Assam, Ides of March, and the man in the mirror.
The only thing better than a book is the idea of it. Ideas are always so much better, of course. They are immune to inconveniences, slander, friction, wordlessness. Then one fine day, one fine warm day, when you get tired of ambling across that sidewalk in that city you half know, peeking across motor cars to look for that bookstore that you thought existed in this part of town, where your mother bought stacks of paperbacks and brought them home, you suddenly find yourself standing in front of it. And now this is where it all began. Where it all begins. I can see your drink shaking and your face dragging against the carpet floor already, so let me say this, a book, an imprint i.e. and the idea of itself don’t have to be two separate things. They can co-exist, kind of Heisenberg-esque. I knew it existed when I walked into that old(but extremely charming) bookstore that day, and picked up Edward Said’s Culture & Imperialism, that book where Said links colonialism and culture and back connects them to the colonial era writers and their work. And when somebody took it from me and didn’t return, it felt like flesh being torn out. So I had to go get it back.
As we were entering Bangalore, I woke up in the backseat of the car my friend was driving. I had a heavy head and a strained neck from the near perfect roads. I could remember little from my recent past, the anxious hours, the workload, the fights, the ennui. I was looking at a miniature Taj Mahal on the dashboard when it struck me, with a double down. See, it’s not the object or even the idea behind it, it’s what you make of it, and it is what it does. In ’47 we had an idea of a nation. We had these great ideals, of social, political and economic equality, of egalitarianism, of an almost utopian parliamentary democracy. Now, we succeeded at most of those high sounding things. But our failures, so big and conspicuous and uncared for, they make those successes seem like mud roads after a drizzle, melting away into a soak pit, probably worse.
Latest, in the series of cataclysmic apple picking camps by the government, or rather governments in the recent past, has been the Citizenship Amendment Bill. If accidents ever define nations, this is one nation defining whipped cream laden catastrophe. I can punch in a thousand words here and they still won’t justify or un-justify what the administration has perpetrated. That’s because I would be answering the wrong questions. The question of whether to grant citizenship to people from one sect or the other might seem very important, and it is, but the more important question is what are we doing for the and to the people who are actually affected by it? What are we doing to the bordering states like Assam those are affected by it. Civilizations rise and fall across time. But to deliberately sabotage one for extra ballots and bakelite goodwill seems out of the box outrageous. Like in Said’s book, it’s probably more spastic than a steel frame now that we’re haunted no longer by the ghosts of the British or the tyrannical white man, but by the living idea of them. The Indian identity is no longer what Neheru conceived to be, one of every man and woman being equal, but of finding glory in the inequality, and in partisanship. Speaking of Assam, it’s this glorious state, with the landscape, the rivers, the culture, the dance, and the level-headed, some of the most talented people I have met, I could not speak enough of it putting hand to keyboard in a precariously heated room. It’s a state and a people struggling for identity on their own porch. High influx of immigrants, no matter Hindus or Muslims, have rendered the Assamese at risk of being a minority in a land that’s wholly their’s, a land for which they have died multiple times, and got back up multiple times. While the rest of India has been binging on primetime tv, talking about vapid stand-up comedy acts and brandishing their own culture which to be frank makes me want to scream, the North East has been slipping and falling and holding itself together in great maturity and an ever-lasting sense of definite melancholy.
In the collective sense of Indian identity, where does the North East come up? Where does Assam come up? The residents are called all sorts of names, their history is categorically ignored, sometimes laughed at, and cast aside in whims of toxic indifference. The bigger states keep benefiting, with high FDI influx on the back of better infra which in turn was a result of being chosen by the British for their higher relative geo political significance. Rarely do tv series or movies come up, obviously, that show the provinces, that show Assam, in their true glorious colours. They say a nation is judged by how it treats its transient fragile, its outnumbered, its injured. And judging by that standard, we are a nation of cowards who can’t think of anything other than ourselves. As for the book, and the further goings on, those are for another day’s tale. The clocks have run out of road, and I am off. So long till tomorrow, till it all makes sense.