The Sangai Festival 2013: The Award Goes to the Works Department

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By Amar Yumnam

Class is permanent and form is temporary. But in the just concluded the Sangai Festival 2013 as manifested in the venue of it, there was neither class nor form. Without mincing any words and before we debate on what a festival should be like today, a visit to the venue of the Sangai Festival 2013 during the Festival itself convinced me beyond doubt  that anyone who does not know how to organise festivals should not organise one. The world now is such that if you do not possess the knowledge and capability to do something, you should not attempt doing it; if you want to learn about it, do it in private and not in public and at public cost. The Festival was a complete let-down. It was an insult to the richness and ingenuity of the Manipuris and the rising convergence of the people with the global values and attitudes.

It should be very clear to us what was a Sangai-like festival earlier and what it is not such a festival today. Every society passes through an early stage when the commercialisation process is absolutely in initial stage at best and the market was barely in existence. In those days, one should be worried where to buy the needs of one’s spouse and where to profitably dispose the products of the spouse’s skills. In such situations, it was paramount to organise festivals like the way the Sangai Festival was done recently in order that people could have easy access and easy purchase of daily and other contemporary needs.  It was also a case where the visitors to those festivals would tussle for space in order to have access to the items on display and sale.  It was more like a case of meeting together of people once a year and recluse for the remaining of the months till the next gathering. In such festivals the degree of success would lie only in causing overcrowding and governance would be concerned only with managing the oversized crowd. The oversized crowd would also be ensured by the absence of any other meaningful avenue for large scale social interaction.  Such festivals are unlikely to be encountered anywhere in the world today except in some far-off corners of Sub-Saharan Africa where the light of modern development is still not seen and primitive accumulation is yet prevalent.

But festivals around the world today belong to a class and form very different from these conventional approaches. While the traditional ones are oriented towards sale and purchase of some items for human convenience, the contemporary ones are oriented towards technology and ideas. The traditional primacy of functions of sale and purchase has now been reduced to secondary purpose for facilitating display, adoption and innovation of technology.   The world is increasingly becoming dominated by technological depth, wide, content and strength in a society. A society’s relevance and ability to meaningfully sustain and interact with the rest of the world are determined by this technological capability today. Since the world is increasingly globalised and inevitably so, the social and governance functioning is now oriented towards facilitating the purpose of technological deepening, widening and innovativeness. This includes the organisation of festivals as well. Festivals like the Sangai provide a framework and within a short time frame for displaying, appreciating the areas for further innovation and a world for widespread adoption convenience and interaction.

But the knowledge content of technology today is much deeper and wide than ever, and it is not going to change. The deepening, widening and innovation in technology cannot happen in the absence of a knowledge foundation. In other words, ideas are what rule the world today. The rising competitiveness of the world today demands and the capability of a country to participate meaningfully in that is determined by the incorporation of ideas in societal and governance functioning of ideas as the principle of performance and interaction. So the festivals around the world today are oriented towards serving this purpose.

The serving of the causes of technology and ideas by the festivals can be performed only in a context where the participants and interested people are made to enjoy the atmosphere in the festivals in a relaxed and enjoyable way. Except in the case of war technology, ideas and technology do not flourish under forceful and compressed environments. This is how festivals around the world attach importance to the facilitation of enjoyment and participation by the visitors to these.  

Now in the light of these now internationally recognised, accepted and adopted principles of festival organisations around the globe today, let us try to appreciate (sorry evaluate) the Sangai Festival 2013. The pre-Festival hype was definitely there in right proportions. But come to the festival itself. It was a flop in every aspect of evaluation. First, the technological purpose was promiscuous by its absence. Second, there was no visible idea which the festival desired to generate. Third, the principle of facilitating the enjoyment and participation of the visitors was violated to the core. I wonder how in today’s world security is thought to be ensured by the abundant physical visibility of the security forces and profuse physical check of the visitors to a festival. Fourth, are Manipuris so deprived of tasty food that dust and its abundance are immaterial to consumption? The food festivals are not to be conducted in unhygienic environments; this is the principle today.

Now if we are to look for anything positive from the recent organisation of the Sangai Festival 2013, we have to go outside the venue of the festival itself. The only mood-uplifting experience, which still continues, is the improvement in the quality of roads in and around Imphal in preparation for the festival. The improvement is commendable. The working for the improvement in the nights mainly was a new learning process for Manipur. Further, the audacity to take care of and ultimately ameliorate the traffic hindrances by the construction around the Raj Bhavan is praiseworthy. So the encouraging and productive by-products of the recent Sangai Festival are to be found in the quality of roads in and around the Imphal. We also wish this positive aspect gets extended to the mountains of Manipur as well. For these reasons, the award for the Sangai Festival 2013 goes to the Works Department of the government of Manipur.  While this department lived up to its responsibilities, the festival itself was but a fiasco.  

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