Last letter from India: Manipur

Note: This is an on-the-road blog post. To find out more about why I am on this trip, please read, Next book: From Kerala to Shaolin.

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A continuation of Letter from India: Gatka

The first time I hear about Manipur is when I am doing my preliminary research into Indian martial arts, and something called “Thang-Ta”, which doesn’t sound very Indian at all, shows up. Subsequently, as I travel across India, different martial arts gurus insist that I must visit Manipur to see one of the country’s finest martial arts.

Having never been there, my perceptions of India’s Northeast are superficial. I believe it is a region of hill stations, tea plantations, and a thousand separatists; but beyond that I know little. If you look at a map of South Asia, you will see that the long journey of nationalism and statehood has left India with this chunk of territory, the Northeast, connected to the rest by an extremely narrow passage, which almost looks like India’s little pinky, holding on desperately (see map). Continue reading

"Rock the Junta"

is an article in this month’s Mother Jones magazine about a Christian heavy metal band, Iron Cross, subtly screaming for liberty in Burma. I reproduce one interesting passage about the Orwellian culture of fear in this country:

‘Even other Western tourists spoke in whispers, turning both directions to see if anyone was listening. This syndrome has a name among some NGO workers – “Burma Head.” In a 1977 book called Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, Foucault discussed the social effects of surveillance, using a prison designed by Jeremy Bentham in 1787, called the Panopticon, as a model.

The cells are arranged in a circle around a central observation tower, so that one person inside the tower can see into every cell at all times, but the prisoners, while able to see the tower, never really know whether there is a person in there watching them, or not. The observer can see out, but the observed can’t see in.

Hence the major effect of the Panopticon: to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power. So to arrange things that the surveillance is permanent in its effects, even if it is discontinuous in its action; that the perfection of power should tend to render its actual exercise unnecessary; that this architectural apparatus should be a machine for creating and sustaining a power relation independent of the person who exercises it; in short, that the inmates should be caught up in a power situation of which they are themselves the bearers.

This was why there was no visible military presence in the city. It wasn’t necessary. The people controlled themselves. Even tourists were not immune. In the Panopticon of Burma, you were a prisoner among prisoners, each with your own cell. The effect was a deadening of desire, a flat-lining of curiosity and humor, and loneliness hung in the air, heavy as the smog cloud that covers all of Asia.’