Friday, 24 February 2017


An Open Letter to His Excellency, Shri V Shanmuganathan, Governor of Manipur and Meghalaya, on the definition of culture

His Excellency,

The inauguration of the University of Culture and Manipur State Film and Television Institute on 12th August, 2016 is a realization of a dream for many who have worked in the conservation, transformation and evolution of Manipuri culture. Your august presence in the inauguration is appreciated by those assembled lovers and proponents of Manipuri culture. In your address, your Excellency, in an inimitable style of interactive deliverance of speech had asked those assembled to write in hundred words the meaning of culture with the promise of once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have tea with you. (This invitation was translated to Manipuri by the ADC on your Excellency’s command.) 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 your Excellency.

Your Excellency’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.

Norms and propriety are part of any culture. 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 civilizations, 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. 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 do not reach Raj Bhavan.

Just like we breathe without the need for the definition of what it is breathing, the people of Manipur know what culture is. It is the pr??a of our making, that makes us live, that makes us who we are. It is the spirit that we create, and in which we immerse and live, and make sense of that living.

After the inauguration of the University of Culture and the State Film and Television Institute, we expect Sports University to come up in Manipur. We expect that your Excellency would grace the inauguration. I would like your Excellency to make the adventure of asking those assembled which would include Olympians, the meaning of sports in hundred words. In a gathering of politicians, we would also like to see you invite definition of what politics is, in hundred words. Or is it too much of an asking, your Excellency?

Yours sincerely,

Aribam Syam Sharma
Manipuri Film-Maker
Sana Phandeng Leirak
Thangmeiband Lourung Purel Leikai
Imphal West, Manipur -794002

14-Aug-2016 / IFP Letters / 0 Comments


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