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Out of Business

A tale of two different cities
 
No tears to cry, no feelings left
This species has amused itself to death
Amused itself to death
Amused itself to death
Amused to Death, Roger Waters

We are what we talk about. Elsewhere across the world, people talk about technology, development and leisure and so forth, whereas for us—living in a hinterland of Asia—all we have is politics, which is also one of the worst kinds. We are not deprived completely of technology, development, leisure and all these things but no matter what, all we have are issues, often critical and vicious, affecting us on a community level. We are too occupied with minding our own business!

Staying far away from my hometown, on several occasions, I could not help but notice the gross difference in our lifestyle and world views between us and them, between my folk and I, and other people, regardless of our present location. Qualitatively, it is comprehensible because throughout the contemporary history of Manipur, we have been bogged down by underdevelopment with special contributions from conflicts, government’s impotency, neocolonialism and the likes. India is a union of nations and the line dividing them is still so obvious as well and unfortunately we have always been at the wrong end of the line.

On one hand, here, are the English-speaking, malls-and-clubs-hopping kind of people; and on the other, it is the people, like us, who are making a space for the right to live a life of dignity. The difference becomes even more glaring when we visit a public place in a city like New Delhi. Bustling crowd, people of all ages in their weekly best, clanking cash registers and ATM swipers, labels and tags boasting of atrocious prices—and at the end of the day, these are merely ‘the’ normal just as in a Manipuri case, like it is as normal as the imposition of general strikes by armed organisations on Indian Republic and Independence Days.

For clarification, consumerism is not counted as a marker of development but used sparingly for pointing out the unique characteristics of comparatively developed and underdeveloped places in today’s globalised world. To take another example from this city, there are a plenty of publishers, a plenty of publications, a plenty of readers and obviously a plenty of dynamics in this industry. How is the matter in our case? Whatever we lack in any of these areas is covered up with our tendency to nosedive into social crisis one after another.

Sample some of these random news items from 2015–2016 related to the development in the science and technology:

It was a big year for fossils, and an even bigger calendar for evolutionary science. In March, a 2.8 million-year-old jawbone was found in Ethiopia, extending the Homo genus’ evolutionary timeline by 400,000 years (Paste). Astronomers have discovered a very rare system of five connected stars (BBC). Researchers at MIT demonstrate the first 3D printing technique able to make transparent glass objects (MIT Technology Review).

It would be unfair to compare our state to those developed regions experiencing some of the most high-end developments in diverse fields in various corners of the world. However, it does offer a glimpse into our cocooned lives. See, for instance, one of the most recent community ‘gatherings’ is on the issue over the imposition of or contestations on the Inner Line Permit System. Instead of deliberating on the pragmatics of plan and growth, we are fighting over a colonial leftover, much to the delight of our political representatives, who are busy looting the public exchequer.

Many people are also now convinced that the governments at both the provincial and union levels are sponsoring these artificial disasters. We can refer to the concept of ‘bread and circuses’ that was popularised by Roman rulers to maintain their power and control over their subjects. Our conforming political behaviour of giving into the monkey business also reminds us of Roger Waters’ song Amused to Death, from the concept album of the same title, which Waters again got the inspiration from Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business.

As people out here—who call the shots in Manipur—enter and exit the Select Citywalk and the adjacent MGF Metropolitan, we are hopping between the issues of ILP and the demand for the inclusion of Meiteis into the constitutional privileged group of scheduled tribes. Many of us do not know our past and we have no vision of our future. All we have is the crisis of the day. The best epithet we can expect of us in the future is that we have existed in one of the darkest days of our history. 

Technology, development and leisure can be so unjust and biased! These issues are almost reserved for a privileged few in our town and other people elsewhere in the world. During crises, pelting stones at the police in the darkness of the night, after dinner and drinks, is hardly a matter of leisure.

That a few individuals killed during arson were later martyred, that an oppressed and subjugated community have been fighting for colonial laws and special categorisation from the very oppressor—it follows that, with all the farce and tragicomedy, we might as well be amused to death and it would be nobody’s business but groups of people who have made their business to die by petty street politics.


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