Untwining Against All Odds
I always wanted to call myself a citizen of the world, rather than see myself as an Indian or a person who belonged to any specific location. This, however, turned out to be more idealistic than I’d anticipated. As an adult who recently turned 30, I am now more aware of why it’s important to hold on to one’s roots and do what’s best for the people you can empathize with on a greater level.
I moved out of my village of Ri-Bhoi in Meghalaya when I was 18, and I arrived in Delhi with a head full of wild dreams. The train journey I took should have prepared me for the real world awaiting me in the city, but my optimism got in the way. My father decided to accompany me on my first trip out of my village to the city, and on the way, he kept telling me the do’s and don’ts of city life, while there were these two men sharing our train coach, making us squirm with their sleaziness throughout the journey (36 hours of travel time).
I hated the fact that we still live in a country where men can get away with being sleazebags. They touch you “accidentally,” keep their foot where it’s not supposed to be, or generally look at you in a lecherous manner and make it known to you that you are on their dirty minds—and it’s only the law, perhaps, that stops them from being violent. I was relieved when we reached Delhi and didn’t have to suffer their dreadful company anymore.
Initially, I was scared of the city, the roads with crazy traffic, and people who were clearly not ready for the way I looked (more Chinese than Indian). It took me some ten years to get used to life in Delhi. I was an Indian who did not fit the idea of Indians that the world at large was accustomed to. Dating didn’t work out in the city because my cultural differences were always seen as a roadblock to romantic acceptance. It didn’t bother me much because I had more pertinent things on my mind, and changing the world was one of them. It allowed me to focus on my career and do more of what I always wanted to achieve.
I never had access to art supplies, music teachers, or any form of additional learning opportunities while growing up and that is why the cause of free learning has always been close to my heart. I understand how difficult life is when you are deprived of skills that are taken for granted by the fast-paced world. A vast majority does not have access to books, music, dance, or sports. Most people can’t afford it. It’s a minority of the world’s population that’s using social media, and we should look at things that exist beyond the virtual world. I used to watch various shows on television that made me aware of the possibilities and how far behind we were, almost stuck in ancient times compared to others.
India is a diverse mix of thousands of cultures desperately trying to hold on to their identity of what it means to be an Indian. With opinions being enforced, dissent is bound to be on the rise. The Centres for Free Learning I am planning to launch will allow communities to come together and do more to contribute to society’s growth through learning instead of participating in active lip service. We complain about violence, ignorance, and class division, but with the way things are, how can we ever expect a better society? When we can’t afford books, how can we blame young people for not reading?
To that end, I also started Untwine, an art-driven initiative that has been launched to enable free creative learning in the Northeast region of India. We plan to involve the public on a large scale to raise funds and build centres that enable an environment conducive to learning for all those who are interested in developing skills that will professionally help them.
Our group of Untwiners is actively working towards achieving this end goal, and we plan to make this a volunteer-driven mission. There’s no dearth of talent in the region, but what it needs is direction and a platform to find its space on the global stage. There needs to be more to our identity than our branding as victims of racist slurs and discrimination. We have built teams in 12 countries so far, and we are actively building our network of artists and writers globally.
I wish my dad, who lived his entire life in the village with electricity problems/power cuts weighing heavily on his mind, was around to see me work on this project. It would have delighted him to no end. He has been a major inspiration to me and has always been the one encouraging me to never give up under any circumstances. He was a storyteller who loved saving birds and helping them build nests when they got stuck in storms.
Ranting is never the answer to long-term change. Things can change for everyone, if the current generation plans to do something concrete to bring about the change that is desperately needed.