It is another year today. While all of us are justified in rejoicing the change of a year, let us also remember, a new year is new only to the extent everybody’s calendar schedules will change. In an interesting way, this is yet another case of the co-creation of reality by what are objective phenomena external to us, and our subjective internal world. We created the calendar and now the calendar is in many substantive ways creating our reality.
True everybody likes to leave memory behind, the bad ones to be forgotten and the good ones to be recalled, ruminated and relished on days of aloneness. While these are all justified longings, let it also be remembered that much as we desire it, memories, even those we wish to forget, have a nasty habit of lingering and resurfacing. As for the actual events that memories are constituted of, regardless of whether we forget them, they will remain, and if these are unresolved problems, will return to haunt us whether we like it or not. The only way we can put them to conclusive rest is by taking the problems head on and resolving them even if this involves immense pain.
So even as we leave behind a calendar year and enter a new one, let this then be also an occasion to reflect on what our problems were in the past and whether those problems are no more a cause for worry.
Despite all the tall political claims of having ushered back normalcy, therefore rule of law, the question will remain as to whether this seeming calm is only superficial or whether beneath this relative tranquillity, the undercurrents of the old troubles are very much around needing only the proverbial spark to set up new raging infernos. The two ambushes, one at Behiang in Manipur and the other at Oting in Nagaland, are only two reminders the old potential for troubles have still not been defused. Over and above these, there were also several rumbles of dangerous ethnic rivalries over land, identity, entitlements etc.
Much have already been written about these problems in Manipur and the Northeast, and it is not the intent of this article to go over them again. The vantage of most of these written materials has also been on the shortfalls of the establishment on its approach to the problem – whether there have been too much or too little of either the stick or the carrot.
Important as these discussions are, there is another side to the problem which is seldom addressed. What about the part of those who feel aggrieved by the ways of the establishment and therefore are led into resistance movements, often violent ones? What must be the part for them in bringing about a final resolution? I write as a subject of these problems who attempts to externalize his own problem and analyse – or as a ‘subject-analyst’ as trauma scholars such as Saul Friedlander and Dominick La Capra have put it.
The general tendency is for these ‘subjects’ to be obsessively aggrieved of historical wrongs, often making them appear trapped in a past warp, impairing their ability to assess accurately the present or future projections. This is a state of being close to what Freud described as ‘Melancholia’ in his essay ‘Mourning and Melancholia’. In ‘Melancholia’ the aggrieved begins to take perverse narcissistic pleasure in the state of his misfortune, with the tendency therefore of helping perpetuate the condition. In ‘Mourning’ the aggrieved takes the courage to distinguish between what are dead, therefore unretrievable, and what are living, therefore needing to overcome whatever adversities in order to find the room to move forward.
Every new year is a great time to recall this irrefutable reality that things change and as the saying goes, time and tide wait for no man. I do acknowledge again that a calendar year is just a reminder of this constant change, and definitely not any agent effecting this change.
This said, not changing with the tide of time has two very obvious consequences. If the person who is thus stubborn is in a position of power, that person will most likely come to resemble a fascist incrementally until the inevitable fall does come about. Nobody, absolutely nobody can withstand time forever. This is also encapsulated beautifully in the Manipuri saying: “Waton na wanglaga kwak na phumdek-ee (the tallest bamboo better not be proud for ultimately it will bend to the weight of a crow perching on it”. The message is, learn humility even if you have earned the highest position in life. Others away from levers of power who are similarly averse to change, will be destined to ultimately become pathetically redundant.
This thought is of utmost importance to violence torn Manipur, the land of a thousand mutinies. It cannot be a coincidence that those who lead many of these movements as well as those who fight to subdue and obliterate them, often look similar if they refuse to learn or change with time.
If for instance a revolution is waged against an oppressive condition, the uprising would be justified so long as the oppressive condition lasts. Chances are, with the passage of time, that the oppressive condition could have become a thing of the past or have altered completely. If the situation does take such a turn, the struggle against that particular oppressive condition that once was, but no longer is, can become absolutely redundant and anachronistic.
This explanation is often given of the Hippie cult of the 1960s. When the nature of the adversary they were fighting altered and its character did not any longer have the object of their protest, the protest itself ended in a whimper. With the benefit of hindsight, we know for certain that Hippies, or Flower People as they were also known as, have had to either end or change the nature of their protests too.
This is quite in keeping with the profound statement of Ernst Renan, that a nation is a daily plebiscite. Those who listen to the voice and verdict of this daily plebiscite will never become irrelevant. In the Indian context, this would apply to the larger nation, as much as it would to those putting up a struggle against the nation. If the nation has its ears close to the ground and listens closely to the pulse of its people, including the dissenting voices, and strives to accommodate necessary changes, that would be the beginning of many solutions to all its problems, including those of insurrections. The struggles can then be absorbed into the larger whole to be sublimated into an internal democratic mechanism for addressing differences. If on the other hand it does not, and sticks to its old oppressive national credos, the struggles against it will have a reason to recycle and perpetuate.
The same hopes and dangers hold for those behind the many mutinies too. They too must have their ears close to the ground, read closely the writings on the wall and be willing to change with time, along with the changing moods and aspirations of the people they fight for. Otherwise, they too will soon morph into tyrants, with an ever-shirking ground on which their ideologies can find the leg room to stand.
The times are changing indeed. Even in a lifetime, those who have long left behind the adrenaline mad youthful days would have seen these changes. To be what they were in their youth, or continue to read the situation as they did then, would be total fallacy now, not at all because they were wrong or immature then, but because the conditions have changed so utterly. The youth of that bygone era too probably were right in their time in their assessments of the challenges of their era, but to hold on to those beliefs without the moderations necessary to accommodate the changed conditions of today would be folly.
Bertrand Russell has a word on this in one of the numerous essays he wrote. The ability to change is not always fickleness of mind. It is a sign of an individual’s capacity to grow intellectually. To remained unchanged in mindset, without assessing and preparing for the new challenges time brings, is not a sign of courage at all, as is often preached to be, but of stubbornness, and often foolhardiness.
Recall the poem from school, “The Boy Stood on the Burning Deck” by Felicia Dorothea Hemans, in which a brave boy, stood steadfast to his command and stood on the burning deck of his ship until he was consumed. Many interpreted this as a mark of supreme courage. Yes it was, but it was also foolhardiness. Many of us who also have read the poem, I am sure, would have wished the boy saw sense and jumped to save himself from such a senseless death.
Editor, Imphal Review of Arts and Politics and author