By Aolla Tripathi & A.K. Tripathi – #Guwahati
An imaginary account of conversation between two alumnae of an elite college
(Int is merely short for interlocutor and is meant as notional identity)
Int-1. Hi there! Sassily attired! Where did you steal that diamante from? Quite chichi, I say.
Int-2 Have you nothing better to say to the girls from the north east? Well, as matter of fact it’s a gift from mom. You know what-you are so opinionated and so ill informed that it amazes me you seek college education at all.
Int-1. Strong words! Don’t get personal. I was sincerely complimenting you. Why that north east fixation? Why do you react so predictably?
Int-2. I don’t know what to say. There was more of an undercurrent of sarcasm than true appreciation of the attire. And that’s North east fixation? – somewhat revolting. You seem to have a term or phrase ready for every human situation. Contemporary text books teach you nothing about the history of the north east. With high cheek bones and an epicanthic fold we can be easily spotted, especially the girls- that word epicanthic -I got it from my uncle, an anthropologist. Chinky is much simpler. There is also the question of an image of ‘an Indian.’ We don’t seem to fit that image. Even the epics have been unkind to us. The land of the ‘asuras’- that’s what the region has been dubbed as. Bhima ( Pandava ) married Hindimba after whom Dimapur has been named. Well, Hidimba and her son Ghatotkatch were from the asura clan. The word asura rankles.
Int-1. There is much in what you say. Yours is an open society. I mean no inhibitions-much like the West. Why don’t you join the cultural mainstream and get rid of the tag. Why don’t you climb on to the bandwagon and discard the persecution complex.
Int-2. Is that supposed to be a compliment? You think girls from the north east are good fun. An intimate date perhaps! Or a quick roll in the hay. Open society-forsooth! Ours is a cultured society where communication in the family is very strong unlike most of the states elsewhere. And by the way, incest is something we don’t have to worry about. Our boys and girls know the facts of life and learn to respect social mores much early in life. The problem with you people is that you associate drinking and sex with the morality of a person. Not a very logical corollary. There is this misplaced notion that girls from the NE eat, drink and make merry at the slightest pretext. You accuse us of being promiscuous. Imagine societies up north assuming this stance where polygamy and polyandry were once considered normal. The Pandavas are a good example. Marital infidelity is very high in your society.
Int-1. Are you trying to say that you are better off than the northerners or the rest of India? We shall have to see what the ethnographers feel. In fact we are streets ahead in terms of human development index.
Int-2. Perhaps you’re right. We are small in numbers and that gives a misleading data as the denominator is small. Having achieved so much you’re tolerance is abysmally low when it comes to accommodating smaller disparate cultures. A laden fruit tree bows down. The problem is you can’t see wood from the trees. We are smarter, faster and have an irresistible outlandish face. Above all we are less inhibited and therefore make friends easily. You can’t understand this. The mistake these so called social scientists make is to study the community from outside. To understand the real issues one must work from inside. You must live with them, sleep with them and eat their food as well to understand their guiding beliefs and ideals. I think I’ve spoken enough. Sorry, to be monopolizing the conversation.
Int-1. That’s not true. You have a herd mentality. You are not trail blazers. You live in clusters, afraid of the unknown and totally at sea in a new environment. You don’t assimilate easily. You have got to admit that one cannot live in isolation. To be accepted one must culture love for the local people, develop a liking for its ethos and its values. I’m merely rephrasing the arguments you were giving a while ago.
Int-2. I don’t know where we have gone wrong. I think it’s something to do with your toffee-nosed attitude. In fact the girls from NE, particularly from Assam, Mizoram and Tripura are more resourceful, independent and have the capacity to look the devil in the eye. That can’t be said for the homesick and weak minded females that dot the Delhi firmament. The Mahatma had some lovely things to say about our ladies: “The women of Assam weave dreams of fairyland into textures of their clothes. Every woman in Assam is by nature an artist”.
Int-1. Don’t generalize. You are yet to make the mainstream. You are only a handful- how can you call the shots. If I remember my basics, the eight north eastern states constitute less the than four percent of the population of India. And how many of are you in the Parliament? Not even enough to make a whimper!
Int-2. That is exactly my point- therein lies the rub my friend. We are a minority and the voice of minority is seldom heard without unsavory means. Democracy is a game of numbers and we realize that. All we are asking is think of us as ‘one of us ‘ and not ‘the other’. You no doubt have quantity but I’m not sure of the quality. We have about 25 MPs representing the entire North East. Yet, the only IIT and IIM educated MP is from Sikkim. Our people are acquiring property and flats in Delhi and other metropolis, sending their children out for higher studies and even agreeing to and arranging cross community alliances. Things are looking up. A niche bulletin like Cafe Chronicle carries an ad showing Mary Kom, Saina and Virat Kohli together. You get the drift my friend Watson.
Int-1. I do and quit snowing or you will catch cold. But all said and done you don’t have much in the kitty. Look at the pantheon of Indian women!-Jhansi ki Rani. Indira Gandhi, VIjay Laxmi Pandit, our last Prez, the list is endless.
Int-2. No doubt, an illustrious cluster. We too have our galaxy of heroines. Assam was one of the earliest states to rise in revolt against the shackles of foreign rule and join the mainstream freedom struggle. But, even long, before that, the Assamese women were accustomed to value their freedom. We have had our fair share in the illustrious Gabhurus, Joymati, and in the sacrifices of the young Rangili and Padumi. The sad part is our heroics and exploits have not been well packaged or to put it in business parlance we don’t have a brand value.
Int-1. Well don’t be thankless. The Government has been pumping in a lot of money. The DONER has been doing a good job. It seems you feel yourself to be a victim of inferiority complex. Be in the race, don’t drop out or else you will find yourself doing the laps alone.
Int-2. Donations, philanthropy and tranches of money are not the remedy. What you need is to make the people down here feel that they are a part of the nation building process. Regarding complexes, you may be right- if we have inferiority complex then you should be wearing superiority on your heart, loud and clear. What with your Khap panchayats, dowry deaths, female feticide and the traditional perception of girl being a burden, we are better off as we are. Girls, here are better educated and free to pursue their dreams. Alas! This cannot be said in your case where a woman becomes a child bearing machine; if male all the more better. All these negatives have put our country to shame.
Int-1. Yes, there is some truth in what you say and feel. Why, you too have your quaint tribal and local customs far removed from the concept of civilized living.
Int-2. Thank God you have stooped to equate with our culture. Well, you are way off the mark. Historically, our region enjoys the reputation of being free from social evils like sati, dowry and female infanticide or feticide if one wants to be particular. There is a strong undercurrent of female hegemony in our social values. Look at our deities- Ma Kamakhya, Ma Kali and a host of revered Godesses. Women are widely respected here and are not the butt end of silly and moron jokes circulating in your community. In Meghalaya, the matriarchal system is being followed which underscores the fact that women are held in high esteem even in conservative tribal societies.
Int-1. Don’t you think we started this conversation on rather not so serious a note? How does it all add up to the campus hum?
Int-2. Here again you quickly resort to ethnic profiling for all the ills of the campus. The conventional didactics only emphasizes stereotypes and blunts the spirit of inquiry. The recent hullaballoo in one of the southern universities is a case in point. The VC had to recant. This is not an isolated case. The problem is that you tend to mix up morality with our lifestyles and social mores. The self- appointed Grand Panjandrum of moral values trying to wipe out Valentine’s Day and Pop music from our lives.
Int-1. You sound so funny and pompous when you say all that. Well, whatever you have said gives me food for thought. I never knew things were like that.
Int-2. Never mind how I sound. As long as I can make you see my side of the story. It’s okay. In many of the movements the Manipuri women have been in the forefront. Look at Irom Sharmila. The Manipuri women had also launched a battle against alcoholism and drug addiction. No state has dominated women’s football like Manipur. Mary Kom of Manipur (boxing) is world’s number 1 in 46 kg category. Women back home are sharp, sturdy and strong and bring the same traits in their daily lives. Give the respect we deserve.
Don’t follow the ‘live and let die creed’ of James Bond. He is fiction. Start believing in live and let live and shed that smug holier than thou attitude.
Int-2. Thanks for this rather rambling but delightful ‘Ru Barooh’ or tête á tête. Be our ambassador and our good luck charm. Our true identity stems from the goodness and gentleness of our heart and not from la-di- da homilies. Next time Hitchcock makes a movie I’ll tell him to call it ‘North by North East’ and not ‘North by North West.’ Well, friend I’m really touched and intend to join you on your next home trip –northeast ho- here we come.