There is a timeless saying of Turkish origin, but often attributed to Prophet Mohammed after Francis Bacon did so in an essay once, although his usage too was at best apocryphal. It says: “the mountain did not come to Mohamet so Mohamet went to the mountain,” although the original in Turkish does not bring Mohammad in the picture at all.
The saying has been variously interpreted, and even given radically different meanings, sometimes to malign the presumed pride and obduracy of Mohammed and at other times to praise his humility and willingness to bend to the needs of the time. But all these politics are besides the point. We are only interested in the profound wisdom and the beautiful way of conveying the message that certain things in life are inevitable and beyond our command or volition, therefore it is best to accept them gracefully.
Not only is this about grace, but also ultimately about survival. Since time and tide will wait for no one or follow nobody’s order, obduracy and pride will always end up broken. The taller this pride, the harder the fall would be. Life’s intuitive survival strategy under the circumstance is to learn to be resilient. The story of evolution has been about this primarily, and species which have been most successful in evolutionary terms are those which have been most resilient and have learned to adapt to adverse circumstances and prosper in them as much as they would have in less challenging times.
Let us then never forget to remind ourselves of the metaphor of the immovable mountain whenever we are faced with problems which would not go away much as we wish they did. Let us acknowledge that certain conditions are given and cannot change, and when we are confronted with such conditions, the only way to overcome them is for us to be a little humble and change our approach. This would be in the spirit of another saying that when a question seems to have no answer, the best way to get around the problem is to change the question. Yes, very often, it is the questions we ask in exasperation which are flawed, therefore their answers too have remained elusive.
Needless to say we encounter these immovable mountains in so many different forms routinely. Equally obvious is that we have also often been swayed by the emotions of the times to ask questions which can have no real answers. Needless again to be in any doubt that we have been, more often than not, too obdurate to admit the flaws in our approaches to our problems, and therefore never considered changing our questions.
It is now time for us to take stock of things before they slip beyond rescue. From the immediate to the long term, there are so many issues we have to readjust and reorient our problem solving approach towards. It would indeed be fruitful for all to sit back and reflect on as many of these endemic and seemingly intractable problems we have been burdened with and see how we can reframe our approaches to them.
Let everybody agree to work towards a solution to our collective problems, without resorting to the easy way out of expecting things to change on their own, or as in the adage that the mountains would come to us. If it is necessary that we have to climb any mountain, we have to go to the mountain first.
For many of our endemic problems, such as bringing about a resolution to Manipur’s infamous hill-valley divide, everybody would have to be ready for a consensual voice built on a foundation of equitable justice and rationality. A victory that comes out of the defeat of another will never be lasting for one day or the other, the defeated will find a way to get back and seek retribution. It has to be a victory where every stake holder is a victor, enjoying the fruits as well as bearing the responsibilities as mandatory obligations.
The immovable mountain imagery also comes to mind in considering the insurgencies in Manipur. It is time to revisit and see if the questions which once seemed inevitable are still relevant, and if new questions need to be reframed in their stead to make this problem begin to appear to have tangible answers. So much has changed in the six or seven decades which have elapsed since the original questions began to be asked. It may turn out our friends once are no longer friends just as our enemies once are no longer enemies.
To define and fight a present war on 70 year old slogans would betray a complete failure of understanding of not just our imagined enemies and friends, but the self as well. The battlefronts probably have transformed, and it is likely they are today more about “connectivity, community and competition”, to borrow the Asian Development Bank’s motto in its ambitious Greater Mekong Subregion, project.
It may also be what lie unseen are not as optimistic, but at least let us do the courtesy of agreeing to strike the refresh button now, and periodically, to make sure the issues so many so passionately are engaged with, are current and have not become redundant without our knowing it. Let us be wary so as not to be caught in a Rip Van Winkle paradox of being caught with an old world psychology in a totally new world order.
Editor, Imphal Review of Arts and Politics and author