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!


White Magpie said...

So how do you say i love you in nepali?

There were heaps of these 'chinkies' where i used to live in santa cruz. Either to study or work in the hospitality industry. I think they had a hard time trusting the 'non-chinkies' and very rarely mixed with anyone. Many were looked on as easy lays sometimes due to their drinking bouts and zarda eating habits. But they need to come out of their shell now. Some of the best rock bands are from the north east.

Nautilus said...

Don't get me started on the "easy lay" topic. Or may be I'll write a post on it!!!

I love you in Nepali is "Ma timi lai maya garssu" :)

shampa said...

i think bollywood may have played a role in integrating sikkim (atleast gangtok) into india. two years ago I was in gangtok and hindi film muzik and posters were all over the place. just outside the rumtek monastery where the chants of om mani padma hum could still be heard, sikkimese guides were singing "dhoom macha de..dhom!!!

ghetufool said...

i worked in shillong for almost two years. i know the people very well. they are nice.
one of my old colleague came to mumbai. she fell in love with a guy here, a 'non-chinky indian' (i am not stating from which state he hails -- that is beyond the point).

that guy used her for more than a year, dumped her saying his family won't accept the relationship. the girl is wrecked now and was profusely crying when i met her about a fortnight back. i was so moved that i wanted to propose her and make her understand that not all mainland guys are same. i knew i won't cheat her. good senses prevailed and i held back from inflicting more insults to her.
point is, there is a reason for ganging up. alone, they are very vulnerable.
as far as assam is concerned, most of the assamese don't share features of the northeast inhabitants. in fact, they are like any other indians -- as simple or as cunning.