‘After the chinkis left we scrubbed the kitchens extra, said the landlady’

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[Memories]

Ribhu Borphukon
Is 21. He is a Guwahati-based journalist with  
News Live

Illustration: Samia Singh

IT WAS an unabashed interrogation, all for a rented apartment in Delhi. The old landlady along with her human hearing aid/daughter-in-law, sat directly opposite to me and my friend, her hawk-like eyes set upon us. Then began the barrage of questions that would push Martin Luther King to do somersaults in his grave. “So where are you guys actually from?” “Guwahati.”

“Guwahati.” “Oh you guys are Manipuris?” She intended a rhetorical question but wound up reiterating the popular geographical lessons that ignorance has taught her — along with probably another three-quarters of the population. The northeastern states have been muddled and shuffled to form this mess, stripping all civilisational peculiarity that is natural.

She offered us water and we decided to skip the geographical slights. The fan circled aimlessly overhead, the sweat-induced heaviness of my jeans made me uncomfortable. “I hope it’s just the two of you. The last time I rented out the apartment to four chinki girls and every morning there would be a long line of guys and girls leaving the place.” “No, no it’s just us. There might be some occasional guests but other than that…” We both spoke words of assurance at the same time, our pupils constricting hard to see if that familiar snigger had left her face. The same facial contours (maybe a few freckles and creases differed depending on the age and sex of the gazer and the gazed) that a Northeasterner would be looked at with, in the polished aisle of a mall or a dung-smeared university by-lane in the Capital.

“I mean they were a bunch of problems,” she continued with the same tone that suggested they carried crude implements of murder under their Aigner belts, which languorously held their Gucci jeans. I mean, we are known to dance with spears and solve political issues with guns. “All sorts of problems. Drinking parties would go on till the time I woke up for morning prayers. I mean as I poured holy water on the tulsi plant, they were still downing alcohol. And the kind of dresses the girls wore…” She finished in horror. Not only is the whole definition of morality redefined and twisted but also stitched to the kind of dresses a northeastern girl wears. The proportions of her height to the amount of skin hidden/exposed assures the promiscuity of the girl. Once the girl earns the tag, every respectable soul would vomit in their mouth thinking about the ordeal that she has to pass through in the streets.

“I mean my mother-in-law had to get her hearing machine after the chinki girls started living upstairs,” the first novel input by the daughter-in-law, who had been sitting there auditing the interview. “Do you a have a girlfriend?” the auditor suddenly became active. I didn’t have the right answer. “I mean of course you can have one. She can visit you here.” The stress was definitely on the ‘one’. And I let out a breath of relief. The old landlady shifted her weight on the bed where she sat with her frail legs hanging. We stirred on our own uncomfortable stiff chairs. Another round of questioning: “We are strictly vegetarian. We don’t mind you eating meat but no smelly food please,” the landlady said waving her hand near her nose warding off imaginary smells. I concentrated on my retention of the different kinds of food-smells I had taken in the normal course of a meal. I was sure enough when I said “The food that we normally eat doesn’t stink.”

“I hope so. I mean when the chinki girls were living here we had to shut our windows during daytime. We had to do extra scrubbing in the kitchen after they left.” The assumption was clear. Northeasterners are in the experimental state of discovering fire and undiscovered species on platters make our entrees.

“After that we stopped renting out the apartment to chinkis.” It was abrupt and lethal. The rest was implied. The lease for the rented apartment was never type-written.

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