I was at the Arunachal Literature Festival, held
recently, and enjoyed the ‘author life’. But this piece is not about the things
authors do to convince themselves that despite the advent of AI, writing as
they know it is not entirely redundant. Rather, it is about the things that
struck me as I made the arduous, 7 – hour trip by car to Itanagar (after
schlepping from Madurai to Chennai to Guwahati) because the flight thither from
Guwahati had been cancelled at the nth hour. Some big-name authors used the
excuse to absent themselves from the event, but not this author, who will do
just about anything to convince people in far flung parts of the country, that
they should read books in general and mine in particular.
It was appalling how little I knew about the Northeast.
I was ashamed to realise that I didn’t even know which language was spoken in
Arunachal Pradesh. I was told there are between 30 – 50 tribal groups in the
state, who have their own distinct language, dialects, and sub – dialects. Most
spoke Assamese, Nagamese, English and a smattering of Hindi which served as
During my session on ‘Reimagining Mythology’, I
realized that my knowledge of folklore pertaining to the region was non –
existent. My only exposure to it was from Easterine Kire, the award-winning
author from Nagaland, whose work I have read and admired. Members of the
audience wanted to know about the representation of tribal folk in the itihasas,
and I was happy to answer though it must be conceded that the limited narrative
is almost entirely problematic and needs to be part of a corrective discourse.
Rama justifies his abhorrent slaying of Vaali, a Vanara by saying that a
kshatriya is well within his rights to hunt and kill animals using any means
necessary! We agreed that indigenous legends and myths must be reclaimed. You
must be the ones to tell your own stories, I pointed out. Yes, they conceded,
but nobody listens to us!
The main issue is that this part of the country has
been treated shoddily. There is limited connectivity with the rest of India,
poor infrastructure, and a criminal negligence of the needs of the people. Most
Indians have vague notions about insurgency and security issues cropping up in
these parts, the imposition of the controversial Armed Forces Special
Protection Act (AFSPA) leading to many human rights violations and vociferous
protests led by the likes of Irom Sharmila. The AFSPA was withdrawn from parts
of the region between 2022 – 23, but the Centre keeps a wary eye concerned
about security threats from Myanmar and China.
It is not enough to pay attention only when gifted
athletes from the area like a Sunil Chettri Mirabai Chanu, Hima Das and mighty
Mary Kom emerge, though it is not like India deserves credit for nurturing
these talents. We must do more for our brethren hailing from the seven sisters
so that they can take pride in being Indian without being made to feel like
unwanted children. It is to our eternal shame that we haven’t done so already.
This column was originally published in The New Indian Express.