Ejipura’s proximity to commercial localities and service sector jobs has drawn migrants from the Northeast

When Y. Arunkumar first came to Bangalore from Manipur, he found the omnipresence of coconut in all items served at restaurants . “That and buttermilk,” he says. Even curd was not something he was used to, but its diluted form with pieces of chilli, ginger, curry leaves and mustard floating in it were a mystery to him, and initially unpalatable.

“Then, I realised I needed to get used to those things if I was to make a living in this city, and now, have made my peace with coconut and curds,” he says. He comes from Thoubal district in Manipur, a place where bamboo shoots and fermented fish prevail over other ingredients.

“We explain to our landlords, that fermented fish may be totally alien to them, but it is an acquired taste, just like coconut and curds, and there is nothing wrong in cooking with it in our rented houses,” says Arun Yambem, secretary of publicity and communications at the Manipuri Meitei association of Bangalore. “The good thing is, landlords these days understand.”

Opening minds

International schools in Marathahalli are where families from the Northeast prefer to send their children to. Multicultural and comparatively more open-minded houseowners are one of the reasons why they seem to prefer staying in Ejipura, Viveknagar, Austin Town and Neelasandra.

The other obvious reason is proximity to the heart of the city and areas where service sector jobs in retail, fashion and hospitality are plenty, such as M.G. Road, Koramangala and Indiranagar.

What is less obvious, says Johnson Rajkumar, professor in St. Joseph’s college, is that migration is often fed by a migrant drawing relatives and friends to the same college or work that he or she is engaged in.

For instance, A. Sarat, a physiotherapist, came to Bangalore to study in Goutham College of Physiotherapy because he heard about it from his friends. After having worked in Rajajinagar for a while, he rented a place to stay in Ejipura because that was where his friends were.

“People from each northeastern State tend to socialise with people from their own States,” explains Johnson. He headed a student research project that looked into the issues faced by migrant workers from the northeastern States in the unorganised sector, such as in malls, beauty parlours and restaurants.

“While an IT employee or a management consultant from Manipur may stay in houses adjacent to a retail salesperson or a security guard from the same State, they do not mingle socially,” Johnson says. “So, there are many cultural associations for each State, mainly involving students and IT employees. The unorganised sector worker does not even have the time to engage in those, working almost seven days a week and long hours.”

Despite northeastern communities occupying many positions in the service sector, the only social signs of this churn are the special services that happen in the churches around this area. “There is a church that people from Mizoram go to, another for those from Shillong and so on,” explains Fr. Jhabu Imsong, who conducts the Naga service at Richmond Methodist Church.

No spice

Apart from a Northeast diner in Koramangala, not much else has come up in the area to indicate the presence of such a community. There are Tibetan restaurants and roadside momo stalls, but not restaurants and grocery stores selling spices and ingredients for Manipuri or Naga cuisine.

“So, we get our spices parcelled here from back home,” laughs Redibala Thongram, a physiotherapist working on Bannerghatta Road, but still preferring to stay in Ejipura. “Around here, it is easy to get meat — fish, chicken and even beef, only pork is difficult because of the religious profile of the area. But, in some other areas of the city, it is difficult to get any kind of meat at all.”

“We generally love to cook at home, so the lack of restaurants is not a problem,” says Arunkumar. “All kinds of vegetables are available here too. So, it’s only the spices that are a problem, like for instance the Naga chilli.”

Search for love

The other search he is into now is for a partner. “Arranged marriages are not at all common in our native place. Here, things are a bit more conservative, but it is still possible to date in this city,” he says. Perhaps, not many other communities, especially from remote regions, in India can claim a more liberal background than the big city that they have migrated to.

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