Don’t need lessons on culture, noted Manipuri filmmaker to state governor

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Imphal, Aug 15 (IANS) An award-winning Manipuri filmmaker has reacted sharply to the state’s governor, V. Shanmuganathan, asking a gathering of the state’s intellectuals to write a 100-word piece on culture in return for tea at the Raj Bhawan.

Filmmaker Aribam Syam Sharma’s response came in an open letter where he said, in Manipuri, that “a person who doesn’t show respect and have propriety doesn’t have the decency to respect the knowledgeable” — in short, that the governor’s remark was uncultured.

Shanmuganathan’s “playful challenge to those who assembled, amongst which were gurus of the arts and culture of Manipur, is considered as thaksi khasi naidaba, leibak macha tadaba in our culture. I would not attempt to translate these phrases in English because what is significant here would be lost in translation”, Sharma wrote.

The governor’ remarks came at the inauguration on August 12 of the University of Culture and Manipur State Film and Television Institute, which Sharma termed “a realisation of a dream for many who have worked for the conservation, transformation and evolution of Manipuri culture”.

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“I shall not attempt an answer to your question here so I forfeit any claim to tea with your excellency. But I shall make an observation that I hope would be entertained by you,” Sharma wrote.

Noting that norms and propriety are part of any culture, he added: “There are norms of distinction and measure: what is proper and what is improper. What counts as proper and what counts as not may differ from one culture to another. Whether there are invariants in these norms, cutting across communities and civilisations, here again I admit my ignorance.”

“But at least this much I can say that in the culture of those assembled on that occasion, asking such a question — fit for school children — to those who have dedicated their lifetime, who are living embodiment of culture, is considered as uncultured, in our culture.

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“Perhaps, this is a case of culture shock. At least, the shock was on our part. The culture, the milieu which has shaped your excellency’s tastes and sensibilities are markedly different from the culture of Manipur, it seems.

“My humble submission, therefore, is that this shock has happened because there are not only diverse but sometimes irreconcilable sensibilities. Because of this, an overarching definition of culture might not be available. Your excellency should not, for that reason, be surprised if not many hundred-worded definitions of culture reach Raj Bhavan,” the letter said.

Just as humans breathe without the need for defining what breathing is, “the people of Manipur know what culture is. It is the prana of our making, that makes us live, that makes us who we are. It is the spirit that we create, in which we immerse and live, and make sense of that living”.

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Sharma saved the best for the last.

Stating that he hoped that a sports ministry would come up in Manipur and that the governor would inaugurate it, Sharma suggested Shanmuganathan “make the adventure of asking those assembled — which would include Olympians — the meaning of sports in 100 words. In a gathering of politicians, we would also like to see you invite a definition of what politics is, in hundred words. Or is it too much of an asking, your excellency”?

The governor has so far not responded to the letter.



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