Stories of Survival in Mumbai

Ae Dil Hai Mushkil jeena yahan, zara hat ke, zara bach ke, yeh hai Bombay meri jaan …. Mohammad Rafi’s scintillating song seem to aptly sum up the essence of the mega city called Mumbai. As a group of people from different walks of life sat together at a music studio in the city, different stories unfolded – stories of love, conflict, violence, music, cuisine and weaves. More so, these were also stories of surviving Mumbai.

Mrinmayee Ranade with Kalpana Patowary

The Thumb Print Conversation travelled to Mumbai and the topic “Understanding Northeast India” drew a medley of people from different professions – filmmakers, singers, journalists, authors – Northeasterners and non-northeasterners all came together. The conversation was moderated by Mrinmayee Ranade, the editor of Madhurima, a Marathi magazine. The ice-breaker was noted singer Kalpana Patowary.

Filmmaker Surabhi Sharma, whose film ‘Bidesia in Bambai’ is a fascinating account of migrants from UP and Bihar who inhabit the precarious edges of this ‘global city’ was present in the conversation. This story of ‘music, migration and mobile phones’ is soul stirring and features Assam girl Kalpana Patowary who has also carved a niche for herself as the ‘Bhojpuri Queen’. Sharma rued, “Only moments of heightened conflict from Northeast India is reported. The mainstream media is blank on the day to day stories and the other things happening.”

Surabhi Sharma and Sameera Khan

Moderator Mrinmayee Ranade gave an introduction of Northeast India as she sees it. She feels that the region is also about its songs, dance, music, bhot jolokias, fabrics inspite of suffering conflict for decades. In fact, many good writers have emerged from the region now. The presence of security forces itself is a trauma. The women who are suffering are not mere victims. They are also survivors. The moot question is also how to move forward inspite of the conflict.

The Managing Editor of The Thumb Print, Teresa Rehman spoke about what inspired the series of Thumb Print Conversations that have travelled all over the world. “We felt the need for a real-time one-to-one conversation with our readers,” she said.

Kalpana Patowary also came to Mumbai in 2001. Basically, a folk singer, she had a husky voice and “sounded more like Tracy Chapman”. Mumbai was a struggle as she had problems with her pronounciation. “I had to prove my worth and that is when Bhojpuri came to me. My world is my own. Mumbai has its own world. There are worlds within worlds,” she says.

Television producer of CID fame Prabal Baruah narrated his journey when he came first to Pune and later shifted to Mumbai. “I studied in Pune and we had students from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. Though we all lived in harmony, I could see the differences. The bridge was missing.”


Baruah rued that Northeast India does not find mention in the history books. “They did not know my history or geography,” he says. Baruah recalls an incident when he was standing at Dadar station in 1995 to pick someone. “Since there were no mobile phones then, people generally got very chatty. A Maharashtrian gentleman started talking to me and asked me about the Northeast. I said that the region is not safe. He then asked me what made say that. I replied that this was the general perception. I was amazed by what the gentleman said. He said that if mere statistics made a place safe or unsafe, then there are more people dying on the streets of Mumbai everyday.” Baruah tries to take his friends to his hometown whenever he gets a chance.

Surabhi Sharma recalled watching the films of Altaf Mazid from Assam. “Through his films, I got exposed to the modernist literature of Assam. In fact, bondings forged through culture are stronger.”

Sameera Khan, a journalist and a visiting faculty at TISS, Mumbai narrated her experiences of visiting Manipur as part of a group of women journalists of the Network of Women in Media.

Kalpana Patowary sang a few peppy numbers including a song from the Tiwa tribe that added a dash of spice to the conversation. Baruah hoped that someday, the television serials would have a northeastern character as well. “Right now, characters come from where the money comes from,” he says.

Swagata Yadavar, a journalist with IndiaSpend says, “It’s sad that we don’t know anything about the Northeast. Even history books do not give us any information. Listening to Kalpana Patowary’s songs makes me feel that we have been deprived of so much beauty and stories.” Hopefully, the conversations will continue and Northeast India will be understood better.