The Stimuli of Manipuri ‘Lawai’

characteristic of belonging to a village or being rustic; (of people) not behaving in an acceptable manner or not in accordance with social or moral standards
(Text source: The Imphal Urban Concise Dictionary)

A unique bigotry exists in Manipur between the urban and rural people, or specifically, that are employed by the urban dwellers to show their pride. It will be too generalised a statement that all the people indulge or suffer from this absurd categorisation of people albeit it is true that it is deeply ingrained in the psyche of the people belonging to both the sides.

One thing that staying away from my hometown has taught me is the lack of prejudice on the Imphal–lawai issues. Nonethless, I’d presume that only a few adolescents from the rural areas of Manipur might suffer, if any, the inferiority complex but I have been proven wrong. In fact, I’m surprised to find that, nowhere but in a metropolitan city, even university professors, journalists and professionals from the field of art and culture are suffering from this syndrome.

We are so used to the saying that lawai doesn’t depend on the place of belonging but on the mentality of an individual. Yet, we can see it’s just a statement popularised by kind-hearted liberals from the leirak-khullak of Imphal or possibly as a sort of defence mechanism by those shy souls who are a bit low on self-esteem.

Only a psychologist would be able to explain the nitty-gritty of this concept of feeling inferior, or even superior, on the individual level and perhaps a sociologist could explain when the issue emerges at a societal level. Generally, from common sense, we can say that it is a result of a personal idea of inadequacy or worthlessness, which can be either real or imagined.

With memories from growing up in an urban area in the Imphal valley, I would want to prove its futility but not for the sake of patronising with the people from Moirang, Kakching and elsewhere. Futile, because there are more profound issues in the hinterland that we want to glorify as home.

When the entire land is consumed with madness and violence, and more madness and violence, it will be too fanciful to divide groups of people according to the presence of a paddy field or shacks and shops in the vicinity—for many groups of Imphal-dwelling mortals suffer from bigotry to consider those supposedly lesser mortals that live near fields and farms are the ‘lawai’ people.

Once there was an elderly guy in my locality. He would say in ‘villages’, everybody can identify anybody as ‘his/her sister’s son’s son’, ‘his/her father’s brother’s wife’s uncle’, ‘his/her brother’s mother’s-in-law aunt’ and so on and so forth. With a big Imphal ego, he had completely missed a fact. For instance, whenever there is an elopement, and suppose, you are related to the would-be groom then it is almost a customary to ask ‘whose’ daughter is the would-be bride. The case is no different when you are related to the would-be bride’s family.

This routine exists on a larger scale, again, at the societal level. In any field, any issue or in any ‘news’, it is not hard to find the identity of an individual or his/her family, provided of course you are not a rebel wearing the mask of a contractor or a contactor with the mask of a rebel and their ilk. Imphal is a kind of suburb or a sort of shanty town or an urban village where people have relatively the least civic sense. It is a city merely for namesake. We can take reference from the popular Internet meme—often attributed to Edward Abbey, the American writer: ‘Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.’ Nothing describes Imphal better than this.

Everything is almost equal and a conservative society like ours makes it even more equivalent. Anyway, what are the social or moral standards in a society, which measures its level of morality from the warmness of condoms found in chowmein stalls that are as well a favourite place for young lovers and others to have a date? It sounds seedy as hell but the reality is even more pathetic.

Physically, the difference is palpable or it is the only marker of the urban and the rural in Manipur. Here, it will be blasphemous in Imphal to refer to town planners, who elsewhere in the world are measuring data from population census, competency of the responsible agencies, on-the-field assessment and several other socio-economic factors to determine these two divisions of a city and a village.

However, in our paradise, the master planners and their departments are non-operational (MAHUD defunct, admits Ibobi, The Sangai Express) while the officials are busy tampering records and getting fake documents for submission in the competition for the cleanest ghetto in the national cleanliness campaigns. Add to this farce, the recurring issues of traffic jam and lack of parking space in such a literally small town like Imphal where the town management is supposed to be ‘unproblematic’ if we go by its size or dimension in these days of global village.

Coming back to the point, we can see that even Okram Ibobi, as the ultimate role model from Thoubal, has been serving as a chief minister!

Psychologists could counsel about the pros and cons of inferiority complex—and yes, there are both merits and demerits albeit the latter affects deeper. In other words, if you are quite pretty or beautiful and if you consider yourself ugly, you are either modest or you need to build your confidence. If you are ugly and you know you are ugly, well, the world does not care about your ugliness. So either ways, it does not matter but your principles about life.

So professors and artists, you don’t have to be from Imphal to be a good professor or a renowned artist. To conclude, when it comes to Manipur, the negative feeling arising out from the Imphal–lawai dichotomy is meaningless and only as good as those sunflower seeds—exported from Burma—that are one year beyond their sell-by dates.