Mission Delhi – Ugen Tashi Bhutia, Turqoise Cottage
One of the one percent in 13 million.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Taking a sip of beer, Ugen Tashi Bhutia, says, “Although my hometown falls in Bengal, I individually identify myself with Darjeeling alone. When people like me, who are from Darjeeling or Kalimpong, come to cities like Delhi, we become a part of North-East, not just because we share the same physical features but also because we receive the same name calling from ignorant people.”
The Delhi Walla meets Mr Bhutia one afternoon in Turqoise Cottage, a lounge bar in Basant Lok Market.
A 36-year-old native of Darjeeling with origins in eastern Tibet, Mr Bhutia is vice-president of legal affairs at SBI Card — a joint venture between State Bank of India and GE Capital. He is the only North Easterner at the senior level in his office. His wife, a fellow Bhutia, is a lecturer of political science in Gargi College. His older sister is a doctor and his younger sister is a senior copy-editor in the Indian Express. They all live in Delhi, having first migrated here to study.
Mr Bhutia’s life in what he calls “mainland India” began in 1998, when he arrived in the Capital to enrol at Delhi university’s Faculty of Law. Four years later, he joined Fox Mandal, a law firm, as an associate in the litigation wing, which enabled him to practise in the trial courts of Tis Hazari, Patiala House and Karkardooma.
“My race, ethnicity, skin colour and features have not affected my career, for good or for bad,” says Mr Bhutia, who can speak in English, Hindi, Bengali, Assamese and Bhutanese. “Being a North-Easterner has made no difference to my professional life. I have put in equal number of hours and hard work as my North Indian colleagues.”
Mr Bhutia seems to be a regular in Turqoise Cottage. Almost every waiter is coming to greet him.
Recalling the early years in Delhi, he says, “Initially, I did sense a little discrimination against the people from North-East. For instance, quite a few North Indians would call me a ‘Chinky’. But it were my North Indian friends who would object to such comments aimed at me. After more than a decade of living in Delhi, my analysis is that only ignorant people discriminate against North Easterners. They have no idea that there is a world of difference between Nagaland, Manipur, Assam, Meghalaya, Darjeeling and Nepal.”
The rumors in August 2012 about threats to the safety of North Easterners in cities like Bangalore and Pune that followed the riots in Assam resulted in their exodus in thousands from those cities. Can such a thing take place in Delhi?
“It is not possible to make a statement about a scenario that I cannot foresee,” says Mr Bhutia whose best friend of 15 years is a Rajput man from Bihar, who, incidentally, is married to a Sikkimese. “However, my gut feeling is that such a thing cannot happen in Delhi. My North Indian friends have stood up for me in the past. And I guess people in this city are aware that the Home Ministry issued a notification in 2012 to all state government that to call names to people from North East is now a punishable offence.”
Mr Bhutia asks a steward for the cheque.
[This is the 63rd portrait of Mission Delhi project]
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u r back in delhi.
This whole hue and cry about the word “Chinky” seems a little overblown to me. The word has been used in Delhi for all people with “Asian” facial features as long as I can remember (1975) but never in a derogatory fashion. Your best friend could be “Chinky”, youalways admired “Chinky” people for their excellent soccer skills, and their friendly, outgoing nature and were mildly jealous of their excellent luck with the ladies. There was nothing derogatory about the word, like, the nearest parallel, the word Nigger, which also derives from a racial physical feature, namely skin color, but has been used as an abuse for years. Notably, African Americans are happy being called “Black” but not Negro orNigger which would indicate a derogatory or abusive usage. I would call on all our “Chinky” friends to take a chill pill.
“Man is a rational animal — so at least I have been told. Throughout a long life, I have looked diligently for evidence in favor of this statement, but so far I have not had the good fortune to come across it, though I have searched in many countries spread over three continents.”
– Bertrand Russell
“I would all on our Chinky friends to take a chill pill”..wow! you obviously haven’t traveled much(if at all). You won’t understand what it feels like to be a visible minority(a minority that looks different from the majority). I can’t tell you how many times my friends and I have had greasy North Indian men taunt us for walking down the streets of Delhi solely for the fact that we looked different. We’ve been called “Chinky” and laughed at. As a woman, let me assure you, it is a very degrading and insulting experience. Mind you, we dress just like our North Indian girlfriends, if not more conservatively. As a matter of fact, i intentionally dress very modestly( typically loose fitting jeans and a plain loose fitting kurta) when i’m in mainland India cuz I’m well aware of conservative North Indian society as well as the the fact that i stand out as an easy target when it comes to ignorant horny men who are quick to single out women who look like me. Anyhow, it seems no matter how conservative i dress, i will always be teased and taunted more so than my North Indian girlfriends. I currently live overseas and am sad to say i don’t see myself living in India(the country where i was born and brought up) in the future. Don’t get me wrong! There are plenty of wonderful North Indians who are anything but ignorant or discriminating towards me and people who look like me. But i’ve seen enough differences between how I’m treated in India opposed to where i currently live to know that India will be not be my permanent home. I don’t want my future children growing up in a country where the vast majority is so complacent about the tease and taunts we get for no fault of ours. I don’t want to live in a country where we’re told to “take a chill pill” for behavior that is insulting to us. It’s sad but that’s ok. I’ve made many friends and acquaintances here ( a place I’ve been at for almost 6 years)…this city i live in has become my second home, with people who are more aware and progressive. Having said that, I will always have a soft spot for India, the country of my birth. Love you India despite everything else!
There is a real danger of “reverse Racism” here, if the majority does not mean anything derogatory by using the word Chinky but the minority construes it as being racist. There is a long history of secessionist movements and tendencies in the North East, the history of crimes against people from the North East is very recent, sporadic and almost statistically insignificant, when we take into account the increasing assimilation of people of the Northeast into “Mainland” India.
Newsflash: there is no such thing as “reverse racism”. and oh, you are a racist Mr Saxena.
I love it when people in the majority tell people in a minority to get over it.
Prashant Saxena, your intention may be good, but if people don’t like to be called in a certain way, and they have made it very clear too, why do you want to insist on using that word? Unless of course you have a narcissistic, subversive tendency of sounding good but taking a secret pleasure out of it. And it seems you have been watching Pulp Fiction too much, since you seem to know a lot about the linguistic semantics involved in the usage of ‘Nigger’. Try saying this in the Bronx or generally New Jersey and come back here to tell us your experience. You may have to use only your left hand, since the other one may be bandaged.
Going by your Purvanchali logic, should I address you in jest as “Hey Purvanchali, kya haal hai bhai!” And since this is mostly a ‘crime capital’, maybe I should just use “saley chor” every time I address you. Or should I pick up my phone and ring my friend in Jaipur, and when his mother answer maybe I should say “Let me talk to you Maaru son.” Or how about “Abey Bihari, chalo daru peenay” to my best friend from Nalanda as a matter of normal conversation?
Instead of discussing within the scope of what is so objectively presented here by Mayank, you try to sound academic, which is beyond your capability. Meet some people first. Learn something about your own country.
Maybe take the next vacation in Bhutia’s hometown and call somebody on the streets chinki in jest. Do what you preach.
Deb, Sudeshna, etc etc
Guys guys guys, don’t get me wrong, like Deb was saying, I and for that matter a lot of North Indians would say to our Bihari friends ” Abey Bihari, chal daaru peenay” and would not truly, from the bottom of our hearts expect them to feel insulted. maybe it is just a cultural thing, where people from the NorthEast are a little more polite by nature than us boorish North Indians. And I and a LOT of my Delhi-ite friends take a perverse delight in teasing our South Indian friends from Andhra Pradesh and Kerala by calling them “Madrasi” because we know they hate it. Guys, let me assure you, that we may be crass and boorish, but we love you all, our brothers and sisters from all parts of India. So, I hope I have tried to explain myself, and I hope none of you will take offence to our words, rather try to endure us for a bit, and see that we can truly be good friends. I do however find it interesting however, that people from every North eastern state tat were in the news only for their seditious movements till 10 years ago, are now flocking to the “mainland” for lucre, and saying that they find it hard to assimilate due to our attitude, after killing thousands of Indian soldiers in their “Homelands”.
I am a North Indian, a Delhit, now living in South India.
here is the deal: no matter what you personally feel offended and not offended about is not a yardstick to judge other people’s sensitivities with. Treat people with respect and steer away from the sick stereotypes that we seem to have gotten comfortable with. anything else is racist and insulting.
Also, “I do however find it interesting however, that people from every North eastern state tat were in the news only for their seditious movements till 10 years ago, are now flocking to the “mainland” for lucre, and saying that they find it hard to assimilate due to our attitude, after killing thousands of Indian soldiers in their “Homelands”. WHAT THE HELL? It is wrong at so many levels that I am baffled. do you have any idea about what these “Indian soldiers” did to people of North East? Do you know its a fundamental right of every Indian to go anywhere within the country without restriction? Not even the constitution can question them on that. Do you know that North Eastern people not being able to “assimilate” is not their problem but ours? Its our attitude and our narrow mindedness that has pushed people to the verge of what you casually call sedition.
Please, not even for a moment think that you are being not offensive.
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