Travels In The North East – Part 1
As a South Indian, especially someone who lives in the deep south of India, in the state of Tamil Nadu, you grow up with stories of the north-south divide and how the hindi’ans (yes that’s a term) look down on all things below the Vindhyas which divides the north and the south of the country. You also get frequent reminders of this from the other perspective when some North Indian language chauvinists stress that Hindi should be given precedence over your mother tongue or the common lingua franca down south- English, which everyone speaks in addition to their mother tongues. Finally you get the whole how south India is more rational and accommodating of all religions while the north is filled with rabid hindutva’vadis who would just as soon do riots or destroy mosques rather than worship god in the privacy of their homes theory which is a part of the popular narrative bandied about as self-evident knowledge.
But travel has a way of opening one’s eyes to some unpleasant truths and making you see things from the others perspectives. I recently spent a week in the northeast, yes that part of our country which is often marked in maps as an itsy-bitsy add on to the rump of the landmass. As a South Indian I must confess to my shame that I had almost zero knowledge of the north eastern culture except for what I learned in school textbook geography. My knowledge of the region’s History was again nada/zilch- for all of Indian history is filled with horror stories of conquerors and destroyers who came out of the northwest- present day Pakistan and built pyramid’s out of the heads of the native Hindustani’s they had beheaded and destroyed temples by the score. All of which fear mongering I had taken to be children’s stories designed to explain the backwardness of the north when compared to the south or the west.
But as I said travel opens one yes to the reality. Textbooks come alive and history is shown to be real and not a figment of someone’s imagination. Some of the sights I saw up there showed me that history is alive and well and is the source of all the fear and angst against the outsider. I could finally see and accept for myself that all the rich culture I take pride in naturally as a South Indian- all those beautiful art works, the majestic temples etc down south, survived and in fact were all spared at the expense of the north.
The barbaric invaders from the northwest were so busy destroying anything which reeked of the local culture (hindu culture) including our temples and artworks in the north of the country that they never got around to doing the same in the south. It’s based on the sacrifice of the north- the utter destruction of hundreds of magnificent landmarks and iconic temples that Hinduism survived and flourished in the deep south- a fact which is proven again and again whenever you see the ruins of ancient temples all over North India and compare it with the majesty of the Tanjore Brihadeeswara temple or the Madurai Meenakshi temple which have stayed the same over a thousand years.
The same is true of our borders – it only takes a trip into the mountains of the north- those magnificent Himalayas and look up into the mass of the Chinese army poised to rush down into the plains of the peninsula to appreciate the constant fear of the people of the north east to be run over by the chic-coms and start speaking mandarin. It’s here that you really get to appreciate the Indian army and its many sacrifices in guarding the borders. I spent a week in the border towns along the Chinese-occupied Tibetan border and I came away a chastened man with a better perception of what it means to be an Indian, a Hindu and to be at the mercy of two enormous hordes of barbarian armies poised to the east and west of my country straining at the leash to enter the Gangetic plains and down south to finally erase the idea of India from history like they have been trying to do (and failing) for millennia. The threat from the unwashed barbarian hordes to the west and the yellow peril to the east is indeed real (as spoken from the times of Kipling) is what I came back with.
The idea of India- in fact the very survival of this fragile idea of hope, optimism and freedom is in a precarious position and guarded by a few regiments of die hard soldiers on our borders in the midst of sub zero cold and absolutely zero comfort is what shocked me. I have come back with my eyes opened and a great deal of respect for our men in uniform. And an iron resolve to do my bit for the safety of my nation, for its very survival amongst such overwhelming odds. More to follow in my next few blogs as I report on my experiences in the frontiers of India.