Being a Northeasterner (1 of 12)
To be honest, I am not particularly fond of the word "northeasterner". I prefer to identify myself as a Naga. It is upsetting that we get clumped together as a chunk called the NorthEast when there is so much diversity going on. I also feel its not fair, because "NorthEast" sounds vague- it could mean anything from the direction of a compass needle to the general weather report of some sort of sub-tropical wind that I remember reading about many years ago when I used to have dreams of becoming a Nobel prize winning scientist one day (that doesn't seem very likely to happen anymore).
However I have a topic to stick to, so let me stick to it
I guess you get defined as a Notheasterner the day you leave your hometown and cross over to what is popularly called the "mainland". I still remember my first days away from home, as I tried to make sense of living in a metropolitan city. From being a fish in the pond I was now one of the microorganisms in the sea. I tried to make sense of the stares that I got and could not understand how just a hint of my bare calves could sexually arouse a man. The fact that I had to fit into a system that was so chaotic but somehow organised was a struggle and a dynamic shift from the simpler life I was used to. My brain gradually learned to adapt and soon I was multitasking and managed to pick up some ADD traits along the way.
I wasn't aware that I would be put into the stereotype bracket. People expect you to come in a pre-programmed manner and fit into the description that they have laid out for you. Just as the Tamilians are expected to be good at Math, I was expected to be a skilled guitar player (I know only three chords and for the life of me can't piece together even a line from a simple song). But the more I interacted with those around me, the further I drifted away from the perception they had initially built about me- to the point that I was nowhere near the stereotype bracket but was identified for my individuality. This made me realise that even though my ethnicity sets me apart by default, it is my personality and my interactions with people for which they will remember me. This realisation of course dawned very late because I have spent most of my 20s trying to understand things that I still haven't managed to understand and probably won't for another decade.
One of the random things I love is bumping into another NorthEasterner and giving a secret nod of acknowledgement. It's almost as if we know that we have each other's back. Seeing just about anyone who has come from across that tiny strip of land below Sikkim reminds me of home. Funny that a tiny strip of land can make such a difference. But it does. As diverse as the land on the other side is, there are still so many similarities which bind us together as a community the moment we leave that land. We come to realise how similar we are but we cannot deny that fact that we are still very diverse. Similar but diverse. Don't know how much sense that makes.
To many I am the only Naga they have ever met; and perhaps the only Naga they will ever know. This gives me a sense of some sort of moral responsibility- if that's how I can call it- because my actions are a reflection of my upbringing and my upbringing is a reflection of where I am from. Consciously or subconsciously I put in more effort to what I do and am careful of what I say, not because I am scared of being judged or watched, but because I want to be a decent representation of the place that people will undoubtedly associate me with.
I do have those days though, when someone passes a 'harmless' comment and even though I know I should be dignified, I tend to tell off that person very loudly in public- to make sure everyone can hear, follow it with a speech that can sometimes take a political angle, add in certain amounts of finger wagging and end it with a triumphant turn of the head while stomping off towards my destination. I should probably learn to tone down a bit.
(by Merenla Imsong)
(Head of Atelier/design apprentica at Obataimu/Part time actor)
The views reflected in this piece are that of the author and need not necessarily be that of TNT-The Northeast Today