It is easy to say the beginning of a calendar New Year is the time to ring out the old and ring in the new. Millions after millions are now accustomed to repeating this by rote, or cultivated intuition if you may call it, year after year. It is however unlikely not many of all those who willingly drown and lose themselves in the tidal wave of New Year euphoria are unaware how extremely difficult it is in practice to either ring out the old or ring in the new. All the same, it is one time in a year when a willing suspension of disbelief is well worth the while. Perhaps this very exercise of conditioning oneself to immerse completely in a transitory world of make believe for a few days in a year has a therapeutic value, even if the date fixed as the beginning of a year is arbitrary, much like weekends in the smaller cycle of the week on the same calendar. In a circle there is neither a beginning nor an end, hence putting these markers would have to be a matter of fiat of the powers that be. In the olden days, this would be of a monarch and in the modern world that of the government of the day. It is also telling that except in the modern mind which has been conditioned to believe it is new, there is nothing new about a frozen January 1 when half the living world is in deep hibernation or else have migrated to warmer climes.
As is also so mistakenly believed by many, January 1 as New Year is not a Christian date either. Its origin stretches back to the days of the Romans who in the year 153BC decided this date which coincided with the beginning of a civil war, to be the beginning of a new year. Till 1582 when the Gregorian Calendar adopted the tradition, it is said early Christians actually forbade the celebration of New Year as it was considered pagan. (Numerous versions of New Year celebration history tell the same story and many of them are available on the internet, one of which is at www.infoplease.com/spot/newyearhistory.html). For Christians, December 25 would have been a much more significant and relevant marker on the Calendar as New Year day. For much of the indigenous world, the first day after the vernal equinox on the lunar calendar, or the first day of spring, is New Year day. Bihu and Cheiraoba in the Northeast region are just two of these. These dates are a little less arbitrary too for they mark the beginning of a visible regenerative cycle of the natural world. This is not a case for a shift in calendar New Year though. This is just a reminder of how our sense of new and old year is just a matter of tuning the mind. Since we have all tuned it to January 1, this is indeed a great day for everybody. Whether empirically supported or not, at least the psychological catharsis this date brings is tangible.
The sense of renewal that the world feels on January 1 indeed is a very fine example of what Jason Silva provocatively termed as co-creation of reality by the objective and the subjective worlds. Reality is what is there in quantifiable terms in the objective world but this is only one half of the entire truth. The other half comes from the mind’s subjective interpretation of this objective condition. The two together is what makes reality complete. Hence, nobody can today say that the sense of renewal, wellbeing and elation the world goes through on New Year day, have no basis in reality. Considering the profusion of joy, hope and optimism the day is celebrated with everywhere on the globe, if a study were to be done, the dopamine released into the bloodstream of humans of today in general on this day, would be of epiphanic proportions.
New Year is real. So what should it mean for Manipur to ring out the old and ring in the new on January 1 this year? This is a wish list, and a plea for all to make it make it a common pledge. For a beleaguered state like Manipur, this list can be long, but to bring them all up at once can overwhelm and intimidate, therefore become counterproductive and serve as a recipe for resignation and inaction. Hence we name just three for this year.
Foremost of these is the new toxic inter-ethnic suspicion and hatred in the wake of a new wave of anti-immigrant sentiments. This has been also in many ways accentuating the hill-valley divide in newer ways. Let it be clear to all that no community domiciled in Manipur as of today can or will disappear into thin air no matter what. To push for such an eventuality would only feed to the potential for more social venom and turmoil which can only be to the determent of all in the long run. Under the circumstance, accommodation and partnership, rather than exclusion and hostility, can be the only progressive way forward. In this equation, it will help nobody to not recognize and understand each other’s genuine insecurities and concerns. It will be even more unhelpful to seek to push any community into a corner. It is hence time for all communities to give a serious mind to the greater common good, rather than to their closeted inward-looking concerns alone. It is true unregulated immigration can seriously upset the demographic balance in a small state like ours, but let us all put our minds together and study the problem rationally so that rational and humane solutions can become visible, rather than work up xenophobic frenzies.
The second wish is for the end to an old and endemic problem Manipur has been stymied with – official corruption. Let nobody be fooled that this scourge is far from being banished. Every transfer and posting, every new government job created, every file movement in government offices even for routine official work continue to command a monetary price. The extreme disparities in wealth, incrementally visible in our society once marked by an egalitarian culture only a few generations ago, is evidence. If this disparity came about because of different levels of individual enterprise and industry, there would not have been so too much sense of injustice, but when this is seen as happening because of corruption and nepotism, the residue of discontent in the society can reach an explosive threshold. This sense of injustice has been one of the chief underlying reasons for young men and women coming to be attracted to the call for violent overturning of the social order.
The third wish is for Manipur and all its people to rediscover the pride in themselves and in their common homeland. This will entail an improved economy that is self-sustaining, where everybody willing to work can find suitable work and respectable income. Living on borrowed money, or on the charity of the Central government cannot ever be a source of this pride. For such a reality to dawn, it will require visionary leadership and a people with faith in a system that has rewards for the meritorious and industrious. To underscore this point, let all be reminded that while the universal euphoric sense of renewal January 1 brings is refreshing, real changes for the better do not come automatically with the turn of a calendar year. They have to be earned with unremitting commitment to peace and justice, ingenuity in approach to problems, and above all, a willingness to put in hard and honest work.
Editor, Imphal Review of Arts and Politics and author