It's strange that when we talk about discrimination, we always think of how Northeasterners are spoken to and about, or dealt with outside of the Northeast. Ironically, the only time I faced discrimination was through my growing years in the Northeast itself.
I lived with my parents who are settled in Mizoram. That's where I spent most of my growing years. As a child of mixed ethnicity, my dad being Bengali and mother, Mizo, I faced racism early on. I did not look like a Mizo so was often referred to as Vai (a word used for people from mainland India). It did not matter that we lived in Mizoram and followed most Mizo traditions. To many I was the 'outsider'. I add the word "many" here because not everyone thought of me like that. The Northeast, like every other place has its share of good, bad and ugly sides. I cannot discredit what the Northeast has given me – a lovely childhood, life-long friendships and most importantly my roots.
My roots that kept me grounded when I went to boarding school and later as a professional working outside of the Northeast. There, where you came from hardly mattered. In school, your grades, your skill on the field or your personality made a difference. At work, your expertise, your knowledge and your team spirit counted.
Though I must add that in NIFT, New Delhi where I studied, the students from the Northeast were considered to be really bright, skilled and thought to have a better idea and sense of fashion. Only partially true, I believe. Of course, I believe that Northeasterners are by far the best dressed in the whole of India but that doesn't necessarily translate to being good at a job in Fashion. I definitely think that a part of me has been influenced by it, my interest and maybe taste in Fashion was honed from my days back in Mizoram but I also think that it has a lot more to do with your exposure and your education. Hard work, dedication and knowing your craft is a requisite.
Not everybody from the Northeast can become a fashion stylist! That's stereotyping. Look at the fashion industry – how many people from the Northeast have made a mark as either designer, model, stylist, make-up artist? Few. I have had the good opportunity to work with Elle, Vogue and now Harper's Bazaar. I credit talent and hard-work. I credit the years I spent on the sofa at home watching fashion shows on TV.
Talking of which there have been many instances of stereotyping too, like people mistaking me for someone whom I don't even resemble but happens to wear similar glasses or hat. I find that really irresponsible and ignorant. People sometimes also tend to pass careless comments which are highly insensitive about Northeasterners. I always make sure I stand up for that. I believe that many-a-times simple explanations or just standing up for what is right, works. I am not one to run away crying foul. I have always been proud of being Northeastern and feel very strongly about it. Similarly, when people mistaken me for a foreigner, I don't react badly to it. I just tell them where I am from.
I must add that outside of the Northeast, Northeasterners share a certain kind of understanding and bond. Possibly and sadly, because of the prejudice most face. I just think that we are a warm and helpful lot and that's why we tend to lend a hand to someone who is new or away from home.
Home. I have been away for so long I feel like a guest going there now. But like I already mentioned, I am not to run away and cry foul. I choose to let go of the feelings of being young, fragile and sometimes hurt because of the discrimination. I choose to remember and cherish all the good memories of growing up in Aizawl. I would never want to change most of it.
I am and will always be brought to be a Northeasterner.
by Edward Lalrempuia
(India's leading Fashion Stylist having worked at Elle and Vogue. Currently, Fashion Director at Harper's Bazaar)
The views reflected in this piece are that of the author and need not necessarily be that of TNT-The Northeast Today