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Guest-Editorial: Negotiations with the ‘everyday’ in India’s Northeast

By Bhumika R and Suranjana Choudhury

The mundaneness, triviality and also the inescapability of life in its everydayness or in all its baseness and routine may be seen as constituting the tenor of life in the present moment. Engaging with events constituting the mundane and everyday life is almost always taken for granted until there is a disruption in the tenor of events constituting it.

In this context, how do we understand negotiations with the mundane or everyday life in the case of individuals, communities and societies for whom everyday life implies a constant struggle in articulating ‘stories’ of their identity? Extending it a bit further, how do we engage with the realm of everyday life that is intermittently or constantly being disrupted by dominant forces in a social space? Also, in what ways do societies and people practice resistance by attempting to restore the monotony or mundaneness of everyday life despite disruptions? In the realm of culture, how is the idea of everyday articulated? And what do such articulations tell us about negotiations with everyday life of communities, individuals and societies? Importantly, why is it that everyday life becomes an important marker of life in the contemporary society? Lefebvre charts the beginnings of everyday life in the modern society which saw the emergence of ‘prose’ of everyday life. As Lefebvre argues:

If we wish to define everyday life we must define the society where it is lived, where the quotidian and modernity take root; we must define its changes and perspectives, distinguishing from an assortment of apparently insignificant phenomena those that are essential and are coordinating them. The quotidian is not only a concept but one that may be used as a guide-line for understanding of ‘society’; this is done by inserting the quotidian into the general: State, technics and technicalities, culture (or what is left of it).

Elsewhere, Prasanta Ray in his discussions of the ‘everyday’, emphasizes how by engaging with ‘everyday’ bodily experiences, emotions, and socio-cultural practices, an understanding of the larger structure can be gained. However, We believe that engaging with the ‘everyday’ by listening to the ‘stories’ articulated about the ordinary, besides reading it in terms of its connection with a larger social space, one can also perhaps attempt to trace narratives of resistance and subversion of larger and recognized social structures of a period.

In the contemporary moment which witnesses a tussle between the tyrannical forces and those resisting it, the texture of everyday life tends to get disrupted. The question then emerges: How crucial is it to restore the terrain of the everyday in the present moment? And is there a need for us to move beyond attempts in restoring the mundaneness of everyday lives? In its interaction and negotiation with moments of resistance against oppressive and tyrannical forces, the realm of the everyday is perhaps re-constituted wherein the fabric of everyday life is woven with simple, mundane acts of life and living alongside registers of defiance. Some questions, which we can only perhaps ponder over at this point, could be: If there are shifts in the registers of everyday life, is there also a need to re-think what constitutes the insignificant or the quotidian in the contemporary moment? That is, should we perhaps push the boundaries of everyday life to include a complex array of moments? On a more specific note, how does one engage with the binary understanding of Northeast India?

Our attempt in this issue of Café Dissensus has been to explore the layered nature of everyday as articulated through literary and cultural narratives from Northeast India. Specifically, we have tried exploring various understandings of the everyday and its articulations across literary and cultural narratives from Northeast India. Given the monolithic and linear narratives of identity that are generally constructed with regard to the Northeast wherein violence, conflict and also as an exotic space with untouched cultures are posited as signifying a complex terrain such as Northeast India. Also, while the term ‘Northeast India’ is used here as a blanket category, as Parag M Sarma explains elsewhere, it is only a ‘category of convenience’. In other words, the varied and complex voices that constitute this space cannot be seen as a singular entity although there exists commonalities and connections between the many social spaces constituting ‘Northeast India’. In this regard, engaging with the question of identity through alternative narratives of identity that emerge through a negotiation with the mundane or the everyday becomes significant. This issue comprises a wide range of articles written by people who regard the Northeast as their ‘home’. In what ways do their narratives break the stereotypes about the Northeast? What are the narratives of identity that are being articulated through the realm of the quotidian? Our attempt has been to compile a range of articles – essays, fiction, poetry, and visual narratives – pertaining to this aspect.

Creative expressions, in more ways than one, present before us the most compelling truths. These articulations make us aware of the symbols and signs embedded deep in familiar aspects of the everyday. One must attend to these voices to receive a more sensitive and meaningful understanding of the world around us. Each state of India’s northeast has its own cultural and political narrative and its individual stories to share. While scholars, anthropologists, linguists, historians and political scientists have their own means and mechanisms for evolving their perspectives on it, creative reflections offer an alternative space for a close engagement with the realities of life and lived experiences. In assembling these varied creative accounts, we do not privilege one mode over the other. Rather, we wish to emphasize that these diverse narrations provide important insights into the various compositions of the ‘everyday’. Poets, story tellers, playwrights and visual artists from this region, through their works, have drawn our attention to the complex character of interpreting the randomness of the ubiquitous. They use their immediate surroundings, the ordinary, the everyday to explore, discover and subvert. These artists have created a continuous archive of the unreported aspects of life and living. In doing so, they have affirmed the importance of preserving the voices that have not been duly acknowledged, that have haunted the margins. All we have to do is to look and listen to them. Most of the communities who have made this region their home have a formidable storytelling tradition. In these writings, the oral blends with the written to yield a kind of literature, which in the views of many, is a confident assertion of voice and identity. It has the effect of challenging existing stereotypes and binaries. The writings in this volume cover a fair amount of ground, as do the subjects treated. So it’s appropriate that as readers we care about diversity of thought and richness of opinion found in these narrations. We, as editors, in compiling and arranging this volume have made sincere efforts to celebrate inclusivity and plurality of expressions. Our warm gratitude goes to our eminent contributors for sharing their views on this subject. We are also thankful to Mosarrap Hossain Khan and the entire editorial team for giving us this space to come up with this issue. We have been truly enriched.

Essays

Amit Rahul Baishya’s article entitled, ““Multipartner Mud Dances”: The Uneventful Entanglement of Humans and Animals in Two Assamese Poems”, discusses the question of the everyday by bringing into his reading of two Assamese poems, the idea of  ‘interspecies affiliation’ by basing his analysis on Stanley Cavell’s and Donna Haraway’s discussions of the everyday. In his article, Baishya engages with the realm of the everyday through a reading of Hafiz Ahmed’s poem “Murgi Jobai” and Anupama Basumatary’s poem “Saamuk”.

Esther Syiem’s article, “Indigenous Cultures of the North Eastern Region of India: Revival and Preservation”, engages with the significance of the oral in the contemporary period. Specifically, Syiem discusses the centrality of orality and memory and its re-inventions through a discussion of contemporary literature from Northeast India. Syiem’s article posits how orality constitutes an important aspect of the everyday in contemporary Northeast India.

In his article, “Popular Music Subculture and the Northeast Youth”, KB Veio Pou puts forth how tradition and modernity are coming together in forging a fusion music culture in the contemporary music sphere in the Northeast.

In her article “All Khasi Women Need Representation”, Laiamon Naomi Nengnong destabilises the stereotype about the Khasi society that is praised for its matrilineal structure and is regarded as offering a better social position for women. Through a discussion of the narratives of loss, pain and suffering of the Khasi women in their everyday lives, in a seemingly egalitarian society, Nengnong brings to the fore a lesser heard narrative about the Khasi society. The author frames her argument based on her familiarity with the narratives of Khasi women’s lives.

Lalremtluangi’s short essay on a thriving cultural practice in Mizoram reflects on remnants of memory and its power to stir human mind and vitalize what is being deemed lost. Using first person narration, the author emphasizes the need to remember that there exists a valuable connection between the personal and the collective.

Lede-e-Miki Pohshna, in his article “Queering the Everyday: Northeast India and Queering Experiences”, speaks of the mundane and everyday realities that constitute the social fabric of the Northeast. Pohshna charts the everyday anguishes, pain and struggle that constitute articulation of their identities by the queer community in the Northeast.

In her essay “A Day in Barkhola: Memory, History and the Fading Everyday in India’s Northeast”, Rongili Biswas weaves memories of an almost forgotten incident that was certainly a very significant episode in the history of the peasant movements in Assam. Her journey through time and place reveals how the impact of these small yet powerful voices of history continues to haunt the realms of everyday. Biswas’ narrative highlights how a curious relationship is established between evocative details of the everyday and claims of the past.

Sebanti Chatterjee’s article on the music culture in Shillong explores how the everyday practice of Kwai eating that is a representative of tradition becomes her entry point in grasping the nuances of Khasi music culture. In her article entitled, “Promises of the Kwai: Discovering Voices that Sing”, Sebanti Chatterjee elaborates how there is a merging of folk with western music in the Khasi music culture. Chatterjee uses Kwai as a symbol to indicate how choral singing can be an everyday ritual and also simultaneously represent ‘hospitality’ and ‘admiration’. Extending this comparison further, she explains how choral singing is a part of the Khasi culture ever since the Welsh Presbyterians and Serampore Baptist missionaries introduced it in the Khasi and Lushai hills and merged with the folk musical traditions of the Khasi and Lushai hills.

D. Lalhmangaihzauva’s article entitled “The Danger of a Single Story: Northeast India”, interrogates the monochromatic construction of identity of Northeast India and its people in most parts of ‘mainland’ India. Zauva argues that perhaps a pedagogical intervention wherein history and culture of Northeast India is introduced and taught in schools could help in instilling an understanding of the complex socio-political and cultural realities of this region.

Creative Interventions

Ananya Guha’s poems provide an intriguing focus on the lived experiences of Shillong and its surrounding landscapes. There appears a deep communion between the poet and his immediate surroundings in these remarkably economic and subtle compositions.

Gankhu Sumnyan’s story moves fluidly between issues centering on identity negotiations and the aesthetic urgency shaping love between human and non-human. His narrations, along with questions on validity of constructed identities, offer insights into the subject of love that transcends conditioned preferences and shows how important it is to move beyond a human chauvinist world.

Kynpham Sing Nongkynrih’s excerpt from his forthcoming novel Funeral Nights brims with acutely observed life and the author’s infinite sympathy for ordinary, insignificant individuals who unexpectedly surprise us with their interesting acts. The story here presents before us a wide sequence of emotions, laughter being the principally vital one.

Reading Lalnunsanga Ralte’s poems gives one sense of the contested terrain of identity formation and its politics that shape popular perceptions. His poetry questions profoundly the ideology of the looker and the interpreter providing powerful lyrical interactions on the page. A poet’s refusal to conform to constricted stereotypes clearly comes out through these poems.

Nabina Das’s poems unfold layered views on the experiences of dispossession, extremities of loss and overlapping boundaries of different strands of marginality. She uses exciting poetic forms to add to our understanding of the power of dissent and resistance in the context of difficult times.

Namrata Pathak’s poems are lyrical observations of components, big and small, that constitute complex layers of the ‘everyday’. Intriguing and unsettling, these poems linger deeply on subjects we often forget to value adequately. The desire for connection, empathy and sensitiveness constitutes the defining concerns of the poems.

Rimi Nath’s poems underline the need to discover the ironies that engulf our idea of the everyday. A delicate sense of lamentation that connects the web of her poetic narrations bears testimony to the poet’s compelling engagement with very important questions about life and art and her ability to articulate them sensitively.

One is drawn towards the beauty of emotions evoked in Robin S Nangnom’s poem. The poet’s remembrance offers us a glimpse into the past of a neighbourhood in Shillong that has altered radically. The poem is a gripping reminder of a loss that is experienced through witnessing of changed impressions of the everyday.

Shikhandin’s short story brings us closer to understanding frailties that shape human existence. The story questions the fluid notion of who inhabits the inside of outside and vice versa in the midst of our turmoil. The insights give a sense of complexity to the established structures of belonging and non-belonging.

Sumana Roy’s poem asks us to look at things in a new, different order. It reflects on the fractures of daily life caused by growing divisive views and identity politics. This poem looks at the divided world with affection and tries to blur its margins offering a more inclusive and more humane frame of reference.

Photo-Essays

Anand Sachin’s photo essay provides a significant understanding of aesthetics associated with archery in Meghalaya. The images taken at various moments of archery practice make us aware of a very different kind of daily activity loved and celebrated in Meghalaya. A powerful commentary on the idea of the everyday, legacy and lived practices emerge from these photographs.

Pfokrelo Kapesa’s visual collage is an urgently relevant work that provides a fresh and expanded understanding of the image of working women in India’s northeast. The images constituting the essay show how women sustain themselves through a combination of multiple forms of livelihoods. The essay gives voice to the under-represented to deliver a layered depiction of women who work to live. 

Supromit Maiti’s photo-essay establishes an urgent and meaningful relationship with his subject. These photographs take us to the hills in and around Darjeeling yielding a unique look at all the little things that are part of everyday life. These visual narrations are delicately crafted and point viewers to the multiple stories underneath the surface of the images.

Picture Credit: Sanghita

Guest Editors: 

Bhumika R teaches English in the Department of Humanities & Social Sciences, IIT Jammu. Her areas of research interest include everyday life, contemporary literatures from Northeast India, Bhasha literatures, and memory studies. Besides her academic publications, she has also contributed to Cafe Dissensus Everyday, The Hindu and Deccan Herald. She also writes poetry and short fiction in English and some of her poems have been published in the Visual Verse. She is currently translating Mizo author Malswami Jacob’s novel Zorami into Kannada. She may be contacted at patrika.bhumika@gmail.com or bhumika.r@iitjammu.ac.in

Suranjana Choudhury teaches literature at North Eastern Hill University, Shillong. Her essays and reviews have been published in different journals and magazines including Scroll.in, The Wire, Biblio, The Statesman, Café Dissensus, Humanities Underground, Coldnoon Travel Poetics and Elsewhere. She may be contacted at suranjanaz@gmail.com

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For more stories, read Café Dissensus Everyday, the blog of Café Dissensus Magazine.

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