On the day we remember the loved ones we lost to the terrible disease, HIV/AIDS, with candles on our streets and homes, we cannot help remembering also so many other brothers and sisters who lost their lives in the political tumult that has engulfed our beleaguered land for the past many decades. Our prayers go out to them and for the peace of their generous souls as well. But first a little more on the issue of AIDS. Thanks to the professional commitment of so many who work in the field, not only the awareness of the disease, but also the compassion for the victims and those who have had the misfortune to come to be afflicted by the virus (HIV), has grown exponentially. The flickering candles in the pleasant evening wind everywhere in the state today, as in the rest of the world, were proofs enough of this. Unlike even the victims of the insurgency storm, this disease is indiscriminate. It can no longer be termed as a sin visiting the deviant, for today it is killing even the most innocent infant, searching it out and infecting it even while it is still in the placidity of its mother’s womb. Instead of the despairing cry of “Why God Why?” it is good that we are learning to face the challenge in a way that God probably would be wanting us to, by lighting the candles of hope and resistance, compassion and love. These must have to be some of the most powerful weapons in our arsenal, apart from the science of defeating the virus in physical terms. But, on this solemn occasion, we cannot help remembering another section of our young population swallowed by the political turmoil, and also be haunted by the similarity of mixed emotions that Irish poet, William Buttler Yeats, went through in Easter 1916.
Manipur today has far too many things to mourn, overshadowing its occasions for celebration. There is not a day that passes without somebody or the other getting killed violently, either in fratricidal killings or else in the protracted war between government forces and insurgent fighters waging a liberation war. If the tumultuous winds of rebellion fostered by certain cataclysmic ruptures in the smooth flow of history had not swept them away, many probably would have lived to be eminent respectable citizens, as eminent and respectable as many who occupy the top strata of the society today. But this was never to be. Come to think of it, the storm of this war having spanned over many decades, practically all of us would have known many of them, some brilliant peers who may have won fame and fortune, others merely ordinary nondescript acquaintances in the neighbourhood.
William Butler Yeats, sang of such a transformation in his celebrated Easter 1916, the year the government swooped down on the brewing Irish Republican Army rebellion in Dublin, and executed many of the movement’s pioneers. “A terrible beauty is born” he had exclaimed, in a combine of horror, awe and disbelief. Ordinary men and women, in ordinary professions, whom “I have met them at the close of day, Coming with vivid faces, From counter or desk among grey, Eighteenth-century houses.” Familiar acquaintances on the streets whom “I have passed with a nod of the head, Or polite meaningless words, Or have lingered awhile and said, Polite meaningless words”. In that September of 1916 everything transformed all of a sudden “All changed, changed utterly: A terrible beauty is born.” There were also those he envied and did not like very much. “He had done most bitter wrong, To some who are near my heart, Yet I number him in the song; He, too, has resigned his part, In the casual comedy; He, too, has been changed in his turn, Transformed utterly: A terrible beauty is born.” Yeats also sensed the tragedy that all the spiralling and increasingly senseless violence can bring, and this foreknowledge made his soul burn: “Too long a sacrifice, Can make a stone of the heart. O when may it suffice? That is Heaven’s part, our part, To murmur name upon name, As a mother names her child, When sleep at last has come, On limbs that had run wild. What is it but nightfall? No, no, not night but death; Was it needless death after all?”
Nearly a century after Yeats went through his soul scorching self-questioning, we are forced to do the same and ask, “O when may it suffice?”