Song of Manipur

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“Will there be songs in dark times? / Yes. / Of dark times.” The following lines from one of the greatest theatre playwrights of the 20th Century, Bertolt Brecht, echo loud in Manipur today, and perhaps has always done so during all the trials and tribulations this beleaguered land went through in its long history. The optimism in these lines are truly remarkable, and quite arguably, Manipur’s resilience comes from this song deep within its very being. Its spirit has been indomitable though the ages and this has shown up in the fact that even in its darkest moments its eternal soul music has never been abandoned. What otherwise would explain the manner in which Manipur continues to captivate the world with its creative energy. The recent showing by athletes and performing artistes from the state at the New Delhi Commonwealth Games, CWG, is just the latest demonstration that Manipur’s creative energy remains undiminished even in its darkest days. And indeed, these are very dark times for Manipur. Insurgency question remains unresolved; friction between communities is at a peak; the hill-valley divide arguably has widened further or at least has not narrowed down with the two geographically regions continuing to be governed by compulsions of circumstance under two different laws after so many years under the modern system… and the list can go on.
Manipur’s population of 2.4 million is just 0.2 percent of the nation’s 1.2 billion, but its athletes won 7 medals out of the country’s total of 101, which roughly accounts for 7 percent. It gold medal tally is 3 and could have easily been 4 had Sonia Chanu performed as per her potential on the final day. But even 3 gold medals against the country’s total of 38 makes for 8 percent. If sporting performance were directly proportional to population, in winning 7 medals out of 101, Manipur can be said to have performed 35 times ahead of what would have been the national average in the New Delhi CWG. Incidentally it is not just in sports that the state is capturing eyeballs. At the opening ceremony of the CWG itself this was evident in the strong presence and variety of talents the state is capable of showcasing. Elsewhere, on Sony Entertainment satellite channel, acrobats from the state have acquired quite a reputation for themselves, prompting star TV anchors to compare them and their stunts to the best in the world. Similarly Manipur’s theatre has an awesome reputation, and we are sure, given the right public patronage, Manipuri cinema can be predicted to come of age soon to carve out a niche for itself just as its theatre has. The talent in this new creative field which came to light during the recent 7th Manipur Film Festival will bear testimony.
This is a land of extremes. If there is anything which cannot be with justice said of the place, it is to describe it is lack lustre. The land is simply brimming with kinetic energy. This energy can and has erupted in unspeakable violence, but when harnessed and channelized in constructive directions, it has resulted in immense creativity. Indeed, Manipur is almost a live demonstration of the Freudian conception of violence and creativity being the two sides of the same coin. Both are the different manifestations (or avatars if you like), of the same energy within. In literature nobody has said this more convincingly than by 1983 Literature Nobel Prize winner, William Golding in his best known novel “Lord of the Flies” in which school boys marooned in a deserted island after a plane crash and thus left to fend for themselves in the wild, demonstrate what social formation, violence, creativity, leadership are all about. He also most convincingly dramatizes the dark violence inherent in everybody, and how it is civilised norms which harnesses and sublimates this violence within and gives it acceptable and constructive forms. When this veneer of civilisation was stripped, the school boys were slowly but surely reabsorbed back into the primitive, dark, violent, atavistic past. It is evident Manipur has an abundance of this energy. This is both a matter of hope as much as it is of danger. It can manifest as self consuming violence of the variety Pebam Chittaranjan so horrifically became an example by self-immolating in public, protesting the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, in 2004; or the physically non-violent, decade long, hunger strike odyssey of Irom Sharmila protesting against the continuance of the same act; or the naked protest by women outside the Kangla in 2004; or the raging violent insurrection etc – all of which are also replete with the same violent energy. Let it however not be forgotten that this energy can also transform Manipur and take it to a different plane. A bit of what it is capable of was there for everybody to see at the New Delhi CWG.

1 COMMENT

  1. Manipuri Theatre was highlighted in a recent edition of The Little Magazine showcasing indigenous literary talent. But I take the rise of the Manipuri Film Industry with a pinch of salt, I had heard that South Korean Films were becoming popular since the ban on Bollywood. Only in Manipur eh.

    So yes Brecht, Freud, Golding as Human Beings were giants. But they are all old dead white giants. If you believe that the violent bubbling cauldron of Lake Loktak gives birth to all these creative talents then perhaps show me don’t tell me.

    Boxers are slightly different they arise from poverty. I went to school with ‘Enry Cooper’s two sons. He grew up in London’s East End and was the greatest British Heavyweight Boxer of his day. His sons are probably accountants or marketing executives. Tangentially, he lost his title to a fixed match with Joe Bugner. The crowd were booing when that result was announced. I presume that’s why Manipur holds important title fights in secrecy. But now people get upset with me and say. But we had stopped talking about that scandal today we are talking about another scandal. Bit like the CWG, it’s no longer about the missing near one trillion rupees it’s about we got 3 gold medals and there only 2.4 million of us.

    Manipuris like boxing because it’s the only time they know where the punches are coming from and sometimes they are given the opportunity to punch back.

    Off the top of me head because I know far more what I do not know about Manipur than what I do know. But what I know will keep me busy for many lifetimes. Tagore was inspired most by Manipuri dance. Alexander the greatest foreigner to enter Manipur who had rejected marriage to Persian Queens and Greek Aristos married a Manipuri. They say she was the only woman he met whom he could not tame. The legend goes that the same woman takes her Tulku among the Hill Tribes and then in the Valley in alternate generations.

    Odd that you describe Irom Sharmila’s struggle as an Oddyssey, The Ramayana and Mahabharat if not from older sources clearly point to an older text for the Greek Epics of Homer. Why can’t you call her struggle her Ramayana. It would make more sense to Indians and it’s time Westerners became more educated about the world’s classics.

    Finally may I suggest that Freud though a quick study for a white man really did not understand the deeper more powerful transformative psychology of even the common or garden Indian swami. Aurobindo traced the teachings back to the Rig, his criticism that the multi-levels of Sanksrit were not available to non-scholars is no longer true, there are some fine translations available with footnotes, the latest Penguin Classic is a good example. I read enough ancient languages to know when people are just being snobbish. Freud’s views are handy because they are so simplistic reductionist. HIs follower Zizek has made his name in this post-modern world of short attention spans, and he is great fun if vacuous.

    It’s not that I don’t know or understand these old dead white men. I find Indian Psychologists from Sakyamuni Buddha to Ramana Maharshi have far greater depth when it comes to an experiential connatural knowledge of transpersonal transmogrification. Ah when you are on a roll. The problem with Indian transpersonal psychology for western audiences is that I can summarize Zizek for you in one modern film analysis. But no one can explain one sanksrit, pali or tamil term without absorbing many others. And then when you do. They are rafts to be left once you have crossed the shore.

    Writing polemics is a bit like boxing. You jab away using big words one after another, pounding your opponents into the mistaken belief that they are in the ring against a superior mind, then when you got no more words you look around, and there is still nearly 1 trillion rupees missing, Irom Sharmila Chanu is still imprisoned without trial for nearly ten years with her country overrun by foreign imperial forces, and if it’s the Hindu even though no one will read it, it won’t even get past the censors.

    And you did not speak of Love. Neither did I till now. Because I rely on words. Love is the song.

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