~ Zacharia Varte

The plane began to descend for Frankfurt airport and from the small window to my right I could see the glimmering shine of the city. ‘Hello Frankfurt’ I said to myself, feeling a little guilty that I didn’t even know how to say ‘hello’ in German.
Like a typical Indian, I unfastened my seatbelt as soon as the flight came to halt, took out my cabin baggage and scurried along the aisle with a great determination to outpace my co passengers.

After never ending escalators and directions I finally reached the Passport Controls where a perfect single file queue was formed by people holding Indian Passports. Do people changed their surroundings or is it vice versa? Or did the seven and half hour flight somehow elevate the so called Indian ‘sanskar’ from deep within the ‘atma’? I guess I’ll never know.

As I pondered over these not so philosophical questions, my turn came and the officer on duty saw my passport, my Indian passport! There was a certain expression, which I could not comprehend on his otherwise unanimated face. That was the first of the many inscrutable expressions which I was about to see in my coming days as I, the Chinese looking boy claimed to be Indian. Little did I realize that I would have to answer weird, very weird questions even from people whom I thought were intelligent enough to know India is synonymous with diversity. Here are my three of my personal favorites: Q1. You must Indian Chinese then? Q2. Are you mixed? Q3. Were you adopted?

INDIAN? ARE YOU SURE?

Although patriotism is something that I very much lack in, I would still not lie about my nationality. There’s no denying that India is still considered to be land of slums and downright poverty and when it comes to civic sense Indians pretty much are down there. But there’s also no denying that there are things that make you feel good to be an Indian. To state a few of them: being the world’s largest democracy, unity in diversity, tolerance towards all and of course ST quota. Then one day an incident happened which shook the very foundation of my microscopic chinky patriotism.

I was with my dearest aunt Elizabeth, waiting for an underground train in a busy station. Standing next to us were an Indian (he totally looked typical Indian) man and a girl, most probably his daughter. The train arrived and as soon as the doors opened the ‘father-daughter’ duo rushed in blocking the passengers who were to alight thus creating a little bedlam. I felt a tremor from my head to toe as other commuters rolled their eyes, even when we were already in our seats I couldn’t look up and almost wished I could apologize on their behalf. Then I suddenly realized that I do not look like them, after all I am the Chinese/Thai/Japanese/Singaporean/Native American looking boy. Then I looked up and started complaining to my aunt about how the ‘vais’ would never change in a loud voice deliberately trying to let my Hmar sound like Chinese or some other exotic Asian language. Sarang hae anyone? Even so it did not take long for me to realize that there is a small booklet in my pocket which clearly states where I belong. Identity crisis!!!

HMAR or MIZO

The real identity crisis came however when I started mingling among the north east Indian population namely the Dongs of Sikkim, the Nagas of Nagaland and Manipur. Who am I? Even the Kabui-Naga woman on the seventh floor of our building had only vaguely heard about a tribe called Hmar. And if I am Hmar, why do I keep listening to Mizo songs? How is it that I can speak passable Mizo? I have not even visit Mizoram leave alone staying there long enough to pick up the language.
Then finally one evening over dinner I explained to our Naga (Ao) host who I really am or at least think I am. I began by stating that Mizo like Naga is simply a collective name for many sub tribes but over the years due to many factors Mizo has been legitimately accepted as being synonymous to the Lushai speaking populace. I also explained that Mizo is the lingua franca of the various Mizo sub tribes and thanks to the wine, I even stated that if Mizo is Hindi then Hmar is Punjabi.

Ten minutes later I concluded by posing the same question a friend (Mizoram Hmar) asked me on facebook: if Hmars are not Mizo then who the hell are Mizos? My aunt joined me on the lecture talking about Mizo Union, Sikpui Kut etc. The summary of her otherwise diplomatic speech was this: She is very proud to be Hmar and being Hmar alone is quite enough.

MANMASI OR MANASSEH

Just when I thought that the case pertaining to my identity had been closed for good, it was in fact going to be re opened and I might have to probably join THE public debate.

We (me and my aunt) reached Tel Aviv in the wee hours of a cold February morning, tired and hungry. Then the unapologetic airline staff told us our baggage had been left behind at Amsterdam and the next flight from Amsterdam is only on the next day. But even that could not dampen our spirit; after all we were in the Holy Land! The very same terrain where our Lord Jesus had walked in flesh and blood, healed and fed the multitude.

A wise friend of mine once told me that it does not take much effort to irritate me; he was and is still right. I started getting really annoyed when every shopkeeper in Jerusalem started asking: where are you from? Same story with the taxi drivers, then at a restaurant in Jericho I lost my cool when the waitress asked me the same irritating question. I replied that I do not know where I am from and if she has all the time in the world she can find it out herself. I also convinced my aunt not leave any tips.

As if the incident at the restaurant wasn’t enough, my aunt and Ruth Khawbung, who by the way is a student in Haifa, NOT a Jewish convert type, started the ‘Are we the Lost Tribe?’ conversation. Since I could not bear another identity question, I cut off their conversation saying that we are not Israelites because we are Chinkies and a hundred years before our ancestors were hunting and foraging in thick jungles, not learning the Torah.

FULL CIRCLE

After my two and a half months stay at a foreign land I came back to a not so foreign land called Delhi. At least the immigration officer wasn’t shocked seeing my passport. After all, I am not a foreigner; I’m just a chinky here. And as I write down these thoughts I can’t help but keep a hopeless smile on my face because I am Mizo- Hmar boy, listening to a classical Hindi song while jotting down my thoughts in English. I just hope I am not the only one in this pit.

(March 2011, New Delhi)

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