Naming and categorization serve a vital cognitive purpose. Through them, we perceive and navigate our worlds. We make meaning for ourselves; communicate it with others. Conversations are built on such processes. We make our worlds — and dismantle some — with them. This realisation has put the phenomenon of language in the centre of human self-understanding. It is through these acts that we will and continue our projects of transcendence. They become means of manipulation, objectification and domination. The means of ‘grasp’ becomes a means to man-handle. This is an impasse which seems rooted deep in our kind of being, which, for that reason, we cannot hope to escape.
The term ‘Northeast India’ is a category that subsumes a manifold. It is a name that serves to identify a particular geographical marking, a difference and alienness, a wrinkle which resists ironing. Northeast India names a distinction which has then to be brought to the fold of the idea of a unity, an imagining of a nation. Any promise of opportunity and recognition that the term might have had at one point of time is now empty. An intuition it delivers is that of convenience and relegation. It is a term for a ritual, a propitiation of a spirit, best kept at the margins, which should not interfere with what happens at the center. It is a name of an essential tableau that should not tarry but make quick exit. There is after all enough diversity already.
These experiences have prompted a look at the term from within, a more existentially charged and urgent perspective. This is distanced from the third person perspective, which is more of a perspective of essential convenience. There have been reactions in which ‘northeasterners’ stormed out from stalls marked for them in cultural events. There are also more measured responses as in Robin S. Ngangom’s essay (2018), which resists gestures of domination. The poet names differences; supposed warts and all, which identify a unique strand of poetry in English that comes from this region.
This issue of Yendai is an invitation to a complexity wherein one can find the mollification of a ‘unity in diversity’ slogan – corny not just because of its inane repetition but more because of the felt lack of conviction – to that of cynicism that puts a wall to any meaningful conversation with a dominant, and often times, pernicious imagination. The issue also invites interjections that challenge the felt misgivings mentioned above. Regionalism and revivalism come with inherent trappings. We have witnessed the danger of restorative forces that seek a reversal of the wheels of time for a glorified past. These too demand engagements. Not to be suspicious would be naïve yet to close the doors to conversation would also be a folly. This applies to those who feel the grip of categorization as unjust, oppressive and tasteless. It also applies equally well to those who claim to know what is to be known of the region, who have mistakenly taken categories as immutable boundaries etched in stone.
Monsoon issue editor is Rubani Yumkhaibam. Rubani (PhD in Sociology, DU) is currently research expert at SAATHII and AMANA. Her research areas include queer anthropology, sociology of violence, material culture, anthropology of Muslim societies and folklore studies.
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