Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Mutts and Dogs not allowed

A mutt’s encounter with racism...

For the sake of rude simplicity, I am using the word mutt to describe that I was born to parents from different communities/ having different physical appearances.

So...like Hermione Granger in her first few years at Hogwarts, not being a "pure blood" was tough. Being a mutt got me in trouble everywhere. My mixed parentage was a major disadvantage in my childhood life in Shillong (to the uninitiated, a beautiful hill station in North Eastern India).

From an early age, people thought it was their business to point out my stuff that I had no control over. My face, my awkward height and an equally awkward sounding family name became the butt of neighbourhood jokes. They called me "dkhar" (foreigner from the plains) and thought I wasn't Khasi (my mother's caste denomination) enough to enjoy the citizenship of the locality. I was seven when my dad (an Assamese Brahmin to whom I had greater resemblance) had to accompany me to the gate on my way to school and play, placing a rod in my hand to save myself from getting beaten by the Khasi sisters who were daughters of our "friendly" neighborhood fish mongers. Why? Because I looked so wrong in that "harmonious" milieu of local mundaneness.

Our immediate neighbors who, we were told were more well off in wealth and manners. Their preferred Sunday past time after church (God forgive them for they knew not what they did the moment they stepped out of the Church's gate!) was throwing sand on my baby sister’s head. My brother was called a "mik" boy, thanks to his unconventional mainland features.

My favorite task was to withdraw my "ugly" profile from that perfect neighbourhood and make friends with kids who had issues, but unlike mine. Some never went to school. Those who did, flunked many years, enough to make them outcasts .When my best friend from the ghetto died of tuberculosis, I was devastated. I decided to one day get out of that filth. I’ve long left that street that hated me for how I look .That girl from the ghetto remains one of my best friends ever. 

In school, the surname that I took from my dad, became such a pain, that I would sweat whenever the roll call happened. The sound of my name caused whispers, teasing and hushed comments demeaning my parentage. It got so bad, that in high school I had it changed to a more acceptable form, my mother’s Khasi family name. Shakespeare may well have said "what's in a name" but clearly there was! The hitherto hyper tension-ed mornings got more pleasant, but I was still isolated with intention. My teachers, a couple of friends and that ambition to do well and disappear formed a silver lining and a solid vision of the "rainbow" in all those school years. These days, whenever I visit home, I make it a point to visit the people I mentioned, so they know how dear they were and are to me.

The phase I love most in my educational life was college life @ St Edmund’s. I guess it was the Bengali majority (a bit closer in looks to me) ,that made up my honors class, that made it so pleasant. What a class we were! Except for a few who happen to be on my FB list of friends, I didn't quite get along with my classmates who were mostly local. It was the rest of the college who made my life superb.

Tezpur University was a mixed blessing. I initially saw it as my last hurdle, the final certificate to freedom from prescribed education. Honestly, it felt good, to be at some distance from a place that treated me like some queen’s mongrel. And it was only good fortune that the most students from Shillong were smart enough to feel the distance too. I made quick friends who saw no defect in my features and found familiarity in my Assamese surname (which I happily took back). They eventually became the best things I took away from the University.

The rest of the composition that made up an institution of higher education didn't have the same enthusiasm of having a "half this and a half that" in the community. During classes, I always saw their evil dissections on my parentage.  One of them, a foreigner to the North-Eastern culture, openly reduced all the NE girls to a bunch of promiscuous misses. Hearing that remark, I jerked. A serious case of bad breeding, I thought

They always had me wondering how they, a lot of creeping (and creepy as well) fungi , managed to take roles of cerebral beings. Now, I realized that they were not cerebral, but devastating bad news from wherever they came from. They just took advantage of the lack of certified members required to run a show, just a show.

My internship in Delhi was the best university education I got. My superiors at work were so impressed, they let me know of the confidential A+ I got for my efforts and resilience. It was an easy place to work in. No one poked fun at my North-Eastern profile. No racial slurs and abuse. It was only talent, hard work and lots of fun. We were a good team of matured, broadminded, smart individuals. My internship had a happy ending, with an excellent report card to go back home to. I was denied my A+ by the previously mentioned pseudo cerebrals, but I took it in my stride knowing it all along it was a ‘show’ and I had just four months to endure it.

Since the end of that last semester in the university, my life has been one A+ ride. I’ve been blessed, and somewhere the universe has been like an alchemist, turning all the bad stuff into gold.

But yes, whenever I hear of racism and incidents that imply racism, my memory harks back to those younger days. A reminder that even in a small lane of a small city like Shillong in a relatively small North East region within the same "otherwise historically abused racially" country, people can and do discriminate among one another. My simplistic prescription to end this all and make everyone more tolerant.......have more inter racial marriages and more half-bloods!