The Northeast Non-Expert

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.


About rahconteur

A mid-career journalist who's worked horizontally across India - from Arunachal Pradesh to Gujarat
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7 Responses to The Northeast Non-Expert

  1. Ashraf Engineer says:

    You’re a natural, Rahul! Next step: Try and get some visuals onto the blog.

  2. Katie says:

    Hi nice blog 🙂 I can see a lot of effort has been put in.

    • rahconteur says:

      Thanks a lot. Sorry about the delayed reply. Your comment was in the spam basket (don’t know how it went there). I am actually freaking out, writing stuff I know would never come out in the daily I work for.

  3. Ritu Parna Dutta says:

    Eloquent piece with humour befitting a “rahconteur”. The puns are in the right places, which isn’t usually the forte of most bloggers. Hope to “see” more of you on cyberia.
    Just in case you are wondering who I am, my roots are in Assam. Have been a kharkhowa based in Calcutta for the pasr 12 years. And, yes, I am a journalist like you (not half as talented, though):).

    • rahconteur says:

      Thanks. Your words are very encouraging. Will try to highlight various aspects of NE that don’t find space in mainstream media. And yes, will also try to better my writing skills.

  4. Bhaskar says:

    Great Stuff man, you seem to be demonstrating your mettle in anything you write. Very interesting read all of them, keep the words rolling… 🙂 You should do a piece on our good ol’ Nagaland too and your experiences with the project (me the baniya looking at sales promotion everywhere…lol)…Sorry for the late view though, was in and out of Guwahati

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