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Sunday, October 12, 2003
Books

Into the secret world of Seven Sisters
Parbina Rashid

Land of Early Dawn - North East of India
by Romesh Bhattacharji. Rupa & Co. Pages 331.
Rs 395.

Land of Early Dawn - North East of IndiaAS students of Aligarh Muslim University, we, a group from North-East used to stick close to each other. Not to symbolise the unity of the 'Seven Sisters', but to avoid the awkward questions often hurled at us about people from the North-East. Their ignorance used to amuse us at first, but later we found it incredible that anyone could be so ignorant about a part of their own country?

Nothing much has changed since then and hence The Land of Early Dawn - North East India is sure to be welcomed by those of us living outside North East, trying to assimilate into different cultures, despite being constantly reminded of our slanting eyes or grammatically wrong, accented Hindi. It is obvious that the writer, who has had spent a good deal of time in Assam and Meghalaya, too has felt this apathy because he writes in the foreword: "----- similar examples of provincial bigotry caused me to write this book to explain the North East to people who have no idea of this lovely land and its people and yet are quick to disparage them." He has tried to capture the spirit of the people of the North-East, especially their simplicity.

 


One gets an interesting insight into the problem of insurgency in the North-East as Bhattarcharji quotes an extremist from Arunachal Pradesh as he talks to a Naga extremist: "We took home all the guns with ammunition. Accidentally, we found out the usefulness of the empty shells in making tobacco pipes. So we fired at every visible object just to empty the shell all the idle guns were returned to the officer who came to the village sometimes after the incident." This is what the author has to say about the laidback attitude of Assamese people: "Some blame the lahe lahe (laid back) attitude of these folks for the lack of bustle, but to me it appears to be a sign of peace."

The book gives a glimpse of all the big and small towns of the seven states, starting from Arunachal Pradesh then going through Assam, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram and Tripura beautifully capturing the essence of this wild, beautiful part of the country. It also touches upon important issues liked degradation of the forest cover in the North-East. Moving on, the writer describes the monuments which are little-known outside the region.

Geographically speaking, the book is a storehouse of information as even the smallest of the small towns of the North-East gets a mention in it, complete with a description of its history and present status. This is what the author says about the ruins of Guwahati's Madan Kamdev: "Once leopards were seen here, now it is the lodestone for eloping couples. Two or three such runaway marriages are usually solemnised every month." The text is accompanied by informative charts, topographical maps and beautiful photographs.

But what the book lacks is continuity of context. As the author describes various places, he moves at a tremendous speed and in the process many a times the connecting thread which usually keeps the reader hooked, tends to become somewhat thin.