Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Northeast and my lack of knowledge

This morning while I was going through the blogs of  Times Of India, I came across this one by Tarun Vijay, spokesperson for BJP. Very interesting perspective of the situation in the Northeast, specially in Manipur. I have never been to that side of the country - hell, I've never been to Darjeeling or anywhere north of Kolkata for that matter!! My knowledge about the Northeastern states are as hazy as the mist that lingers over the mountains and the last remaining rain forests of India. And I can count the number of people I have come across who hailed from that part of India in one finger.

Of course it reminded me of Leela - long ago, in another life I had met this beautiful Sikkimese girl called Leela in a NCC camp. We had instant camarederie even though I could barely speak Hindi and she could barely speak English. She had taught me how to say I love you in Nepali and kept correcting my awful Hindi grammar and when we parted ways after being joined at the hip for two weeks, amid copious amounts of tears and snot I promised to visit her in Gangtok. Needless to say that never happened and after writing to each other diligently for a year or so and thereby improving my written Hindi considerably, we drifted apart. Till date though, I cannot think of Sikkim without thinking of Leela - my sole connection with the remote Northeast.

My mother's cousin owned a fairly popular store somewhere in Assam (the details escape me) selling imported goods. I was very young then, but have memories of the dolls and electronic gadgets that he used to bring whenever he visited Kolkata, even though I actually can't remember his face. What I do remember is witnessing their family in shambles when literally over-night they had to flee Assam in the wake of a very violent anti-Bengali movement in the early 80's. He brought his wife and kids to Kolkata, to safety and went back to wrap up whatever was left of his business and found his store burnt to the ground. He was found hanging from the ceiling fan a few days later by his neighbors. To this day no one knows whether he ended his own life or someone killed him. Funny how I'd remember that one violent incident while I was reading about the insurgent groups that are terrorizing the northeast, spreading anti-Hindu, anti-Indian, anti-immigrant sentiments in the entire area.

When I lived in Bangalore, every now and then I'd come across groups of Northeastern students - they'd always stay in a pack, socialize among themselves, remain aloof and sometimes hostile to anyone who'd try to get closer. They were labelled as "chinkies" because hardly anyone knew who they were or where they came from - their Naga, Manipuri, Mizo or Tripuri heritage wiped clean by their flat Mongoloid features. They'd stand out like sore thumbs in the Aryan-Dravidian population of the metropolis - treated with disdain and ridicule. How much of it was because of  the ignorance of the  people and how much of it was their inability to identify or blend is a topic I won't even touch. I don't see it as any different from a group of Bengalis in Seattle who refuse to socialize with any one other than another Bengali. As human beings we tend to look for our own kind and feel safe as a tribe. Any one who is different is a threat anyway.

I need to read up on this issue a lot more. The lack of knowledge is very unsettling. Ignorance is as bad as indifference...and that needs to change!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

A short trip

I just got back from Kolkata - I travelled alone and it was a short trip, 10 days actually - but the heat and humidity made it feel way longer! What prompted me to land in Kolkata in May you might fact every one I met asked me that same set of questions. It was strange that people have pre-conceived notions  about the NRI's and their travel habits. What are you doing here in May? How come you're traveling by yourself? Who's looking after the kids? Spouse let you travel alone? If those questions weren't bad enough, then came the wistful musings, specially from women - You are so lucky to have a spouse who would let you travel and volunteer to look after the kids!! The operative word here is "let", over and over again. Even my old-fashioned, traditional mother finally got sick of people going on and on about it.

I didn't quite understand the novelty of it much. In my world, women travel alone all the time - even moms travel alone all the time and dads take over the home front when moms are away. Sure, it's an adjustment for the dads - just as it was an adjustment for spouse. Not that I was having it easy either. Three days into the trip, I was missing the children so much that I nearly changed my ticket to come back early. But I had gone there with a purpose - to spend some time with Ma and if I didn't travel now I probably wouldn't have been able to see her this year at all.  And this time alone with her, was something that she needed and as much as I hate to admit it, I needed it too.

To be very honest, I was a little weary of traveling alone. In the past, I've landed in some soup or the other pretty much every time I got on a plane without spouse. This time I had braced myself for the worst - a terrorist attack or a plane crash even. But fortunately it was completely uneventful except when I was questioned for the Mexico stamp in my passport at Frankfurt...that was completely bizarre!! And if I can help it, I will never fly through Frankfurt again - their duty-free shopping sucks...big time!!!

It was good to be myself again for a change - not the wife, the mommy or the daughter-in-law...just me, the way I used to be once upon a time...well almost! I say almost, because over the course of the 10 days, I realized how much I have changed since I left home over 15 years ago. Through my late teens and early twenties,  Ma used to be pretty strict about late nights and we locked horns so many times over that issue. I was never given the house keys, nor the car/driver for late night uses. Even when I used to live alone in another city, she used to call up to check if I was home or gallivanting around town in the middle of the night. That used to drive me completely crazy - of not being able to get away from her scrutinizing gaze even after leaving home. This time, the house keys were handed over without having to ask for them, there was a car waiting for me 24 hours, no one asked me where I was going, who I was meeting and yet, every time I went out, not only I explicitly told Ma where I was going and with whom, also I was back home well before mid-night every time...voluntarily! What does that mean? Am I more responsible now? Or am I just old?

Bumped into some people I knew in another life in a club. Nothing seemed to have changed. They still meet at the club on Saturdays - sit in the sealed air-conditioned chamber smoking cigarettes and drinking whiskey, the DJ still plays music from 80's and early 90's way too loud and the dance floor is still filled with aunties and uncles who has a bit to drink and have shed their inhibitions - the conversation has changed a they talk about their kids and their high cholesterol rather than the hot deal or the hotter babe they have landed. Some of those babes are now wives and have puffed up beyond recognition and I didn't know how to react to the "OMG... you haven't changed one bit!" squeals and the air-kisses. It was like stepping into a time capsule and it was surreal!! Once upon a time, I'd have been perfectly happy spending my Saturday evening there, but this time, I couldn't wait to get out. I stayed there for a polite half-an hour and then bid adieu to  a place and time in my life I refuse to be nostalgic about any more!!

So I'm back. The boys clearly missed me - sonny boy showed a rare display of affection by hugging me in front of the whole world, when I went to pick him up from school. Bonny baby's vocabulary has tripled and I realized that I literally live to hear him call me "mammy"!! The girl has become a woman and the daughter has become a's good to be back home!!