Tuesday, March 4, 2008

just thinking

Fighting alienation

Once while travelling in a train the TT, seeing my face, asked whether I could get him a khukri. Another time, on a guided sightseeing trip in Chennai, a vai guy gave me a friendly greeting and asked “What country are you from, Madam?”

“I’m an Indian, from Mizoram,” I answered.

The chap’s face fell. “We’re neighbours then. I’m from Silchar,” he said in a sort of despondent way. He lost all interest in me after that.

We were invited to attend an annual meeting of a particular clan of Keralites in Bangalore. They requested me to come in my Mizo dress and sing a Mizo song. I’d never dare sing a solo among my own community but believe it or not, I called up enough guts to actually sing ‘Kan zotlang ram nuam’ before a crowd of pure Malayalees. I grabbed the chance of publicizing my people and our lovely songs.

Outside the northeast region of India, we people of the Mongoloid race are called ‘Chinkies’, ‘Nepalis’ or ‘Assamese’. Or we get mistaken for foreigners. Most of us who come out of the region have lots of experiences to recount, irritating or amusing, depending on how one takes it. We could either react by drawing back into our shells, or go ahead and face it, making our marks in the process. Like HT Sangliana, MP and ex-super cop of Bangalore, has done.

Pu Sangliana is a chink like us, was placed in the tough job of a cop. He faced racial prejudice and taunts like any of us. He had to fight crime and corruption, both on the streets and in high places. No easy task among your own people, doubly difficult in a big city where you’re considered an outsider. But he did it! And won the affection and admiration of a ‘strange’ people. They even made Kannada films on his life. A Kannadinga guy told me that when he was a child, his elders used to tell him stories about Sangliana.

Let’s listen to his message to us North-easterners in an interview with the writer some years back:

“The Northeast as a whole is very beautiful, fertile, and only if they work harder there's no difficulty in eking out a livelihood. And they should accept that Indian citizenship is an absolutely beautiful citizenship. We should all have a full sense of belonging to India. The more we feel Indian, the more we'll become owners. And nobody can call us second class citizens. India is a big and free country.
“Insurgency has to stop. People in the mainland are surging ahead; living condition and per-capita income are improving everyday. The Northeast is behaving like a small village. All of us should have broad mind and determination to fight for our own future, not by taking up arms but by working harder. We have a great opportunity to come up in every aspect of life. Let us have quality young men and young women who can stand on their own feet and lead the North-eastern people.”

Sound advice, don’t you think?


Calliopia said...

I think prejudice against other cultures tend to be strongest among the illiterate and uneducated, and also among people who may be educated and literate but haven't been exposed to people of other cultures on an equal footing. Like most vais we have here in Mizoram are even less econmically well-off than most of us, so we tend to think all vais are beneath us and that's such a mistake. But then on the other hand, there are so many vais who have not so nice opinions of us either so it's all rather tit for tat, I guess

mesjay said...

Tit for tat, true. But remember what Gandhiji said? If we keep on practising 'an eye for an eye'... all of us would end up blind and toothless. Imagine!

TakeAStepBack said...

I believe in what Mr Sangliana has to say. I do think that if more people from Mizoram, Nagaland, Manipur, Tripura, Meghalaya, and Arunachal (I am not including Assam in the list, because a quite a few Assamese do make it out to the "mainland"), start visiting the "mainland", studying here, working here, and most importantly mingling here then the sense of alienation will go away. Yes, there is a fringe that will try to subvert that process, call you names, but on the whole I would say people would warmly welcome your thoughts, your experiences, and your opinions. The open welcome for Mr Sangliana in Bangalore is a case in point. So is the case of Mr J.M. Lyngdoh, one of the best CEC's we have ever had. The recent Indian Idol, where Prashant Tamang, and Amit, and Maiyung Chang (the latter not really from the NE but "different") were in the top 5, certainly suggests that a huge swath of this country (whether North, South, East, West, or the NorthEast) was voting for them regardless of how "different" they looked. For every one bigoted person that you find on the "mainland", I am sure, you'll find many wanting to listen to your stories, and to hear your music, and read your poems. Mizos, and Nagas, and Manipuris, and all others will have make India your own, shape it as you want with your own thoughts and feelings, paint it with the colours of your choice. I and many others like me from the "mainland" would want nothing less because we know that without you all - there is no India. It is as simple as that.

DayDreamBeliever said...

I think a lot depends on the individual too. I've had mixed responses to my "different" looks, to which I myself have given mixed reactions. I do think that regardlesss of caste, colour, creed, people will react to what kind of person you are at the end of the day. As the person before me commented, in the case of Sangliana and Lyngdoh, I think they have proved themselves worthy of respect by the way they conduct themselves. Sure, there will be prejudices, but a lot of the time I think the unwanted attention is more about curiosity than anything else, and it's up to us to start educating them. Good post!

mesjay said...

You are right, takeastepback. If we, the northeasterners, approach the mainland with a full citizen's attitude, we will feel a sense of belonging despite a few bigots who want to scare us away. People are just people everywhere - the good, the bad, and the indifferent are all there. I'm sure there are lots of open minded persons like you out there who are willing to welcome us with open arms. We all need to work for a great, united India.

mesjay said...

I agree with you, daydreambeliever. Some good hearted ppl even show us more care because we are different, and perhaps look a little lost among the great crowds of non-chinks. For every boor who likes to tease and insult, there are several others who are willing to live and let live. Sometimes we allow one or two bad experiences to colour our minds permanently. We need to come out of our shells and mingle in the right way. And of course, how we treat those who come to our states also matters.

TakeAStepBack said...

@mesjay: Yes, you said it well - going everywhere in the country with a full sense of ownership is what everyone needs to do. The more often you come, and the more of you come, the more educated "mainlanders" will be not just about you as a person, but about Mizoram, and about Mizos. I sincerely look forward to a day when a Japanese tourist visiting the "mainland" gets asked: "so what brings you here all the way from Mizoram ?" :-).

@daydreambeliever: Yes, it is about individuals, and individual interactions. But every time you interact with a full sense of ownership of your citizenship with a "mainlander", a small but important message gets communicated (perhaps at the sub-conscious levels) to your interlocutor, that these are our people. Perhaps he/she will communicate that to a few of his/her friends. So your simple individual interaction ended up creating a small group of people, who are less curious about your looks, but perhaps far more curious about the Mizos. Of course, it will take a long time to change a country of 1.2 billion people in this fashion :-), but we have to start somewhere, don't we ? Luckily, the rapid spread of the internet, the television, the reality shows, is helping speed up the process of "national acquintance" (I prefer to use these words to "national integration" as I think the word integration connotes a certain loss of uniqueness).

I need to learn to shorten the length of my comments :-).

mesjay said...

Yes, takeastepback. Let's hope and work for a better, more integrated country, though forces trying to tear it apart are working hard at it too.
Daydream believer, i don't feel that integration involves loss of identity. I see it as the different colours woven into a whole like a designs in our Mizo puan.