You can make anything by writing – CS Lewis
(To all the Indians who know not much about NORTH-EAST INDIANS)
India the largest democracy in the world and known for its diversity. Go from one end to another of this country one will find sea of differences in the culture. Waiting to be discovered is the north eastern part of India bestowed with nature beauty which will just sweep you off your feet. So different is the culture and tradition from the rest of the country that one needs to give second thought to believe that he is really in India.
Far in the east in the laps of Himalayas is the eight states connected to rest of India by merely 20 km of wide land at Siliguri, West Bengal. Arunachal Pradesh – the land of rising sun, Assam – the land of the mighty Ahoms and river Brahmaputra, Manipur – the Land of jewels which was called Switzerland of India by Jawaharlal Nehru, Meghalaya – the abode of clouds, Mizoram – the land of blue mountains, Nagaland – the land of festivals, Sikkim – the land of spices, and Tripura – the land of history and legends. As they share the boundaries with Nepal, Bhutan, China, Myanmar, and Bangladesh, so we see the much influence in their culture. Each state has its own unique story to tell!
Giving a glance what makes this place so unique. In Arunachal Pradesh the Tawang monastery is one of the oldest and largest monasteries in Asia. Here is Nurunang Falls and Madhuri Lake (named after Bollywood actress) which is a spectacular view. Tipi Orchidarium which is found here is the third largest in Asia. World’s only floating lake is the Loktak Lake in Manipur. And not far from there is the place called Moirang where Subhash Chandra Bose first hoisted national flag while leading INA during 2nd World War. Singda Dam the highest mud dam in the world. And the sport Polo, originated from here. Sangai the brow-antlered deer and Shirui Lily a species of plant, they are found nowhere else in the world but in Manipur. In Nagaland is world famous Hornbill Festival bringing out the color of Naga tradition. And there is must visit Dzukou Valley with a breath taking scenery. The world’s hottest pepper Bhoot Jolokia also known as Red Naga Chilli is found in this part of the country.
Tripura’s Neermahal is one of the water palaces in India which was built by King Bir Bikram Kishore in 1930. Unakoti hills is a place of worship with beautiful rock carvings and murals several hundred years old. Meghalaya the wettest state of the country where you can take a walk over living root bridges. The endangered Red Panda is found in Nokrek National Park. Here is Mawlynnong which has been voted as the cleanest village of Asia. Nohkalikai Waterfalls which is located in Cherrapunji is the tallest waterfall of India. Around 60% of India’s tea is grown here in Assam.
So much said about the place, lets meet the citizens of this land who is an important ingredient in making this country. With the mention of north-east India, what comes to mind is jungle, tribal, wild animals and insurgency. But as they say, seeing is believing. “We always read negatives about north-east and this was the reason why I invited international rock band like Firehouse, Mr. Big, White Lion, Sebastian Bach and Hoobastank to perform in Shillong. More than 40,000 gathered in the night and had a good time, whereas girls are not safe in other cities even in daytime. Come on! More people dies in Delhi and Mumbai crossing the road,” says candidly the young King of Tripura Pradyot Bikram Manikya Debbarma.
Many a times there are cases of discrimination against them especially because of their oriental look. But things are changing, you will find a north-easterner in any corner of the country. “It has been a wonderful journey, coming from a small place in north-east to the capital of the country. I have been evolved as an individual, exchanging culture and traditions,” says Hoinu Hauzel who is into journalism and has been in capital for more than 20 years. Fashion designer Sonam Dubal says, “Initially, I found the atmosphere very aggressive but one needs to take complications as challenge rather than fighting against it. I learnt to accommodate and incorporate things in my life and that’s what I am doing with my designs also.” According to Sanjib Baruah who is Professor of Political Studies at Bard College, New York and Honorary Professor at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, “Moving to Delhi was important not only for what I learnt at the university, but also for what I got out of living in India’s capital city: exposure to its vibrant cultural, intellectual, and political life; the friends I made, and the window it gave to the rest of India and the world.”
The north-east is known as the power house of Indian sports to bring the point home, there were ten players representing India in London Olympics. Mary Kom, Shiva Thapa and Devendro Singh in boxing, Soniya Chanu in weightlifting, Kothajit in Hockey, Somdev Debburman in Lawn tennis, Bombyla Devi, Jayanta Talukdar, Tarundeep Rai and Chekrovolu Sworu in archery.
Mary Kom is five time World, three Asian, eleven nationals champion, and one Olympic bronze. She has been honored with Arjuna Award (2005), Padma Shri (2005) and Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna (2009). So much inspiring her rags to riches story is that a biopic is on making, Priyanka Chopra as her and director, Sanjay Leela Bhansali. “I think we are born talented to be good in sports!” chuckles the champion pugilist. She continues, “Sometimes it is disheartening when people call us names in their ignorance. Though, I really like our country’s rich culture, co-existence of different castes, creeds, varied beliefs, and festivals. It is the diversity that makes our country unique.” Staying with the boxing, it was Dingko Singh who won a gold medal in 1998 Asian Games to inspire more champs. Recently, Shiva Thapa became the youngest Indian to win gold at the Asian Confederation Boxing Championship. Devendro Singh also called Little Tyson among his teammates is Commonwealth gold and Asian bronze medalist. Laishram Sarita Devi is four time Asian gold medalist and gold in World championship. Thokchom Nanao Singh is winner of two Commonwealth gold and silver in Asian.
Breaking records in weightlifting was Nameirakpam Kunjarani Devi who won three silver medals in the World Championship in 1989. Then bronze medals at Asian Games in 1990 and 1994, one silver and two bronze medals in the Asian Weightlifting Championships in 1989, three Silvers in the 1991 Asian Weightlifting Championships in Indonesia and two gold and one bronze medal in the Asian Weightlifting Championship in 1995 in South Korea. Scaling the Mount Everest twice in a season and first woman in the world to do so is Anshu Jamsenpa.
There is the golden boy of Indian football Bhaichung Bhutia, the current captain Sunil Chettri and the ex-vice captain Rennedy Singh. In the current squad we have Karanjit Singh, Gouramangi Singh, Nirmal Chettri, Shylo Maswama, Lalrindika Ralte and the sensational upcoming striker Jeje Lalpekhlua. “I am sure that given a chance the North-Easterners would excel in sports. There is no dearth of talents in the region. But they do not get the opportunities. If federations pay proper attention to the region, the region will definitely make the country proud. And my club and football academy is a small step towards it,” says Bhaichung Bhutia who owns United Sikkim FC. It was under Talimeran Ao, India played its first official football match in 1948 Summer Olympics and the legend says they played bare-foot.
At the peak of his reign Dipankar Bhattacharjee, who is three time national badminton champion, kept Pullela Gopichand at number two for a quite while. Current Indian women archery team which is second in the world ranking has two north-easterners – Bombayla Devi and Chekrovolu Sworu. And the good prospect is Jayanta Talukdar who has won silver medal at the 2004 Junior World Archery Championships.
In bodybuilding, Mahadev Deka brought laurels to the nation by winning Mr. Universe 2009 and Gautam Kalita Mr. World title in the Bantam class in 2007. The husband wife duo Borun and Mamota Devi Yumnam, he is silver medalist in Mr. Asia 2009, six times Mr. India, three times Nationals Classic. And his wife became the first woman in the country to win a medal in any international competition when she won bronze medal in Asian Championship 2012. And in the news was Dr. Shanti Kumar Meitei who was declared Mr. Asia and Mr. World 2013.
There are many more names like Lynza Fenny Syiem who has won Gold Medals in World Karate Championship. Sushila Chanu the captain of current women junior hockey team, also Rosalind Ralte and Ruat. Aling Pinggam who has won a gold and reached up to sixth in world ranking in Kick Boxing.
In this part of the world they really love their music. Above that there is very much influence of Christianity and choir singing or should we say the westernization. When we look in to recent past many talents came out from here like Shillong Chamber Choir who are the winners of India’s Got Talent 2 and runners up at the same event was drummer Teji Toko, Divine Connection who won MTV Rock On Desi Beats 2010, Indian Idol-4 Sourabhee Debbarma, Indian Idol- 3 Prashant Tamang and Debojit Saha winner of Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Challenge 2005. Borkung Hrangkhawl freestyle rapper who became overnight YouTube sensation says, “Best part of being from North-East is that I understand lots of languages as we live in a mixed culture. Because of which no matter in which part of the country I am performing or singing I can relate to them.”
The legendary music composer father-son duo Sachin and Rahul Dev Burman who gave Bollywood hits like Wahan Kaun Hai Tera, Kora Kagaz Tha Mann Mera, O Mere Dil Ki Chain, Ek Ladki Ko Dekha, Mehbooba Mehbooba and many more. Who can forget those soothing voice of Bhupen Hazarika singing, Dil Hoom Hoom Kareh…? He has been honored with Padma Vibhusan, Padma Shri, Dadasaheb Phalke Award and Padma Bhushan for his contribution to Indian music. Beauty Sharma Barua, one of the respected and called as The Melody Queen of Assam. Among the foremost classical vocalist in India and known as Queen of Classical Vocal was Parveen Sultana.
The Northeast has been the bedrock of western music in India. There are names like Lou Majaw, sixty-six years old evergreen singer who is called the Bob Dylan of India. Sonam Sherpa the lead guitarist from one of the India’s oldest rock band – Parikrama. Lately, the talk of the town was Alobo & The Band who was nominated for the MTV Europe Music Awards 2012. By the way the theme song of Roadies-X is sung by Papon. Zubeen Garg became household name with his song Ya Ali. Axl Hazarika composed the track for the first animation film from north-east Hum Badal Gaye.
Turn on any music channel you will find home grown bands like – East India Company, Purple Fusion and Boomerang. “We have performed everywhere in the country and we are surprised to know that rather we get better response outside north-east,” says Keith Wallang who manages the band Soulmate. And there are more bands like Postmark, Dark Krusaders, Colours, Withered, Ron & Friends, Even Flow, Fourth Element, Breeze, Rain Of Heart , Incipit, Felix`s, Shades Of Retribution, Digital Suicide, Girish & The Chronicles and Phynyx to name some.
However, they are not just madly following the west. There are groups like Tetseo Sisters who are keeping their Naga tunes alive in their songs. Reuben Mashangva who has been conferred the title of Guru for his contribution in keeping Tangkhul folk songs and musical instruments alive. Imphal Talkies who sings their song in Manipuri and tries to convey a social message and Waklung – a Karbi progressive folk-fusion band.
Danny Denzongpa the stylish villain of Bollywood who is Padma Shree recipient says “Times have changed, but the perception and approach hasn’t. All this is because of ignorance and the lack of interest. I knew I was different, but I was going to convert that into an advantage. Once you become a brand, the world wants you – including the same people who had rejected you.” Doing good is Adil Hussain who acted as Sridevi’s husband in English-Vinglish and father in Life of Pi. Still in the mind is the cruel rape scene in Bandit Queen enacted by Seema Biswas. There is naughty and ever bubbling Bindya Goswami in the hit movie Gol Maal. Gautam Bora the chief of a militant group in Dil Se. And playing hockey with Shah Rukh Khan in Chak De, Masochon V Zimik and Lalhmingkimi Khiangte. The beautiful sisters, Riya and Rima Sen who are always in the news for other things but movie.
Award winning director Aribam Shyam Sharma whose movie received Golden Montgolfiere in the Nantes film festival. A well known name in the field of art Ratan Thiyam was recently appointed as Chairman of National School of Drama Society. Manju Borah is award winning film director and short story writer. There is nine time National Award winner Jahnu Barua who was awarded Padma Shri in 2003.
Doing north-east proud in the world of fashion are names like Dipannita Sharma who is a super model and actress who is now into TV anchoring. Monikangana Dutta the winner of the Metropolitan Top Model Contest of France in 2001 and has also worked in Bollywood movie Guzaarish. In 2004, Mrs. India 2004 Runner Up at Bombay Dyeing Gladrags was Sucheta Wangkhem and Femina Miss India-Earth Jyoti Brahmin. And turning some head is Kingfisher Calendar Hunt 2014 contestant Ketholeno Kense. “If we compare it to our population I think it’s a good number of north-easterners in fashion. Our biggest asset is our look which gives an international touch to any affair. Above that, we have talented people who are happy working back home and don’t make much noise about themselves. Blame it on our laid back nature,” says Esther Jamir who is a Delhi based model. Who says north-east men are not handsome, Opang Jamir who is fourth runners-up at the First Grand Slam Asia 2013.
Dressing up top Bollywood actresses’ like Sonam Kapoor, Deepika Padukone, Kareena Kapoor, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Jacqueline Fernandez is Atsu Sekhose. And Asa kazingmei who came with a bang in the world of glamour in LFW 2012 Mumbai with his clothing inspired by traditional Naga attire. Margaret Thangmawi Keivom who owns a fashion company Mawi Ltd in London has been awarded the prestigious London Female Owned Business of the Year 2005. Designers to be watched out Sailex, Meghna Rai Medhi, Aji Semy Rengma, Mona Pali, Boney Darang, Wede Khape, Agnimitra Paul, Vianney Basiedor Nongrum, Rinzing Choden Bhutia, Gaurang Shah, Melody Runremsangi, Charlee Lalthlenmawia and Plabita Gogoi.
“The entire cultural base of the North-East is different from the rest of India. We may have some shared folk stories with some of the other states of India but otherwise, what the region has to offer is a wholly new literary experience,” says Easterine Kire Iralu about the uniqueness of north-eastern literature, who has wrote books like A Naga Village and Mari. Birendra Kumar Bhattacharya a Jnanpith and Sahitya Akademi Award winner, who wrote Iyaruingom and Mrityunjaya which is considered to be one of the masterpieces of Indian Literature. Indira Goswami became the India’s first Principal Prince Claus Laureate who wrote novel The Rusted Sword. The first author from the North-East to be represented by Godwin with her debut novel The House with a Thousand Novels is Aruni Kashyap.
Surprisingly, Arundhati Roy also makes in the list who has won Man Booker Prize for her renowned book The God of Small Things. More names like, award winning Siddhartha Sarma, Tilottoma Misra, Bhabendranath Saikia – a physicist-turned-author-playwright-filmmaker, Navakanta Barua, Hiren Bhattacharya, Yengkhom Indira, Margaret Ch Zama, Robin S. Ngangom, Kynpham Sing Nongkynrih, Mamang Dai, Temsula Ao, Deepika Phukan, Anjum Hasan, Chetan Kulsheshtra, Desmond Leslie Kharmawphlang, Mitra Phukan, Dhruba Hazarika Lalsanga, Cherrie and Nabanita Kanungo.
The torch bearers of North-East in journalism in the current scenario are Arnab Goswami from Times Now who is always on the search for an answer for the country. And Karma Palzor the Business Editor at CNN-IBN. Sanjoy Hazarika the director of Center for North East Studies in Jamia Milia Islamia University, who is also a columnist, author, and filmmaker. Patricia Mukhim, she is the editor of Shillong Times, Meghalaya’s oldest English language daily who is conferred with Chameli Devi Jain Award for outstanding women media person in 1995 and Padma shri in 2000. The only woman to be editor, publisher, and proprietor of a daily newspaper (Nagaland Page) in the north-east is Monalisa Changkija. And also a member of the Indian Planning Commission’s National Steering Committee/Working Group on Women’s Empowerment for the 11th Five-Year Plan.
Teresa Rehman is honored with the Ramnath Goenka Excellence in Journalism Award for two consecutive years (2008-09 and 2009-10) and the Seventh Sarojini Naidu Prize 2007. Bringing the local flavor throughout the nation who is Manoj Kumar Goswami – Editor in Chief, satellite television channel DY 365. So is Nishiraj A. Baruah who is the editor of Air India’s in-flight magazine Shubh Yatra. Ayushman Baruah, Principal Correspondent, Information Week India, recently bagged the prestigious PoleStar Awards in Chennai.
The list has to start with 93 year old Rishang Keishing who is the only sitting MP who was also a member of the first Lok Sabha since 1952. He is still going strong and very active. Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed the fifth President of India and the first north-easterner to do so. Many might not know that our current Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has a north- east connection; he filed his nomination for the Rajya Sabha from Guwahati. Gopinath Bordoloi was the first chief minister of Assam after independence and a freedom fighter, who has Guwahati airport named after him. Ralengnao Bob Khathing he was India’s first ambassador to Myanmar who played an important role in bringing Tawang under New Delhi’s control in 1951. P.A. Sangma almost became the president of India, who was Speaker of Lok Sabha from 1996 to 1998. Also the co-founder of National Congress party and went on to form National People’s Party in January 2013. Following his father’s step is Agatha Sangma who became the youngest Minister of State in the current cabinet.
(Published in Society Dec ’13, Page No. 126)