The youths of Northeast and their unbridled ambitions by Gary Marbaniang


TNT | COLUMNS | May 12, 2019:

By Gary Marbaniang

(This article is also a tribute to Shillong-based author, researcher and social activist, (L) Phrangsngi Pyrtuh)

Did Phrangsngi Pyrtuh leave behind a legacy?

As far as I'm concerned, a resounding yes is the answer. He was our very own Paul Krugman. He was my first and foremost inspiration to wield the pen. I was shocked and deeply saddened when I heard the news of his sudden demise at such a young age a few months ago. I have been waiting eagerly for quite some time for his next article to be published in the most read English newspaper in our state but it never happened. I guessed he was so immersed in his P.H.D work that he didn't have time to contribute his precious work to this newspaper. Little did I know that he had left for his heavenly abode. May his soul rest in Peace!

What made him stood out from the crowd was the fact that he was not your typical nerd. He seems like such a cool person who can hold conversations on any kind of topic of interest. I remember seeing him in Meghalaya House, Guwahati a few years ago around the dinner table at the House canteen and the young people, who were part of his company, seem to be absolutely captivated by him.

This generation is in dire need of brilliant scholars like him to inspire them to make something of their life and to get them on the right track .I could have walked up to him that day and say — Hello and tell him that he is my first and foremost inspiration but being the introvert that I am, I never did. In my eyes, he was a celebrity writer but the peculiar nature of our community is that we treat our celebrities shabbily or it could also be the shy or indifferent attitude which often prevents us from embracing their celebrity status.

I have seen two other people who I admire deeply from close quarters but on these two occasions too, I let the opportunity to introduce myself and tell them how much I admire them, slipped by.

This leads me to an interesting fact about the Khasi community. Last year when I saw Mr Bindo Lanong from close quarters, I have to admit that I was kind of starstruck and it dawned on me that day that in Khasi society, politicians are the only real celebrities we have.

Do our politicians disappoint us? I guess most people would nod their head in agreement. The least that they can do to meet people's high expectations is for them to equip and arm themselves with the right kind of weapons to deal with the complexities of modern day politics. What are the weapons I'm talking about, you ask me … Having a thorough knowledge of Basic Economic thought is a good start.

The North Eastern region today especially our young people need politicians who can deliver on the economic front. Can we separate Modern day Politics from Economics? Absolutely Not. Politics without Economics is like tea without sugar. Politicians without a working knowledge of Economics would be directionless and clueless to deal with the economic struggles and the frustration of our young people. The simple question I would like to ask is — how many M.L.A's in the North East today have a thorough knowledge and understanding of economic thought that is vital to modern day public policies. For example how many of our elected representatives knows about John Maynard Keynes and his important contribution to public policies, the business cycle,1991, the contribution of each sector of the economy to the G.D.P of the State, Central Bank and its policies etc. I guess only our respected representatives can give us this answer.

A few days back, I managed to strike a conversation with a young Khasi girl at the airport. She sat next to me at the waiting lounge and she looked, kind of, dejected and when I enquired, the primary reason was that her family had missed their flight to Visakhapatnam and her parents had to shelled out a whooping 45,000 rupees to pay for their new flight tickets. I was on the brink of facing a huge embarrassment myself when I almost miss my return flight on account of the unforgivable failure on my part to realised the paucity of time.While waiting for my flight, I basically switched into relaxed mode by reading a novel and listening to music and I missed the announcement that the gate number has been changed. Then 25 minutes before the departure, I switched to panic mode and started running to reach the new gate. Luckily for me, the fight was delayed. Had it not been delayed, I would have surely miss the flight because I reached the gate 15 minutes before departure. This made me realize the true essence of time. Likewise when it come to economic policies, our leaders have failed to implement appropriate economic policies at the appropriate time and now most of the North Eastern states are far behind other developed states in India on all economic indicators. If we are to apply the "keeping up with the Jonesses maxim" and compare our state with the best neighbour we have –Sikkim, we would find ourselves behind on all fronts. Be it in the human development index, tourism, organic farming, per capita income and gross domestic happiness, Sikkim is way ahead of us. It is like two marathon runners running a race and one runner is ten minutes ahead of the other runner. It is impossible for the other runner to catch up with the other runner unless he is the Usain Bolt of marathon.

The pertinent question we need to ask is — why is there a difference in all spheres when we are bestowed with almost the same set of natural resources and human capital. The youths of the region today have the skills and the determination of rising to the challenge that the modern economy demands from them. A lot of my present and former colleagues belong to communities from different states in the region and the one thing that I've learned from them is that they all have their own unique stories and they have dreams and ambitions of making it in this competitive world. The first person that I had a working relationship with and who is not from my community is a Bodo guy, who was in his late 30's or early 40's, when I first met him. He used to be my bank branch manager.When I joined SBI in 2008, I was an ignorant young man, fresh from college with little contact with people from outside my community. He opened my eyes to the fact that life is a struggle for most people in the region. He told me that he is one of the few from his community who has done so well in life. Then in later years, the number of people who I had a working relationship with and who belong to different North Eastern states increased. There is Biswajit, a Meitei guy from Manipur. He is one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet. When I first met him, he had to take care of his ailing father but through all the struggles and the hardship that he had to go through in life, he always remained cheerful. Then there is Elmoun, a Hmar guy from Manipur. Like Biswajit, he has to shoulder a lot of responsibility at a very young age. His younger sister stayed with him and he was totally responsible for bringing her up. He was one of the most positive guys I've met in my life. Then there is Mawia, a Mizo guy from Lunglei district in Mizoram. Mawia belongs to a middle class family and when I first met him, he didn't speak a word of Hindi. His brother used to study in Delhi and he used to send him some amount of money every month. The beautiful thing about Mizos is that they have a close knit family system and members of the whole community really help each other a lot. Then there is Gago, a Kuki guy from Manipur. He was in his early 30's when I first met him but he was already married for a good ten years or so. The best thing about him is that even at such a young age, he already knew full well the meaning of responsibility and he also seemed to embrace it. There are a lot of beautiful stories that I would like to write about but time and space will not permit me to do so. Like these guys, each and every young person in the region has his or her own story to tell and each one is blessed with some kind of inborn talent.They just need leaders who will be able to nurture their dreams and turn them into reality.

Young people in Northeast today are lost in the maze that the World Wide Web has created just for them. They sing, they dance, they shri and they kbain (make faces). I am not telling them not to enjoy themselves during the day of their youths. In fact the Internet do open up excellent economic opportunities for some of our talented youths. I do indulge myself in a little bit of singing every now and then on the internet and there are some excellent singers from the region who could compete at the global level. The internet has provided a good platform for our young people to showcase their talent but, on the other hand, most of our young people waste their time on the internet to divert their attention from the real issues they are facing in their lives. I remember seeing a BBC documentary on Indian Cinema a few years ago; the documentary was an eye-opener to how Cinema provided a much needed escape from the harsh realities of life in India in the 1970's and 1980's. When they interviewed Shashi Kapoor, he frankly admitted that people go to the cinema to divert their attention from the harsh realities and the struggles of their daily lives. Nowadays the internet provides the perfect avenue for our young people to escape from the real economic and social issues they are facing in their lives. The North East community is, therefore, in desperate need of young brilliant scholars like Phrangsngi Pyrtuh who will inspire other young people by using the gifts and the talents that God has given them in a meaningful and purposeful way.

This article will not be complete without me mentioning the few talented singers I discovered on the internet. I'm terribly bad at socialising and this singing app was the first app that I officially joined on the internet, that too, on the insistence of a relative of mine. I joined primarily because I love singing so much even though I'm a mediocre singer. The first local girl I discovered is, interestingly, named Ibarisa Lyngdoh. She is on the way to becoming a nurse. Ibarisa is a breath of fresh air and I was awfully proud to have discovered her. When I found her, her profile picture was a picture of her standing on an empty road with her facing the empty road and her back towards the camera. So I couldn't see how she looks like. Then I jokingly asked her whether she is the one and only Ibarisha Lyngdoh of Shillong Chamber Choir and her witty reply was,"Fi I kop" which means do I look like her. Ibarisa possess the talent to make it as a singer and she's also got the fire in her soul to overcome any obstacles along her way. Amazingly she belongs to a kind of Von trap family. Almost everyone in her family knows how to sing. Her mother is also a pretty good singer. Then there is Phiba Kharlyngdoh. Having conversed with her, I could sense that formal education ain't her thing. Her interest range from drawing and painting to hair dressing and to baking cakes and judging from her singing ability, I bet she is also pretty good in doing these other things. Then there is Verity Hynniewta. All she ever wanted is to become a K-pop star. K-pop has now become a global phenomenon and if singers from Scandinavian countries could become global superstars singing English songs, then why can't a singer from Shillong become famous singing Korean songs. Then there is Lapyntngen Pdah and Brace Khyriem, two working young women, who I guess have given up on the thought of making it in music. Lapyntngen is almost like a seasoned pro. She writes her own songs and her voice is out of this world but now she is too preoccupied with life that she doesn't have time to thing about music. Then last but not the least there is Brace Khyriem. The funny thing about her is that I met her while traveling on public transport well before I found her on the internet. She seems like a pretty shy girl and the few times that I saw her in real life, I never talked to her. Then when I found her on the internet; her face looks kind of familiar and then I remembered the girl I met on public transport. Eventually, I was able to talk to her the other day and she really is 'the' Brace Khyriem I met on the internet. This girl too has incredible talent and the internet has provided a platform for her to showcase her talent. Like them, there are thousands of young people who have dreams and ambitions and who possess unmatched talent to make it in this competitive world. But they also need the right avenues to showcase their talents. We, therefore, are in dire need of leaders who are able to feel the pulse of this generation and who also possess the wisdom, vision and the knowledge to help them find their true worth and frame policies that will enable them to do what they love and reap the financial rewards for the talents they possess and build a career out of it.

Cultural exchanges between the North Eastern states and the rest of the country and also with some of our neighbouring countries will do a world of good to our young people since this will help break the cultural barriers that currently exists.

When I discovered a Chinese girl named Lidia, I was totally spellbound by her amazing talent. She has a golden voice and her English pronunciation is spot on. If cultural exchanges between India and China could take place and talented youngsters like her and our girls could perform in each other's countries, then it would be a gesture of good will and it could also potentially be an ice breaker. China and India are two of the fastest growing economies in the world and improved ties, both culturally and economically between the two countries, will only be beneficial for both countries. In international relations, the ping-pong diplomacy between the U.S.A and China is still talked about in diplomatic circles till today primarily because it was an unorthodox path breaking initiative. Likewise, If India and China could organise these cultural exchanges, then it could potentially be a game changer not only for better relations between our respective governments but it could also open up a window of opportunities for young people from the region and the country as a whole.

(Gary Marbaniang is a columnist from Shillong. He works as a Junior Statistical Officer in Anthropological Survey of India. He can be contacted at