By Angomcha Bimol Akoijam
I am blessed with a daughter a few days back, on 15 July. Since then, it has been a hectic and testing time as she arrived earlier than the expected time. Although I have become a father, perhaps ‘fatherhood’ has yet to sink in. I suspect, it may be because she was kept away from us, barring a few hours in a day that I got to see her. Nonetheless, my daughter’s arrival has taught me some crucial lessons, existentially that is. These lessons are of public kinds that I have learnt afresh privately.
Elixir of life
A few minutes after she came out of ‘hotel womb’, I saw her struggling for breath. Yes, air count for life, all of us. On the other hand, she ‘had’ to come precisely because the critical issue associated with the amount of amniotic fluid (‘water’ in common parlance). That ‘water’ became dangerously inadequate for her to enjoy the comfort of her stay in ‘hotel womb’. This reality reminds me of the basics of life associated with what we termed as “environmental issues’. These are matters that are directly connected with our existence as human species on earth. We play with them recklessly, we pay with our life. That’s the lesson that I was reminded all over again; and I must add, not merely as a political and intellectual sense but an existential issue.
The fact is earth surface is covered by 71 % of water. And human body has, as a baby 75-80% and as adults 50 to 60%. The rapidity with which we have polluted out water and the differential manner in which different sectors get the supply of water (poor people vs. affluent sections of the population) are both political and existential issues.
The great slum called Imphal, the capital city of Manipur and underbelly of ‘shinning India’, with its unplanned mushrooming of houses, shrinking lanes/leiraks, open gutter and stinking road side garbage dumps, dusts that followed the passing automobiles of different brands of the nouveau riche of the grant-in-aid economy that run on adulterated fuels reminds me of the significance of the issues associated with ‘air’ and ‘water’. If one were to juxtapose the predication/warning associated with air pollution, the proud people of the state can hope to have more lungs ailments in the days to come. To think of it, given the state of public health institution in the state, one can only sense the price that the poor who do not drive those fancy vehicles have to pay for the twisted public policy and morality.
The condition of Nambul turel (Nambul River) that falls on the ‘dying’ Loktak Lake, does speak of the fate the people of the state. Loktak Lake may have become the site to earn publicity and money for some but the fact is the very character of Manipur, it’s natural and culture being is under a dangerous threat speaks to me as I think of my daughter who is born in a metropolis. I do hope that her generation, wherever they are born and brought up, shall stand up to the challenges of the very survival of a sweet place called Manipur and her people. Just as saving Jamuna River is important, it is equally, if not more, crucial to save Nambul River and Loktak Lake, for they signify the elixir of a collective life.
Loving one’s own children and family is not different from loving the collective life in which they belong. Some say that once some people become parents, they will have responsibilities hitherto unknown to them and thereby stop being concerned with larger issues. Somehow, the birth of my daughter has re-enforced the feeling and conviction in me that I have all the more reasons to fight for the causes.
For the warped world of self-seeking petty bourgeoisie mindset that seeks private solution to publically rooted private tragedies in Manipur, private love of ‘family’ has become an excuse for the inaction. ‘Yaorunu tourunu’ (don’t get associated, don’t get involved) attitude and aspiration of the class of people who are born to, and thrived in, a dependent political economy continue to commit hara-kiri of a tragic kind. In the face of all these, the arrival of my daughter has reminded me that I have to work in order to secure her future, the very basis for re-invigorating one’s public commitment.
In this regard, it’s worth reminding, something I have quoted political scientists earlier in this column, that children cannot questions public morality without essentially challenging the morality of their parents. If one teaches one’s own children to be self-seeking and less concerned about public issues, one shall end up producing alienated citizens and a messy public life. My daughter has reminded me that the tremendous responsibility is not merely of being a father but that of being a concern citizen.
I hope she can learn her lesson just as I have learnt that being a father is to realize the responsibility of being a mother, not only for my wife but for me as well. Since she had come on a historic day when Imas of Manipur protested in front of the Kangla Fort, I wish and pray that my daughter shall carry a little bit of that spirit of the moment as she grows up as an individual in her own rights.