Us and them; insider and outsider: People from the Northeast are thus often othered in the mainland; and sometimes, violently attacked. In 2014, a 19-year-old student from Arunachal Pradesh, Nido Tania, was thrashed by shopkeepers in south Delhi. They hit him so hard that he died of internal injuries later. There is deep-rooted prejudice against people who look different in our society.
In this slim collection of poetry, Esther Syiem, who teaches English in North Eastern Hill University in Shillong, tries to reach out to the rest of India. Like Easterine Kire of Nagaland who keeps her State and the region alive in her stories, Syiem leads us to Meghalaya, exhorting us to embrace this otherness. We’ve no temples,/ none to be purified/ with litanies and/ incense to leaven/ crimes of the night./ No one river too sacred/ to purify impurities;/ none of our gods/bear god-names like yours , she writes in ‘To the Rest of India from Another Indian’. But if you should/ twist your tongues around ours/ as we learnt to twist ours around yours,/ you'll get a taste of/ webbed legends.... Icons that died for a love/ that endorsed a freedom/ uninhibited as our wild mountain herbs.
Syiem deftly touches on other issues that confront the Northeast, not least the heavy militarisation of the region and the pillaging of the environment and its rich forest cover. In ‘Bordar Narrations’— I, II and III’, we get a glimpse of regular happenings at the border areas— ‘unaccounted deaths’; lines sneakingly crossed at night, usually at night ; and the usual barter and trade between ‘inside partners’ and outside partners, on this side of ours/on that side of theirs . She writes of the land not being for sale (‘The Claim’) because our land was our plate of rice , and yet rues the fact that it couldn’t be saved from those saboteurs/ amongst us/ so desperate/ to cede/ land, field, life . ‘Welcome to Jaintia Hills’ is a plaintive cry against the mindless mining in the hills, leading to the loss of ‘the speaking forests,’ which once struck awe.
Many Sides of Many Stories; Esther Syiem, Writers Workshop, ₹200.