FINDING OUR LIVES

Monalisa Changkija

© Divya Adusumilli

© Divya Adusumilli

I have never managed to see the movie The Help right from the beginning. Every time, I switch on the television just to take a small break or gainfully utilize my time while I’m eating, folding washed and dried clothes, doing up the cupboard, etc., or to catch up on the news, I get around to watching The Help midway. So I know how the movie ends but not how it begins. And nothing can be more frustrating than not knowing why the movies ended thus. So, beginnings are important — there are no endings without beginnings — but without know the beginnings, the endings provide only an incomplete knowledge.

Today, the tribe of women writers in the Northeast is increasing at the speed of light and it must really make you wonder why, considering that women were grudgingly allowed to acquire education so much later than men in this region. Come on, we all have Grandmothers who were/are so much more intelligent, smarter and shrewder than our Grandfathers but because girls had to stay home and learn how to be “good” wives, Mothers and home-makers, girls of our Grandmothers, even our Mothers’, generations were prevented from acquiring formal education unlike our grandfathers and fathers. But things haven’t really changed because even a cursory look at school enrolment, the drop-out rates and even the literacy rate of girls/women vis-à-vis boys/men, girls still remain excluded from education for reasons that can best be explained as patriarchal. Some explain this sorry situation as “economic” factors but that is looking at the mirror, which is covered by thick, ineffaceable layers of grime — and this thick, ineffaceable layers of grime is patriarchy — a very prominent and unmistakable characteristic of the Northeast.

True, the Northeast has one of the highest literacy rates in the country today and our girls are so much more ahead of our boys academically and educationally. This didn’t happen because girls in the region had equal opportunities and a level playing field. This happened because girls here didn’t have equal opportunities and a level playing field. We had to struggle and strive a hundred times more than our brothers to be where we are, and then to overtake them. Of course, it greatly helped that we were blessed with the intelligence, the will, wisdom and the strength to win in any unequal race. What also greatly helped is our realization that if we didn’t acquire education and made something of ourselves, we would spend the rest of our days “making” homes, only to be insecure and imprisoned within them.

So we had, and still have, our stories to tell — to motivate and inspire our daughters — about the few options we had in life — the few options our daughters and their daughters will also have, unless they too tell their stories thereby motivate and inspire society and state to accept and include women and girls as full-fledged human beings, as persons with independent minds and aspiring hearts, in the community of humankind.

This I believe is the reason why women writers in the Northeast struggle and strive to record, to document and to be heard. This is why I write. And I must say we have made quite a dent in our otherwise obtuse society and states, which continue to believe that we have nothing to say and we have no stories apart from the stories wherein only our men play the lead role. Ah, but even as the victims, we know that we are the lead role players in all stories of the human society.

But we don’t always write about our victimhood. We also write about our triumphs, our joys, amusements, foibles, idiosyncrasies, eccentricities, weaknesses, pettiness, shortcomings and of course, our loves, our lusts and hates. We have discovered that writing provides us the platform to be totally human without being malicious and to laugh at ourselves. Then again, we don’t always write about ourselves, we also write about numerous issues that are not necessarily gender-centric. I write editorials six days a week on all issues under the sun, I devote only one editorial to women and gender issues in a week. My poetry isn’t all about women and gender issues, or my short stories — I have to seriously consider publishing them one of these days.

So yes, all women writers in the Northeast are not obsessed with only one issue. We have an increasing number of Northeast women writers writing tomes on history, literature, economics, environment, ethnicity, identity — the list is inexhaustible. Therefore, it is not surprising that not all Northeast women writers like to be bracketed as Feminists because not all are. All of us also don’t write only about the Northeast. Our writings also comprise of well-researched commentaries on issues that are universal. So yes, women writers of the Northeast, wherever we live, have successfully broken free of, and from, the walls of geographical, cultural and communal parochialism.

Women writers of the Northeast have entered the world of universalism hence today we are more well-known than our male writers. This naturally also underscores the superiority of the quality of our writings. But ultimately what really matters is that a writer, male or female, must have something to say and make the world listen to it. So yes, coming back to The Help, I couldn’t help but empathize and identify with the “Helps”. In so many ways, Northeast women writers are the “Helps”. In so many ways, we have also imbibed the lesson: “You is kind, You is Smart and You is Important”, (this is what a Black Help teaches her young White ward), which has also helped us to find our lives.

So, at the end of the movie, the two main Black Helps encourage the young White girl to go to New York and take up her job in a publishing house thus “Go find your life, Miss Skeeter”.

You know, women writers of the Northeast are finding our lives by writing and now it is our turn to tell our young ones, no less our societies and communities, to “go find our lives”. This alone would make our endeavours in the realm of writing worthwhile.

***

Tiamerenla Monalisa Changkija

Tiamerenla Monalisa Changkija

Tiamerenla Monalisa Changkija is a poet and writer, born in Jorhat, Assam. She studied at Patkai Christian College, Chumukedima and did her BA and MA in Political Science from Delhi University. She is the editor and proprietor of the Nagaland Page, an English daily. Her books include Weapons of Words on Pages of Pain (1993).
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