Manipuris caught between fear & hope before the dawn of Naga independence


Dr Irengbam Mohendra Singh
Christmas is all about the Christmas lunch and booze, and presents for children.
After partaking thetraditional turkey-lunch cooked by my wife, with our children, grandchildren and son-in-law,this morning of December 25 2018, without any thought of baby Jesus, I,not so sober, slouched in my study chair to read a pleasurable email from Dr Premchand & family from Keisampat, Imphal, wishing us a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
This rolled my mind back to rare old times, and the present raves and dreams in Manipur.
As the morning will break over the tops of Nongamaijing Hill ranges onJanuary 12019, Manipuris mainly Meiteis, will bewaitingfor the dopamine rush (opposite to adrenaline rush).
The past never stays where you left.But hapless Meiteis have been leaving their ancient historical algorithms to solve the modern problem of cracks appearing in Manipur’s solidarity. The ongoing soundtracks of Indo-Naga accord, curated by the ‘uniqueness’ of Naga people, have been jarring Meitei nerves,especially as some Manipuri Nagas have joined the NSCN’s noisy ruckus, like The nutcrackerin Tchaikovsky symphonic orchestrain which the nutcracker bares its teeth to the evil spirits.
Manipur is deep into a new era of stream and shuffle. As the old year rings out, our political class seems incapable of rising above the level of pantomime. Meiteis have maintained a vocal scepticism towards certain architecture of Nagalim, with an insistence on a better design and consultation that would not leave Manipur in utter ruins. With no coherent strategy to prevent the breakdown of Manipur, the toothless tiger, Meitei community, can but wail bleakly at their wretchedness.
A few civil organisations run rallies, inviting delirious crowds to chant threats to groups of people which they dislike, and appealing to the Union government in Delhi, hoping to find a listening ear in the corridors of power.
A sense of reflectiveness has triggered an emotional recollection of Manipur.
My brain has dredged a bit and stuck them together. It was in the immediate pre-WWII. I was a middle-class kid growing up at Uripok in the centre of Imphal town.
Some mornings at the crack of dawn, my father would wake me up to take my little dog for a walk.
The spectacular scenery of the rusty-orange vistas on show over the high tops of Nongamaijing with its blue tips dipping in the orange cloud, made me wonder about things beyond.
Leafing through my memory book in my brain, the landscape served as the blueprint of my adulthood conviction that our Stone-Age Meitei hunter-gatherer ancestor arrived around 20,000 years ago and stayed in the caves of Nongamaijing and Koubru hill ranges.
Staying true to my belief, I can conjure up how our ancestors, as they cut their teeth, they mapped out the panorama of the glittery watery surface of ‘Kangleipak’ with no horizons, tucked away in the interstices of the atlas between the mighty Bharat and Awa.
After years of struggle, they stopped whining and applied themselves to their downward journey tosettle in the valley that was surrounded by long skeins of nine parallel mountain ranges, when the waterdrained through Chingnunghut(tunnel through hills) at Tengnoupal.
They named it Kangleipak, and Kangla where they first made their homestead. As the population grew, they called their village Yumphal (collection of yumor house, (Imphal in English). In the2,000 or so years since Jesus was executed in AD33 or AD30, history has shafted us and universities have pumped out many graduates in northeast India. They’ve begun to search for their ethnic-racial identity development, a biased anthropological study, created by the British in late 19th and early 20th century.
Casting a shadow by their fledgling romantic dream of an independent Nagalim with large areas of Manipur’s topography, has been a thorn in the side of Meiteis.
I’ve been an admirer of how Nagas have forced the mighty Indian Army to a negotiating table.
However, they have gone ‘a bridge too far’: too ambitious a target. The beginnings of Birth Pangs have begun to reverberate like the Biblical ‘Jesus and the Temple’ (Mathew 24:8). Four districts of eastern Nagas want to break out. During thisrocky political drama before the final curtain calls, set to come sometime this year, the laisseze-faire Meiteis should wake up if they don’t want to miss the partition of Manipur, like Rip Van Winkle, the Dutch-American villager whomissed the American Revolution, when he went to sleep in a village and woke up 20 years later. And for those who suffer from insomnia, learning a lesson or formula for a composite Manipur should be their bedtime activity, rather than counting sheep.
For my part, I want to unfold a nifty portrait of Meitei power just to remind Meiteis that people who don’t learn from history are doomed to failure.
The erstwhile Manipuri Empire relinquished Kohima, the northern boundary of Manipur, when King Chandra kriti gifted it to the British in 1874.
This isn’t a provocative thesis statement. I take journalistic freedom only within the parameters of saving Manipur.
And for those who want to hear voices from Manipur’s history that you can touch, it’s not the story of neatly divided civilisations.
There was only one civilisation – Meitei civilisation, which was 100 years ahead of any community in Manipur. I know this is nostalgia: backward looking and romantic – two things that rational and intelligent people are supposed to avoid. But presently, retro-themed reminiscence, called the ‘reminiscence bump’ (Rubin et al, 1998) might conjure up a sense of Meitei identity in our battle with faith, perhaps, even, self-pity, when some ethnic community is in the habit of trying to wake up the dead.
Nagas could do with learning this bit of recent history.On the fateful June 25 1959, emboldened by his sweeping defeat of the enemy, General MacArthur recklessly crossed the38th parallel, the border between the two Koreas, to unify the Korean peninsula,against the mandate of the UN. This drew half a million Chinese PLA to the war, which ended in a disastrous American defeat.
Meiteis must stop precarisation of our historical present, which has been hanging over our heads like the Sword of Damocles. Nagas’ claim of large chunks of Manipur, a Putin-style land grab of Crimea, will drive the foibles ofdifferent non-Naga tribes of Manipur like sheep, into a tiny sequestrated ecological niche.
This sobering thought should make Meiteis feel ‘as good as death warmed up’. Meiteis have to be”fighting-fit”, “fit-to-fight” (adrenaline rush) if we want to radiate in this unrehearsed ‘Indo-Naga’ drama with an absurd script. Why because,Manipur’s integral history is 2,000 years old. The Ark of the Covenant is carried on from about the time of our great-great-great grandfathers. That was about the time of Meidingu Pamheiba (alias Gharib Nawaz/Newaz – saviour of the poor) name of Sufi saint Khawaja Moinuddin Chisti whose dargah is in Ajmer. Pamheiba was the 18th century Manipuri Emperor, whose empire lasted right up to the time of King Gambhir Singh, Major Thangal and Lt Col. Johnstone. The Manipuri Empire in the north, extended up to Kohima. “In 1832 AD, Capt Jenkins and Lt Pemberton escorted by Rajah Ghumbeer Singh’s Manipuri troops, forced a passage through the Naga Hills with a view to ascertaining if there was a practicable route into Assam,”(Johnstone).
This was how the Imphal to Dimapur road via Naga Hills became a reality, connecting Manipur with India.
“Ghumbeer Singh reasserted the subordination of Naga villages, including the largest of all, Kohima, at which place he stood upon a stone and his foot-prints sculptured on it in token of his conquest.
The stone monument was set up at a prominent place, together with an upright stone bearing carved figures of Kangla sha and an inscription,”(Johnstone). I saw it in 1947 before it was removed in the 1950s due to Naga students’ agitation.
Meiteis, the autochthons of Manipur, should persist unwavering, like Britain that haslost its empire but remaining strong, to preserve Manipur intact, along with Meitei language thatthe white supremacist linguists have been unsuccessfullydumping it as Tibeto-Burman.
It’s because they’re hiding a needle of truth in a haystack of lies. They make authenticity irrelevant in favour of their super ego, with difficulties in admitting their mistakes.
Politics is a profession that can polarise people away into the darkest corner of history.
As the extantof Naga political latitude remainsa cliff-hanger, and the malleability of the Union Government’s policy can be tempered by its keenness to solve the Naga imbroglio with a winking insistence for a greater Nagalim,Meiteis should be preparedto pay a price if necessary,to turn back the wheel of Naga expansionism.
Rather than wallowing in melancholy, Meiteis, and other tribes like the Kabuis and Marings that love our shared values,should make a conscious choice to live in the same old ‘chingna koina punshaba Manipur Sanaleibak’, using emerging information not as a crutch to prop ourselves up, but as a lamp to help light our way to an integral Manipur.
Church bells are ringing in Kohima and some parts of Ukhrul.
“For whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee”- theMeiteis and the non-Nagas of Manipur.
Forget the academic jargon.If you really love what you do it will get you up.

The writer is based in the UK


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