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No identity. No existence

By Henryy Sinha, New Delhi
I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the culture of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any”.
By Mahatma Gandhi.

Surely we all must have seen this quote, read this quote, understood this quote and appreciated this quote. I have been doing that for the last thirty summers. Especially the last line.
I repeat, “But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any”. What a line! What fascinating yet harmless arrogance. Resonates spine, gut and self respect.

Couple of nights back while browsing the blog two things arrested my restless eyes. First, the name Pocha Heedol, then an insight, a shameful insight. He writes lots of Bishnupriya Manipuri people using the Assamese gamosa across numerous occasions.

Shameful fact that Pocha Heedol is true in his observation and his concern is of deep import. Pardon my words. Pardon them as they are born more out of concern than anger. May I request your eyes on the words below?

A decade back, there was this procession by the Nikhil Bishnupriya Manipuri Students Union in Silchar. Occasion - ‘Bhasha Andolan’. Number of people – around 600-700. Cause – Our language. Idea – Our identity.

In a nutshell it was a ‘Bishnupriya Manipuri’ procession. Read this. This Bishnupriya Manipuri leader designated as a Bishnupriya Manipuri President was leading the Bishnupriya Manipuri people wearing an Assamese gamosa around his responsible Bishnupriya Manipuri head. A head which represents a community. A head that plans the walk ahead for the community. RAPE. Yes it is. Damn. It is a social procession. Damn. It is a political procession. Get a life man. Where has your sense of identity evaporated? Where has your common sense vanished?

It is outright blasphemy. How can we and why do we sit quietly like innocent lambs when someone, and someone responsible, in front of our bare eyes strips our identity in broad daylight. My issue is not that he wore the Assamese gamosa. It’s a beautiful piece of art in itself. My issue is his wearing it on such a vital occasion, when you are supposed to establish your identity through certain symbols.

Gandhiji used khadi as a weapon to constantly hammer his identity and his stance into the British establishment. Khadi was more than a piece of cloth. It was a visual philosophy. A potent visual weapon.

In these days of branding, brand clutter, visual clutter it is of grave importance from a commodity to a community to differentiate itself. The idea here is NOT to isolate yourself from others, but retain your identity, retain your being while being with others, forming a secular mosaic.

If you have been to any Khechuri Palis these days in Delhi or Silchar or Guwahati or Shillong or Patherkandi you would discover people well in their forties or fifties wearing the Assamese gamosa. Rather proudly flashing it off.

I do appreciate their sense of fashion, but mate this ain’t the right place. There is no democracy here. Pardon my rambling, not trying to be a thick head Taliban, but given our state of affairs, caution, thought and more responsibility is the need of this sick hour.

Sample this man. I met him in Silchar. He had two kids. I felt sorry for those little souls. It’s abuse. The way they spoke to me in Sylheti with a strong Bishnupriya Manipuri accent was funny as well as tragic. Reason – Konaketo bideshe dangor osi ta nai! Bidesh? What the hell?It’s Silchar my lord!!! 80 km from Patherkandi, around 70 km from Dulobsora and 20 km from Katakhal !!!

I have spent 24 years of my life in Silchar, around Bengali friends, Bengali culture. But I ‘UNFORTUNATELY’ can speak in Bengali fluently WITHOUT a GODDAMN accent.

Unfortunately I can ALSO speak to Bishnupriya Manipuris in BISHNUPRIYA MANIPURI. Have I taken extra HIDOL? I doubt so. Even if I did, don’t think that’s the sole reason for picking up my mother tongue.

Guwahati, 2002. Relatives. Friends. Foes. Many an irritating time I was cursed to hear this idiotic, shameful one liner. Ei bur Monipuri, Sonipuri moi najanude. Ei bur somaj tomajor pora moi durot thaku.

Are you Adam, Eve or Adonis? Surely not. I have seen you somewhere in Borkolei. I have seen you at Baromuni. I have seen you at Masughat. I have seen you at Fethipat. I have seen you at the footpath chewing a goddamn paan or dumping khaini into your holy pout.

Who the hell are you jiving this debris? Is the Bishnupriya Manipuri language so difficult that it freezes your tongue every time you try to utter a disgraceful word from its non existent dictionary?

Delhi, 2008. Khechuri Pali. A Bishnupriya Manipuri man well beyond his forties. Shamelessly dancing around with a microphone like a headless chicken in extremely British clothes, stinking of bidis. In a trance of course. No namsha, screw the feichom. He came to the "Pali". Did a joydeb like a runaway convict. Had some food. Not some. Lots! His will be done. Always will be done. Amen!

I understand there are people staying extremely far away from India may not be fluent or conversant with the language or its culture.

But if you stay in a Delhi or a Guwahati or a Silchar or a Shillong and you do not speak your language, do not try to speak your language, do not regret to be unable to speak your language, in fact you are proud not to be able to speak your language, in one word you are a philosophy. Not a philosopher but a philosophy. I do not however do not have the luxury to belong to your school of philosophy. I refuse to be.

I am not against wearing the Assamese Gamosa. Not against speaking in Hindi, Bengali or Assamese or Portugese. Not against wearing bikinis, tattoos, studs or a Versace. But honestly, step treating your culture, your language, your customs is definitely not progressive. The Emar Thar, our gamcha, the firal, feichom, namsha, lei chondon, koyot, are symbols that interpret the fact that we are Bishnupriya Manipuris. The moment we cremate them, that too with our own hands, we would be on the street, as stripped orphans. With no identity. With no existence.

Respect the Assamese gamosa but don’t use your own gamsa just to wipe your feet after a hard day’s work. Sing shader lau or November Rain but know who is Kala Shena.

Brickbats awaited. Expected.
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  1. Hammered!!!!

    There are n number of cases i have personally experienced where in our own community people ridicules and mocks their own inherited culture and dogmas.... its a deplorable attempt to change ones identity... But can they change their DNA??...
    To be accustomed with other culture and creed is always commendable but
    eschewing own traditional values would definitely push forward to an identity crisis...
    The union leader u mentioned with Assamese gamosa in neck was very known to all... He was a die hard follower of P K Mahanta.. the then CM of Assam... Hope u get it...

    a hammering article Henryy...booooooom!!!

  2. Bravo zulu to Henryy for high lighting the issue of ga-mosa,ga (body)mosa(wipe out)means the towel used after bath.This word is
    used in bengali also.Now let us not discuss why the Assamese use it as symbol of auspiciousness.We use'phitup',the gamosa by our both sexes.The menfolks hang it aroud the necks and the women usually use it as veil.We never spin such type of phitup for marketing,spun only for home use, where as gamosa is made in plenty for sale.Now it is available every where in Barak Valley.This is the cheapest item available, for gifting to any body, in the market.If we go for bulk purchages of phitup,we never get it,because we do not market it.Our ancestors never thought of
    doing business with our own spun
    stuff.what P.H.has thought of sense of belonging is worth appreciated.

  3. Thanks da. Its extremely sad how some of us are so much ashamed of our own culture. Its an offshoot of low self esteem or deep hatred or sheer iresponsibility. Nothing else. Manipuri eta. Manipuri houta. C'mon every community has its own worry spots. We are not exceptions. We are hardly 5 lakhs in number not having the luxury of a Bengali of a humoungous population or dollar power of a Punjabi or a Gujarati, hardly any political leaders, lesser beauracrats. It is a fact we are losing the grip on our language. It is an alarming fact. There might come a day, this language would join the exclusive club of dead languages! We all have a certain responsibility. The sooner we understand, the better.

  4. Thanks Rebati Pisha.But my issue is more than the beautiful cloth. My issue is, we are not taking any initiative to nurture, retain or promote our magnificent culture knowing the fact we are treading on a sharp razor of existence and extintion.In fact more than taking any initiative we are bent on stripping whatever we have now. Gone are the days when a Bishmupriya Manipuri family wwould have 3-4 children or even 6. In these difficult days people do not wish to have more than two kids. Intercast marriage is increasing. We all know how we react to this issue.All these have an implication on our culture as well. From the hand few of us, even if a minuscule number isolate itself from the culture, it becomes a dangerous situation.
    In the last Khechuri Pali, NONE, not a soul knew the joydev.How many of us know that the 'Lerik Dena' durting kapokor pali is going to be continued after say 10 years? My issue is more with the intelligent, educated class who distance themselves from the community. You are not supposed to do that. You have been given an identity by the community. You owe something back to it. Giving a donation does not suffice. We need to work deep. Do we have a strong literary fraternity or a body which nurtures or protects our culture leave alone promoting it?
    It is a sorry state of affairs.Given such a sight of a plight we need to be doubly responsible.
    But I really hope we have sufficient brain power (the only thing we can bank on now) to help ourselves come out of this mess.

  5. Henryy!I know you have,I would say,
    spoken through your heart and I appreciated you through my comment mentioning gamosa,the root cause of debating,which you have mentioned in your article.
    Here, I wanted to compare our phitup with gamosa;because urban younsters might not be knowing it`s use.
    Did any one tell about what you are preaching now,during your
    schooling days?I know, your answer will be in negative,because it is self instinct.It is coming out of your heart.Now best thing is to install a think tank where people like you would come up with various solutions on problems faced by our community.

  6. @ BN Sinha

    Lets not lose the relevance of the topic by associating a person's political leaning towards PK Mahanta. I mean what a Gamosa has got to do with the person being a die hard follower of Mahanta. Is Mahanta contagious to society and hence the Gamosa? Who really owns a Gamosa?

    @ Henry

    I respect your concern for highlighting the Gamosa's impact on our society. But I have a strange feeling we are unnecessarily firing all our ammunition towards a harmless apparel as beautiful as a Gamosa when there are more obvious and imminent cultural threat towards our identity. Yes, I am talking about the Benglicization of our society. I mean what can be more shameful that even our sacred aartis are sung in Bengali right in our sacred village maltheps. Is there any justification? How can we claim to have any self respect? Forget about being influenced by tangible items like a tatoo, bikini or the fact that many of our women folks nowadays wear a kind of bangles usually wore by married Bengali ladies. Outwardly appearance can be changed in a minute but how do we rescue people who are prisoners of heart and mind right in our BM heartland. We are INSTITUTIONALIZING the art of being a Bengali in our homes, maltheps, social gatherings and in every level of our society.

    Did I say INSTITUTIONALIZED. Well to understand the deep meaning of INSTITUTIONALIZED, I would have to give you a brief glimpse of a Hollywood Movie called "Shawshenk Redemption." Here one of the main protagonist of the movie Morgan Freeman was convicted in a Jail called Shawshenk Prison for life for a murder he committed as a teenager. He longs to get out of Jail but in due course of time he gets acquainted with the jail life and in fact a point comes where he dreads the idea being out of jail. This not only happens with him but with all fellow prisoners who after having spent so many years in jail could not contemplate the idea of leading a life out of it. Things comes to such a pass that some convicts who are being released on good conduct contemplates committing serious crime just to be in jail or commit suicide. Morgan Freeman realizes he and his fellow prisoner are thoroughly and completely institutionalized and jail is the only life they now know off and after having spent more than 40 years, the outside world seemed completely alien and meant nothing to them.

    Same is the case with many BM people who are so engrossed with Bengali culture are completely oblivious about Bengali influence creeping in our society and if someone dares to point this out, it would be met with sarcastic if not indifferent response. Since the greater majority of our BM people live in the Barak Valley the onus is more on them to stop being INSTITUTIONALIZED. The leadership and the drive to save our culture and language has to come from the people who live there than people who live in Cities and townships.

    Since we are a small section of people without even a district of our own, we are doommed to being multilingual and the chances of being influenced by other culture is always high but herein a greater degree of awareness is required in our heartland to safeguard our own culture, language and our distinct identity and how some things needs greater protection. Can we do it? Sure we can. Blaming an X or a Y or a particular region would not help to sort matters and neither crying wolf about being a small minority. For thousands of years small minority Parsis have saved their own culture. If they can why can't we.

    About Gamosa impact, I agree to the fact that certain things should remain sacrosanct like the need to use our own Khuttei in our religious rituals, important BM social gatherings or while being involved in political rallies associated with BM cultural identity and so on. Apart from that, we should not lose sweat if we use Gamosa in our daily lives along with our own khuttei. Brand Gamosa has transcended cultural boundaries in Assam and one who carries it symbolizes the fact that one is a native of Assam and not necessarily an ethnic Assamese.

    Being a Guwahatian, I never felt the need to use Gamosa but since I was out of Assam I always carried it. It is human tendency when you are far off from native land, you long to get to know people of your own land and carrying a Gamosa helped me break barriers with complete strangers of Assam and in fact have built good and steady friendship something which I would not have cared while in Guwahati.

  7. @ Pink F

    The objective of mentioning the using of gamosa by one of our community flag bearer is to indicate that the person was more influenced by Mr Mahanta’s physical attributes not to his ideologies. Mr Mahanta used to carry a gamosa on his neck with an objective to establish an unofficial agenda to make gamosa as a symbol of representation of the state as a whole. Gamosa which we are discussing here which is mostly known as Assamese gamosa is absolutely an apparel belong to the assamese community which cannot be termed as a symbol of representation of the state as a whole .There are numerous community people live in Assam and most of the communities have a specific ethnical identity and symbols like Bodos have separate piece of apparel called “ Arnai” which they use to hang in their neck as a symbol of their community which no other community in Bodoland uses. Similarly we also have phitup or khuttei which we can claim as our own symbol of representation.
    As you correctly said that we are a small section of people without even a district of our own, we are doommed to being multilingual and the chances of being influenced by other culture, it is widely seen in BM community that those living in Guwahati or upper Assam are highly influenced by Assamese cultures likewise those living in Barak valley are influenced by Bengalis.. Nevertheless, in order to get rid of registering our community in the list of endangered communities in India, it is indispensable to know and propagate more about our ethos, customs and values. For that escalation of issues as small as using an Assamese gamosa is also important , as it is not merely a piece of cloth for the community which it belongs to but they consider it as their symbol of identification for their community. So in this respect our phitup / khuttei definitely deserves to be symbolized as BM,s identification.
    It was unjustifiable on our so called community flag bearer who used to represent the youths had used Assamese Gamosa while marching a community rally despite being a community representative..
    As you have mentioned that our sacred arati is still sung in Bengali, is for the reason I believe that our community is like a newly born as far as richness of literature is concerned . However arati is already been translated in BM language and already been sung in BM language in many festivals and occasions and the trend is getting set. For reference our own blog writer Madam Ranita has already escalated the issue and furnished an article about her experience of BM arati..

  8. Dear Henry

    I have been waiting for months together for such kind of articles.
    From this blog I came to know that u have good command over English and debating skill.
    I really do appreciate you for your genuine contribution.

    Since the beginning of 80's I have been living in urban areas/cities and now in Arunachal Pradesh, but never use Assamese Gamosa or kirtonar khutai (bengali gamosa!). I always pay a visit to Radha Market, Fancy Bazar during my visit to Guwahati to purchase Khuttai (Hiruphi, khuttair tup, ferai etc)

    You said, "If you have been to any Khechuri Palis these days in Delhi or Silchar or Guwahati or Shillong or Patherkandi you would discover people well in their forties or fifties wearing the Assamese gamosa. Rather proudly flashing it off." If this is the present state of affairs in the name of culture, I do condemn it.
    Assamese gamosa is a traditional symbol of Assamese only. Not for us.
    Today, how many people of our community know how to perform 'Lamour Dou Homadena', 'chapal dena.
    Yes, time has come to ponder over.

    I could not understand what does Mr Rebati Dangoria want to say.
    Is Assamese gamosa being used by Bishnupriya Manipuri as there is no marketing facilities for our own phitup, eruphi, khuttair tup ?

  9. Thanks B N da , Pink Floyd for decoding what goes into my post. That's my issue exactly:

    1. INSTITUTIONALIZATION - Benglicization of Bishnupriya Manipuris in Silchar, Karimganj, Kolkatta. Take this, a Bishnupriya Manipuri staying in the USA does speak in Bengali but he cannot speak in Bishnupriya Manipuri!
    Bishnupriya Manipuris in Upper Assam, many of them barely speak in Bishnupriya Manipuri and are in fact ignorant about the importance or the impact of it.

    2. I am not against the Gamosa. As I had maintained earlier, so do I repeat even now, its a beautiful piece of art. I am as proud of MY Assamese Gamosa as any Phukan,Barua or a Hazarika.Reason - I am from Assam. I have gifted several Assamese Gamosas to so many of my friends and colleagues out here in Delhi.However, as you had pointed out, certain things should REMAIN sacrosanct like the need to use our own Khuttei in our religious rituals, important BM social gatherings or while being involved in political rallies associated with BM cultural identity and so on. Having come from Assam and being a Bishnupriya Manipuri, I have responsibilities. I represent North East.I represent my state, ASSAM. I represent my community, Bishnupriya Manipuri. I believe I can easily do all the three together. I was FEROCIOUSLY proud when I heard Zubin Garg on an FM channel in Delhi. Proud of my state, proud of my Assamese brother.I was also almost in tears when I saw Tushar Sinha on televison. Yes, out of sheer emotion.Out of the call of my own blood. I was enraged to read a Naga girl being denied entry to a certain restuarant in Delhi on the basis that she was from north east. I am angry when some twerp utters the word 'chinky'. It's not Iam against the Gamosa or speaking another language. But its about maintaining our identity where its required to be shown and respected.
    Bottomline - Let us nurture our culture. Please. It is high time we did that.
    Rebati Pisha is right we need a think tank to do a SWOT, not just to showcase the problems but to come up with logical solutions. We are NOT Talibans. We are fascinatingly, as Rishi once said, a 'refined cultural composite'. Therefore we can surely come up with solutions which would show the world, what Bishnupriya Manipuris are all about. We have it in us to contribute towards our own community and to the world as well.Why cant someone talk about Bishnupriya Manipuris as they do about Sardars or Parsis for their contribution to the nation? Its a tall order. But we can.
    Ranjit da thanks for your kind words. Yes you are right. The time has come to give a serious thought to such issues. To me:
    (a) Every Bishnupruya Manipuri should be well versed with his own culture. Dont be a fanatic, but know it.Know your language inside out.

    (b) Every Bishnupriya Manipuri should know his/her history. He/she should be able to make a 'power point presentation' if someone asks him/her to. I doubt how many of us confidently know about the history of our language and our existence.Knowledge here is extant. I appeal, beg and request teachers like Rebati Pisha to educate us and the youth on such issues. Pisha, its people like you who would equip us with the required knowledge and confidence to carry our magnificent culture forward.
    (c) We need leaders who need to be groomed for tomorrow. We need a Rishi, a Brahmanda, a Sanju ( where the hell are you. Join back. Be brave, admit your mistake, we are all blood brothers. Therefore we need you), a Surajit, a Pink Floyd, a Raghab, a Sonika, a Henryy and so many to combine as a formidable think tank. This too within a time frame. Unless we set ourselves a timeline, we cannot do the same.
    (d) Need to encourage more women to participate. Ema indol age ahaani lagtoi.Tumi haabi akeigo Bishnupriya Manipuri Ema.



  10. And yes, as Pink Floyd has mentioned we need a drive to save our culture. There has to be a body to take this responsibility.
    Every Kapokor Pali, every Kechurir Pali, every Utsav, every marriage should be conducted around some guidelines.Post every event a report should be made on how the event (Pali or Utsav has fared) and sent to the body. The body would go through the report and either appreciate or support in plugging the loopholes.
    Example: If Delhi does not perform a joydev well, the body can help the people of Delhi in doing so by providing a detailed chart on how a Khechuri Pali should be conducted.
    - What are the artis in Bishnupriya Manipuri which needs to be done?

    - What are the songs for joydev?

    - What are the sequence of the songs?

    - Food guidelines. What is the Bandara composite?

    - Dress code. If youngsters are banned from drinking or smoking, I request elders, people above 35 or 40 also abide by a Bishnupriya Manipuri dress code on Bishnupriya manipuri social occassions. Walk the talk please.



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