CAT-EYE! THAT’S me, Fat I!
Friends and the not-so-friendly would call me mekoori sokoo, the Assamese avatar of cat-eyed. I hated it, but it was better than the alternative – an annoying “meow” barked (canines, please don’t take offence) into the ears.
The meowing taught me something early in life – you don’t have to be a feline to make catcalls. I also learnt being a ‘natural’ didn’t really put me above suspicion; many thought I used contact lenses a la Amitabh Bachchan’s Don.
Copy cat, I wasn’t. But I wished I could emulate Malcolm McDowell in Cat People, turn into a panther at night and scare the hell out of those who meow-ed me. Or like every street cat, be armed with night vision to catch them with their pants down.
I didn’t need to, not with Bo Derek and Paul Newman around.
I caught a couple of bullies drooling over a mini-poster of the 10 bomb they had smuggled into the classroom. A couple of days later, I discovered Butch Cassidy’s photo in one of their bags.
“So you are enamored of cat-eyed stars?” I mocked.
They stopped meowing and calling me Cat-eye. But they were smart enough not to call a cat names – my name, rather. Some popular phrases subsequently became: “It’s raining Rahuls and dogs”, “The Rahul is out of the bag”, “Rahul on a hot tin roof”, “Curiosity killed the Rahul” and worse, “Mad enough to kick a Rahul”.
The only way, I thought, to get back at them was to be a cat’s whiskers. And let the cat get their tongue.
I couldn’t grow my own whiskers, let alone a cat’s. But I was lucky to have a fraction of a cat’s olfactory senses – to sniff out news.
That capability brought me back to hometown Guwahati in 1999, exactly a decade after I had started out here before taking up assignments in Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat. My mandate was to cover India’s militancy-mauled Northeast for Hindustan Times.
Covering conflicts wasn’t half as scary as being given a catty nickname – Northeast Expert.
But I needn’t have worried. I didn’t possess certain qualifications to be an NE. For instance, I wasn’t based in any of India’s metros or faraway London or Washington. I didn’t think any militant group was worth being an expert on, unless one moonlighted on the seminar-lecture circuit. And yes, I could tell Dimapur from Damdama, Sabroom from Sadiya, Kokrajhar from Kibitho (Am I flaunting these names like an NE?).
As days rolled by, I found the multi-ethnic Northeast was way too complicated. The more I learnt, the more I realized I knew nothing. And this realization made me wish I had nine lives – like a cat.
But then, even nine lives wouldn’t have been enough.
So here I am. The greatest Northeast Non-Expert on earth.
And yes, the Cat-eye without iCats protecting his car.