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“Do You Need A Passport To Go To Assam?”

This is what happens when you mention you are from the North East on your first day of college

One of our regular contributors wonders why people from the North East are treated as aliens by the rest of the country

I could rant at the unfairness of it all, at the sheer ignorance of people. I could, but what would it change?

The following is drawn from real conversations that I have had over the years, with the watershed moment arriving when people discover that I belong to the North East of India.

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 June 1995, Mumbai

Dear Diary,

Today was Day 1 of college. I decided not to appear over-enthusiastic and therefore reached just in time for the first class. I also thought that this would be a smart move to avoid any possibility of getting ragged. But I was in for a surprise – in a class that was meant to accommodate a hundred people, there were barely 20 classmates in sight!  Turns out the first couple of days are Orientation Days, with no chance of any lectures. Yup, looks like it’s going to be a ragging week all through.

I met another girl in class. Her name is Rohini. She was sitting alone in one of the top benches and kept looking around nervously. Since I felt the same, I walked up to her and smiled. Five minutes into the conversation, we established several similarities – she was a boarding school student AND she was from Assam!

I could not believe my luck. I guess she could not either, because soon she suggested that we step out of class and get something to eat. I had heard a lot about the college canteen, so that’s where we headed.

In the short time that we were inside the classroom, the college corridors had filled up. Yet it seemed to me that there were more people standing outside the college gates – eating, smoking or just chatting on the side walk – than there were inside the building. But the canteen was packed. It was a medium sized room which reminded me of the bathrooms in school – three quarters of all its walls were covered with small white tiles. here was no food on the metallic table tops – instead, they were packed with students, and the stools and plastic chairs were laid out for us newcomers. We had obviously walked into the lair of the seniors. Or as it later turned out, some of our batch mates – who had completed their junior college here –  posing as our seniors.

Like a chicken sensing the butcher’s knife, Rohini and I smelt trouble and tensed inwardly. Our years of boarding school survival kicked in as we headed straight for the food counter at the end of the room, effectively ignoring the zillions of stares. The 55 seconds spent waiting for a cold drink seemed more like 55 minutes to my frazzled nerves. But our bravado simply delayed the inevitable – we were marked prey.

The girl approached us first. Isn’t it strange that it is usually the girls who make the first move? She gave this sort of passing smile, which I think was meant to make us feel less nervous, but it failed. She was dressed in blue denims and a shirt which had Mexx written over it, and looked very spunky! I think Rohini and I looked like a couple of country bumpkins in our faded denims and crushed tees.

So anyway, it started with the usual introductions. Her name was Sonia (yeah, told you she had that classy vibe). Then the dude joined us! I truly can’t remember his name, because he was so ‘duded-up’ – you know the muscular, magazine model types. The only difference was that he smiled a lot. To our surprise, the conversation was not too bad to start with and we quickly realized that they were not really going to rag us.

Everything was going well, until another girl walked up to us and asked, “So where are you from?”

Rohini said,  “From Assam.”

“Oh, is it in India?”

“Umm…yes, in the North-Eastern part of the country”

“Oh yeah, I know of that place,” Sonia said, “You guys don’t look North-Easty…”

Rohini replied, “Well, that’s because I am actually Punjabi…my parents are settled there. But she is,” she concluded looking at me.

Sonia looked at me confused, “But you don’t look Chinki.” I think she was accusing me of having failed some basic DNA test. Meanwhile, my ears were turning red, even as I heard Rohini grit her teeth, “They are not Chinki…”

“No? Oh sorry…” after a few seconds, “So, do you guys usually wear jeans and stuff? Isn’t it more the red and black print…kind of tribal like…I saw that on DD (Doordarshan) once…”

By this time, Mr. Smiley had gathered that things were not going very well. He attempted to divert the conversation, “So what is the North-East like?”

“It is very green, clean…it actually has seven states like Manipur, Meghalaya, Nagaland. You must have heard of them. We even have a section in that Mile sur mera tumhara song”, I said with ill-disguised sarcasm.

“Oh yeah,” said girl no. 2 vaguely. “Any movie stars in that? Hey, isn’t it true that you guys like to eat a lot of raw stuff…”

At this point, I think Rohini had enough. She downed her cold drink and stood up. Then she said with a sweet smile, “No, we eat a lot of chinese food though.”

I was too stunned to move. As I was in the process of getting up from my chair, another boy joined us. He was drop-dead gorgeous, like out-of-this-world good looking. My only thought was that it was the most awkward position to meet a handsome boy, midway between a sitting and standing posture, my bum sticking out at a weird angle. I guess Rohini thought likewise, because she pushed me down gently and at the same time, did a quick recce of her own appearance. They introduced him as the ‘topper of their batch’ and we found more reason to smile.

He said, “Bossss… Assam, the Brahmaputra river right?” We nodded.

“You have a lot of hills and stuff out there, no? It’s very green.” Strong, gleeful nods from us.

“It’s very close to Tibet right?” somewhat slower nods this time.

“So, like…do you need passports to go there?”

I choked. Rohini stormed out…

Day 1 was an Education!

Good night…

Indrani is a market researcher by profession, a struggling mother of 2 year old twins and an aspiring writer whose eternal dream is to look like a demi-goddess while being able to tuck into all the good food the world has to offer! This is an edited version of a post that appeared on her blog Hues&Notes.

My Big Red Bag brings original content inspired by life’s joys and passions. Check out other articles from our Food issue, and stay tuned to our latest content by following us on Twitter and FB. See you on the other side!

Image courtesy: Ibnlive

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