By Amar Yumnam
The current year comes to an end and a new year is arriving sooner than we had prepared. This is how life happens particularly for the matured adults who look rather for elongation of life rather than hastening of life processes. This is a certainty. The real problems lie somewhere else. Our existence is surrounded by uncertainties about the social milieu we live in, the future scope for enhancement of life and every other sort of uncertainties. In my last column, I had spoken about it. I would like to end this year with an input to the popular but most convenient concern with culture in Manipur.
Culture is an element in social and societal existence which facilitates the practice of life and the cultivation of social intercourse. This is how the strength of culture is the foundation for any social progress anywhere in the globe. It has no element wherein inconveniencing anyone else is ruled out. But the time is now, and a late now, for Manipur to rethink her claim to the richness of culture. Does the prevailing culture serve the social purpose of relevance for reduction of societal uncertainty? Does it facilitate social interactions rather than thriving on inconveniences for each other?
Let us take a look at how culture is perceived, valued and practised in Manipur today. Well, there are dances, dramas, and other performing arts which people portray and claim as the “rich” culture of Manipur. No doubt, these constitute a strong display of the individual and social practices of the past, and which had helped in reducing the uncertainties of social life and societal existence in the periods gone by. But there is little in these which can reduce the uncertainties of contemporary social life and facilitate the enjoyment of flourishing societal existence. The relevance of the old culture in contemporary existence has been compromised. This phenomenon of decline in the hold of the inherited indigenous culture is happening without being accompanied by any rise in a new culture which replaces the functioning of the old one in a relevant and positive way. One can look at every social life to find examples of this happening. Four decades back, any elder could tackle and control any unruly group of youths, and there could be no retaliation for the command to immediately behave; it was to be respected and not countered. This definitely is a forgotten phase. Further, in the past, the teachers used to command respect and honour in societal life from the taught, and this was very transparent. But today, it is no longer so. On the contrary, the arrogance of the taught is now imposed on the teachers. Still further, in the past, the sereneness of behaviour was socially valued. Now both the value and the sereneness in behaviour are replaced by the capacity to create as much noise and as much inconvenience for the others. This is visible most conspicuously in any traffic anywhere. The youths sound horn in the most horrible way and drive in every conceivable reckless way possible. These are not by any means signs of social progress. But the irony is that this behaviour is salient even within the campus of the highest seat of learning in Manipur, Manipur University. In every educational campus around the globe, from the schools to the universities, one thing avoided is sounding of horns within the limits of the institution. Education and thinking accompanying it happen best in tranquil milieu. But within the Manipur University campus, there is now an intense competition happening between the vehicles of the Very Important Persons and those of the students on relative decibel performance; the higher the decibel the greater is the score to command respect, respectability and space. Another example relating to culture is the change in the content and level of complexity of it. Every society demands rise in the depth, breadth and complexity of education so that the needs of advancement are served. But in Manipur they are conspicuous by their absence. Keeping with the times and endeavouring to keep up with global competitiveness prevail in Manipur only up to the school level education. From the college level till the tertiary, education in Manipur is in shambles. There are no signs of improvement in the capability and competitiveness of the students as produced by the tertiary level education in Manipur. Instead, as stakeholders in this, we do painfully observe unfailing signs of this decline. This definitely is not a positive cultural sign. These, however, are symptoms of social crisis looming large. One can keep on multiplying the examples of cultural decline and non-emergence of a better one in Manipur, but what we need to individually and collectively engage is on how to ameliorate the situation.
The year just ending has been one more painful year in every aspect and component of culture in Manipur. We need to reinvent a new culture that can serve the purpose of relevance in reducing uncertainties of social life and societal existence; this is a challenge for the following years. Personally, this has been a rewarding year in so far as the discovery of a few politician friends. They turn out to be different from the perception of the general public and I feel reassured that all is not lost for Manipur.