Safdarjung soirée

The air feels different now than it does in the heat of the day when it is crisp, dusty, and the lanes littered with locals while the night owls from my neck of the woods choose to laze around in their small apartment buildings cramped against each other in the colony occupied by victims of The Partition who now make a healthy living thanks to the first wave of students who came looking for better education, some for a better life, some just bored and stay on working night shifts and odd hours that ideally should not make biological sense but here in the chaos of the city, the metropolis, it works,

and many others stay on long after they’ve got their degrees and now hang on pursuing trivial vocational courses in institutes with the word ‘International’ ‘American’ prefixed or suffixed to their names because home beckons, but the heart is not quite there yet and an excuse is needed to linger on here otherwise daddy dearest will stop sending money that has not been earned, and some of those faces that still linger on working strange hours have a hint of familiarity to them while others seem unfamiliarly familiar as the question: “do I know that person” quickly zips by, and then there are those visionaries who saw that possibilities to conquer a market filled with people who yearned for the taste of home without actually returning home and quickly set up shop selling shoots, stems, and cigarettes, and others followed suit opening restaurants cooking and selling food that not too many years ago was prohibited from even being cooked at our homes, I remember and now, this,

This change that has come to this small part of this large racist city where being Black or someone with East Asian features can get you killed for nothing other than being you, in this same large city in this small part there is a change while the lanes remain the same- small -and overhead electrical wiring that is a major safety hazard and an accident waiting to happen and yet, there is a change as,

The taunts and the judgemental looks have gone away and some of them even dress like us now, wearing the kind of clothes I never would have imagined ‘them’ a decade back, and some eating at restaurants that do not serve naan and tandoor but most still play safe and stick to Tibetan food, perhaps rolled up flat noodles is still more palatable to many than fermented soybeans will ever be as it was always bound to be the first introduction to food that wasn’t deep fried but was adventurous enough to claim bragging rights for the next time they are there with other uninitiated to act like they ‘know their stuff’ and

Probably have that one friend who introduced the group to this food that can never be cooked under the watchful eyes of their mammi and pappa who will end up having a heart attack to see pork, beef, and food that is all manners of strong odour being cooked in the same kitchen and kadhai where the palak paneer is cooked for nani ma

“But why are you so angry?”, I am asked a few nights later, and I say “I am not holding onto personal anger but only angry over the things that I should not be” and then I tell her I am angry about things this country should not give me reasons to be angry about but almost on a daily basis it does, whether

I am lazing comfortably back in Arunachal on the worn out faux leather sofa in my TV room watching journalists morph into high-paid pseudo-intellectual pundits praising the prime minister or

A prime minister turn into an actor while an actor turns into a journalist, and hence, I say,

“I will be angry about all these things,” and I turn away to way back to my night through the dark alleys that don’t remember well so I jerk out my phone and ask for directions which lead me through ways that are unfamiliar because they end in dead ends until a sense of familiarity sinks in again and I

Remember the road wherence I should be treading and I am back on the path and no sooner does the foul odour of the garbage basket(?) calls me home telling me that I am close and as I turn I see a brother, a homeboy, a tribal from that part of the woods agitated as his friends try to calm him down when by this time I am near an autorickshaw and a bunch of local smart alecks are telling another of their kinds to calm down asking him if he really wished to fight him and trying to make him understand that he would be beaten black and blue to which even he admits that “yes, that is true” but by now I see another bunch of locals who aren’t smart alecks as much as they are smart asses, I know because one of them asks if the others want to get in on the action and pick a fight with “those chinkies”- “THOSE CHINKIES”-

I am not angered or agitated because it is well past bedtime and I am intoxicated, as are the five of them, and to express my anger over that racist comment which I had grown so accustomed to in seven eight years ago taught me to be on guard rather than be on the offence, and as I climb up the godforsaken four flights of stairs I wonder if this place has changed at all…

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K4 Kekho: Small man casting a long shadow

Sporting two long fringes that run down to his ears and despite not being the tallest man in most rooms, Kekho Thiamkho casts a large shadow. But then again, it was not his looks that shot him into semi-stardom.

Kekho Thiamkho, better known by his stage name K4 Kekho, hails from the small hamlet of Chinghan in Tirap district along India’s international border with Myanmar in Arunachal Pradesh. A relative unknown in a state with a population of around 15 lakh until two years ago, K4 Kekho became a viral sensation when his song, ‘I am an Indian’, began circulating on WhatsApp.

Sung partly in English and a dialect of Hindi unique to Arunachal Pradesh, the song deals with issues of racism and ignorance about the state and the Northeast that people from the region often face in ‘mainland’ India.

Although the song deals with serious issues, it is the satirical tone of the lyrics and the catchy tune that leave a lasting impact on listeners.
The song opens with K4 Kekho’s signature ‘ollo’ (more on that later) and introducing himself before he goes on to the first lines of the song: Arunachal Pradesh ka mein. Kya yeh jegah China mein (I’m from Arunachal Pradesh. Is this place in China)?

K4 Kekho during a performance. (PC: 4K Studio and CCRD)

The ‘China’ reference acts as a double innuendo on China’s territorial claims over the state and sets the tone for the rest of the song.

Midway through the song, Kekho sings: Institutions lok hum logo ko yaha mein padhne ao boltai. Phir roadside mein koi-koi lok jegah se jao boltai (Educational institutes induce us to join their academies. But people on the street tell us to go back).

Those lines are an expression of what many from Northeast, especially those who venture out to pursue higher education, continue to experience in places like New Delhi and Bengaluru. Incidentally, Kekho never spent any significant amount of time outside the state for his education, having completed his graduation from Don Bosco College near Itanagar. However, he had heard enough from his friends to feel confident to write and rap about the issue.

“I used to listen to my friends who were studying outside talk about their experiences. They were so angry and frustrated with what they had to undergo at times,” he said.
On January 27, K4 Kekho was at the lawns of the Hotel Donyi Polo Ashok in Itanagar for the launch of a six-part poetry-themed web series called The Vivid Project where he is one of the six featured poets.

Post a brief appearance on stage, K4 Kekho took time out to wander around when I introduced myself as a fan and told him that he was the reason I came for the launch.
During the conversation, he talked about how he was introduced to music through his father’s collection of old Hindi film songs on cassettes. He even sang one of those songs on stage one year in school.

“The teachers and the older people in the audience liked it but the young students were bored,” he said. The next year he switched to rap music as a more immersive art form to connect with the younger crowd. That decision appears to have paid off.

He is now somewhat of a minor sensation in his home state (‘minor’ meaning that he isn’t exactly getting swamped by fans on the streets looking for selfies or autographs). While he does seem to be living the good life now with him becoming a regular at local gigs, life wasn’t always easy.

Kekho said that as a child he had to walk for two hours from the administrative circle of Lazu to reach his home. Not much has changed as motor-able roads still haven’t been made that find their path to Chinghan.

Kekho doesn’t rap much about subjects that do not have social relevance in his eyes and cares for issues that are close to his community and his home.

He comes from the small Ollo tribe of Tirap district in the eastern part of the state that has been inflicted with insurgency and opium addiction among young men for years. Kekho said that he is currently working on songs that address these issues.

That evening, he gave us a sneak peek to a new song he is working on.
It begins: Ollo. I was born in a village called Lower Chinghan, located in the border of Indo-Myanmar, where one cannot speak for the rights he deserves, afraid of AK-47 loaded real guns. Ollo!

The ‘Ollo’, he said, is a tribute to his tribe and can mean anything from ‘hello’, ‘goodbye’, ‘brother’, ‘sister’, and ‘friend’.

By this time, a few of his ‘fans’ had become part of our conversation and listening intently to what Kekho had to say.

Continuing the conversation, he maintains a humble demeanour while his hands constantly wave about front and back, left and right, as if he’s engaged in rap-battle and says that his limited English-language vocabulary makes it difficult for him to freestyle. He also informed that a video for ‘I’m an Indian’, the song that birthed the K4 Kekho sensation, is in the works.

By the end of the evening, our conversation steers towards his height.

“I’m not quite five feet tall. Around 4.8 or 4.9,” he tells us.

One of the people listening in on the conversation quickly adds, “You may be small but your words are big.