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To all my dear ‘Indian’ friends

June 28, 2008

Let me tell you a little secret.There is a bit of India beyond Kolkatta.You might bunch it up as North-East India,but,surprise,surprise, you actually have seven states nestled there.The “Seven Sisters of North-East ” as the sobriquet goes.I bet my cute little ass that you won’t know all seven of them,forget about knowing their capitals.

Its been 10 years since I have left home and nothing has changed in terms of perception of North-East that I see from the rest of the Indians.Its the same old cliched lines that I get to hear over and over.

“Oh Assamese, so you must be knowing Bengali” .I am from Assam and I speak Assamese , but that by default doesn’t make me understand Bengali. If you meet a Bengali do you ask him/her if he/she understands Assamese? Kindly don’t assume I speak Bengali.Just my bad luck that my name has more of a Bengali touch,and my features are not your typical Assamese looks. You know ,what rest of ‘Indians’ ,would call ‘chinkies’.

I will tell you why I have this sudden outburst.My boss in office (and I had swore never ever to bitch about bosses,but here you go ), was pissed off with me and shouted “This is the problem with you North-Easterns,refusing to use your brains ” . I KID YOU NOT.This from a guy who has worked for 30 years ,is a VP of the fuck- all organisation that I am being forced to work now. And I just didnt retaliate,as I already have lots of issues with this place and I am just waiting to complete my one year here.

Other ,kinder reactions all of us from my North-Easterns have had to face –

“Aah North-East? Drugs,music and terrorists”

“Oh from north-east.You guys eat all kinds of animals and insects na?”

“She is from the North-East? <hush hush>They are too westernised yaar, lose morals,sleeps around.”

Now before I go ahead let me state ,that even I am as guilty as the next person of bigotry.But don’t you agree with me that the VP had absolutely no right to use the north-eastern angle, especially since he knows I can’t and won’t come up with an “all marwaris are money sucking leeches “.See, even I have issues against some kind of people,but I will not give vent to my personal feelings in a professional environment. (That is why I blog 🙂 )He is lucky to be working in an unprofessional Indian brokerage firm run predominantly by the Gujjus and Marwaris ,where there is absolutely no work-ethics in place ,no ombudsman to complain in such cases. I can go on and on about my work place but that is reserved for another post.

Coming back to the North-Eastern angle, I have studied in two very politically charged campuses in the country -Delhi University and JNU (you have no idea how seriously we, especially hostelers, take our politics).Many a time we north-easterns have been accused of groupisms-we only stick to each other.I have to agree with this on a certain level. The initial hesitance to mix, I believe is more because of the language problem, strange culture,food and even climate. Its more of a human tendency to stick to the familiar and finding ones bearings. All these factors can be a big issue especially if you are suddenly uprooted from your surroundings and thrown into the big city and Delhi,most of you will agree with me, is not a welcoming city.Plus we North-Easterns are the shy and reserved lot. But hey many of us did socialise with the others.And a few of us did take it to ‘deeper levels’, if you get the general drift .. <wink wink>.And now I see my friends (and sister too ) happily married off to Punjabis,Sindhis,Tamils,Biharis,Oriyas,etc.(one per friend) .And while I might not have taken the extreme step of actually marrying them I did date quite a varied lot.You can’t accuse me of not doing my bit for national unity.

Coming back to the exceedingly stupid questions that seem to be reserved for us north-easterns.(many a time I am confused whether the person asking is genuinely stupid or trying to act smart,and I don’t know which one would be a better option).

Yes we love our music and alcohol.Atleast we donot have to hide the fact that we drink from our parents.I might not smoke in front of them,but they know I do.My parents know I live with my boyfriend and they come visit us (too often as Sid might have put it :-)).Frankly my mom gets more worked up with issues like not having proper breakfast or lunch.But sadly the people who have actually judged me and tried to put a moral tinge to it are people of my age group.“This is India and it is not acceptable”.

As for strange customs, you know what’s a stranger custom than eating animals which might gross you out.Its the strange custom of dowry. Of the second class treatment meted out to women.Of the extremely rigid caste system.(Which I am ashamed to say, is present to a certain extent in parts of Assam,but I have never ever heard of a caste war there till now).Infact it was only while I was filling out my college forms in Delhi University that I heard some ask me ,for the first time in my life, “Which caste are you from” .And I still don’t know why, but that question kind of embarrassed me.

And as for sleeping around!!! Guess what?? We have sex.We do.You don’t? Too bad.And not surprisingly that “lose moral”angle is given by guys who really haven’t managed to get ‘it’ or girls who haven’t been laid yet.And then they come up with priceless gems like ” It doesn’t work like this in our culture”. Dude you didn’t get laid. Don’t blame a thousand year old civilisation for that,a civilisation which has written a rather scientific treaty on 1001 ways to do it,and erected temples glorifying sex.

So a basic primer on North East.

1)Seven states -Assam (Dispur),Meghalaya (Shillong),Nagaland(Kohima), Manipur (Imphal),Arunachal Pradesh (Itanagar),Tripura (Agartala),Mizoram (Aizawl). Simple no?

So next time I say I am from Assam,don’t try to take the conversation forward by saying (Oh shillong is a nice place, I heard)…umm..yeah so ?? Kashmir I heard is pretty too.

2) Assam ,especially Guwahati , is at the foothills.So no snow.Infact Guwahati is by the Brahmaputra river.

3)Yes our cuisine is varied.Among the communities in Assam we eat chicken ,fish( a lot),pigeon,goat,pigs,ducks and among the other tribes in Assam it is a lot more varied. We love bamboo shoots too, eat a lot of fronds (its a kind of fern called ‘dhekia xaak’ my personal favorite),berries (called ‘bogori’,slurp), elephant-apple( called ‘ou-tenga’ in Assamese), and zillions of leafy green vegetables.

I hate rajma chawal and chole but I will not say it in front of Punjabis I barely know,but of course my boyfriend and my close friends know I hate it,like I hate too spicy and too oily food.

4) Yes terrorism is a problem in North East.I will not air my opinions on that,not yet atleast,but let me tell you that the moment my boss uttered those words(or on such other occasions) I would feel nothing better than to borrow a gun from my fellow comrades in arms in ULFA and blow the heads off such ignoramus fools.Just Kidding.No actually no,at that moment my blood boils and only violent thoughts come to my mind.

I can end on a sweet note saying some of my best friends are people from U.P, Bihar,Rajasthan, Karnataka etc.but that doesnt really solve anything.Does it?I mean do I actually know what their actual feelings would have been,had they not had the good fortune of having me as their friend. 🙂

P.S. – I have been debating a lot whether to post this or not,and then whether to sugar coat my feelings.Then I realised, hey its my blog, I get to write crap on it.

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32 Comments leave one →
  1. June 28, 2008 6:34 pm

    Very well conveyed message! I wont call it an outburst because every word is quite well supported by clear logic.
    But I think you should not have forgotten to add, half of the total population of Marwar district (half because their better halves do not even go out of their kothis where they are caged as if they are animals and not women)live on the sweat and blood and money of northeastern people as if they are some parasites…
    I am sorry this sounds so politically incorrect. But at least i have the courtesy to admit that i just made a politically incorrect statement…
    MORE ON THIS SUBJECT LATER. I AM SURE A LOT OF OUR FRIENDS WILL HAVE A STORY LIKE THIS ONE TO TELL.

  2. sid permalink
    June 28, 2008 6:38 pm

    a word of praise from ur “Indian” friend…very well written post..makes the point loud and clear…hope ur boss stumbles upon this as well 😉

  3. Galadriel permalink
    June 28, 2008 10:08 pm

    🙂
    Relax, you’re confusing issues of people’s intelligence with communal sentiment. Just because people are too stupid to know that there are 7 states in the North-east (btw, I knew all of them with their capitals so you don’t jump at my throat) doesn’t make the rest of us a bunch of ‘judgers’. But yeah, your boss does need a lesson in attitude.

  4. June 29, 2008 4:47 am

    Are you serious? People say such things? At work and all? I’m so shocked to know this frankly!

    And its obvious you have been through such stupidity too much from this post.

    I agree we all set some ideas in our minds about certain sect but then we don’t go about shouting such foul words in public!

  5. June 29, 2008 6:30 am

    Valid points. Looks like you were really worked up going by the lack of punctuation. With good reason I would say.
    The first issue is your boss’s outburst. Forget the specific words that your boss uttered – such an utterance against anybody qualifies as racist. He was probably showing his true colours. He deserves to be answered back. I can’t actually believe that somebody would do this at the workplace.

    The second issue is one I have personally seen and felt from the time I landed up in an engineering college. Those 4 years were some of the best years I have had in terms of friends, but it also made me realize amazing ignorance and prejudices that people have about the NorthEastern states. You have already elaborated on those, so I need not.
    Since then I have met people who are remarkably well informed and rational and who hold no such biased ideas. The earlier prejudiced remarks have been diluted to harmless banter about being ‘junglees’. Amusing as this one is, it still conveys something about the stereotypes. I have stopped answering those jokes because any sane responses are usually met with patronizing attitudes – Ooo he’s sensitive! Don’t say these things!

    But you know what – the huge amount of migration that’s taking place in India right now, because of young people moving out to the metros for jobs has
    and will do a lot to erase these and bring them down to the level of friendly jokes. That of course does not preclude the existence of people like your boss.

  6. June 29, 2008 10:54 am

    Agree with the outburst.

    I have a friend from Assam who once was asked by a Cab driver in mumbai about why nepalis come to india en masse. Needless to say, he went fuming – to be refered to as a foreigner in one’s own country is not something one takes to kindly!

    He has in fact written an entire discussion paper on the whys and hows of the treatment received by NE indian folks by the rest of the country – perceptions and attitudes primarily driven by the acute lack of participation in the ‘mainstream Indian psyche’ – and puts the blame equally on successive governments as well as on NE indian residents themselves for not seizing opportunities and catching up economically with the rest of the country.

    His final thoughts : Nothing gives a community more acceptance than its economic power – and till NE attains that, these perceptions might continue.

    I personally do not agree with the summary in toto.

  7. June 29, 2008 4:10 pm

    well… ur boss sure needs to go back to school. grooming school, as well. but heyy, that doesn’t make the rest of us judgemental, rite?
    i too, am guilty, at times… coz tho i do know the seven states… the first thing that comes to my mind when you say north-east is “momos!!!”

  8. kausiki permalink
    June 30, 2008 6:54 am

    extremely well written.agree wit all dat u hav said.i hope ur boss stumbles upon dis post.he’l surely learn a lesson.

  9. June 30, 2008 5:27 pm

    Its very true that people from other states do not know much about India. I was reflecting on this when I suddenly realised – hey, how much do I know about the culture, history and geography of the North East? Not a whole lot more than my friends from other parts of the country, I think. And how much have I seen beyond Guwahati and Nagaon – again, not much. Apart from the unbelievable, unforgettable hike in Arunachal. Hmm.. sis, its probably time to get to know a little bit more?

  10. July 1, 2008 8:02 am

    well written…and i agree with you about the bias against North eastern guys and gals. I am a bengali who hails from assam so I kind of see both sides of the coin.

    just a request dont take it to heart too much…we all have a tendency to misjudge people/religions/cultures we dont know. the perception changes when we get closer.

    honestly how many times would you have branded anyone with slightly wavy hair and dark skin tone as ‘Madrasi’ not thinking which of the four southern states he actually belongs too?

    The truth is that most of India has no clue about the North east and ‘chinki’ features are common to the chinese, tibeteans, north east, korea, japan and many more….and all these are branded ‘chinki’. Because when we see them we are unable to place them.

    Have faith, people like ur boss are not the only ones around….my bong husband has ‘chinki’ looks and forever branded a burmese or some such.

  11. July 1, 2008 8:02 am

    What an ass of a boss you have!! Someone like that doesn’t deserve respect. I’ll bet he was far from using his brains when he decided to say such things!

    I agree with every word. Although I can see the point of certain above comments, one HAS to be ‘chinky’ to really understand what it’s like.

  12. July 2, 2008 9:02 am

    Whoa…what a boss to inspire such a great post! Incase you’ve Exit Interviews in your office, you can refer them your blog and screw him back just as bad 😉 It worked great in my case I tell you!

    I specially liked the culture bit where you talked about dowry etc. Yea, I’d rather live on caterpillars (hvnt had the luck of munching one though) than be born into a family where the father has to “pay” to marry his daughter off. And it’s not even fair business – inspite of all the cash he never owns the “damaad”, does he?

    And I really really really wish I were a chink – dont they look damn hot? It would have saved me all the time I spend giving my eyes the chink-look before parties..

  13. July 23, 2008 5:17 am

    I completely agree that your boss has been unprofessional, and it happens lot of times.

    Your post also reminds me of one scene in movie Chak De India, where the girl comes from North East, and this guys says, “Mehmaan ho”, and the girl replies back “Apne Desh mein Mehmaan banana kisko Achha Lagega”. I found the scene very powerful and it told the story.

    But sometimes I think these are the things that make you stronger. I happen to be from community where my grand parents were few of the lucky ones to safely migrated from Pakistan to India during partitions, and still I have loads of people even in work place commenting that I dont belong to this country. I dont know if they really mean it or it is a joke, but it surely does not give a very nice feeling.

  14. July 23, 2008 6:32 am

    I’m sorry you had to go through this. I think that, in general, all Indians need to learn more about states outside their immediate region. Not just in terms of geography–we need more migration and tourism across the country, more intermarriage. All it takes is awareness.

    Discrimination happens everywhere though.

    I’m South Indian and, when I was young, we lived for a few years in Guwahati (around 1986). Life was not easy if you looked obviously different. My mother remembers being ignored in favour of locals in nearly every way–it would take her 4 days of daily visits to the gas cylinder shop to get a new cylinder, while our neighbours, locals, got it in half a day.

    This isn’t a retort, only an anecdote to show that the entire country needs to rethink its attitudes.

  15. July 30, 2008 3:49 pm

    Would love to have this kind of “outburst” in http://www.northeasterner.in 🙂 …

    Cheers Mano , a proud northeasterner!

  16. August 4, 2008 4:35 pm

    way to go babe. i feel exactly the same way. you boss should be smacked hard.

    EVERY single point – i’ve argued with others…. will link this up if i do a post on it.

  17. August 12, 2008 7:41 am

    Post a picture of ur cute little ass cause i know the capitals of them seven sisters

  18. November 1, 2008 2:12 pm

    You sound like you suffer from I AM THE VICTIM syndrome. While you accuse the locals of being so hateful and stuff, you neglect the fact that most North eastern people tend to be smart asses. North east people are extremely clanish. Stick with your own group types. It has nothing to do the change in the culture and food. It has more to do with the pre concieved notions that you people have about others. Tell me how many times have you tried to understand other people in their social contexts.
    I agree that NE people live in comparitively free societies and I donot consider this as bad or as an evil.
    However this does not give you the right to look down upon other people and their cultures.
    NE people tend to always assert a seperate identity as though they have come from Mars or somewhere. You can get statements like WE ARE ETHNICALLY DIFFERENT FROM YOU. Well yes you are so are we. It works both ways you see. Yes most Indians have an aversion to eating cats and dogs and cockroaches. So what? No1 is stopping you from have you fill of canines. You what even if you go to America people will find you strange if you tell them that you eat Dogs and cats. So you see you have to take things in the Cultural context.
    Let me tell you something you donot become a free thinker just because you listen to rock and and booze (not that I have anything against it).
    So basically when you come to North India you donot come to intergrate with the locals rather you come as settlers, who come take a degree and get a job and abuse locals.
    The sort of bigotism that is to be seen amongst NE people specially the hill people is no where to be seen in India. Whenever some from outside NE happens to visit one of ur states, he looked upon as a RAW or something. Beating up outsiders is a norm in the NE you just cannot speak up when the locals are around.
    However when you people come to cities like Delhi and Mumbai you fell somehow that the locals should oblige you.
    And yes your boss might be an ass hole, not all non NE people are.
    Now then, there is hardly any similarity between the Assamese people and the Hill tribes. Hell even the Hill tribes are different from each other in terms of culture language. So what sister states are you talking about?
    When you point a finger at some one there are three pointing towards you.

  19. November 5, 2008 12:17 am

    I should print this post URL on a card and pass it around next time someone says, “Oh, but you don’t look Assamese”, “People from the north east are so westernized”, or “Where is Guwahati”?
    Me : Or just give them equally absurd answers so “they ” feel stupid 😉

  20. November 9, 2008 1:48 am

    well i think that we indians are the biggest discriminators in the world, racist in a way.. for everything.. i hate people who just assume that all people belonging to a certain community are all the same, think same things… there is such thing is individuality… and unluckily the 2k gen is no different..

  21. me..dd permalink
    April 1, 2009 12:14 am

    u seem extremely charged up in this…yes

  22. April 26, 2009 10:56 pm

    @Puktun: I came back to this post after a long time while researching this topic for something else. And noticed your comment.
    Your comment, ironically, while it has certain valid points, merely serves to illustrate the attitude that has been talked about in the post.
    Cats, dogs, insects, rock and roll, booze – I guess that’s what the whole of ‘North East India’ (is that a single state?) means to you? Need I say more?

  23. May 9, 2009 2:08 pm

    First a disclaimer: I am from the northeast. My comment is a reply to two commentators.
    Especially the one who said you have the ‘victim syndrome’. The syndrome exists because of victimisation. If people discriminate because of your ethnicity you become a victim. And no, being victim is not a choice, it is something someonelse inlflicts on you. The only difference is some fight back and some dont.
    To another commentor who said ‘take it lightly’…if someone has said that to mahatma gandhi or the the people of south africa, we would still be slaves.

    I am ok with stereotyping, lets admit it, all of us do it and stereotypes exist due to generalised common traits. But if you use that generalisation to discriminate, then you are a rascist.

  24. February 3, 2010 11:36 pm

    I love the way you write! I love your thoughts even more!

  25. Joy permalink
    July 25, 2011 12:49 pm

    Nobody is perfect……..seven sisters are always fighting with each other , nagas fighting the kukis , upper hill people do not like the assamese , the officials are thoroughly corrupt who ate up all the money for development, marwaris take advantage because of the inherent weaknesses .northeast is a great place with fantastic culture and heritage , I have so many friends who are gem of persons…..but they also agree tht NE needs introspection….we all know that India only exist in north India , but we altogether can really make it a great nation…can’t we?

  26. April 28, 2012 2:02 pm

    Actually, the ‘typical Assamese looks’ is a soft territory that most mainland Indians don’t understand. For them, anyone East of Kolkata is a chinky and those who aren’t get asked questions like “Where are you ACTUALLY from? You are not Nepali looking at all.”

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