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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Chp 446. Dear Mumbai Police, can I buy you a cup of tea?

Day before yesterday, I attended my first Mizo Church Service in Mumbai this year because it was Palm Sunday.

Every Sunday, 3:30pm, the BMCF (Bombay Mizo Christian Fellowship) conducts a Church service in our local language at All Saint’s Church, Malabar hills, next to Hanging Garden.

I am not much of a Church goer as I usually work on Sundays too, but last Sunday being a special day for us Christians, I took a haircut in the morning, shaved, wore my formals and took a cab to town.

I had a memorable time – sang gospel songs, heard a couple of good testimonials and met up with old friends after the Church service. Everything went as expected. Until the unexpected happened. Something that totally shocked me and put me in a sour mood the rest of the day.

So whenever our Church service gets over, we usually walk towards the taxi stand in front of Hanging Garden, where we chat for a short while over a glass of nimbu paani, and then say goodbye to each other. As most of us are busy with our own work (or academics) and Mumbai is such a large city, that is the only time we get to catch up with our Mizo friends in Mumbai.

Day before yesterday, at the nimbu paani stall, a Police van suddenly stopped in front of some of the younger Mizos standing on the pavement (there were many other people on the pavement eating sev puri and alu chaat from the roadside vendors), and the uniformed police van driver angrily shouted at us. I was talking with a friend when that happened, and all I could hear were the words “Nepali” and “Kathmandu”. Then the driver chuckled and drove off.

As the police van drove away, I asked those Mizos who were standing close to the police van about what the cop said. A young Mizo girl, probably in her first year in college, shivered and said, “I think he said hey Nepalis, go back to Kathmandu!” while another guy standing beside her said, “No I think the cop asked if we are going to Kathmandu?”


I took down the license plate number of the police van immediately – MH 01 BA 1089.

First of all, being called a “Nepali” is something  people from the North East are so tired of hearing. I have nothing against Nepalis, but when we are not recognized by our own fellow countrymen in spite of the number of times we protest, something is definitely not right here. Secondly, most of the times when people call us “Nepalis”, it is done so not out of ignorance but out of sheer distaste for people from the North East (read: those of us from the NE with Mongoloid features, because not all Northeasterners have this feature, and likewise, not all Nepalis have this feature either). That word is unfortunately uttered in a very mocking and insulting tone…

But the most important point here is that, that man was a cop. A person who was supposed to protect us minorities when we face such abuses and racial slurs, somebody we could run to in times of trouble. And yet, he was the main perpetrator.

I’ve heard so many stories about how people from the North East didn’t want to approach the police because the cops would usually turn them away, and sometimes they would even get mocked at inside the Police Stations by the cops themselves when they try to file a complaint about other people who had robbed them or harassed them.  You remember when there was a mass exodus of North Eastern people from Bangalore recently, in spite of the cops saying they’ll protect them, right? That’s how much most people from the North East trust cops.

I’ve never believed cops could be that bad because the few times that I was actually inside a Police Station was when I had to file an FIR for losing my phone, which was mandatory back then if I wanted a duplicate sim card from my service provider. The cop who took my statement didn’t abuse me. He didn’t even acknowledge me. He just signed my paper with his seal and sheepishly said, “Next”.

But the Hanging Garden incident definitely left a dent on my faith in the police. And that puts me in a quandary because I don’t know what to do now – Shall I file a complaint at a Police Station or shall I just ignore it knowing nothing will ever happen? And then wait for the cop to have an outburst on some other poor Northeasterner maybe tomorrow or day after tomorrow?

Thinking about it for some time, I now know exactly what I must do. Let’s do away with all the anger and hurt and pain. Let’s reconcile. Let’s do it the Norwegian way.

So here is me, Kima, cordially inviting the police officer who was driving MH 01 BA 1089 on 24th March 2013 around 6 in the evening near Hanging Garden for a cup of tea or coffee. The drinks are on me.  Location, preferably around Bandra, you name the date and time. If communication is going to be a problem, I can always bring one of my Maharastrian friends along as a translator.

We’ll discuss about this issue, about why you might hate Nepalis or people from the North East in general, or maybe about how all this was just a big misunderstanding and we misheard what you actually shouted (but yes, we definitely heard “Nepali” and “Kathmandu”, so no matter what the context was, it wasn’t right). I’d love to tell you about the beautiful North East and its beautiful people, and how there are so many of us INDIANS with Mongoloid features and that we are not Nepalis.

Of course we may all have different problems back home but here in Mumbai, most of us are law abiding citizens who pay our taxes regularly and try not to be a nuisance to the public. Yes we are all aware of how different we look, the contrast in our cultures and traditions, the things that we like and don’t. You think it is easy for most of us to live here, work here, study here, everyday among a group of people so different from us? And yet, most of us have no other choice but to struggle and stay in this city for want of better education or better job opportunities or even because we have to support our families back home.

So dear police officer driving MH 01 BA 1089, you weren’t making things any easier for us with that outburst. Let’s sit down and have delicious tea or coffee together and talk about all the misconceptions you may have about us. Let’s clear all the stereotypes and hypes about us. Because if we don’t, you will never know the truth about us and continue with your blind hate and bigotry against us, and a poor fellow from the North East will be your next victim again. That person may even be more traumatized than some of those young Mizo girls you scared on Sunday. Let’s sit to prevent that, shall we? Peace.

I know this invitation may not even reach the eyes of your fifty-third cousin because I am just a small speck in a universe of bigger things, but at least this speck is willing to give it a try. And knowing I tried will at least make me sleep better tonight as I wasn’t able to the past two nights.

*UPDATE* Cross posted at First Post. Thank you so much Anant Rangaswami.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Chp 445. Sacrificing a friend

Just yesterday, somebody who used to be a good friend of mine sent me a friend request on Facebook. “Used to be a good friend” because her boyfriend back then became insecure about our friendship as we shared a lot of things in common, and so he told her to stop talking to me and “unfriend” me on Facebook.

She even started commenting on my blog using a fake name (she’s an awesome blogger herself). She didn’t use her real blogger account because she was afraid her over-possessive boyfriend might just check my blog posts to see if she commented or not, no matter how insignificant her comments might be. And so we built this great big wall of partition between us, breaking off every single communication.

And then they broke up recently.

So… yeah, she sent me a friend request yesterday. I accepted, with a grin. The first thing I asked her was, “Was it worth it? Was it worth losing a friend?”

“It’s hard to explain,” she said.

I completely understood what she meant because I too lost a dear friend once.

Back in college when N and I were a couple, I had a female bestest friend, Sonam. She was this really adorable chubby Sikkimese junior who I had a lot in common with - same humor, same likes and dislikes, same emotional tolerance, same temper tantrums. 

Even though she was like “one of the boys” to me, N never liked how close we were, and finally told me she couldn’t stand it anymore and that I must choose… Choose between my girlfriend and my bestest friend.

I chose N.

And so I told Sonam she couldn’t call me up in the night anymore to tell me about her crushes or how her day went or who she had a fight with or invite me to one of her friend’s house party. I lost my good friend that day.

N and I had a good run, until we broke up after I graduated. She came from a very conservative Rajasthani family and the chance of them accepting me into their family was extremely small.

It was only after we broke up that I thought of Sonam.

Did I just lose a good friend over nothing?

And that is the part that is difficult to explain, and why I understood my blogger friend when she said it’s hard to say whether it’s worth it or not. Because I wouldn’t exactly call it “over nothing”, as there were many memorable moments shared with my ex as a result of me unfriending Sonam.

But still, the idea of having to choose was very difficult. I knew for a fact that N didn’t want to be the bad guy in that situation. I’ve seen her tried, but no matter how hard she tried to push away any feelings of jealousy, it made her very uncomfortable whenever Sonam and I were together. I didn’t want N to be uncomfortable or sad as we were both in love back then. Hence I had to make the ultimate sacrifice and let go of a good friend.

Have you ever been in such a situation where you had to choose between a lover and a friend from the opposite sex? Do share your story with me. 

And oh, speaking of “unfriending”… one of my ex-girlfriends unfriended me on Facebook even though we had a mutual break-up and were in good talking terms with each other until the day she got married. Maybe this is the exact same thing, that I was making her husband uncomfortable, hence she had to unfriend me. Maybe it is a natural and logical reaction to let go of friends and past flames in order to keep the fire of a new relationship burning? Or maybe being jealous is just a part of our human nature and the only thing that differs from person to person is the intensity in which we get jealous?

To end this semi rant, do watch this really touching romantic short play, “The Last”. About past relationships. Guaranteed to move you if you’re the mushy type.

And of course once you’re done watching the above video, do watch the parody, “The Last Resort”. Guaranteed to crack you up with laughter. Cheers! :)

EDIT March 18th: Just so we’re on the clear, don’t assume that I’m this really lucky Casanova who boyfriends tell their girlfriends to stay away from, lolz. Regarding my blogger friend, I wasn’t the only guy her jealous ex-boyfriend told to unfriend. There were a few other guys along with me that she had to unfriend. We even thought of forming a “Unfriended By xxxxx Association” and maybe even run in the upcoming election and win a couple of constituencies so that we’ll have enough power in the Assembly House to pass a new Law banning her from unfriending any more male friends just because her ex boyfriend was super jealous. Lolz. :)

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Chp 444. Silence of the nightingales

And from the Heavens above, fire rained down upon the heathens, spreading death, mayhem and destruction everywhere.

A heathen, because he was born in a land that had belonged to his people for generations. A heathen because he refused to bow down to the draconian law of an occupying force.

Yet there was nothing the heathen could do. His voice was silenced by the majority, all acts of transgression erased from history. India never bombed Mizoram (back then, the Lushai Hills district of Assam), and stories about the mass bombings that killed many innocent citizens, razing towns and homes to the ground are just… hearsays, rumors. No, India is a democratic country, the land of Mahatma Gandhi who believed in peace and non violence. How can India ever do that. And yet, the irony is, it was another Gandhi who ordered that very bombing.

"The use of air force was excessive because you cannot pinpoint from the air who is loyal and who is not loyal, who is an MNF and who is somebody pledging allegiance to the Mizo Union, the ruling party in the Mizo district," DD Nichols Roy, an MLA from Assam said.

“But we air-dropped only rice and potatoes”, Indira Gandhi supposedly said, when confronted by the media.

“Then dear PM, please tell us how to cook this type of rice!” survivors of the bombing replied, sending empty bomb shells dropped by Hunter and Toofani jetfighters deployed from Tezpur IAF base on March 5th and 6th, 1966.

I don’t know which is worse, the fact that she blatantly lied, or her condescending tone.

In 1789, France was on the verge of a revolution due to the famine, and it was only when the peasants demanded more bread to feed their starving stomachs and Queen Marie Antoinette sarcastically said “Why just bread, let them eat cake” that ignited the whole bloody revolution. The French Royal family and their sympathizers were guillotined and a new France was born.

What’s the connection here? Famine and utter neglect lead to an uprising.

Mizos didn’t suddenly decide to rebel against India. The great famine of 1959 was what triggered the movement. The bamboos flowered, increasing the number of rats by multifold. The rodents ate up most of the food stock of the people. And despite the Mizos’ many pleas sent to the Indian government for aid, nothing was done, so the MNFF (Mizo National Famine Front) was formed, where every Mizo looked after their own, sending food, no matter how scarce to those who needed them more. Urban legend has it that one quarter of the Mizo population was wiped out in that famine.

Finally when the famine was over and the rat population diminished, people said enough was enough, and the MNFF became the MNF (Mizo National Front), with the sole agenda of gaining independence from a ruler who didn’t give a rat’s ass about the people.

That was why the MNF, which wasn’t even an outlawed group then, overran various government institutions during Operation Jericho with which the uprising began in 1966.

And then came the bombs. Hell was unleashed on Earth and the simple minded Mizos came face to face with fury and fear like never before. Everywhere there were just… explosions, ashes, corpses, mangled remains of what once used to be a market, a school, a hospital, a church. Entire localities like Dawrpui and Chhinga Veng were completely razed to the ground.

The MNF movement was never a totalitarian one. There were a large number of Mizos who didn’t share the MNF’s agenda of a sovereign Mizo nation. The ruling political party MU (Mizo Union) was in fact pro-India. But what happened that day changed the mindset of most people.

I wasn’t born when the bombings took place, but being a Mizo, it is a part of our dark history that I can never forget… will never forget. I look into the eyes of all those who were there during the bombing, the lucky ones who survived, and I see pain, submission, reclusiveness. As if a part of them died that day, not knowing where the next bomb was going to land. Like being in the middle of a war zone, except you weren’t shooting back at the enemy. Regardless of whether you were a part of the MNF or a pro-India faction, the bombs didn’t discriminate who’s who. Everybody was a target, true to the words of GL Nanda, the then Union Home Minister who gave the command – “Crush them all!”

All you could do then was just run from shelter to shelter, helter-skelter, tired, scared, traumatized.

And in the aftermath of the bombings, PTSD was definitely the ailment of the day for anybody who went through such a horrible and terrifying ordeal. Yet there were no such medical facilities back then to deal with the tremendous trauma. What followed instead was way worse. Out of the existing 764 villages, 516 were forcefully evacuated and squeezed into 110 PPVs (Protected and Progressive Villages), described as something like the concentration camps of Auschwitz, minus the gas chambers where everybody was herded into designated militarized zones under martial law. Stories of torture and rape committed by the Indian Army echoed across the once peaceful silent valley, bleeding Mother Nature of its tranquil innocence. Yes, we are all offsprings of a damaged and abused generation.

Every March 5th, I shed a tear. For my lost brothers and sisters who never made it past that day. And for the others who did make it through but had their spirit and soul violently ripped out from their physical selves.

Yes, I’m an Indian. I’ve come to love this country, but remembering those dark days doesn’t make me any less patriotic. We all come from different backgrounds, with our own baggage and nightmares.

I look at today’s people now, and what most people seem to think is, “Why don’t you Mizos forget about that incident? India doesn’t even acknowledge bombing you so just forget about it. The past is the past, move on.” Moving on is an easy thing to say if you are not a part of the atrocities, just like how some people recently demanded an apology from the visiting British Prime Minister for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, or from other people like the Babri Masjid demolition, the storming of the Golden Temple, the Anti-Sikh riot, etc. Everybody wants an apology because in a way, that heals things to an extent, no matter how superficial it may be.

But for many of my brothers and sisters who died on this day 46 years ago, to most Indians, they’re just collateral damage. People who died from an air attack India never ordered or heard of. They became the ghosts of an unspoken folklore, nightingales whose voices would never be heard again.

They may be silenced, but our words will live on forever. On this day, every year, the heathens will rise and speak for them. And speak we shall.

God bless Mizoram.