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A heartfelt chronicle of lives lived in a conflict zone
RAGINI BHUYAN  23rd Mar 2013

Kishalay Bhattacharjee (right) with Karan Thapar (left)

hoosing to deviate from the stereotypical representations of the North-Eastern states, former North-East Resident Editor for NDTV, Kishalay Bhattacharjee's latest novel, Che in Paona Bazaar, tells the story of the people of Manipur – both past and present – and their daily struggles and triumphs. In his interview with Ragini Bhuyan, he talks about his book and the unheard voices it speaks for.

Q. What issues in the North-East are still under represented in the mainstream discourse?

A. We are missing out on the stories of the common people — how are they coping, how are they adapting. Not everyone can afford to leave their homes in search of a better life. And many of the youngsters from the region in other parts of the country today are essentially internally displaced individuals who are compelled to leave because of the trouble. Many are not able to go back and spend a lot of time trying to negotiate the distance.

Q. You were a researcher with the IDSA. Do you think there is a gap between the research done on the region by think tanks in Delhi and by universities and organisations based in the North East? Do you think that agendas are different?

A. I wouldn't know about agendas, but research work on the North East done in Delhi is not grounded enough in field work. This is usually due to a lack of resources. Empirical research done over a span of a week or two is simply not enough. In a conflict zone, you have to be there at the scene of crime, and not six months later. There is a shocking lack of documentation when it comes to issues in this region. Where are the books on the region? There is hardly anything on key figures like Sukapha, there is no sustained chronicling of the problems. That's why I decided to do this book. Television reporting only gives you space of a few minutes where you often have to skip the context.

Q. Can you tell us a bit about the narrative style? You have a fictional narrator who is talking not merely about real incidents but also about fictionalised details from her personal life.

A. I have used the interplay of text and real conversations, a mix of genres which doesn't follow a linear style. The dispossession and yet richness of their stories is what provided the fragmentary form of expression. The fictional character who in fact is a combination of characters doesn't fictionalise the details...she is loyal to the facts...all the details are from real life and lives. The incidents have happened. I have only chronicled.

Q. In the light of the death of your colleague, Nanao Singh, you recently wrote about the need for the Indian media to train journalists who are at risk while reporting from conflict zones. Having reported from the North-East for years, what do you think the Indian media (from the mainland) needs to keep in mind while reporting on the region?

A. Absolutely. We have no awareness of the hostile area environment programme which should be compulsory for anyone, whether mainstream media or regional, to report from conflict zones. It is a must.

Q. Who benefits from the endless cycle of ethnic chauvinism and terrorism in the region? Who are the most vulnerable?

A. The political class has benefited the most. Some in the security forces have reaped dividends from conflict. The people who indulged in such activities have been a major beneficiary. The vulnerable will always be the common people and the worst victims will always be women and children.

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