Sunday, May 19, 2024
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Excerpts from “Letters to a Grandson.”

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Our Forebears’ Politics of Love

By Yona M. Nonglang

Let me dwell at length on the question of what worries me. Mindless jingoism, among other things, should be a matter of grave concern to all of us. The politics of hatred for the “other” in the name of “love” only for one’s own is not patriotism. It is a sociopathic personality disorder that has lost the ability to comprehend the fact that all life, whether “trai muluk” or “bar muluk,” is precious, and therefore, deserving of being honoured.
Our very enlightened, judicious and big-hearted forebears understood that. They also knew what democratic rights of individuals entailed while they made laws that protected our collective rights as people indigenous to this land. They also had the decency and the wisdom not to misuse power, so they chose not to interfere with what people ate, dressed, and so forth. See the diversity in our cuisines and our traditional attires? Respect for, and preservation of, diversity and personal freedom was how they managed their politics and policies—not some oppressive imposition of uniformity in our shared existence.
I suppose that’s why they created our genial system that embraced individual and familial choices in matters of the heart too. Children born to both Khasi man or woman, irrespective of the ethnic identity of their mother or father, are all Khasi, according to our genial lineage customary laws. One can only admire the refinement and accommodating nature of our forebears’ generous mindset.
And because of this, it’s a fact, that if ten of our people were in the same room, they’d joke about how they variously resemble Thais, Malays, Chinese, Bengalis, Sindhis, Africans, Europeans, Tamils, and so on. Which is, indeed, a fascinating mix of diversity of facial and physical appearances that are a testament to our fluid cosmopolitan history. Therefore, as long as this magnanimous tradition of absorption remains, our jaitbynriew will always live together in peace as one. And the question of “duhjait” (loss of clan) will never arise even though we are a very tiny minority compared to the more populous ethnic groups around us.
As a male member of our tribe, let me tell you what I learnt from my own father. Right on the very day he enrolled me in school, when all the formalities of enrolment in the school office were completed, the clerk gave him a slip of paper that had my name and Mei’s surname on it. “Give this to your teacher,” Papa said as he walked with me to the classroom. “She will know who you are!”
It was only when I got older that I realised Papa was a man who was respectful of our customs and traditions. He neither questioned nor doubted his place in the world because of our matrilineal heritage. He was too busy taking care of his family and minding his own clothing business at Iew to waste his time questioning the wisdom of societal matters already decided and settled a long time ago.
Papa also gladly blessed my youngest brother’s marriage to my sister-in-law who, as you know, is Assamese. And he was the one who advised my brother to go through the rituals of tang-jait for his children even though the church leaders disapproved of it because the missionaries forbade them from participating in our traditional ceremonies. I’ll never know what he said to those church gentlemen but the matter never came up again from their side. Our whole family, along with all our kñi and clan leaders, all accompanied my brother and his family to the ceremony. You see, Papa was a very reasonable man who was just being respectful of his cultural roots. What a shining example of self-respect he set for me.
However, the on-going parochial, divisive and opportunistic identity politics of the misguided among us not only disrespects, but also seeks to undo all of that gallant legacy our forebears put in place. Like the unenlightened ruthless nineteenth century slave-owning white supremacist colonisers of America and the sociopathic twentieth century fascistic Nazis of Europe, with their one drop blood “whiteness purity” rule (https://aaregistry.org/story/the-one-drop-rule-a-brief-story/), in their insane bid to justify their opportunistic hate-based politics and predatory capitalist business model that resulted in genocides and all kinds of ugly wars, there are those among us who have been insisting on going down that same destructive road too.
I remember listening to a “sengbhalang” hazel-eyed gentleman who vehemently argued in favour of a legislation that would legally ostracise Khasi children of “mixed” parentage. He was adamant that neither Khasi women nor men should marry outside the community so that its “purity” was “preserved!” Didn’t he know that his own eyes betrayed the dubiousness of his own “purity?” Didn’t he realise he was publicly and rhetorically gouging his own eyes because he didn’t like other people’s faces?
If only he knew what a disturbing spectacle of toxic masculinity he made—that surly, swaggering and vacuous asininity of a self-appointed saviour of jaitbynriew who thinks he has the right to impose his personal prejudice on the rest of us with his insular and dictatorial view of society! I shudder to think what further anarchy awaits us if people like him end up in positions of power.
Because the quality of our politics and governance is only as good as the people we vote to represent us in government. So, the need of the hour is caring and intelligent men and women who respect their roots and who have first equipped themselves with the necessary education and skills sets to sincerely help our situation by running for public office. Unfortunately, such people seem to be shying away from that responsibility.
“The best lack all conviction,” wrote William Butler Yeats. “And the worst are full of passionate intensity.”
When the best hesitate to fill the power vacuum, it’s a fact of history that ill-equipped status seeking stokers of the ill-tempers of their times, who are the least qualified for high office, are quick to seize their opportunistic political moment by preying on people’s anxieties and discontents through their skilful use of psychological manipulation. You know how cunning charlatans can be when it comes to emotional blackmail. And people end up suffering more when those same charlatans are catapulted into positions of power.
Because, exposed of their lack of intellectual and ethical depth by the very high office they occupy, they also end up making power and status only about, and, for themselves, their narrow interests and their worst prejudices instead. They push society closer to the brink by adopting extremist posturing on sensitive issues and by using inflammatory language against their perceived enemies in order to fire up the gullible whose political support they depend on.
Adolf Hitler, was a secondary school drop-out who couldn’t fulfil his dream to be a major player in the art world because he didn’t qualify for a seat at the arts institute of his choice. Disturbingly anti-social, narcissistic, and power-hungry, he embraced delusions of grandeur by actually fancying himself as the saviour of the “pure white” jaitbynriew.
With no real qualifications for the top job, rabble rousing and emotionally manipulating the ultra-nationalistic sentiments of the dissatisfied Germans of his time was his only way to get publicity. You’ve heard the saying “Hitler and his rhetoric” and how his inflated, loud and empty talk incited his audience. His politics of hate resonated with those who blamed the “other” for their misfortunes. And because of his obsession with the unhinged idea of white supremacy, he even wrote a book in which he expressed his hatred for Jews, especially, whom he called “parasites.”
That man was a highly artful thlen, wasn’t he? And he made full use of his very flawed imagination in a very deviously ingenious manner by playing to the gallery of the naive Germans who fell for his jingoistic act and looked up to him as their saviour. And when they catapulted him to power, he showed his true colours by commissioning the gas chambers that burnt alive millions of those he dehumanised in order to feed his unhinged hunger for absolute power.
And that unhinged hunger for power came home to roost for him and the “jaitbynriew” he so obsessed over, eventually. Because his harebrained ubermenschen white supremacy pipe-dream ended up bringing Germany down to its knees instead of the promised height of glory he obsessed over. And, like any delusional self-aggrandising pretender, he took the easy way out of that inglorious moment of humiliation by killing himself. At the end of that day, the ugly politics of hate not only destroys its victims, it also brings self-ruin to its perpetrators too.
Mature leadership, on the other hand, strives to create harmony and prosperity for all through informed policymaking. It also seeks to calm down even the most restive of society through skilful negotiations and sound political decisions.
I suppose that’s why our judicious and magnanimous forebears, blessed with their beautiful moral imagination and clear moral conscience, decided to put in place their benign customary laws for the sake of societal harmony and peaceful coexistence. No lunatic raging, no hate-filled rhetoric, no narrow-minded politics of fear mongering, of supremacist leanings and jingoism for them. They also refused to interfere in the private lives of their people while they facilitated the means to accommodate personal choices by creating the right kinds of customary laws to meet the different demands of the community.
If only we would continue to appreciate their prudent policymaking skills.

 

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