Invasion From The North-East

Choto Babu – the special name by which I call my little grand-nephew, not so little considering he is in class two going on to three – cannot decide what was greater fun: India winning the cricket World Cup or his father taking the impromptu decision to take the family out to M G Road to celebrate right after Dhoni hit the six.

There was a traffic jam, with hundreds of cars inching forward, not really desiring to cross over and be gone but to be simply there. And there were people, of course, thousands of them. Choto Babu wished he was on the roof of their car, dancing like some of the dadas, but his father drew the line there. This was one visit to the area when he didn’t demand popcorn; it was huge fun to be simply there and eventually crawl out with the rest of the crawling traffic.

Fun as it was listening to the fun they had, what was serious was the news of what happened in Guwahati and Shillong. They, in their own ways, did their version of what any visitor to Bangalore’s M G Road witnessed. You couldn’t believe it, said my long-time journalist friend from the north east. Guwahati had a traffic jam and Shillong had whistling joyous crowds on the streets. It was as much their victory as the rest of India’s!

I wish someone in Kohima could confirm to me that the Nagaland capital was no different from the rest. Then I could have put that picture in my mind next to the one I have carried for long: of Kohima in the early eighties when the bleakness created by the wind that picked up as evening descended made everyone go indoors and rendered the streets virtually empty. To the physical chill was added the thought that insurgency lurked round the corner.

The blast that was had on Victory Night was, of course, the icing on the multi-layered cake, like the fireworks that made the night sky explode. The cake has been coming up, tier by tier, for a few years now, the fireworks carefully stored away to script a bit of history in the making — the saga of a new migration, a little people’s army of invasion from the north east to the rest of India, quite unlike the other kind of invasion from the north west that has disturbed the peace on the subcontinent for millennia. The icing and the foot soldiers, the migration and the celebration make up an unscripted unification of this diverse land. India is getting all knitted together, as ordinary people leave home to seek a livelihood wherever it will be on offer.

I first spotted an early scout in a furniture store. The young man was obviously from the north east. Where precisely are you from, I asked. Manipur, he said. Meitei, I offered, keen to show off my knowledge of the region. No, he replied and added, Naga. In a flash I realized he was a Tangkhul, the Naga outsiders in the hills of Manipur, which itself thinks it is an outsider to the rest of India. What a long way to come, to Bangalore. Now I see the little army every day, early morning and late evening, as groups of young people from the north east go to and return from the bus stand from where they commute. And I have seen their numbers grow at retail counters and hairdressers and Chinese restaurants; the last two merrily fooling you into imagining that their staff, too, is Chinese and not from Meghalaya or Mizoram.

A fascinating marriage is taking place, widely reported but worth repeating on special occasions. Mainstream India has discovered that youngsters from the north east are educated, well behaved and well turned out. And the youngsters have discovered that New India has jobs to offer. The name of any migratory process is: someone goes, drops anchor, others follow and soon you have people sharing rooms, seeking a piece of the action that nine per cent growth generates.

What this can do in a decade or two is revolutionary. People on both sides will develop stakes in the other. Resentments will remain. The new migrants will remain keenly conscious of the many downsides of having to maintain a low profile in an alien environment, of landlords’ unfairness and the language barrier. But as the money order economy gains volume, speeded up by core banking, debit cards and ATMs, each will develop a stake in the other. You will not start loving your neighbor from across the country but will begin to tolerate him. And he will know that he will keep grumbling but the roots will grow deeper since this is where the jobs are.

As this army of invaders grows, another army, that of insurgency, will find it more and more difficult to raise or even maintain its numbers. The economic phenomenon will form the foundations of a cake whose climax will be the icing and suddenly the realization that, oh heck, if we are going crazy over the Indian victory then what are we, if not Indians too. In this process, there will be one loser. Journalists like me who launched their careers covering insurgencies in the north east, which offered excitement and visits to exotic locales as bonuses, will become museum pieces — with newer generations not treading in their footsteps because there is no insurgency worth the name to report.

*The opinion is written by Subir Roy

*The writer can be reached at

(Courtesy: Business Standard)


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