KAPIL ARAMBAM • In Pursuit of Freedom •

A Contemporary Vocabulary of Mutiny

An abstract of a research problem on how new terms and expressions have now become crucial while articulating about people, power and social revolution in Manipur

We have letters to make words to express our ideas to communicate our thoughts, and so on. In a larger context, these have broader purposes. Briefly, vocabulary can help create new societal behaviours for collective benefits—or create such a ground that we can build the foundation of a desirable future in the most effective ways. But why is it so essential?

There are several reasons but one of the most prominent is our condemned life in the hinterland called Manipur. An old Asiatic kingdom, it was annexed to the Union of India in 1949—and incidentally, it is quite essential to note that this issue of annexation or merger is an important area where the new vocabulary is most needed so as to deal with it. In the existing political reality it was annexation per se while the resistance has been described as an internal law and order issue, but which is as everybody knows, highly contested right from the usage of the terms like ‘law and order’ and ‘internal issue’ and so on.  

To begin with, the nuances, narratives, explanations and arguments of our political existence have become stale and we need new forms of interventions and approaches that are pragmatic as well as result-oriented—and all of them, obviously, through redefined ways to explain new possibilities.

Several decades of armed movement for the right to self-determination has painted a pathetic picture of our collective life. For some people, it is called a revolutionary movement that aims to dismantle the existing socioeconomic and political structure though in reality this might have quite a lot of interpretations. Some of them, like ‘revolution’ being equated to ‘extortion’ are even antagonistic to the very idea of resistance. In today’s context, depending on one’s belief or intention for instance, it can be called, for instance, as (i) a reformative movement that generally calls for limited changes in an entire political territory or (ii) an alternative movement that aims solely on those limited changes and is usually group-based. 

If we introspect, what we have today is in direct contrast to the aspirations. The so-called revolutionary movement has become synonymous to extortion business or a refuge-turned-haven for contractors, who would team up with various agents of the powers that be that mainly comprise the gangs of elected representatives, bureaucrats and other government agents who are occupied in organised loot. We can go to the extent of saying the essence of revolution is completely lost but denying the existence of individuals or the ‘real’ issue will amount to rejection of reality; and thus, the requirement of a new system of lexicon.

This change can also throw light on the present vocabulary: for instance, free market is not free in essence and democracy by reducing it to the popular definition of ‘for-of-by the people’ strips of its complex details. These days, in mainland India, there are voices from certain corners to get rid of the terms like ‘secular’, ‘tolerance’ and ‘liberal’ from public discourse with the rise of a right-wing incumbent government. Politically, we are in India but the wind of rightwing nationalism is blowing comparatively weak—and these terms mean very little to us.   

Reading list
On Social Development: Part 1
On Social Development: Part 2

Significantly, the change is essential for relooking at the words and expressions. For example, in general, we can refer to the convoluted expressions in any form of agreement paper in which a missing comma or an extra adjective can change the meaning entirely. Bluntness might be helpful in direct confrontations but it calls for different tactics, and a finer approach, to deal with an opponent who might have different goals and aspirations. To cite an example, in the past, the original social movements were solely based on one’s right to self-determination but today we cannot ignore the issues of ethnicity, the rise of the nation in a free-market world, the emerging trends of globalisation, emancipation of indigenous people and so on.

We don’t need a revolution. What we need is a redemptive movement that change us completely. So what we lack is a means to reclaim our own ‘self’ as an independent agent with the capacity to bring about holistic change and development. Or politically speaking, we can say roughly that the Merger Agreement had materialised with just pens and papers. Firstly, this controversial agreement is not the genesis of our problem though we believe to be when, in fact, the issue is colonialism (Read   The Brown Substitute for the White Raj). Second, as Einstein would say, ‘We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them’.

To summarise, this whole idea is based on the simple idea that vocabulary enhances communication, understanding and qualitative transformation. In a generalised manner, arming oneself with a good vocabulary helps achieves success. Above all, new terms and expressions will replace the existing arguments and contestations that have become almost stale just as the Manipuri society has been decaying beyond comprehension with its pathetic politics.

full-bath blues

or the lost art of staying neat in a mess

as dry skins crawl out of nowhere
i can’t find my brain anywhere
never i know if it’s gone with autumn
this thing has now become so bothersome

the season has heralded the arrival
sixty headless men straight out of a brothel
they are coming, wearing innocent-looking disguise
they call this charade a people-friendly exercise

and now i got no place to go
and i got only all the scratches and sweat to show
and every chagrin that only a warm bathe will clean
even this bloody full bath is too much for hygiene

Sonia Bags the 2017 Young Achiever’s Award

GUWAHATI, Jan 12: Independent filmmaker Sonia Nepram from Imphal has won the prestigious Young Achiever’s Award, which is sponsored by the Dalmia Bharat Group at a grand function held this evening at the Radisson Blu Hotel. This annual award is given to emerging stars from Northeast India in the field of dance, journalism, football, music, arts, acting and documentary film direction.

In recognition of her exceptional achievement in the field of documentary film direction, Sonia received the award from the group’s senior executive director and head, corporate brands & marketing, Mr BK Singh. The Dalmia Bharat Group, established in 1939, is a leading multi-spectrum cement company with a double digit market share and a pioneer in super specialty cements used for oil wells, railway sleepers and air strips across India.

A post-graduate in mass communication from the AJK MCRC, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, Sonia Nepram has been working on various media and audio-visual projects and has also set up her production house under the banner of Yelhoumee Pictures. She is currently working on a sociopolitical documentary titled ‘Bloody Phanek’, which is scheduled to be released in August 2017 at the DMZ International Documentary Film Festival in South Korea.

(Text source   A press release from the Yelhoumee Pictures)

The Others

Then it was the green
And the yellow and all the colour bright
Now it has been the gloomiest sight
When the night eats into the last candlelight
When i do know what legs i have
But when i know not what legs i don’t have
And when i know not what legs i do have
And when i know what legs i don’t have
And that it’s the others’ hands that walk
Walk for themselves, and walk for me at times
Now i will say the green is the saffron
The burgundy is the blueberry
If only, if only i’m told, i’m made aware
—only tell me the universe is an illusion
i’ll be an outcast to the bloody Nation
i’ll be anything, if only, if only i’m told
But my masters have sold my soul.

Out on the Town

To be home at least once a year has been a luxury ever since I decided to leave my hometown in the hope of connecting reasonable dots as much as I can, in this puzzle of nothingness called life. I count this year’s has been one of the most memorable, particularly from the personal front—personal because otherwise, living is more complicated than the very puzzle of existence. Without further going meaninglessly into the experience I have some amateurish photographs here.

Symbols are essential for people; the more we have the better it seems to be, because human beings are fucking afraid to be alone and need to be in groups identified by entities like shared identities and political aspirations

A shot from the final match of the 60th CC Meet Football Tournament; NEROCA, Imphal defeated Assam Regimental Centre, Shillong to lift the title

An alternative way of saying enough is enough: A shot from the corner of a commercial complex in Thangmeiband

 Briefly, life in the valley

A nice typographic pattern on a Meitei phi created by popular designer Robert Naorem, who was kind enough to allow me to take a snap

 There have been only two Manipuri book covers that I genuinely like; this book in Bengali script is the second one; the other is Thangjam Ibopishak’s Bhoot Amasoong Maikhoom

 The sky was burning on the New Year’s Day, 1 Jan 2017

Ascii-tic Christmas Wishes

Every year Christmas reminds me of rum cakes, big chunks of pork, good and hard country liquor, old men coming down from the chilly Manipur hills to the Imphal valley for an overcoat or two and those bonfires, carols, catching up with cousins who are home for a vacation and and too many other happy moments though I do not belong to the segregated group of people called Christians.

If I have to put it down abruptly, it is ironical because I belong to a region where two foreign religions have taken roots at the cost of the natives’ identity and sense of belongingness. We like to treat each others from the perspectives of this newfound glory of god albeit there are so many underlying narratives. Religion, in fact, is too political. But as a believer, who believe in the non-existence of god, I got some of the season’s best wishes and curses!

Here’s a collection:

Band-Aids, Bandages and Bastards

A reflection on the recent decision of the Manipuri government to create seven new districts amidst a beastly protest against the creation of two districts that the Nagas have been finding them as a pain in their ass

A people that elect corrupt politicians, imposters, thieves and traitors are not victims... but accomplices.
George Orwell
The Manipur map with the new seven districts

Exactly one month after the announcement of the demonetisation policy on 8 November, the Manipur government under the leadership of Okram Ibobi has conducted a similar shock therapy by declaring the creation of seven new districts in the state. This comes when the Assembly Election is due in February next.

This creation has many implications. Officially, of course, it is for the administrative convenience and if we would love to believe in this template-rationale, it will bring more growth and development. This might as well be the most appropriate thing the government has taken up as it does away with the creation of region/district on the basis of ethnicity. Just imagine the plight of the the Burmese Muslims in Rakhine State who are suffering just by the virtue of their belonging ‘inside’ an artificial national boundary.

For the naysayers, this creation implies appointment of more civil servants, construction of district headquarters and a huge load of contract works. Briefly it is going to be one grand celebration of the timeless threesome between government agents, bureaucrats and contractors.

What is the most amazing are the responses from the Meiteis, one of the most vocal groups against the ongoing economic blockade sponsored by a frontal organisation of NSCN IM. Ibobi has suddenly turned into hero from zero in no time while the people who are singing the paeans for Ibobi have seemingly forgotten how the government has been taking us for a ride all along. Maybe this is the fancy world of post-truth where emotion prevails over reason.

Nevertheless, today’s problem is the response from the public. Let’s ignore street protests and violent demonstrations for now as those are more of a reaction than a response. Forget about the first two terms of the Ibobi government, but how many issues have been bogging us down in his third term? Nada. Nothing matters now as we have got seven new districts.

Okram Ibobi entered politics quite early. He was 36 in 1984 when he was first elected as an independent candidate in the Assembly election. He has been the undefeated chief minister since 2002. But does it mean he is the ultimate leader? The answer seems to be in the negative. It is mainly because of the fact that there has been no alternative. No wonder, as an experienced legislator, he can win the confidence of the people at one stroke—and in this process, we have made it public our pathetic mindset though it must be a blessing for a manipulative politician like O Ibobi.

As we are too stupid to see the writings on the wall, we the sheeple have started viewing, and believing, that it is a ‘master stroke’—on the level of Indian nationalists worshipping Narendra Modi—which have bought our vote in the upcoming election. No matter what we have this faux-democracy and we have one reason in the entire term of five years to assess a government.

On the other hand, as always, the refined and civilised people including ‘honourable’ professors, social scientists and community leaders have remained dumbfuck as they ever do on days of collective importance. If this does not exemplify the intellectual dishonesty and bankruptcy, nothing will. The issue has also brought out the primary problem of Manipur politics. There has not been a single response from the enemies of the Congress though they are busy making promises and blaming the incumbent government. In a mature society we could have expect at least deliberations to and debate against a government’s move but apparently we belong to a society of ‘khongbaan’.

Our society is suffering from a chronic illness. Short-term remedies like using band-aids and bandages as in creating districts out of defiance against a civil society while the collective bastardry is only adding insult to the literal injury. In such a condition, political reform is a myth. One of the long-term medicines is social revolution, based on reason and not on a corny shock therapy or a surgical strike of the bastards obsessed with band-aids and bandages and the other is to right these wrongs.

Thoibi & Khamba

Editsplaining sexist grammar in English language

In English literature it is never Juliet and Romeo but Romeo and Juliet. For that matter, it’s never Majnu Laila in Persian or like in Meiteilon, never it is Thoibi  Khamba and never Teav Tum in Cambodian folklore but always the other way around. I presumed that it was just a convention: as we never say white and black but black and white; and that Romeo and Juliet is perfectly fine regardless of how much there is a meaning or not in a rose’s name.

Well, this means the man always comes first though vanity would dictate us to utter ridiculous expression like ladies and gentlemen on social occasions.

Comparatively, this is no different from how the Indians would worship all kinds of goddesses in gold-plated temples; for example out of the millions of them, Lakshmi is the goddess of wealth and Saraswati is the goddess of wisdom; however, when the male mortals reach home, they would thrash their wives, kill their daughters for family honour and get rid of female foeticide that is commonly considered as more of a burden than a blessing in various corners of the nation.

A few years ago, some London-based psychologists showed that this male-first-female-latter convention is, especially in English language, a product of 16th century European mores. According to a report in the ScienceDaily:

In the 16th century, naming men before women became the acceptable word order to use because of the thinking that men were the worthier sex.

—British Psychological Society (BPS). ‘Men, not ladies, first: We're still sexist in writing.’ ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100311092431.htm
(accessed December 10, 2016).

Also read the study report: When gentlemen are first and ladies last? Effects of gender stereotypes on the order of romantic partners’ names by Hegarty, P, Watson, N, Fletcher, K, & McQueen, G (2011). British Journal of Social Psychology, 50, 21–35.
There are a couple of related issues here. Many people have been up in arms against the separation of Mrs from Miss to signify the kind of women according to their marital statuses but for their antagonists, read the males, it is just Mr no matter if they are married or not. A similar issue exists in my native language too. A ‘leisabi’ is the unmarried girl and she becomes a ‘mou’ when she becomes a man’s wife; however, a ‘pakhang’ is an adult man and after marriage there is no particular name for him except that he might become a husband or a father.   

Next, take the style of using ‘actor’ to denote both male and female —but wait, isn’t it just accommodating the female in the male?

Perhaps, language is doing a gender summersault with its pre-programmed rehearsals. The other day, a New Zealander of Asian origin was denied a passport because as the machine was processing facial recognition system, his eyes were closed though he got a normal and small pair of eyes. Similarly, the his-and-hers acknowledgement through language is ‘deeply’ programmed in our brain.

Out of all these terms, the consolation possibly is the term ‘motherland’, which is preferred to ‘fatherland’. If we consider the usage it is again a matter of language with the root word denoting ‘mother’ or ‘father’, which are supposed to be symbolising emotional and political affiliation respectively with that land.

Though globally, Germany is considered as the land of fatherland, in my hometown there are cultural organisations which identify Manipur, currently a province in the republic of India, as a fatherland—while armed groups are fighting for the lost glory of a motherland and ethnic groups are fighting for homelands.

In today’s context, ‘homeland’ seems to be the most appropriate term.  

Why It Matters to Me

In my copy-editing job, I regularly find and at times get confused over the usage of this gender difference. Making the noun plural or using both s/he or her/him (or he/she, him/her) can solve the problem with certain ease but now and then, it is not that simple as it sounds. In short, it is not always possible or logical to change a ‘person’ to a ‘people’.   

Style guides and sheets would offer us suggestions to:
[i] use a noun instead of pronoun
✓    The editor was late as usual.
✗     He was late as usual.

[ii] use third person instead of the first or second
✓    When an editor is punctual, he can do more tasks.
✗     When we editors are punctual, we can do more tasks.

There are as well several other ways to get rid of sexism in writing: like using neutral gender, calling both ‘actors’ and ‘actresses’ as ‘actors’ like we have seen above, and substituting words like ‘chairman’ or ‘chairwoman’ with ‘chairperson’.

I’d consider this phenomenon of feminist consciousness as a product of the Western counterculture, which had its origin in the the Sixties and the Seventies, and further the explosion of media.

In a way, grammar can change the world of writing but it cannot simply stand in as the caretaker of a world grossly divided by sex or gender with people having deeply ingrained concepts of man and woman. Alternatively, life is not a grammar test but experiences of discrimination and sexualisation.

Apart from the connection with editorial judgment, certain reservations exist on the line of sex though I’d say men and women are the same animal without any feeling of gender superciliousness or affinity. In another word, it’s a mere reflection of everyday happening around me though simultaneously realising gender discrimination is way too important an issue than my undue gender defensiveness.

To sum up, language can be profoundly political. Apparently there’s a lot in a title, particularly in its sequence and while relating it to a gender though Juliet would remain wondering what’s really there in a name.

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