By L.Keivom, Inpui.com Columnist (earlier published on Mizonews.Net)
It’s October 23, 2013, the third day since I arrived in Shillong from Delhi to attend a two-day seminar-cum-retreat at Umran organized under the wing of Hmar Inpui, the Supreme House of the so-called Hmar people (Hmar is one amongst the nomenclatures under which one mixed group of the so-called Old Kuki Group identify themselves as a tribe). I came two-days in advance to enable me to do my annual routine medical check-up at the North Eastern Indira Gandhi Regional Institute of Health & Medical Sciences (NEIGRIHMS) as a follow-up of angioplasty I did in 2008. I reached Shillong just in time before the operation of the total bandh declared by a non-state pressure group to register their grievances during the two-day visit of President Pranab Mukherjee from October 21-22.
In the north-east, the word ‘bandh’ is a household word, a useful political tool initially as a voice of the voiceless and the unheard but has since long been thoroughly misused to become a deadly agent to further impoverish the affected States. The north-east is home of myriad tribes of mongoloid race with a babel of vanishing tongues where every tribe is trying to find and establish its separate identity and chasing furiously what nobel laureate Amartya Sen called ‘the illusion of destiny’. ‘Bandh’ is their version of Gandhian style of non-violent protest but it can lead to violent reaction if violated. So, howsoever baneful a bandh is, it has to be respected.
For two days, the streets of Shillong were empty and silent as a graveyard. But it was a great blessing to me as it gave me a space to take rest and enjoy the salubrious mountain air in peace and quietness. As luck would have it, I was this time comfortably sequestered at an empty but elegantly kept and adequately provisioned Major Bhaskar’s residence in Assam Rifles’ compound in the Happy Valley, a name we often used to hear during our boyhood days but imagined it to be not on this planet but somewhere in the vicinity of Paradise, a blissful home in undefined location, a realm reachable only by imagination and through faith. Now, after three scores and ten, it has become my temporary home, my holiday resort, physically and spiritually.
Consequently, the arrival date for the Umran Retreat originally fixed for October 22 had to be shifted to October 23 and the main Retreat for 24-25 Oct. The location is at a small town, 33 kms from Shillong on the way to Guwahati, at a 200-capacity resort perched on a hillock surrounded by a lush-green model farm of 175 hectares with farm models, a rural technology park, scout camps and a well-managed training centre after which it got its name- RURAL RESOURCES AND TRAINING CENTRE (RRTC)-where more than 5000 visitors from the eight sisterly States in the north-east comprising farmers, young entrepreneurs, school and college students and government officers come annually for training and exposure. RRTC is registered in 1990 as St. Joseph’s Agricultural Training Centre (SJATC) and once was a unit of Bosco Reach Out (BRO) endeavoring to translate into reality its vision and philosophy “development through empowerment of the people” focusing on land and other resources.
By the time we reached RRTC, it was already dark but on time for the inauguration. We. Lalzar B. Sinate, Lala Khobung and Donald Liensatuol with his sleek, black Chevrolet left Shillong on time after our medical check-up at NEIGRIHMS but was first caught up by the notorious Shillong traffic jam for more than an hour and by the time we reached Barapani Dam, heavy rains caught us up. Because of heavy fog, visibility was almost zero. We moved on slowly, inch by inch, bumper-to-bumper in an ant-like formation while on a foray. But we had Lala Khobung with us to enliven the boring moments with hilarious jokes and anecdotes. I have many occasions in the past forty years had the fortune of travelling with him days together in rugged and bumpy roads in the hills but never found him ran short of interesting things to tell. All day long. He is an immeasurable asset of jokes and joys, of smiles and laughter. A blessed soul indeed!
We checked in at Room No. 202 and after a few minutes of Cananite refreshment went into the Conference Hall for the inaugural session. Dr. Rochunga Pudaite from USA was to inaugurate the Session but could not be able to come due to health constraints in the family and his place was taken by Dr. Chaltawnlien Amo, Chairman, HAC (Manipur) and sitting MLA of Tipaimukh Sub-division, the only Hmar MLA in Manipur who, by virtue of his position, appeared to be under the mistaken belief that he represented all the Hmar community under the sun and therefore is their ‘leader’ without realizing that he electorally represents only a tiny speck of the community on the basis of an election claimed to be fraught with corruption and armed intervention. While inaugurating the Session, he questioned the wisdom of the organizers for not inviting leaders of Hmar National Union (HNU) by ignoring the fact that since the time of his predecessor, HNU under their president- ship, became a comatose party which they conveniently revived every five years during the time of elections and that people no longer recognized it as their party.
One disturbing trend I notice in the community has been a deliberate attempt on the part of so-called senior leadership, whether democratically elected or self-appointed, to treat or dismiss the new leadership in Hmar Inpui belonging to the younger section of the society as raw, inexperienced and untested and therefore be taken with a pint of salt. The fact is that the new leadership is much more educated and forward-looking who could transform the society and take the community forward to a new level of development in all spheres of activities. This truth has to be recognized in the society at all levels, whether secular or non-secular affairs. Otherwise, he or she can become unknowingly a stumbling block to progress.
There were many participants who would like to comment on his observations and ask critical questions particularly on the need to make political reforms and adjustments but he vanished after the inauguration. One key point is the need to change our overall mindset, a tunnelized mindset that immediately tends to focus on what we call ‘Hmar Ram’ in Tipaimukh sub-division alone and nowhere else. It is time to enlarge our view of ‘Hmar Ram’ to include all members of the community wherever they are. We need overall structural changes and adjustments. We need a much bigger framework and canvass to work on if we want to secure a better future, a future that holds water. We have to free ourselves from Tipaimukh-centric politics which have not seen beyond its own dirty nose.
To me, the purpose of holding a meeting like this is to put our heads together and exchange ideas and views to find a way to survive as a family, a society, a community, a tribe and a nation. A caution: we should desist from adopting strong resolutions as we loved to do in the past especially on issues with long-term impacts. We should focus on action-oriented issues with an open mind.
I was quite surprise when I received a call one evening telling me that they selected me to be one of the resource persons at the coming seminar being organized under the umbrella of Hmar Inpui. I thanked the caller for considering me as one of the resource persons but also told him that I might have to regret it as I had already booked tickets to visit my son in New York at the time of the seminar. Then I left on tour to Chennai, Madurai and Sivakasi in Tamilnadu in connection with the coming publication of Delhi Version of Hmar Holy Bible during which I was virtually out of bounds. On return to Delhi, I received several calls urging me to postpone my program to New York which I did and then booked a ticket to attend the seminar.
Strangely, after I firmed up for Shillong seminar and finalized bookings, I received several calls to seek my help to convince the organizers to postpone the Seminar by a month or two and until a consensus was reached. The main culprit, I was told, was the Hmar Literature Society of Manipur who objected to any discussion on the functioning and development of Hmar literature and language and even had the temerity of challenging Hmar Inpui by issuing a written declaration to boycott the proposed seminar for not consulting HLS in advance. Moves were afoot to stall the seminar as if development and preservation of Hmar language and literature is their sole preserve. They even had the audacity to drag my name as one of the conspirators to organize the seminar. Idle minds have lots of time and pleasure to churn out concocted stories. Luckily, my waking hours are fully occupied in pursuing my unsatiated passion for literature and I have no time for indulging in such fruitless thoughts as mentioned.
I was initially not intending to write on my observations as I had already written an article entitled ‘Hmar Trong Seminar Thlirlawkna’, but as the day was passing into noon, I suddenly decided to jot down some highlights in English to be on time for DT next day. This is the first series covering only upto the inauguration. If it sounds tentative and haphazard, that’s what it is. Next will be better, I promise. (November 2, 2013 Saturday)
(November 2, 2013 Saturday)