Friday, 11 September 2009

Leening's Manipur, Our Manipur...

Request: Please read the whole post before you make any judgment about me. :) I love Manipur!

Leening Meetei is my classmate at University of Hyderabad. If there is one word that describes him, it's Manipur; he eats, drinks and sleeps Manipur. When a research or writing assignment is given in class, no effort needs to be taken to guess what Leening would do. It would invariably be about Manipur.

I have very often been amused by this. I am a very proud Malayali; but I do not take up Kerala for every damn thing like he does. I have often thought; why such forceful assertion?

The other day, Leening was doing rounds in the class with a signature petition. It was addressed to the President of India against the fake encounter killing that happened in Manipur recently that took the life of Chonkham Sanjit (27). My turn was over and I was casually watching him. Then, I saw something in his eyes that I had never seen before - some amount of passion and a lot more of pain.

That's when I started thinking more deeply than I used to. Earlier, my thought process was something like this. 'With the very little knowledge I have of this huge issue, I know that most North Eastern states demand autonomy. Yet, there is a North East quota in my university (and probably in many other places in the country) and they are all duly filled. I mean, if you want to get separated from this country, why use the infrastructure here? That's sheer selfishness! If you want to take advantage of the facilities here, might as well stick to the sovereignty of the country!'

The pain in his eyes told me that he and I were different. I was born in a part of India that, post independence, has not witnessed a massive conflict of any sort. A place where democracy is probably at its best with everyone taking their right to life and freedom of expression for granted. I have hardly seen a person from the Armed Forces at work in the part of Kerala that I live. My perception of violence, freedom, civic sense and security is different because of this.

Leening, on the other hand, has probably spent his childhood in fear. To quote Tehelka, "Life in Manipur is like a lottery. You are alive because you are lucky." He did most of his education in Andhra Pradesh because the situation in his state was not condusive. He hasn't seen his family for months together now, because conflicts are consistent back home and travelling during our last vacation would have been dangerous. He has probably witnessed the death of a relative in the hands of people who are supposed to ensure security - the Armed Forces.

I have now realised that a comparison between him and me is futile; we are so darn different. It is because of the North East quota, that I used to detest, that Leening is being able to give wings to his dreams. It is because of his belief that change is possible in this country, despite all the atrocities that his state is witnessing, that he is still going on with that signature campaign. If he does not deserve to be a citizen of this India as comfortably as I am, with all the security that I was born with and am used to, then who else is this India for?

Many North Eastern Indians migrate to other parts of India in the hope of a better life. But is it any different for them? Armed Forces may not attack or kill without a reason, but what about civilians? They attack with detesting looks that speak on the lines of "Why the hell have you come over to our place?"

Just the other day, I was comfortably seated on an APSRTC bus. A North Eastern family comprising a young man, an almost-girl-like woman and their tiny kids got into the bus. The mother clad in a saree was a far cry from the stylish and sleek looking North Eastern girls I have seen on my campus, I thought. I noticed that people maintained a safe distance from the rough looking short man as though he was a terrorist, an intruder.

As the kids dozed off leaning to their mother's shoulder, I kept on gazing much to the discomfort of that woman. I was thinking how similar these four human beings were to any other random family in that bus. Yet, how different! It wouldn't be easy for them to get a house to live or a job to earn a living. The struggle to garner an identity was clearly visible on all the four faces. Even if they wanted to think of themselves as Indians, we the 'original Indians' would not let them do so.

Unity in Diversity is probably the most overrated myth that is taught in schools. You will grow up to learn that equality, let alone unity, is still a dream for many in this country.

Which is why I love you Debo! I love you for the fact that you are one of the few people who can think broad enough to assume a North Eastern Indian as close to you as I would assume a Malayali to me.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

An Ode About Onam...

It is Thiruvonam today; an auspicious day for any Malayali, no matter what his/her religion is. A time to rejoice despite any distress you may have. A time to bond with family whichever corner of the world you may be in, otherwise. And here I am, sitting in the department computer lab, seething in emotional pain, to put it in the least dramatic way as possible!

I have not even taken bath; forget having had a sadya with payasam. On the day when a vegan feast with diverse delicacies should have graced my palate for lunch, I gobbled up a KFC Zinger burger with vengeance. Either a sadya, or nothing close to it at all, I thought. This year, I angrily put aside my own rule of ten day vegetarianism during the Atham-Thiruvonam period.

I still remember my first Onam away from home. It was in 2006, soon after I joined Google. Having joined just in May, August came too soon and with all the training that was happening, it seemed rational not to take leaves. I did not give much thought to it as it seemed natural to miss a festival or two. I was officially 'out of home' and 'on my own,' right?

WRONG! The day dawned and I started off with a marathon on the telephone all smiles and ended up weeping like a lost child. I wished most of my realtives in the process and vouched to each of them that it was terrible to be doing so over telephone. Having heard stories of an Onasadya that had happened in the previous year at Google office, I expected the lunch of the day to wipe off my copious tears. To my utter dismay, the caterers had changed and the new guys did not know about the festival! I ate rice and porial and tried to satiate myself in vain. I still cannot manage to put together the pieces of a broken me of that day. I hadn't realised until then that I was so emotionally dependent on my family and promised myself that another Onam shall not pass by this way, without them being beside me.

I kept that promise and dutifully went home in the two subsequent years. First, while I was still with Google, and the second, after I joined UoH. I hate bunking classes normally; but Onam was a good enough reason to do so for a week. But this year, since a plan was on to celebrate Achan's shashtipoorthi in the last week of September, I had to make a compromise. Missing two weeks of classes in the same month could cause some trouble while registering for the end semester examinations. Thus, at the altar of educational insurgency, I sacrificed my need to be home.

I was thinking a while ago that it is just another day in Hyderabad. It is a regular working day, with not much buzz about Onam apart from the mad rush at Kairali restaurant situated at about 2km distance. Still, the day is so different for me. In the heart of heart, I keep reminded that everyone is celebrating back home and making merry. It is scary to think whether they are missing me or not. What if they are not? What if I am not that indispensable?

Worse still, unlike in 2006, I cannot even make a promise to myself that I would be home next year for Onam. I just don't know what I'd be doing next year, around this time!

It is funny how Onam is no more just a festival for me. With an assorted collection of memories that include tidbits of sleepless shoots during my Kairali TV days and impromptu trips with cousins and elders to touristy locations associated with it, Onam has become a habitual indulgence for me. One that makes me sulk, if I don't abide to it. Sad that I did not indulge this time; but only to reinvent my ties with my roots..

Happy Onam to all of you!