Fight Hard, Stand Tall: Asomi Varte

Me: Tell me a little about yourself.

Asomi: Yeah, So.. Why I prefer to be called Asomi is because the name Malsawmdawngi is really long and I am aware that people won’t catch my name easily if I say “Hii My name is Malsawndawngi!” They’d be like “Whaaat?”. I also prefer to be called Asomi also it was a name given to me by my grandfather. About my family, we are into real estate and formerly owned a shop. My mom has her own office, my dad passed away when I was young. I live with my grandparents, my aunt.

Me: What does your name mean in your language?

Asomi: It means ‘blessed’

Me: Then what does ‘Asomi’ mean?

Asomi: For instance If I want to address you instead of your full name ‘Meryl’ I can shorten it to MeMe. Likewise, ‘Asomi’ is a shortened version of my name and it means the same.

Me: You wish people called you ‘Malsawmdawngi’ more often?

Asomi: No , because in my place people have really long names. So, we Mizos have a real name and a pet name. We feel that when people call us by our pet name we feel more close to them but if they call us by our formal name we feel that they are angry with us. If my mom calls me “Hey Malsawmdawngi” I’d be like “Are you mad at me or something? What did I do wrong?”

Me: Do you belong to any tribal community as such?

Asomi: No , we call ourselves Mizos.

Me: Do you speak one standard language?

Asomi: We generally use Mizo but among people there are various dialects. Its like this..I am a Mizo but I am also Hmar. My title is Varte which falls under the Hmar category. Hmar are the people that live in the eastern part of Mizoram.

Me: So, are people given titles on basis of where they live?

Asomi: Not really, long time back most of the people living in the Eastern parts of Mizoram were Hmar but there are a good number of them that aren’t Hmar. The Kings and most of the royal family were called Sailos.

Me: Are the Sailos a separate group as such?

Asomi: No. These days everyone is equal but they do have their titles. No offense meant but there may be a few poor people within the Sailo community.

Me: The next thing I want to ask you is what do you connect to the idea of ‘Indian’ as in Mainstream Indian? Most of the time you are not acknowledged as Indian , what do you feel about it.

Asomi: Yeah, that’s true. I call myself Indian but most of the people in the North East don’t. Some of them call themselves Filipino, Chinese or Korean because they don’t look mainstream Indian.
I don’t really mind calling myself Indian as I have spent quite a lot of time being outside Mizoram. I did my education in Guwahati. I haven’t been subject to much racial torture. Sometimes I feel that if people like to jump on you and let you be discriminated the fault to a certain extent lies with you as well. They are decent enough these days to not discriminate you simply because you look different. For instance if I wear shorts or something that is considered very vulgar I command people’s attention and add on to fact that I already look different. Now if you wear shorts and step out , you will not be discriminated like I will . People will reinforce the stigma connected to the dressing and presentation of Northeastern people. About this whole ‘Indianness’ thing, I don’t really know what has to be said.

Me: Apart from your appearance do you feel that there are reasons behind why you are called ‘Chinky’ and several other derogatory words?

Asomi: Yeah, apart from our appearance, our lifestyle and eating habits are much criticised. First of all, We wake up at 7 AM approximately and have rice for breakfast , biscuits and tea for lunch and something light for an evening snack. We end our eating routine with some rice at 7 PM and go to sleep by 8 at night.

Me: Have you met many people who go by fake identities like Filipino, Chinese and Korean as you had said? Isn’t there this conflict between wanting to be Indian and putting on a fake identity so you can fit in?

Asomi: Yeah, sometimes we are pushed to an extent where we don’t want to be Indian. Like when I was in Guwahati I was sitting with some of my friends along with groups of people near us. A few Manipuri people were sitting beside us and a gang of mainly Assamese guys with a few Bengali people came near the group. They turned to them and asked “Where are you from?” The group replied saying “We’re from Manipur”. The response they got was a disgusted ‘Oh, Manipur..’harami’

Me: Yeah? That’s a very bad word!!

Asomi: Yes. It means ‘prostitute’. The group got really pissed and said “Just because we are from Manipur you don’t have the right to tell us things like this!”. Hearing this , I was extremely irritated. They concluded their rant by asking the group “We don’t know about Manipuris but do you want to hang out with us?”. The group just got up and left. The gang came near us now. In our group we were all from Mizoram. In my case, I don’t look like the people of my state because of my height. They came to me and asked “Where are you from?” I said “Philippines.” They were like “Oh, we want to come to your place someday!!” and stuff like that. My friend asked them “What if we tell you we’re from Mizoram?”

The gang replied “Oh, Mizo” (derogatory tone) and gave us that dirty look. I spoke up saying “Okay, what’s the difference between a Filipino and a Mizo? Tell me.”  They said “Oh Filipinos, they’re foreigners, they dress differently, move differently etc.” I persisted in my question and  asked them “My friend is Mizo, what do you think about her?”. With an expression of sore disgust in their face they said “Nothing!”. I asked them where they were from and they said “Assam.” I asserted that they also belonged to the Northeast and we were supposed to like Indians and moreover as one group. They lashed tongues against the Mizo community by stating some geographical differences and said “Listen , we don’t have the time to be lectured, okay. We’re not judging you but are saying what we think about your state. I responded by saying that “You know what I think about your state? Your people are full of bulls##t!” (giggling). They got pissed and started whining and protesting. Having the last word I reprimanded them for speaking to my friends in a discriminatory and derogatory tone. They apologised and left.

Asomi: As for the ‘Chinky’ thing; I ‘ve been called it ever since I was young. When you are exposed to the word a lot of times you tend to develop a tolerance for it. These days I indulge in making fun of the name ‘Chinky’. However there are many terms that people call you that you just cannot afford to put up with. People misunderstand when they call us names in Hindi. Most of us from the North East understand Hindi much unlike the popular stereotype that we know nothing other than our own language.

(Continued in Part 2)


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