It was the year 2017 when Tez Bahadur of BSF, who was posted in Indo-Pak border made headlines. His video shared on his Facebook account regarding complaints on the quality of food served to the BSF jawans serving in the borders went viral.
“Naa hi achar hai, kuch Nahi. Daal main sirf haldi aur namak hai,” were some of his complaints I could recollect now. What happened later and how important it is to feed our jawans very well is another issue altogether. Off-course, the BSF denied the claims, as expected, and accused Bahadur of being an alcoholic.
Internet went crazy and my otherwise workaholic friends, who usually have no idea what is being circulated in social media, too, came across the video. Then one of them asked me, “Do they provide Chow and Momos for NE people?” He went on and said, “If no, then why are these Jawans protesting. If so, then I agree there is discrimination; at least they should provide Achar.” I could not hold back my laughter. I was amused for two reasons. First, the idea of comparing food habits, across the nation never struck me. It only made me realised how difficult is the job of the mess in-charge of the security forces. Because you would anyways attract unsatisfactory remarks from some section of the men. Second, how on earth could one think NE people live by Chow and Momos. Rice is the staple food of the region. In fact, many villages are yet to taste Chow and Momo. When I told my colleague about these facts, he was bewildered. “But why is every street Momo/Chow seller from NE?” he asked. “That is the only benefit of discrimination against Northeasters,” I joked. “No, no I was genuinely unaware,” said my friend. “Agreed, I once thought the Army belongs only to Mainland Indians,” I replied.
Looks can be deceiving, some wise men said. It literally is true for us, North-easterners. Many mistook us for foreigners mainly when we visit monuments and tourist spots which have a predominant presence of foreigners. Interestingly, people who assumed us to be foreigners treat us a cut above than those who knew we belong to NE India. I did enjoy many honourable moments of being treated well like foreign dignitaries. I also remember having taught Kungfu to children during my field trips, while still in academics, in Andhra Pradesh.
The funniest part was that these children who thought I must be equivalent to Jet Lee in Kungfu skills, still thought Manipur was part of China even after telling them my residence of state. It was then that I decided to teach them some Chinese. “Si Chao Wong fai hung means ‘what is your name’ in Chinese,” I told them. They enthusiastically repeat the words in chorus to memorize it. Thus, during my one week stay in the village, they have learned what they thought were seven new Chinese lines. Mixing 5 languages and making it sound like Chinese did the trick for me.
I wonder if genuine foreigners from different countries like China Korea japan faced the same mix-up of identity when they are here in India. How many times would they be discriminated against, mistaking them to be North-easterners, esp. in Delhi? On a lighter vein, foreigners can’t feel being alienated, as saying ‘Chinese’ to a Chinese would only be natural. The fun whilst would be lost when nobody gets offended. As in the case of the North-easterners, all hell will break loose with just a ‘Chinese’ remark, especially in Metros where NE Helplines are installed.
Apart from some individuals who intentionally rebuke NE people, I genuinely feel pity for those people who have a tough time classifying people of almost indistinguishable features. “Seriously, how do we establish one’s identity since you all look almost identical to the Chinese/Korean/Japanese and a genuine question asking the same could be mistaken as a discriminatory remark?” asked a friend. “You would not find Chinese working in India as call-centre executives, waiters, and security guards,” I joked. “On a serious note, asking ‘are you a Chinese’ to a wrong person could attract unwarranted responses, but asking, ‘are you an Indian’ even to the wrong people would not be much of a problem. It is all about the selection of words. “ He seemed to have bought what I thought was a well-reasoned suggestion.
Another incident, which happened recently, involved an Amazon delivery guy. As is the case with most people, online orders would be in my wife’s name. Handling over the parcel to me, the delivery guy smiled at me and asked if ‘Kim’ is my real name. Before I could answer, he asked if I am related to the North Korean President. According to him, I look like His Highness Kim Jong Un. “Well, it is a long story. He is my cousin but his over-ambitious nuclear plan and obnoxious policies executed with gross human rights violations led me to part ways with him. I am now an Indian citizen. Main Bharatiyan hun. Hindustan hamara, sare jahan se acha, Zai Hind,” I said. He was speechless for a moment and then said, “Sahi main? Kya baat sir. Aap Bahut ..” “ I am just kidding. I am from NE. Have a nice day,” I said before he could complete his sentence and shut the door.
There are other myriads of incidents that my peculiar looks bestowed me. Most of these funny experiences have one thing in common; the incidents involved genuine mistakes on my identity. It was not discrimination. Nevertheless, we need to educate our children about the beauty in diversity this country is endowed with and inculcate in them the interest to learn and know about India beyond its metros. It is time to broaden our cultural boundaries. Let us admit we all love Chow and Momo, in fact, more than the Northeasters.
Most importantly, let us accept this fact that eating or selling Chow and Momo does not make one a Chinese or for that matter a different Indian; Chow-Momo Indian!