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Saturday, May 26, 2007

Death Flower

The green hills and mountains turned yellow in Mizoram, Manipur and different parts of the North-East states. Mizoram is the epicentre of the dreaded natural phenomena, the gregarious bamboo flowering. They called it the return of horror. Fear, apprehension, and anxieties grow bigger for the villagers with the gregarious bamboo flowering (mautam) threatening them. The gloom blooms. Scientists explained them in hallowed halls and expensive seminars and platform without much solution. What the villagers knew is that the menace has returned. Fear of hunger is immense. Insecurity grows taller and bigger than their hills and mountains. It gnaws them day and night when immediate alternatives and solutions, though desirable, is far from sight. When no one is responsible for the natural phenomena, who would be responsible for the plights of the affected people that will persist for a while? But a while could render them, if not lifeless, helpless and hopeless.

The natural phenomena has been recorded to have happened in 1862, 1881, 1911-12 and 1959 too. All of them resulted in severe famine. According to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology, Environment and Forests 159th Report, the 1959 famine claimed between 10,000 and 15,000 lives in Mizoram, Tripura, Manipur and Barak Valley of Assam. In the midst of hunger and helplessness, Mizo National Famine Front converted Mizoram’s sink in misery to gain political mileage, which was also followed by the 20 years of insurgency that wrest the State. The ghost of the death flower returns not only to render the villagers hopeless, but also to rap MNF government who are the surrogate sons of the same flower that bloomed in 1958-1959. On Apri19, 2007, Zoram Kuthnathlawktute Pawl (ZKP), which is Mizoram’s largest workers, labours and farmers union took to the street in Aizawl to protest against the corruption of fund that was allocated to them by the Centre in the wake of the impending famine. The protesting farmers were called “poor” (mirethei) and “peasants from the hills” (thingtlang loneitu), when they arrived at Aizawl to protest. The President of the organisation said that Mizoram will be seeing darker days if their plights are not addressed. Does it make any sense for Zoramthanga who is in blissful hangover after the State hosted chains of fashion show, concert, anthurium festival, supermodel hunt, peace festival and what not. The demands of the protesters are humane and valid as they asked the government to release the funds that were provided by the Centre to counter the famine threat that they are already confronting. They also asked the government to buy their ginger, which MNF has promised to do so for Rs. 10 per kilo from their doorstep. MNF government prepared a three-pronged action plan under the project dubbed Bamboo Flowering and Famine Combat Scheme (BAAFACOS) amounting to Rs. 500 crore to stall the impending famine. The central government has sanctioned an interim amount of Rs. 60 crore pending a thorough examination of the detailed action plan by its experts. The farmers in Mizoram indeed celebrated when the MNF government announced that they would buy ginger from them for that prized price. It encouraged the farmers to grow ginger too. But today, the MNF government is not buying the ginger. Besides, they are not using the funds to reach the affected people’s plights. To add salt to their wounded plights, H Rammawi, Agriculture Minister recently asked the farmers to grow turmeric.

Villagers in Manipur’s Tipaimukh, situated in Mizoram border, are also helplessly watching their hills grow yellow. Everyday, they wake up to be reminded by the threatening colour that put a big question to their life. After confronting the threat of landmines and displacement in the end of 2005 and early part of 2006 respectively, they are now threatened by famine. I was told that in Parbung, one of the biggest villages in Tipaimukh, a little less than 100 families only have enough grains to last them this year out of the 500 families. The cases are worse in other villages. Meanwhile, newspapers in Imphal and Churachandpur reported that Churachandpur PDS food items are not going anywhere beyond Imphal. What about the funds that the government of Manipur received from the Centre to combat famine in the hill districts? Unlike their counterparts in Mizoram, farmers in Tipaimukh have no idea and access to resort to protest language. Does it make any sense for Okram Ibobi Singh whose silence over everything that should matter continues unconcerned?

It is fortunate that there is no farmer’s suicide to associate the death flower. In the two states, farmers still practised the primitive jhum cultivation. If we stumble on what Article 48 of the Indian Constitution says, it mentioned that the State should endeavour to organise agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines. However, any knowledge and know how with modern and scientific strength and leverage has not even visited the place. The question of that desirable spark staying there is still a big challenge before the state. I don’t know if those people are also counted for the nearly 50 percent of the world’s hungry population that India shelters according to recent UN report. Even if they are not taken into that statistic, the villagers who are feverishly observing the bloom of the death flower are in hunger.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Translation, version and memories

I never asked if I was born when the moon was brightest. Or if it was raining when I was born to be stamped the innocent sinner. But August in Tamenglong, where I was born, received heavy rainfall and hail that melt to lose its whiteness. If my grandparents happen to be one of those Israelites during the Biblical time, with their bloody hands, it would have justified the belief that I was a sinner when I was born. Otherwise not. But my father would not be free from sin when I was born. That, then, would be enough to make me a sinner. As I grew up, not in Monday school, but Sunday school, I was injected the sinner’s doses in beautiful dramatic lessons. That was further substantiated by the doomed warning that I would be in hell if I remain to be what I was when I was born. That not only scared me but also disturbed me a lot when I was a kid. I did never overdose for the simple reason that it could not be. Even if one could, the beautiful game is that one would not see the Kingdom come by being good. I was given the right dose that becomes a strict affair in the family too. But my innocence never asked or questioned. My conscience did not. My reason did not. Everything was accepted with without. Without questioning. Without reasoning. However, to not question or reason would be to fulfill Marx’s explanation of religion as the opium of the masses.

I remember it gnaws more conservatively where I was born. Translation in search of the truth would take many decades more out there as the first one was accepted as something that had the touch of the hand of God. Or that holy breathe. Even the mistaken punctuation becomes holy and untouchable. As if romancing the saying that the sweetest is with the first bite. That not only had a degenerating impact on their literature, songs, but also on their mindset. Meager would be more polite to speak about the absence. There is, no doubt, the abundant error, and unclear texts, though translated. Even then, His love still has salvation for us. But the need for translation would, even if it were realized, would have to negotiate the terrain of numb and paralysed conservativeness, if not the sink of doctrinal fundamentalism. It was not strange when L Keivom, translator of Delhi Edition Bible, found himself standing alone, though not lonely, when he pursued the calling for translation.

Last week, HSA Delhi and Sekibusuok editorial board organized a seminar on Translation, Literature and Vision at Jawaharlal Nehru University. That was an almost, if not it, Marx superstructure topic, when our people are struggling for unbuttered bread. It led one into serious thinking, questioning and introspection. What interest me were the strong foreign cultural memories that are embedded firmly in our belief system, which has already become a part and parcel of our culture and value system. It has actually become our worship system. There are many questions. Can a globalize religion do without a tribal culture? Is it necessary for a globalize religion to inherit and survive on a tribal cultural memories? Does faith have to thrive and live on a worldly culture?

Do we need to decolonize our religious mindset? Too many things are embraced blindly without any question. We allow distortions of history. I don’t really know, but I haven’t seen any dry aged skull in any Hmar or Mizo villages. I have seen them adorning the houses in several Naga villages. But the despised history, which is ours, has it that our forefathers were headhunters in the days clogged with incurable darkness. Does that mean there are skeletons in our closet? Otherwise, our celebrated dances portrays volumes about overflowing love, courting, and all those sophisticated moves any Romeo or Juliet of the time would have exhibit to win their preyed heart and soul. The question again is how did we translate those oral history, which we still have traces of them in our inherited cultural memories, to our understanding of our past. For us culture transmits or imparts our historical reality through the oral ancestors that are reflected in our songs and dances. The rest is composed to invade and win the land and its people that Columbus has long discovered. But our version of history that is winning hearts beyond borders, which has us as headhunter is very recent. Another question is, are we telling this history because it is too convenient?

If the Lamb of God was translated as the pig of God in Papua New Guinea, something must have been done with us too. If not, it won’t be right. If not, it won’t be true. If not we may even have to. There is valid reason in Martin Luther’s saying that literal Latin is a great obstacle to speaking good German. It certainly would do worse for us. In Papua New Guinea any pig is holier than ten lamb or goat. Maybe hundred. There is a reason to speak in the language of one’s history, culture and value system if we desire to deliver understanding and acceptance. Like turning the water into wine. There is a need for it so that the message of salvation is delivered. Imagine failing to sow the seed of salvation to a ‘dark’ and ‘dim’ continent merely because of the choice of lamb over pig. Culture should act as the filter to our understanding, which was rightly practiced in Papua New Guinea. One desireable evidence where the Son of Man could win, but not Columbus. It would be an unrecoverable loss to sacrifice one’s identity, history and culture to the embedded seduction of an imagined superior and glorious culture in the name of salvation. L Keivom also acknowledged that Hmar is no inferior to English or Hebrew. Cultures that are foreign slipped in the guises of the words and songs of salvation. It is no surprise today when we quest for white, shining and glittering Christmas with cakes, Santa Claus and jingle bells. But Oh! We also have children running around with sophisticated toy guns in combat dresses for Christmas. Besides, we have every sort of cult group multiplying. Some of them have even gained popular acceptance. Sub-culture and call it sub-history also grows along them. Sometimes I wonder if they are also the sons and daughters of the failed translation. Once bitten twice shy. Unknowingly, we treated them as sacred, sanctified, sacrosanct and untouchable. I wonder if this cheap version is due to our failed translation. Or due to weak memories of our history and culture. Or due to the weakness of our history and culture.Or merely because of the supposed holy man whom Martin Luther called “incurable fellows.”

Friday, May 11, 2007

Journalistic Orphans

The headlines making race in Imphal’s newspaper is an interesting observe. There is a growing feeling that many a times it left behind deserving news and issues of the hill districts, which is unexplained. It doesn’t need any explanation for that matter. However, it is always compelled to accommodate as news when it is overblown. But when it could reach Imphal, though lately, which is due to compelled “inaccessibility”, the stale news is contested and questioned. The popular game always takes the front seat while the voiceless and helpless victims are cornered in the backseat. I realized that we have been acculturating the game of contesting and questioning of our own people’s sufferings. There are strong unwanted reasons for the adopted culture. One, the truth is too inconvenient. Second, the absence of convenient accessibility and connectivity makes it difficult for the news to reach Imphal, which is the place that matters, if the sufferings of the helpless lot are to be converted into news or issue. Thirdly, the inability for any local reporter to track news or issues and reach the affected areas in the hills. That’s almost unimaginable in most of the situations. Unfortunately, if the late arrival of the news cannot be strengthened by some sort of popular ex-pression in the form of protest, dharna, bandh or strike, the gravity of the situation is ignored if not negated. On the other hand, the local newspaper in several dialects/languages that are available in the hill districts failed to deliver anything to the larger population.

There are many questions attached to our adopted culture. Are we doing what we are doing because we have communalised issues? Or ethnicised issues? This could be reason where we have practically stopped seeing the collective representation of issues and sufferings of the voiceless people from the fringe areas. If there is something called the clash of civilizations in the global village outside Manipur, the evidence of the clash of understanding the gap created by our own imposing geography, diverse culture and social realities is written large in our adopted culture. These are reasons that carve our embedded identities, where we live with another layers of unreason mentality. Unquestionable at times. This is when we allow two sides to grow and pitted them as if to watch the game of survival of the fittest. But such adversarial system has flaws that show no mercy to any miseries. In the process of the contest that actually get systematised, corruption creeps in where power of all sorts is exercised, leaving no space for truth or justice. It seems that adversarialism has become the predominant strand in Manipur. As a result, competitive contestation and questioning practices have become institutionalized norms in any public sphere. This always dimmed the prospect of identifying any constructive alternatives and options in this age of demanding interdependence, where we severely lacked. What we have failed to do is our inability to question the practice of adversarialism. We desperately try to play the winning game, if there is any, than see the real situations affecting the grass roots, which blinded us altogether.

Manipur is pregnant with different tribes and community who vary in their way of presenting plights and issues. The potentialities as well as the access to that are also one stark gap, which we must care to understand. This is when our situation demands a relook, not only into our realities but also in our human nature as well as social structure. For instance it is easy for anyone to bring anything to everyone’s attention in any constituency in the valley than in the hill constituencies for the simple reason of easy accessibilities and connectivity. For those constituencies in the hills where there is no road connectivity, newspaper or telephone, the village runner or crier still serves the means of inter-village communications even today. There is a tendency for the brilliant contesters to situate such realities to some African lives, but we should be reminded about such relevant practice in many hill districts of Manipur. The science of telephone, now that it has popularly become mobile, and its usage or the privilege of doorstep newspaper delivery is a thing of strange if not absent or new to these people who still barter many of their daily needs. Imagine a situation where the pulpit serves closest to something collective. Imagine a place where their elected representative come seeking for merciful votes once in five years on helicopter. They are people who still did not know that they are living with big news and issues. They did not know the importance of news or issue even. Many of them did not even know that they are living in Manipur or India. The village is a world to them.
Everything outside that remains as outsiders. They indulged in the absence of everything, if it could be. In that context, the resort to conventional evidences in the form of FIR or medical report in any situation that affects such people lives, dignity and rights reveals more of our ignorance than our intelligence in dealing with issues and matters that affects them. It is a scathe. The demand for such documents when many of the affected people have not even seen a police station or hospital is a big disgrace to their untold miseries. The approach is a deliberate exercise of shielding them from receiving the desired trust, understanding, sympathy, empathy or justice. They are at big loss. There is no winning for them. Even if they could, we created no room for it.

As a result news or issues, in the fringe hills and mountains of Manipur, about the loss of lives from landmines, displacement, sexual molestation and rape, malarial death, the horror of bamboo flowering, famine, unemployment, absence of law and order and governance, absence of welfare and development, primitive agricultural practise, and the absence of things that enhance degeneration remains unaddressed. Unaccomodated. Unrepresented. They just remain. Similarly, the serious issues of drug abuse, wildfire like spreading of HIV, gun culture, which is rampant in the more urban areas of Manipur also remains untouched. The issues as well as the affected people-journalistic orphans.

Friday, May 4, 2007

All things cruel sans beautiful

One block away from where we live I saw men in Khakis and a crowd that keeps multiplying. They have been gathering since 4pm in the evening. The drama, whatever it was, went late into the night till the next morning, which was 2:30 am to 3am.

Post dinner I went to enquire as local medias had even arrived with reinforcement like strengthening on the part of the police. As if they had save the best for the last, I got a place where I could have the best view of the events and its developments.

Not only that, there was an overweight lady just next to me who seems to have difficulties moving. But her detail report to me was delivered perfectly as the swiftest runner would have run a track. I was too sorry for what was taking place with that big audience that was getting bigger and the media who will never spare the story.

The fittest runner-like reporter told me that in the house that everyone was facing lived an old mother and her only son. The old lady’s husband died few years ago. She also had a daughter who is married. The fateful thing was that the only son was driving her only mother away from her house.

After the intolerable fighting and threats by the son, the mother was asked to leave the house. That was when the police intervened. The neighbours showed good population, as if it was to show off the proud billion nation.

But not good neighbourliness. It was painful as they were just waiting and expecting to see off the next development. Indeed our ability to reach people in need is shrinking to an alarming low level. Our reactions are getting limited to watching them silently. Foot dragging. What more?
The poor lady was seated on a chair in front of her gate as the policemen were wrapping her clothes and belongings with bed sheets. She sat lonelier than a broken heart. I was wondering if those bed sheets were used to lull the son to sleep when he was born.

The old mother had white hair that looks milky under the candescent bulb that is already consuming too many power. Dim, yellow output of the banned bulb formed a good mood for what the old woman was going through. I realized the good reason behind its banning. But she needs brighter light. She deserves the brightest.Something that could light her towards a new life. Her hair must have been shining black when her only son was a foetus. That celebrated foetus. Still a quest for the productive billion race. It is unfortunate to see a race in that quest. Women are merely seen as girl-bearing wretch.

The old woman sat besides a policeman, who was writing her report. Her aged face shows inexpressable emotions. Her face was weaved with lines. Old lines. Those lines showed heavily on her face. They look heavy and weary. Like the garden of burden. I said to myself, all things cruel sans beautiful.

The following day I scanned for newspapers that would carry the report of the sad event. It was not reported anywhere. Maybe it was too small an issue when there’s popular brutal practice of female foeticide. Like the selective abortion of female foetuses, life is a brittle verge of all things beautiful for the old woman too.

It is disturbing when girls are not even welcome to be born and when mothers are driven out of homes. Is this the celebration of patriarchy? I thought we are already products of generation that saw the defeated patriarchal figure that was hidden everywhere. Is this memory coming back to life? Or is this a cultivated culture of the sick memories.

I resorted to reading the alarming reports on how human beings have been destroying our vulnerable environment. Rivers running to a thinning trickle. Clogged dirty air. Unstable weather and climate moving extremely appalling. Man made detrimental pollution.

What’s ahead, then? Environment related wars and conflicts. What else? The prospect is predicted to be worse. I saw that as more than a complaint or doomsayers prediction.

But the last that any man could do after finding his helplessness. The concern has lately attained a core collective issue. In swift response Sydney deliberately switched off its lights for an hour to deliver the message of saving resources and cutting down on the greenhouse effect. Manipur is always switched off. Shall we prize ourselves for doing the best in cutting down greenhouse effects? Recently, the United Nations Security Council also discussed on saving the world from all sorts of depletion and scarcity besides the alarm attached to that. What have the sons done again?

As I reflect, I was reminded of the book of Genesis where the first woman was portrayed as the first sinner and blamed for that first bite that changed eternity.

Is this why her foetus goes to the drain? Or is this why she was driven out of her house. Is that man on work again? But the desperate eligible hormones bursting Adam’s tribe are multiplying everywhere.They have invaded the newspapers. Some with black and white advertisement. Some with poor colours. But they still seem to be making their choice.

If it were not for the fair, it would be for the lovely. But all things cruel sans beautiful.