Traversing the NE path: Smiles that reach the eyes & love for nature
When I woke up, we were somewhere on the periphery of the northeast. We had left Guwahati a couple of hours back, and I had managed to drag myself from the bed to the car in a daze and had little memory of it.
I can't remember how many days we spent in the Northeast. Unlike my other two co-travellers, I can't remember the names of places, the routes we have taken or the descriptions of peoples or order and details of events. I have a memory that works almost like waves or a river flowing. I remember feelings, colours in an-almost latent sort of manner. And then, some things, like sediments of a flowing river, remain as markers.
This was the first time I visited the northeast. I was looking forward to it since I have had some friends from this part of the country and read some literature from here. I have always envied the people of the region for how "cool" they are. Their sense of fashion, comfort with their bodies, voices, sensibilities, all have attracted me like they do most people I suppose.
So finally I was in the northeast. And now that I have left, what is it that I can say about my experience? Would it be enough to say that of all the places I have travelled to, and I have travelled a fair bit, it is the only place that I want to come back and work at? And I can't wait to do that. The beautiful landscape, the humility of people, the way I felt safer here as a woman, than I do in other places, especially where I come from, all of it pulls me here with a strong force. Will I still feel this force by the time I can return? I do not know.
But there is a softness to the place and its people. It would be naive to mistake that softness for weakness but what I am talking of here is a way of being and demeanour, a language and intonation that had warmth embedded in it. There is pride, and ownership of one's culture, and there seems to be a strong, and respectful place of women that comes from a long history of activism which is still alive. There is helpfulness, patience, gorgeous smiles that reach the eyes and a love for nature and one's surroundings.
Also, just so one knows, it is not impossible to find tasty vegetarian food out here. The best of ethnic food joints have "veg thali" on top of the menu. And the food is made with as much delicacy and love. Language is not a barrier. And it is not homogenous, in terms of colours, economics, power dynamics or cultural expression. There is a diversity and richness that can barely be imagined. You can know it only once you visit.
(The author is a painter and practicing visual artist from Agra. Views expressed are personal.)