Silappadhihaaram, an illustrious Tamil literature of the days of yore, explains the real-life incident of a 22 year old woman fighting for justice and exposing, with evidence, the corrupt bureaucracy and the defective decision-making-process of the competent authority (the King). Her fight was a lone battle. She asks, after having established the facts, why others did not come forward to question the wrong committed by the Palace Goldsmith and the King. She asks, to the eternal shame of the so called intellectuals, whether there were learned men at all in the country (Saandrorum Unduhol?).
This literary work addresses the imperative for the consciousness among the people not just to be narrow-minded to look after their individual needs but to actively involve themselves in public issues and work for ensuring justice to the affected and thereby keep the society free from corruption and injustice. Kannahi the Great, is admired and adored by the posterity for her courage, talent and valour that she demonstrated at that tender age.
“The world is a dangerous place to live. Not because of the people who are evil: but because of the people who don’t do anything about it”- said Albert Einstein.
Now, here is an excellent editorial from the newspaper, the “Imphal Free Press”. It is consoling to find a newspaper that sets the standard for journalism in an era in which many other major newspapers have gone for paid news and sectarian views. The editorial titled, “Future Imperfect” published by the newspaper on 23.10.2015 is reproduced below for the benefit of the readers:
The need to be remembered as men of integrity, and as someone who has contributed his little to society and humanity must have to be behind so much human valour, inventions, ingenuity, courage, philanthropy, generosity…. the list of virtues can go on. This need must be a basic instinct, although it has the tendency of showing up in varying degrees in different peoples and communities. Some are sensitive to it, others not so much. And this must also be what in the long run distinguished societies that have emerged at the top and those condemned to backwardness and subordinate position in the hierarchy of nations. In a way, the instinct must be also linked to man’s craving for immortality in an irredeemably transient world that has led many a philosopher to discover only absurdity in life. With death as the grim leveller of all life, men like French existential philosopher and literature Nobel Prize winner, Albert Camus, were led to believe that all philosophies are a matter of a desperate grapple with the absurdities of life to give meaning to what are essentially meaningless.
This absurdity is profoundly evident in existential questions that ask for an explanation how even the most powerful men and women, such as Ronald Regan, President of the US for two terms and Margaret Thatcher, the Prime Minister of Britain who ruled with an iron hand once, and many others like them can also be reduced by Alzheimer disease to a vegetable like any other geriatric anywhere in the world before he met his end. What profound meaning can there be too in the fact that the greatest conqueror of the earth, Alexander of the Great should have died of the bite of a tiny and insignificant insect like mosquito in the prime of his life.
There is no escape from this overwhelming meaninglessness and hence the appeal and indeed relevance of the “existential despair” in everybody’s life. In the beginning and in the end, is the unavoidable void. A realization so well encapsulated in the Meitei cosmology symbolized by the various postures of the serpentine god, Pakhangba, with his tail in the mouth – in the beginning is the end and in the end the beginning.
Still the quest for permanence in the transience that is life must continue. This thirst is in fact as inevitable and compulsive as the existential despair itself.
This must be also what led many to resist a resignation, and not end up only as someone who live only for the present. Captivating as the picture of life portrayed by existentialism, even existentialist themselves have shown their longing for meaning. In Albert Camus’ much quoted essay “Myth of Sisyphus” for instance, the meaning and salvation of Sisyphus’ struggle, becomes the struggle itself. In Greek mythology, Sisyphus was punished by the gods to roll a massive rock up a summit-less hill. His whole purpose and mission in life thus became the prospect of toiling to push the rock up or be crushed under its weight. His endless and futile toil has today become an image of life, at once captivating, heroic and tragic, from the existentialist’s viewpoint. The toil itself becomes the meaning, for beyond it, there is nothing else. What exactly is there beyond our own individual struggles in life, and when can this struggle ever come to a conclusion, except in death.
The only way to ensure one’s legacy lives on is to leave footprints in time. And this is where the need to leave behind a memory of integrity and courage becomes an essential quality of winners, not just as individuals but also as a society. The two are closely interrelated, for indeed the achievement of the society is but the accumulative result of the achievements of individuals. The essential attribute of a society with a survival instinct in terms of this quest for permanence is a capability to leave enough space and concern for the future.
The urgent question that we are all called upon to ask at this tumultuous junction of the history of our society is, do we bother to contribute our share to the future or do we live just for the present. In the face of all the corruption, bribery, sycophancy, siphoning money from development projects, dishonest contract works, unfair trade practices, which have all become rampant today, we cannot at all be optimistic that there is such a concern for the future beyond myopic individual concerns and insecurities. Embedded in this unconcern for the common future, disturbing as the thought may be, there may be a societal death wish. Should we not make the move now to exorcise ourselves of this demon.