You mean Imphal is not a state?

The closer my deadlines, the stronger the urge to ignore them and blog-surf away, especially when it is late at night. Usually a cloud of all-forgiving benignity settles over me at this time of day and I am willing to overlook the world’s faults rather than get all worked up as I normally do.

But not today. There has been a largish dose of what Krish Ashok calls the Paratha-Parotta war in the world of blogs, and I feel compelled to add momos to the menu.

Despite having lived in the north for more than a decade and having learnt to fight in Hindi before I learnt a single cussword in Tamil, I used to get rather pained by the broad-brush painting of half the country as ‘Madras’ and all the other displays of geographic and cultural ignorance so well-detailed in the blogs linked to above.

But that was until I began working in the north east of the country. Before I went there for the first time, innumerable people asked me if it was safe travelling in ‘tribal areas’. If I would get anything other than raw meat to eat. If there were roads to the places I needed to go. What language would I speak to the ‘tribals’ in? What would I do if I fell ill? And so on. Initially I delivered long lectures on how the north east is perfectly safe, in fact safer than many other parts of the ‘mainland’, told them that the people I was going to work with all spoke not only Hindi but also fluent English, that they have some excellent roads up there thanks to the Border Roads Organisation. After about a week and twenty such encounters, I stopped. I snapped if the mood demanded it or merely smiled and said nothing.

So what is my point? That most of the people asking these questions were supposedly ‘knowledgeable’ and ‘culturally aware’ south Indians. Why is our collective ignorance about the north east somehow less offensive than the Delhiite’s uninformed view of Madras?

We snigger at Americans who don’t know that you can’t drive a Hummer to Eye-rack, but how many of us know the capital of Tripura? Who among us can name all the north eastern states? Hell, do you even know how many there are?

But it doesn’t matter, does it, because all those places and people are really Chinese.

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8 responses to “You mean Imphal is not a state?

  1. Well I don’t know, Obama has been to 57 states in the United States he says and I can not find all those! 🙂
    http://goodtimepolitics.com/2008/07/17/democratic-group-will-be-voting-for-john-mccain/

  2. I can name all the North eastern states and their capitals. I, however, don’t have an idea about the state of roads and about the people’s fluency in English.
    If you read my blog, it has been written from my view point. I have also mentioned that i am not arguing on behalf of the south indians (through it was dragged that way).
    All through the post, the mood is “when i did, why can’t you?”
    And this ‘you’ too represents some of my IIT-bred colleagues, who didn’t have an idea about the geography of South India.

  3. gtp: The US has 57 states? No wonder Obama can’t find them all.

    12thMan: Oh, this wasn’t about your post, but rather a rant of my own. I’m glad to know you are better informed about the north east than most people I seem to meet!

  4. Spot on. One of my Naga friends used to refer to non-Naga people as “Indian”. I told her she was Indian as well-why was she referring to them as “other?” She said, well they don’t see me as such and only think of us in terms of cliches!

  5. Very nicely made point. Spot on. And it is rather sad. When I was in college in madras, we had a sizeable population of girls from nagaland, mizoram and manipur – That we couldn’t or didn’t bother to distinguish, choosing rather to just refer to them as ‘chingy’. They stood out, they were different. So ofcourse we had to brand them.

    A lot of us thought they were aloof and impossible to make friends with. But in retrospect, after living in a country where I am a rank outsider and don’t speak the languague, I realise it could have just been that they felt like too much of outsiders, that we had no interest in knowing them, and consequently just tried to stick together.

    It was easy to just attribute ready made cliches to them. But on the few occasions that we did speak – it really was like talking to a person from another country. Our ignorance was astounding. And what was worse, we didn’t really care – they just seemed too distant from our reality to actually make an effort.

    I suspect, this continues year after year. Like I said, it is rather sad.

  6. ps: I’ve written to you, but from another email id.

  7. MG: Pathetic, no?

    Sneha: I think the true tragedy is that we miss out on so much when we refuse to learn about other people and other cultures. We would come away much richer if we made the effort.

  8. How about that varali, Obama made the statement that he went to 61 or 62 States! LOL

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