Ningol Chakouba Thoughts

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We are once again on the threshold of another cycle of the winter magic. It is indeed happy serendipity that many, if not most of the widely celebrated festivals in Manipur and its neighbourhood come in winter. Kut opened the season on November 1. It is Diwali today, in two days there will be Ningol Chakouba. Come December and there will be Christmas and then the celebration of the onset of another New Year on the January 1. Happy though the onset of this season is, there is also a peculiar air of sadness associated with it. This is especially so when it comes to Ningol Chakouba, another institution that Manipur`™s rich and long tradition established, demonstrating before the world that this society intuitively and genuinely cares for the female child and that the feminine gender has a very special and warm corner in its heart. That the women of Manipur have been at the forefront of the society is a fact, but it is not a standalone phenomenon. For indeed, in their coming to be free and independent to participate as equal partners of their men in economic and social activities, the social environment they are in has always had a huge role. In fact, it is this environment that not only gave them the liberty, but also nudged them to be their sovereign selves. But this social environment is changing, as all social environment must, being the living organism that they are. Irresistible forces of globalization, shifts in economic paradigms, reformations in social moorings, winds of modernism etc, have all made sure traditions never remain stagnant. It would be wrong to try and shut out these forces of change. In any case they cannot be, for as the age old wisdom teaches us, time and tide waits for no man. The correct attitude must be to treat them as challenges to be handled and ultimately taken advantage of, rather than threats to be fought or run away from.

Family reunions are a time equally of pain and joy. So would Ningol Chakouba be for many. It would be a time for loved ones to be together but also a time to remember loved ones lost. In life`™s journey, nobody can live forever. This journey can be unpredictable too. Even the young and innocent can be snatched away. All religions seek to provide consolation by advocating the belief that life does not end with death and that there is much more beyond. But there are also those for whom life itself is religion. One is reminded of the 1952 novel by Nikos Kazantzankis `Zorba the Greek`, made into a Hollywood classic in 1964, bagging three Oscars. Alexis Zorba, overcome with the sorrow of death approaches a wise old man buried in his books and asks: `Why do the young die?` The wise old man looks up from his books and in a soft unperturbed voice answers: `I don`™t know.` Upon this Zorba flies into a rage and shouts: `Of what use are your books and knowledge if you do not know this?` The wise old man, in the tone of a man who understands and empathises with the anguish of the questioner replies: `I read them because they teach me about the pain of people who cannot answer questions such as yours.` Life indeed is defined by both pain and joy. One would be meaningless without the other. So let us all take heart, and live life full.

Not by death, but by politics, one ningol will miss another Ningol Chakouba this year. She has not eaten for all of a decade and a half and in a special prison at the JN Hospital Imphal. It is difficult to avoid a little guilty that as all of us partake in the festivities of Ningol Chakouba, this Ningol, continues to volitionally starve herself on behalf of all of us. We pray in silence for the brave heart that she is, but we have the uncanny fear that she may end up merely as a mascot to be paraded in public, even if it is for a worthy cause. It is also a peculiarly paradoxical situation for those of us who support her cause. To encourage her to continue her fight is almost like encouraging her to torture herself with starvation and possibly die. On the eve of Ningol Chakouba our thoughts go out to her once again. We wish her to continue her fight relentlessly but live on until victory is hers and ours. We also hope and pray that someday in the near future, this lady too will be able to have her fill of the joy and nostalgia of Ningol Chakouba once again.

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