Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Over the dining table - a thought on identity

By Paritosh Chakma

Over the dining table in the spring this year, a Mizo girl asked me: “Do you Chakmas in Mizoram consider yourselves as Mizos?”

I paused for a while before I replied:

“ To me it would depend on the meaning of the term ‘Mizo’. It means whether we take Mizo as an ethnic community or as a territorial/geographical or national identity. Say for example, all Indians irrespective of whether they are Tamils, or Gujaratis or Assamese or Khasis identify themselves as Indians.”

“Similarly”, I continued, “Chakmas living in Mizoram must identify themselves as Mizos. In that sense, we are definitely Mizos too. That is precisely why Chakmas who are residents of Mizoram do not require Inner Line Permit to enter Mizoram.”

At the Assam-Mizoram checkpoint at Vairengte, a signboard facing the passengers reads – “All Non-Mizos are required to produce Inner Line Permit”.

We Chakma students never cared to think of the permit; the question simply did not arise in our minds because we identified ourselves with the “Mizos” - not with the “Non-Mizos” referred to in the signboard.

But, I explained to her, Chakmas are a distinct ethnic tribe and different from the Mizos.
I remember immediately she shot back at me saying, “That is the problem with you Chakmas. You never say you are Mizos.”

On 23 September 2009 she was proved wrong. That day the influential Mizo Zirlai Pawl (Mizo Students’ Association) burnt copies of a Mizoram Board of School Education text book which claimed, among others, that Chakma was a sub clan of the Mizo tribe.

Yet, it was not the MZP to be blamed. I don’t think the Chakma issue was the main objection. Even the Chakmas themselves do not claim to be a sub clan of the Mizos, although they are proud citizens of Mizoram. Hence, the reference in the text book got to be deleted anyway.

In my view, the text book for Class IX “Enjoy Your English” was unacceptable as Chapter 10 – “Jewel of North East: Mizoram” was full of errors. Even Mizoram’s location - ‘Tripura in the East and Myanmar in the South’ - was not correct. It also got Mizoram’s history wrong.

The errors were not surprising. It was written by non-Mizo scholars who were “born and brought up outside Mizoram”- explained MBSE secretary K Lianhmingthanga.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

A trip to Nepal

Recently I paid a three-day visit to Kathmandu, the picturesque capital of Nepal. Kathmandu is a valley surrounded by beautiful mountains, and it looked wonderful from above. As our aircraft landed after negotiating with the thick clouds, there was a feeling of joy and relief in my mind. It was my maiden visit to Nepal.

The old Kathmandu is a bit crowded and had small, clumsy roads. I found adjacent Lalitpur has much clean, bigger and smooth roads; and the some hilly landscapes look a bit similar to Shillong.

In Nepal, Indian Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes are not accepted. So, Indians have to carry Rs 100-notes which make your purse looks thicker. Everywhere you can pay in Indian Currency. The exchange is as follows: IC 100= NC 160.

Among other things, what caught my imagination is the unique Bakery Cafe at New Baneswar. I saw several Bakery Cafes in Kathmandu, but the amaging thing about this one is that all the staff, except the manager, were people who were dumb! "It is a special mission", explained my friend about the founder of this Bakery Cafe. It takes some time before you could actually find out that all the waiters, including the female, were deaf and dumb. Hence, you could put an order or ask a question only in writing on a note-pad and the waiter replied in writing as well. All of the waiters have been recruited from a special school meant for the deaf and dumb. Hence, all of them were educated and they could communicate in English, of course in writing!

I thought it was a wonderful piece of entrepreneurship and indeed, a special mission to provide employment to these special people, to make them feel that they are also an equal part of the society. I wonder whether such examples exist elsewhere in the world. My Nepalese friend said this was the only restaurant of this kind in entire Nepal.