“Nǐ hǎo” is how I’m greeted by vendors of Meena Bazaar in Old Dubai or sometimes by “Annyeonghaseyo” if I looked unmoved by the “Nǐ hǎo”. Little do they know that “Namaste” would make more sense to greet me and that I am a compatriot to most of them. A visit to basically anywhere causes a sort of confusion to the Filipinos as they wonder why I’m not talking to them in their language. There are many who just start chatting in their language and most times I must wait till they are done to declare that I’m not from Philippines (I hope you understand that it’s not easy to interrupt while they are talking). Then the questions erupt “Chinese? Malaysian? Thai?”. Note that though they are looking at me, they aren’t actually asking me. I just smile and say my ‘Thank You’ and ‘bye’. Even the Nepalese give me stares but they aren’t friendly enough to approach me like the Filipinos.
My visits to DragonMart (A Chinese mall in Dubai) is particularly interesting and I quite enjoy the family like treatment I get there though I end up disappointing everyone in the end. To my husband’s delight, I have been given special discounts while shopping from salesperson who probably found it amusing that I wasn’t Chinese or pitied me or were just confused. Many times, I also get chiding stares from the older people (mostly women) maybe for not speaking in Mandarin or walking around with an Indian or Arab man (they could never tell).
I don’t mean to disrespect anybody or pretend to be from somewhere else other than India, it’s just that I get tired of explaining. There is no possibility that anybody will be satisfied by me saying “I am Indian.” It will be just the beginning of a long conversation starting from the geography of India. To cut it short, I have been telling people for a couple of years now that I come from somewhere between Myanmar and China. I don’t blame them for misjudging or for being curious and on a good day it is quite interesting to tell people about yourself and where you are from, but not every other day.
It is tolerable revealing to people that I am not from the same place as they, but agonizing to educate people from your own country about your relations with them. Unless, they aren’t from North-East India themselves, I’m literally forced to do this every single time I’m introduced to another Indian. It’s shocking right? Indians migrate to every corner of the world but we still have some places within our borders that are lying hidden. The main reason for the rest-of-India not traveling to Nagaland or the other lesser known States in the vicinity can be pointed on the troubled reputation we have built due to the insurgency problems that continue to persist. Also, a special permission called the Inner Line Permit(ILP) is needed to enter Nagaland, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh. As long as you aren’t permanent residents of these three States, you must have the Permit. A blessing, in my opinion.
Nagaland, the state in India I’m from, is pretty small (16,579 square kilometers) with our population of just over 2,000,000. We are a nation of 14 main tribes and many more sub-tribes. Each tribe has their own language and they are all so distinct that we cannot understand each other’s languages without training. Historians haven’t been able to find out where we came from or when, but now we are a part of India (thanks to the British) and everybody should leave it at that. And whereas it is a bore to explain my ethnicity to strangers, I also desire to remain mysterious because it does keep me entertained at unexpected times. I guess I’ll just continue telling people that my home is somewhere between China and Myanmar and leave it to them to believe me or not.