Wow to be a Northeasterner!! (2 of 12)
I grew up at a time when identity was not a marker as it is today. We were taught by Anglo Indian teachers and told to speak English in class so we did that unconsciously even with those we shared a common mother tongue. We just were. We did not have to wrack our brains to define ourselves. There was no need to freeze one's identity. We were all citizens with a shared vision for the future. Since we did not have a university of our own Guwahati was the furthest that people would go to for their Masters degree. Only a few among the elite went to Calcutta University.
We were then still part of Assam. Then came 1972 and Meghalaya was born. It was then that we began to worry about our identity, to construct the enemy and the enemy is the 'other' who does not speak your language. Unfortunately this continues. At a personal level I taught my children to never use the word "Dkhar" (a word used to refer to non-tribals) since I found it pejorative. Also, how can I forget that I am of mixed parentage (my father was a Muslim from Assam; so was my stepfather). We Khasis use cuss words while referring to the Dkhar; the commonest one is Khar- iap. How I hated that word! It jarred in my sub-conscious mind.
But being a half Khasi (khun shiteng or khun Dkhar) as we are referred to, has its plus points. Since I did not have the conventional Mongoloid features (although my flattish, roundish nose and my height was a dead giveaway) travelling to different parts of this country was never a problem. I am not given to regurgitating on the victimhood syndrome – an art perfected by quite a few of our people, especially those based in Delhi and looking for foreign doles, "to assist the poor tribals back home," while they draw handsome salaries measured by dollars for themselves.
Yes being from the North East and a woman has its plus points. You are picked up to represent the region in important national bodies. I have served as a member of the National Security Advisory Board for two terms and am currently on the Board of the Indian Institute of Mass Communication. Earlier I was Vice President of the Delhi-based Indo-Global Social Service Society a development NGO that has served this country for close to 60 years. Also I was on the board of the National Foundation for India when Dr MS Swaminathan, celebrated for India's Green Revolution, was its chairperson. I dare say it is a humbling experience to be on these Boards with their accomplished members and experts. But I found them very respectful of my views and they took those views seriously enough to think of correct interventions.
The large majority of Indians are well meaning and if I may use the word, 'kind' as well and not because of any position I held. Of course you realise you have to talk sense because people with cerebral prowess don't wish to listen to passionate rants that are at best shrilly and cacophonous and attention seeking and at worst, dull and uninspiring.
I have learnt to understand body language and the art of articulation by listening to the best minds of the country from the National Security Advisor (Mr ShivShanker Menon and Ajit Doval) to philosophers like Edward Said and banker for the poor Mohammed Yunus and also interacted with them. They are always so unassuming. These are lessons I have learnt. Great people don't impose their views, they don't bully and don't patronise. They take nothing for granted and seek your views with respect.
Of course in a country as large as ours there are ignoramuses who blunder because they don't know their Geography. Should I take them seriously? No that would be a waste of my energy. I would rather spend ideating with others who care for the region.
So that's the story of my life and I must tell the readers that I come from a humble background. When i was just seven or eight years old my school administrators sent me home because my mother could not pay my school fees. She educated me with great sacrifice and saved and scrounged to see me through an English medium education. And today if I can share a table with the highest of the land I can also sit and listen with empathy to the rural village women whose sources of income are rapidly drying up (since our governments have never really created livelihoods or provided skills for them to scale up their earnings) I recall my dear mother who also studied only up to Middle School and strove to make life easier for me.
I straddle different worlds at different times but the experiences I have gained from this country and my travels abroad are now a repository of knowledge that I would like to share with the new generation. Being a North Easterner is a privilege and a badge of honour I proudly wear.
(by Patricia Mukhim)
(Editor of The Shillong Times, An Educationist, activist, columnist and journalist)
The views reflected in this piece are that of the author and need not necessarily be that of TNT-The Northeast Today
Featured image: netrailblazer.com