By Tinky Ningombam
It was 6 September 1997 when I saw the Live broadcast of Princess Diana’s funeral service on TV. It was a memorable day for me, not only because she was one of the first women I idolized when I was growing up but also because as the years passed whenever I reflect to that moment, a new realization dawns upon me. Hundreds of people watched as her casket was taken to the Abbey. And I saw her two sons walking along with Prince Charles keeping their calm, without breaking down in public. I saw the small card on top of the casket signed “Mummy”. It was the only public sign of grief from the young ones at the Princess’ demise, just that last note from the then 12 year old Prince Harry. Apparently, the royal family could not be seen out of composure. Years later, the memory of that note urges me to question how much of our emotions are truly controlled by us alone and how much by other people.
Somehow individual traditions mould “cultural” norms and habits in us. For instance, after someone dies in a Meetei community and when they have their funeral, the women mourn and cry, act hysterical, call out names etc. I have not seen any written rule-book for that but it is followed. In most circumstances, women who do not cry at these services are considered cold-hearted and uncaring. It is assumed that if you do not cry, it means the poor departed soul does not mean anything to you.
Now let’s look at other emotions, like happiness or joy. Consider how most other people in the world get married, they celebrate. The bride and the groom sing and dance, they openly rejoice with the people and celebrate their happy life ahead. Look at a Meetei bride, for instance, she cannot be caught smiling on camera, especially when her groom is around her. The bride cannot be happy for the world to see. If she laughs out loud, god forbid, that will be the start of a million tongues wagging on how weird the bride was and questions on why she can indeed be so uncontrollably happy to laugh out so loud.
I think one of the weirdest restrictions that people imposed on others is on laughing. I agree that it is inconsiderate to laugh at another’s misery, but what is it with girls and laughing? But again there are countless restrictions on girls, I need not repeat them. When I was growing up, I always heard older people complaining when we (girls) used to laugh out loud. And we have heard this before, haven’t we? “It is not proper for a girl to laugh so loud for passerbys to hear; less they think you are a flirt.” These stereotypes go all the way up to even mainstream movies. You always hear the vamps shrieking wildly in laughter never the coy heroine smiling behind some veil. On the other hand, girls from good families behave in a “proper” way, laugh in restraint and always act docile. Dear readers, just so you know, I was stopped from humming songs when I was at my grand-dad’s house as a small child. Why? Because well-mannered children don’t sing cheap songs or any songs for that matter.
But as I look back and introspect, I have come to realize that there are a lot of these obsolete traditions or arbitrary stereotypes and rules that we somehow impose on ourselves and especially on our ensuing generation. I get it when a family sets down some ground rules for their blood-line, I mean, every family have their quirks, right? But a lot of these rules that society puts on us doesn’t help anyone.
A lot of the time, my friends and I behave in a certain way because sometime in our distant childhood, we have been brainwashed to accept some stereotypical rules and as we age, it becomes more and more impossible to break; Simple mechanics here on how tradition is re-enforced. So, very much like if I had attended etiquette class or a finishing school, I act in a certain way today because of my restrictions in the past. If children are taught to laugh more, to just sing and dance or just behave like kids. To speak up and talk when they want to. To say something and ask something without inhibition. If they are allowed to be as they are and not pushed away when they are young, they will not push parents away when they get older. And maybe if they are not under scrutiny all the time, they will grow up with genuine emotions. They will genuinely cry how they want to when someone dies without pressure just as they will be happy and laughing at their own weddings. These emotions at least of joy happens to us so very little and it is not too much to ask for, that somethings in life should be allowed to happen naturally to us without worrying about how others will think all the time.
(“What if it`s just a big, cosmic joke? Then…laugh!” — Dee, Madre)