All work and no play make Jack a dull boy. But no work and no play would probably make Jack good for nothing. Once upon a time the local playfields everywhere in the state were teeming with life and activities after school and college hours. These undersized playgrounds, as we all know, have also been the anvils on which the sinews and grits of many international sports stars were forged. Today many of them are metaphorically dead, especially in the Imphal area. The grass on them which once could never be green because of too many feet trampling them perpetually, today grow in wild abandon on many. For now, instead of sporting activities, there are only young, idle, unemployed, unlettered boys hanging around, doing nothing except watching the road and wait for the day to pass so that another equally meaningless one could begin. Once upon a time they looked forward with impatience for the afternoon’s bout of robust hockey or football, the choice depending on the vagaries of the seasons, but today if there is anything they eagerly await, it probably is Yaoshang festivities in March and Durga Pujain October, where they can play chefs de mission of the gaiety that accompany these functions in every locality.
Competitive sports bring laurels and reputations for the state, but sports even at the informal level, played with an appetite for fun by children and youth on village and suburban playfields, as any psychologists would testify, have always had much more far-reaching social functions. As for instance, these are vital spaces where children are introduced to their first lessons in socialisation, teamwork, besides harnessing their inherent aggression into productive competitiveness. Today, this vital social institution, like so many others in this beleaguered land, is beginning to decay. This is lamentable. On the one side, the quality of sportsmen and women produced from the state which have stunned the rest of the country repeatedly, predictably would decline if the trend is allowed to continue unchecked. But beyond this, a lumpenised society where there are no sublimated outlets for the natural instinctual aggressions can get implosive. We may already be witnessing the latter phenomenon in the unprecedented rise of violence, drugs abuse, juvenile delinquency and promiscuity, and in general, a widespread lack of respect for law or order in recent times. There can be no doubt the popular rhetoric that the shrinking number of playgrounds in Manipur may actually be directly proportional to the rise in violence and lawlessness, contains a great deal of truth.
If this is agreed upon, then one of the missions in the effort to check the deterioration of order and discipline in our society would be to reverse this trend. It must be generally acknowledged that sports do not have a meaning only at the formal level of medal hunt, but is also an indispensable safety valve to release instinctual aggression in a society and give these energies creative channels. In this effort, much of the responsibility rests with the communities which must activate itself to reawaken a tradition which has so successfully given them an unparalleled balance of mind and matter over the centuries. Besides the bigger sporting extravaganzas that the state gets to see, community level unofficial mini tournaments that were routine a few decades ago, must be revived. The government too has a big role in this. It must apply its mind and resources to ensure the success of this social enterprise. It must evolve a policy to assist and encourage village communities, in the case of the districts, and local youth clubs in the urban and sub-urban contexts, to develop their respective playgrounds and to organise tournaments at different levels. We definitely would want to see the state’s many playgrounds come alive again. There is so much talk of there being no lasting military solution to violence and lawlessness. The predictable alternative so many prescribe by rote without substantiating is “a political solution”. Whatever that is, maybe a bit of unobtrusive social engineering, such as giving local playgrounds some added official and community focus, would also do wonders.