Axone was a much awaited film- simply because it promised ‘to speak for the Northeast ‘-the mainstream after all has taken so long to look east and whenever it has chosen to ‘speak’ for us – it has always been distorted and misrepresented, steeped in stereotypes. Axone’s promise to speak of ‘lived realities’ of the people of the Northeast-in choosing Axone as the title and the theme of the movie- to engage with questions of racism through food politics- there really could not have been any better time than now to bring forth the harsh truth of racism experienced by people of the Eastern region. But all it did- and very problematically- was to cater to these crucial questions from a very privileged and elite position, almost similar to the stance of the mainland- lacking depth, ignorant and oblivious of the ‘lived realities’ that it seeks to represent. Interesting debates have already been forth from the Northeastern community it seeks to represent; my purpose therefore is to introspect on the representation of the Nepali character of Upasna Rai as ‘part of’ and yet different from the Northeast.
We who come from the north-east of India to feel a sense of guilt for reading English books, watching Hollywood movies and soaps and not regional cinema, let alone popular Hindi movies and for hearing and singing English songs. I also found myself sometimes, defending the fact that cinema halls in Darjeeling and Sikkim did screen Hindi movies, which were widely watched and that south Indian movies were much awaited and enjoyed as well. But to much dismay, this still did not alter the attempts at fitting in well to engage in the cultural dialogue that existed among the lower classes in mainland India.
“So where does your son work?” I asked; ‘Hajirabad’, replied Ghanshyam Thapa, a Nepali elder from Bhutankhuti village falling under Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC). Confused initially, I said that it’s Hyderabad, in vain though. “Yes, that place – Hajirabad” replied Ghanshyam. Later it dawned in my mind that the apparent linguistic travesty of Ghanshyam Thapa inadvertently represented the stark reality of Bhutankhuti along with most of the villages of the region falling under Baksa district in Western Assam. Hajira in Assamese roughly translates in English as labour, hence as Hyderabad hosts a large number of migrants from northeast India, it becomes ‘Hajirabad’ to Ghyansam Thapa. Bhutankhuti is the last village in India before the Bhutan border; lying 21 km north of the National highway 31. A random interview in the households of the nearby villages, across the different communities would provide similar narratives of out migration.