsubstantiated by scholarship, some not even by sense.
There’s nothing special about Meitei creation to be going on about. Every primitive tribe in the world has a similar story of creation. Being an ancient, I remember how Nagas with such a creation myth and now converted to a ‘foreign’ religion of Christianity, have brought the Union army to its knees, whilst we Meiteis are about to be torn apart and homeless.
We need a guaranteed guide both insightful and eloquent for new ways of living, rather than dwelling in the past. The defeat at the Anglo-Manipuri war has transformed Meiteis into the cowardly Lion of the movie, The Wizard of Oz, while clinging on to our self-aggrandisement with internecine fighting, like a dog with a bone. Fruitfully, we could do with thought-provoking and post-modernist writings to enthuse young Manipuris with life ahead, and not feed them with stale and decomposed factual or fictional past narratives except for casual references . The focus should be more on empirical and analytical knowledge.
Progressive countries like Britain, have done away with the past, to save time for school children in acquiring essential knowledge and skills. In British schools, nothing is taught about the British Empire. Some of them feel ashamed of it. History lessons are very little and in sections. They don’t know about Indian independence, though of course , they know that India is no longer British.
Even the long-thought ancestral theory of Anglo-Saxon migration to Britain is now in the doghouse. The traditional view that the English are primarily descended from the various Germanic tribes of Anglo-Saxons that migrated to the island of Great Britain following the end of Roman occupation of Britain, with assimilation of Norse Vikings and Normans migrants from France is considered inaccurate by modern historians as there is no genetic proof. Britons were just there like Meiteis, following early human migration after the retreating Ice Age.
In all the narratives that move between Meiteis and disciplines of history, we are unable to reconcile our courageousness with foolhardiness. Acknowledging and understanding our own mistakes are crucial steps towards learning to look at ourselves in the mirror without averting our eyes. Dwelling upon the bunkum story of the prehistoric migration of Meiteis from Southeast Asia without any archaeological or genetic evidence goes Fitt Fitt Fitt like James Bonds blank bullets from his Walther PPK. Why waste time for writers themselves, and for would-be readers. Meiteis are here in Manipur. That’s all the children are required to know. What they need is basic skills of how to move forward.
I’m not a conspiracy theorists. But Meiteis need to prepare themselves against the possible rewriting of our history. Meiteis, like the “Freemasonry” of the American Revolution, need a tight-linked network, linking clusters of men and women together, who would otherwise not have been linked. Unity should be the emblem of Meitei tribe and thus stop the dance of dysfunction.
I’ve written before, about the physiological changes that help in the survival of animals including humans, known as “flight-or-fight” responses [surge of adrenaline] when faced with threats. While it’s true for individuals, it’s also applicable at group level. I’m not Like Charles Dickens, who wrote “The man who Invented Christmas”. It’s a well-researched theory, known as “Adult Attachment Theory” (ATT).
This AAT is a defensive process, by which people promote the likelihood of surviving perilous events, and prevail dicey challenges. It is perhaps the best option for Meiteis to liberate us from the shackles of the administrative Union Government, as happened in 1949, from the despotic and untrained chief commissioners with military backgrounds, who thought they were administering in a foreign enclave of Manipur.
ATT is all about how people should conduct themselves in times of dire need, such as this nonsense and insensibility that Meiteis are experiencing, and how to ensure we are able to cope with the consequences of partition. It requires acknowledgement of the effects of people around us, who respond to imminent threats, while keeping in mind that, some people are more perceptive to threat-related cues, and to detect threats quicker more accurately than others, and tend to employ self-defence actions more rapidly and effectively.
Better still, there are other people such as the members of the AMUCO, UCM and CCSK, who have shown that they are better at mass collective efforts and leading group actions because they are more relationship-oriented than others. They can mobilise an instant community of warfighters, Meiteis and others and involve them in outreach.
To recap, Meiteis are facing a perilous threat. In uncertainty lies the drama of Meitei life. We must listen to the emotional bugle call of the Last Post, and rekindle our tormented psyche. We must be ‘fighting-fit’ or ‘fit-to-fight’, in the face of a tsunami of possible disintegration of Manipur in real time. For our children’s tomorrow we must give our present.
(The writer is based in the UK Website:

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