You let yourself slide into stupor and the day looms large but there’s an end to it. Thoughts crystallize and northeast is a thought that lingers. Years ago I’ve been in that neck of the woods and that was it, ‘woods’, where I lived with my parents and brothers in Jorhat in Assam for a few short years. I remember hanging on to the window bars, I not three feet tall at that time and yet to see the insides of a school, gazing in wonder at water buffaloes with their long curved horns. I remember the leaches that stuck to my shins and calves and the blood ooze when they were salted off from the skin by my mother. I remember the jackfruit and the pineapple and the pork sausage my father brought home once every week, long and thick, the kind I’ve haven’t spied or dug teeth into ever since. I remember the long grass and the incessant rain, the leafy growth all around, a green sward laid out by the hand of God. I remember the peace though at that time I wouldn’t have thought of it or even understood it in those, my years of innocence. Today, that long lost peace stands stark and naked in my mind now that peace in that neck of woods is more a brief lull than an unbroken duration.
The mind plays tricks, doesn’t it? But it doesn’t, this is reality.
Here I’m today, thinking of Assam, nay northeast, years later, and all I can picture is a string of youngsters queued up to board a train in Pune, a train for them to take back home where peace lies shattered in bits and pieces and the aftermath reaching out to them in places like Pune, Mumbai, Bangalore and Hyderabad and Chennai and down south to that sliver of land I call my ancestors’ home where I’m as much a stranger as they – the people of the northeast – are, if not more.
Mischief is afoot and no one cares a nod, mischief with technology its handmaiden. Second and third and fourth blood has been drawn and there’s the murky smell of conspiracy.
Nobody set upon me and my family when I was in Assam all those years ago. I was in my country. But for these youngsters from the northeast queued up to board the train home, they are no longer sure if India is their country. Somebody is hell bent on alienating them, take them to task for holding an Indian passport, for holding an electoral card issued by the Election Commission of India, for sending representatives to India’s Parliament, for being on the same map, page, as the rest of India, for winning Olympic medals and watching the Tricolour rise. Somebody wants to tear northeast apart from India.
That somebody is succeeding. Does anybody care? Friday morning, Parliament debated the problem. Every member strove to say the right words. But to those watching and listening to the debate on TV, the words sounded hollow. Some of those youngsters will return but the majority will stay behind nearer to home and hearth and for the rest of their lives they will harbour in their minds alienation that will remain an anchor that will be hard to budge.
Vote bank politics will take its toll as it is now taking, some people will parrot. That’s just one part; the other is a deeper conspiracy, rooted in religion and ethnic identities and that eternal human gluttony for land. Then there’s history, the animosities bred and allowed to simmer in people and states and the vestiges of which now threaten to hold to ransom and affect not one but three countries and may be one more which wouldn’t think twice before plunging into the mire. Yes, the northeast is what will make or break India. There is no running away from that fact and yet people and politicians seem to forget.
In the short term there is violence; some gains for some and a lot of grief for a whole lot of others. In the long term there is only severance, without pay. All I can think of is: O! How Green Was My Assam.