TODAY -

The Bangkok Taxi Driver

By Puni Modoli *

Sometime ago in the local newspapers, I read about the harassment that Mr. Chuba Chang and his friends had to go through on their trip to China and back and thereafter, Kaka Iralu's rejoinder on the episode. The identity crisis which we face once we cross North-East boundaries because of our Mongoloid looks is only truly known by us who face it everywhere. But when we cross the country's boundary a different type of crisis appear to emerge much to our chagrin but it is the experiences of the return trip that can perplex and rattle and leave you doubting your own good judgement. The write-ups reminded me of my own experience which I thought were forgotten. It was in the summer of 2004 that we went to Bangkok.

We had the company of a friend who spoke the local lingo throughout our stay and hardly interacted with the various taxi drivers of Bangkok except on the final trip home. The taxi driver who drove us down from the hotel to the airport knew a smattering of English and seemed determined to strike up a conversation. “You from Japan, yes? Taiwan, No?” We told him we were Indians. He just laughed and continued, “You from Malaysia, maybe?” We politely told him we were Indians and were taking a Thai Airways flight to Kolkata. “No, no I know Indians” he insisted and went on “Hmm maybe Burma, Vietnam NO?” this thrust and parry went on for most part of the route. While we thought the insistence silly, the taxi driver seemed to wonder why we were avoiding such a simple and friendly query. At one point he shocked us by his reply “No, you not Indians. No one like Indian.” We said that was not so we are truly Indians, the smile went out of his face. “If you not want to tell alright, alright. I just want friendly.” We felt bad that he felt hurt for he meant well. So I took time to tell him “We are from North-East bordering Burma and close to the China border.

We had been fighting for our independence from India for the last 60 years. Now our representatives and the Government of India are negotiating to bring a peaceful solution. His face lighted up “See, I was right all-time.” he declared and nearly jumped out of his seat adding triumphantly “You not Indians.” There was no way the conversation could continue as we had reached the airport. The taxi driver unloaded our luggages , wished us and drove away smiling surely happy with himself. After going through the immigration, we went to the lounge for our flight to Kolkata. The passengers were all agog apparently eager to return home. Businessmen/technocrats in their suits, families returning after a holiday, groups and individual tourists idling around waiting to board the plane home.

The atmosphere changed suddenly as the flight was announced. There was a lot of commotion, rushing and pushing to get ahead in the queue. It was surprising because everyone had an assured seat and the plane was surely not going to leave anyone behind. Much yelling and shouting was going at the head of the line. After sometime it became clear that the point of discord between the airline staff and the passengers was the accompanying hand baggage – small wheeled brief cases that must weigh nearly 50kgs a piece. Many were held back as luggage and had to be paid for on the spot. Later, we met a rather short healthy lady who managed to argue her way out and carried it down the boarding ramp the case swaying from side to side like a pendulum only to be stopped by the flight crew who ruled the baggage dangerous for the overhead racks.

The poor lady had to take the luggage back all the way. When our turn came the counter assistant looked at our team apologetically as if to say please bear with us. I looked back apologetically trying to convey no problem they are my jatwalas, some maybe who knows, from Dimapur even. On the flight back I kept musing that there was so much ground to be covered in South-East Asia. As a student of Asian history I thought that between China and India, whoever influences and wins the confidence of the ASEAN countries – with all its resources, manpower, market – will rule the world.

ASEAN countries do not like China but China has now a toe hold through Hong Kong however fragile that be. And from what the Bangkok taxi driver said, India also faces an uphill task. And things like the clamour at the boarding point of the flight do little to improve opinions. Almost one and a half year after the Bangkok episode in the second week of December 2005, to be exact, at the head of the United Naga Council team to Delhi in a TV interview after a press conference we were asked whether the Nagas feel that the North-East people in general and the naga people in particular have any active role to play in the centre's Look-East Policy. We told them indeed we do. Only that the Central Government's attitude should be modified from Look-East through North-East to Look-East with North-East.

This is because we pointed out; the North-East is geographically racially. culturally, socially, ethnically south-east in nature as compared to South Asia. When the nation projects the North-East youth as the face of India and introduce them as brand-ambassadors of the country to the East and South-East Asia the policy will become a thumping success. The sense of suspicion and misconception through the years will eventually disappear. And sooner than later, a new era of mutual co-operation for mutual benefit will arise for all concerned. That was what we said. For the North-East too, when the eastern door is open the region will transform into becoming one of the chief assets of the country. From our college days we had a morbid phobia for Kolkata airport. We were quite sure that the airport had declared 365 days open season a year for any North-Easterner there. Experiences of being extricated from the milling crowd by the quick reflexes of a single index finger, messing up of pressed clothes & toiletries from suitcases such stories abound.

So when I was asked to stand back by the immigration officer on arrival at Kolkata airport I resigned to my fate and mutely stood aside. But since it was just past mid-night and intending to seek a in-transit room for some rest before the morning flight to Dimapur, I ventured to ask if anything was amiss and if required to let me take my passport back to the counter. ‘He is busy working' the immigration officer roared into the midnight ‘Why you can't wait?' when everyone was gone and I was finally called up, it transpired that the counter clerk had missed to brand the stamp at one place among the many he had thumped an hour back. This was duely ‘rectified' and I was allowed to leave. Story from ‘Tales from the Bustan of Sadi' called simple pleasures came to mind. On the flight back to Dimapur I reflected that for centuries the whole of the North-East had been the hinterland of Kolkata. If Bengal cannot accept the Mongoloid looking North-easterners as fellow-countrymen what can one say about the rest of the country. In India one is not accepted or treated as an Indian.

Abroad we are not accepted as Indians- maybe they are not so wrong after all. But as on 15th August 1947, there was only ONE people and organisation in the entire North-East that claimed to be independent of India (not independence from India) and defied her rule. Today 62(sixty two) years down the line there are nearly 50(fifty) different insurgent groups in the North-East region fighting for secession from India. Is it only the fault of the North-Easterners then, as the powers that be and the rest of the country believe? Or, rather is it a collective responsibility? The degree of responsibility in direct proportion to the degree of attainment of individual/collective security and comfort post 1947?

Why is it that more and more people has been alienated? Why do we see so many who embrace reconciliation, amalgamation and assimilation sidelined and ignored? Is the country too busy, pre occupied or simply has no time? Why is it that the Central Government for the past 12(Twelve) years of negotiations with NSCN(IM) not been able to share one single suggestion with the people and apart from apparent abetment in factional in-fighting failed to move one single step ahead in the peace negotiations? Is the Government of India waiting for the total surrender of all the insurgent groups? It did not happen with the Naga freedom movements in the last 60(sixty) years. It is not likely to happen with any major group in the North-east. To begin reclamation of the North-East, it is essential to start sincere, solemn and realistic negotiation with the NSCN(IM) and other Naga groups- which is the mother to all freedom movements in the North-East and strive to bring about final mutually acceptable solutions without further delay.

This is more because all other groups including the Kashmiri groups are closely watching the GOI-NSCN(IM) talks, and any positive outcome of the peace talks will go a long way in bringing lasting peace to India's conflict ridden border regions and the sub-continent. For all concerned, this will turn out to be the last chance for peace for if it fails the first major casualty of the fall -out will be trust and respect. If that happens it will take a longtime before the subject is even broached. And conflicts at its borders is a situating no major economic power can afford; especially a great nation aspiring to be the world leader in the next decade.




* Puni Modoli (a resident of Dimapur, Nagaland) contributes to e-pao.net regularly. The writer can be contacted at punimodoli[AT]gmail[DOT]com
This article was webcasted on March 15th, 2010.


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