Monday, February 26, 2024

Highway 39: A narrative of multiple oppressions

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By Our Special Correspondent

 Shillong: Sudeep Chakravarti’s Highway 39 published by Harper Collins is a poignant narrative revolving around the infamous road link between Nagaland and Manipur, (National Highway 39) often used as an instrument of oppression by the Nagas to punish the Meitei-led Government of Manipur. But the book also gives an insight into the Indo-Naga conflict and its broader ramifications.

Highway 39 was launched by the Pranab Bora, Resident Editor of The Telegraph, in the presence of the author at The Bookmark, Nongrim Hills, on Saturday. According to a section of the audience who have had a peek at the book, Highway 39 promises to be an engaging non-fiction from a sensitive writer.

While Chakravarti rested his pen in 2010, the last blockade on National Highway 39 called by the Nagas in the latter part of 2011, lasted over 100 days and resulted in acute scarcity of medicines, food, LPG, petrol, diesel and kerosene which sold at astronomical prices in the black market

Out of deference for his subjects and the people of the North East, this versatile author who had earlier launched Highway 39 at Guwahati, said it is important for him that readers in the North East were first introduced to his book before it was circulated in the ‘mainland.’

Chakravarti who was present at the book launch gave a brief introduction of his book. His demeanour conveyed a sense of deep respect for the many respondents he interviewed and their gracious acceptance to be questioned in what often comes across as intrusive and irreverently challenging at times, such as when questions are addressed to an insouciant bureaucrat or an insensate security personnel.

Yet the answers which trigger more questions also serve as a contemporary history of the conflicts in the region.

A panel discussion by Dr Ananya Guha, Director INVET, IGNOU, former State Chief Secretary, HWT Syiem and Patricia Mukhim, Editor, The Shillong Times set the tone for the lively conversation that centred around different facets of the book. When asked what provoked him to write the book, Chakravarti said he was deeply disturbed and horrified with the disquieting history of India’s North East.

“From a story telling journalist I became a full fledged narrator of what people shared with me with an open heart,” that author said, adding that he felt motivated to write these stories from a region he refers to as ‘alien lands’ to Mainland India and lands ‘made alien’ depending upon the lenses used.

Stating that he drew inspiration from the body of work done by journalists and authors from the region, Chakravarti says his is a ‘slice of life’ approach which however delves deeper into the psyche of the people he meets and talks to.

Pointing to the tall claims of India’s GDP growth, Chakravarti said there must be something flawed with a system where that growth does not translate into a better life for billions of Indians.

“Development should replace domination in India’s North East and the so-called Maoist afflicted regions. However Government of India alone is not to blame. State governments need to take a hard look at themselves because I have seen a section of the elite live very well on conflict even while claiming that conflict hampers development,” Chakravarti observed.

Born in Kolkata, Sudeep Chakravarti studied at what he calls the ‘snobbish’ Mayo school and college. He later studied history at St. Stephen’s College, New Delhi from where he went on to Jawaharlal Nehru University. A former journalist with The Hindustan Times, Chakravarti now lives in Goa.

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