Published in One India One People magazine, March 2017
Our rudimentary knowledge of Indian map begins with Kashmir- yes, can we forget those icy mountains, apples and the guns, of course, and ends with Madras. Each time I meet someone from up North, I remind them it is Chennai, not Madras and not the Southern tip of the country, they smile and say, “Yes, beta…we know. You Madrasis always say that!” We remember anything but Kolkatta and its rosgullas as the Eastern border of the country and conveniently forget the Seven Sisters. For most of us, the North Eastern arm doesn’t even exist in the maps. Either that or we go beserk thinking it is part of some other country.
The North East of India is that part of the country that never finds a place in the text books. Please don’t reminisce if we ever read all our books in full and draw a blank. Whatever little knowledge that filtered past our craniums is unaware of the North East. We swallow our momos with gusto, we love being pampered at the salons by the North Easterners, we furtively adore their women, wait, let me rephrase that, we lust over them on our most common misconception that they are freely ‘available’. What we fail to understand is that, the North East is very much an integral part of India.
Our pre-conceived notions are so discriminatory that anyone with eyes smaller than ours is obviously a “chinki” to us. An open challenge, close your eyes and try remembering the names of the seven North Eastern States. I betcha you wouldn’t get past four or five. When we can’t make out a marble from stones, can we make out people of North East from Tibetans? We truly believe they eat dogs. Where did that notion come from? If we ever get to see a North Easterner playing with a puppy, all we see is RED! Do we know the Hill people don’t even eat meat other than chicken? We despise their food habits, yet we gulp down their hand-made momos in swanky malls. We write and speak of volumes about the sacrifices and perseverance of the Gorkha regiment and dutifully ask them, “Are you Nepalis?”, in case we encounter them on road.
We find their hippie style and colored hair flamboyant and rakish- thank you Danny Denzongpa, you did that right! Their low-waist jean pulls our lips to a leer and so does their country style. We sit on judgment over the poor chaps imagining ourselves as Themis, clad in our pan-stained dhotis. Hell, we even laugh at their names- those that sound better than our Kapurs and Kumars. We entertain ourselves with amusement at the name Kiren Rijuju, that must be a tongue-twister for our big, fat tongues!
The insurgency all along the North East has never got the required attention as we remain cocooned in our self-induced coma. 16 years of fasting by Irom Sharmila Chanu and there are people out there who ask “Irom, who?” When Kareena’s pet puppy skips a day’s meal it is prime time news and Irom’s continuous fasting remains best ignored. It is this apathy by media and the Government that fails to highlight the plight of them that pushes more and more people towards taking up arms.
North Easterners are the third most joked about community, only next to our Sardarjis and Madrasis. If it is the intelligence of the Sardarjis, the purported gluttony of the Madrasis that is being made fun of, it is the appearance and the slangs of the North Easterners. Agreed, the Assamese have difficulty in pronouncing “ch” which turns out as “s” all the time, they are in no way inferior to our counterparts chewing pan and spitting words right and left. Just because we tower over a feet tall over the short-statured, good natured North Easterners, we can’t point to their cute button noses and say “I am big!”, for we don’t know what a Caucasian will look down at us and say! Racial and gender discrimination against the North easterners must end right now, if we are to remain united as a nation. If we still treat them as brethren beyond our borders, they might very well be right in demanding the realignment of borders.