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Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The Unknown Indians

Arunachal Pradesh
I had heard many an anecdote about the rest of India wondering about the existence of places in North-eastern India. I in my ignorance about the knowledge of 'mainland' Indians thought them to be concocted ones. How could an educated citizen not be aware of the existence of not only a capital city but also of a whole state?

On a rainy Independence Day - 15 August 2001, I accompanied by my brother took the early morning train from Bhopal to Sanchi. My brother was downcast seeing the overcast skies. His photographs might not turn out well and the rain could damage his equipment. I was excited with the prospect of seeing the pictures from my school history books come to life. Braving the rain, minus an umbrella we made it to the ticket window.

The elderly gentleman behind the grilled window looked at me through his thick rimmed glasses and enquired in English, "Where have you come from?" "Shillong," I replied. He handed me two tickets and asked for a price many times higher than the displayed entry fee. "Shouldn't it be Rs. 20 for two tickets?" I asked. "Can't you read the board outside? The rates for foreigners are higher," the ticket seller growled.

"Par hum to Indian hain? (But we are Indians)," I protested in Hindi. "Hindi seekh lene se koi Indian nahin ho jata! (Learning Hindi doesn't make one an Indian)" came the smart reply. At this point by brother brandished his Government of India identity card. "But you said you are from Ceylon?" the man asked apologetically.

"Shillong not Ceylon!"

"Woh kahan hain? (Where's that)"

"Meghalaya"

"Woh kahan hain?"

"Assam ke paas (Near the state of Assam)"

"To bolo na Assam se ho, kab se Ceylon, Ceylon kya kar rahe ho (Then why don't you say you're from Assam, why are you saying Shillong, Shillong)."

"No arguments," I thought.

This was just the beginning of my encounters with my geographically challenged fellow citizens. And I felt grateful to that pavement vendor in Bilaspur who on discovering my hometown exclaimed, "Lovely hill station. I would like to visit it sometime, once I save enough money."

13 Comments:

thalassa_mikra said...

Soumyadip, I feel terrible that this sort of ignorance of the North-east exists in most of the rest of India. But then, a friend of mine went to work in Bangalore and he went blue in the face explaining to them that he was Bengali, and still people insisted on calling him "North Indian".

By the way, I do envy the fact that you grew up in Shillong. An uncle of mine lived there for many years, and my mother has wonderful memories of her visit. I wish I had accompanied her.

Abaniko said...

I can relate. Many Filipinos don't know that my town exists and it's even the capital of our province. So, I just tell them I'm from Davao, the nearest city to our town, which is one of the major cities in our country so I'd be spared from further inquiries.

PRITHA ROY CHOUDHURY said...

Thanks a ton for the Wish. I always look forward to visiting your blog. You write really good. I too experienced something similar during one of my visits to Kolkata when a lady felt I could speak bangla so well despite being a Singhalese.

Anonymous said...

so many times was i asked for my passport once i told the hotel wallahs where i was from. one cant help but wonder how people can be so ignorant of places. ask me and there are chances i would come right with where the town/city was located geographically. how can people miss out the capital cities of states, thats lower scholl geography, isnt it. actually want doen't want to learn beyond what is needed to pass exams. there have been times when i had to take recourse to a map to show people as to where i was from. and to say the truth, i pity them.

soumya said...

ppl r not to be blamed for their ignorance ... india being such a big country with such huge population with high illiteracy these things r bound to happen ...

moreover with the level of development we had ppl wont have time and energy to get themselves euipped with details

dwaipayan said...

blame ur appearence

Rahul said...

the problem with the perception of north east is not just geographical ignorance. Our nation has indeed failed to assimilate them in the national mainstream. NE terrorism probably has its roots in this deep antipathy among heartland Indians...

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Anonymous said...

That's a great story. Waiting for more. »

Rohit Talwar said...

That's rather sad... I wonder when they'd let people themselves and respect them as individuals, a part of this country and not... Ugh, just so annoying.

Saurabh Mehra --> Words fail me said...

It would be funny were it not so unfortunate. I've experienced this myself as I was in Shillong for three years and had to explain to everybody back home that it was not somewhere in the middle of nowhere.

And then we snicker at a certain Paris Hilton when we read about her asking if London is in Europe. Its a shame we don't know about our own country.