Merenla Imsong and the (video) art of making fun of ‘chinky’ prejudices
Nagaland girl Merenla Imsong’s video, Presumptuous chinky, tackling racial bias against Northeastern people has gone viral. She tells us how weird it is to be quizzed on Nagaland as a ‘country’ by her fellow Indians.more lifestyle Updated: Apr 05, 2017 17:55 IST
If you are a North Indian, then can you play the sitar or do you speak Sanskrit at home? Wonder where these questions come from? The source is a video by 29-year-old Merenla Imsong, which has gone viral online.
An assistant designer by profession and a part-time actor in theatre and advertisements, this girl from Nagaland has taken the humorous route to pose some pertinent questions on the generalisation of all Northeastern people, especially in Delhi. Her video, titled Presumptuous Chinky, spoofs the North Indian way of looking at the ‘other’ and makes fun of North Indian names such as Pinki Singh — in the video, she repeatedly faces the camera, saying: “You look a lot like my friend Pinki Singh.”
What she has done in the video is based on situations that she herself faced, Imsong tells us. For instance, the presumption that just because she was from the Northeast, she would know X or Y from the Northeast. “People would take some random name and ask me if I knew that person, since he was also from the Northeast. These are all personal things that have really happened to me,” she says.
A lot of people would just yell ‘Chinky’ at me. In fact, the first time I heard the word, I didn’t even know that it was a racist term. My sister had to tell me that it was a derogatory word
“I studied in Hans Raj College, Delhi University, before moving to Mumbai for work,” says Imsong. “I couldn’t cope with the heat and used to wear sleeveless tops and skirts — I was the only girl in the class to do so, and so it looked weird. My classmates and teachers were very kind and had the right attitude. They were curious, but had no presumptions. All this prejudice I started noticing after college... A lot of people would just yell ‘Chinky’ at me. In fact, the first time I heard the word, I didn’t even know that it was a racist term. My sister had to tell me that it was a derogatory word, and people over here sometimes yelled at us, not in a very nice way. That was quite a shock.”
In the video, she asks if Bihar is in Uttar Pradesh and muddles up the name of the capital of Madhya Pradesh, to highlight how North Indians are confused about Northeastern states. “A lot of people still think that Nepal is part of the Northeast, which I find really funny. They get confused about Tibet also, which is even more upsetting, because it’s not like our country has a hundred states that are difficult to remember! Sometimes, while having a chat with educated people, when I tell them I’m from Nagaland, they say, ‘Tell me about your country.’
“When we, as a country, are so proud of our identity, it can be really upsetting that someone from your own country doesn’t recognise your state. I didn’t grow up with CBSE text books, I passed from Nagaland Board, and it was compulsory for us to draw the map of India and mark each state’s name, so that stuck with us.”
I needed to explain how I feel when I am faced with certain questions, so I guess it’s my way of taking my shoes off and saying, ‘Here, now you wear it so that you get to know what I feel!’ It was just about reversing the situations I have been in
Before uploading the video on her newly opened YouTube channel, Imsong says that she did run it by her college friends, some of whom are North Indians, and they asked her to go ahead with it. But the fact that she might be trolled for it did occur to her, so she tried to be “very sensitive” in projecting her opinion on the whole issue. “You get to know a lot more about the person once you walk in their shoes. I needed to explain how I feel when I am faced with certain questions, so I guess it’s my way of taking my shoes off and saying, ‘Here, now you wear it so that you get to know what I feel!’ It was just about reversing the situations I have been in.”
And is Pinki Singh a character inspired by a real friend? “Honestly, I don’t know if Pinki Singh is a real person. I just liked the name and it has a nice ring to it. I hope I haven’t offended any Pinki Singh,” Imsong chuckles.