What’s in a name?

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Watching the unseemly developments over the renaming of Thangjing subdivision to Thangting, it is only natural to recall Romeo musing over a change of his own name so he can court Juliet without invoking the ire of her parents: “What’s in a name? /A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Romeo may have been driven to desperation by the possibility of losing his lover on account of the fierce feud between his clan and Juliet’s, therefore resorted to what psychoanalysts call the ego defence mechanism of “intellectualisation”, to shield himself from what normally in the Italian cultural context of the time he lived in, would have been an extremely hurtful loss of individual dignity. But even divorced from that context, what Romeo said to soften the harsh consequences on his own self-esteem by the decision he at one point in the blindness of his love for Juliet contemplated doing, is grounded in reality and indeed material for profound philosophical contemplation. No wonder the thought remains extremely relevant to this day and is undoubtedly one of the most quotable quotes of all time.

In the indigenous world, it is not at all uncommon for any particular place or geographical landmark to be known by different names to as many different communities which have an association with them. Take for instance the Isii peak, Manipur’s highest for that matter, which towers above settlements of the Mao tribes south of the Dzuko valley. The same peak is known as Tenepu by the Angami and Chakeshang tribes north of the Dzuko. Probably the Maram, Poumai and Zeme tribes have their own names for the same peak, and nobody has even thought of disputing any of these names, or for that matter, take notice of them. The same outlook holds in all of the indigenous world. Take another obvious instance of the mighty Himalayan ranges. Most, if not all of the peaks have a Sanskrit name, and naturally so because they form the northern border of the Indian sub-continent. But it is also equally true that Nanda Devi, Kailash, Gurla Mandata, Nanda Parbat, Kanchenjunga, and the rest, also have matching Tibetan names who live north of these ranges. They probably are also known by different names to other linguistic groups living in their vicinities in Nepal, Bhutan, and Pakistan etc. Here too nobody makes a fuss now, and in the aeons they were referred to by these names.

The Thangjing-Thangting controversy probably would not have happened had it been allowed to remain the way they always were in the indigenous world, so that different communities continued to refer to these ranges, sacred to each community in their own ways, without any official interference. We are of the opinion that if the officialdom ever thinks it essential to create any new administrative blocks or rename them, they should first consider ethnic neutral nomenclatures. This would be the best way not to upset any traditional equilibrium in the indigenous world. An example will help make this contention comprehensible. If for instance, Imphal East were to be named Lamlai district, and Imphal West were to be called Sagolband district, there would be a hornets’ nest stirred. As we see it, administrative sub-divisions and blocks could and should also be named similarly as the two Imphal districts. Nobody would have anything to object to names such as North Bishnupur sub-division or South Churachandpur sub-division, for these names do not privilege any particular community over another, and they would have been seen purely as administrative units. Especially in the present juncture of Manipur’s troubled days, marked by an acute identity crisis amongst its communities, privileging any community in these nomenclature choices would be seen as giving official certitude to disputed homeland claims. As we have always contended, the notion of homelands in the indigenous world is hardly dangerous, however when these notions begin to be either given definite official boundaries, or else come to be treated as akin to modern nations, they will acquire potential for deadly conflicts. We spot once again this official policy flaw in the Thangjing-Thangting faceoff. Let the government then take necessary remedial measures to defuse the crisis. As for the disputing communities, let them also look within themselves and realise that the closeness of the names Thangjing and Thangting, is an indication of their linguistic affinity, and this can be the beginning of a new and positive vision, or what some have called the “moral imagination”, which brings into sight similarities rather than differences in drawing inter community relationships.

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