Imphal Review of Arts and Politics

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Balancing the stability provided by tradition on one hand and and the need for change on the other is a continual challenge

Balancing Tradition and Change Without Denying Either is What Makes a Sane Society

In the face of the ever metamorphosing and increasingly chaotic reality that has come to define Manipur, it is pertinent to periodically check on the hold even the society’s most cherished values still commands. Although a little less frequent these days, once upon a time media shutdowns against intimidation in their normal discharge of duty on account of threats by the faction ridden underground organisations was commonplace, leaving the question in all media practitioners’ mind, whether it is really true that the pen is mightier than the sword. Or conversely, does power flow out of the barrel of the gun?

The truth also is, for far too often have the people of this beleaguered state chosen to live in a make-believe world of slogans and sloganeering, placing amazing faith in their literal veracity – even to the extent of being superstitious. History, politics, inter-community relationship and even notions of truth and justice have all come to be confined within a handful of slogans. This is despite the fact that so very often these slogans have been proven to have no more power than myths. With stubborn insistence however, our society continues to hang on to these slogans. Not just the idea of the power of the pen, but also of the “will of the public”, packed into what has probably come to be the most overused and trivialised slogan of modern time – “meeyamgi apamba”, is another prominent example. Every street agitator claims to be driven by this public will, but nobody has ever explained the mechanism by which this public will is gauged or determined. A unique poverty of imagination continues to restrict vision of the future, and here we are, a society trapped in a time warp.

The pen can be mightier than the gun, only if certain civilizational values that have come to be associated with the pen are allowed to remain intact. Since the march of civilisation has come to be synonymous with the democratisation process, the belief that the pen is mightier than the gun can only be true if the values of democracy have been internalised enough to make it a sacrilege to overturn them. Divest civilizational or democratic norms from this slogan, and it will become empty and the equation between the pen and the gun would have radically changed too.

To explain by analogy, we were all taught in some extremely well-conceived nursery rhymes in the vernacular during the 1960s and 1970s, that parents were divinities before your very eyes. Such moral lessons ingrained into the mind of every child since they became conscious of the world around them, was what made disrespect of any elder and not just parents seem a sin to most. A string of such archetypal civilizational values also was what gave everybody a worldview where rights and wrongs were not difficult to conceive or arbitrate. If these values become dead, so would the initial postulates that parents are living divinities. Weak and ailing elders and parents would then suddenly become extremely vulnerable, and sadly indeed they are becoming so in today’s increasingly soulless world.

It is with lament that we note the way civilizational values that once determined out outlook to the world around us are senselessly being allowed to erode. True the world is changing and so must our values. But the changes that come to our traditional values must be evolutionary in nature, and not determined by arbitrary whims and fancies of anybody or any organisation. As Topol, the protagonist in the Broadway musical classic of the 1970s, “Fiddle on the Roof” said, it is tradition which keeps the sanity of a society intact, and that without tradition, we would all be as rudderless as a “fiddler on the roof”.

Sadly, this seems to be where our society is headed. The ruthlessly selfish are destroying our age-old traditions in the name of modernity, leaving the society no time to come up with new etiquettes to moderate the daily negotiation of the labyrinth of modern life. We need only to look at the emerging wild and lawless territory of the so called social media to confirm this tragedy. Like the internet, there are other frontiers of the new world order that will have to be moderated by values born from our innate sense of propriety inherited from our civilizational past. The resilience of a society is in its ability to come up with these norms of propriety to meet new challenges time continually throws up. But let those eager for ushering in revolutionary change also remember they too are subject to these need for change, and that their own notions of enemies and friends may not be any more the reality of our changed times.

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