Faring forward

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As we enter a new year, it is time for us all to reflect and see what have been our flaws and shed them. One of these flaws as we see is, like in any insecure societies, the tendency in Manipur too to look for succour in the past. It is as if the past was ideal and never had any of problems, although any study of history will confirm how fallacious this presumption has always been. But somehow, the passage of time has always served to mellow and exonerate all the flaws of the past. In the span of a few generations, the past has always succeeded in earning a hallowed place in the society’s memory. While this is the way human nature works, sometimes such nostalgia of the past can take the extreme path to begin resembling symptoms of regression – a condition defined in psychiatry as an ego defence mechanism in which the patient flee from reality by assuming a more infantile state. There are two very obvious problems with this. One, as mentioned earlier, no past is flawless as the patient tries to interpret it to be. Two, as the obsession becomes more severe, the patient becomes paralysed in his false world, failing miserably to deal with the present or look forward to the future. Ratan Thiyam articulated this problem beautifully in his celebrated play ‘Nine Hills One Valley’ in which he awakens the “Maichous” of the hoary past, the scholarly writers of the Puya and history, from their graves, to make them write Manipur’s history again. They end up writing virtually the same history as we know it today, reminding us of how all ages have their shares of heroism and courage, as well as flaws and foibles. While understanding the past and knowing one’s roots is vital, life’s challenge must be to leave the past behind and to always look ahead. Taking a cue from the Gita, American poet, T.S. Eliot calls for very much the same thing in ‘Four Quartets’ when he writes “…fare forward voyager. Not fare well but fare forward”.

It must also be said, writing history, especially when it is of prolonged conflict situations as in Manipur and much of the Northeast, would obviously be so much simpler for those who won. In fact, it is often said, and convincingly too, that in wars nothing else matters but winning. A powerful outlook, not easily refutable, but nevertheless one which is behind very mean approaches to life, such as the conviction held by so many that the end justifies the means, or everything is fair in love and war etc. So much has changed ever since wars were the primary determinants of the progress and status of nations, and now, even the vanquished are back on their feet, writing their own histories and providing fresh perspectives on subjects which once were never given the place they deserve. The decolonisation process is complete now, at least physically and politically, and all former colonies are now liberated, although psychologically colonial legacies still remain as dark shadows. The abiding spirit in these modern democratised times is no longer one of ‘end justifies means’ but of equality and empowerment as guarantors of justice. But if historiography of the conquerors was marked by a general arrogance, the prospect of history writing by the newly arisen vanquished, is beset with its own problems as we have mentioned above.

The challenge before society such as ours is to resurrect a dead and defeated spirit and this can best be by overcoming the trauma of defeat, and to rediscover lost pride in the self. The understandable resort has too often been to lionise almost unconditionally past heroes and with the same brush vehemently demonise their vanquishers. The danger is, this path to rediscovery of the self may not be always truthful. Not only can this leave gaping holes in scholarship trends, but also make the resurrected self still not enough in grip of reality. True, overcoming the trauma of a vanquished past cannot by any means an easy task. For it to be successful, it must involve intense, even painful, internal discourses before the final liberation can happen. This liberation can come about only when the subject is able to face the truth without any camouflage and then build from that foundation. Few have argued this point more convincingly than Prof. Cathy Caruth in her book ‘Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative, and History’. In the chapter “Literature and the Enactment of Memory”, as Thiyam has done, she also show us what it is to undertakes a metaphoric journey to the past, and how redeeming it can be to know the past is not as ideal as imagined. Perhaps, what is necessary for Manipur is also a metaphorical journey to the past and a date with the maichous for a fresh discourse on its past, present and future.

IFP Editorial

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