BOOK REVIEW: “STRANGERS NO MORE” BY SANJOY HAZARIKA

Book Title: Strangers No More

Subtitle: New Narratives from India’s Northeast

Author: Sanjoy Hazarika

Total Number of Pages: 472

Publisher: Aleph Book Company

Publication Date: 20 Jan 2018

Format: Hardback

Language: English

Genre: Non-fiction

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BLURB

Over twenty years ago, Sanjoy Hazarika’s first book on the Northeast, Strangers of the Mist, was published to immediate acclaim. Hailed as an exciting, path-breaking narrative on the region, it has been cited extensively in studies of Northeast India, used as a resource for scholars and journalists and adopted as course material in colleges.
Two decades later, in his new book, armed with more stories, interviews and research and after extensive travels through the region, Hazarika explains how and where things stand in the Northeast today. He examines old and new struggles, contemporary trends and the sweeping changes that have taken place and asks whether the region and its people are still ‘different’ to the rest of India, to each other and whether they are destined to remain so. While it may not be possible to overcome lingering hatred, divisions and differences by brute force, economic might or efforts at cultural or political assimilation, there are other ways forward. These include the process of engagement of accepting, if not embracing, the ‘Idea of India’ and working on forging connections between disparate cultures to overcome the mutual suspicions that have existed for decades. Hazarika tells little-known stories, drawn from personal experience and knowledge, of the way in which insurgents operate, of the reality of border towns in the region, the pain of victims and the courage of fighters on either side of the ideological and physical conflict, in the jungles and in lands awash with rain and swamped by mist. He travels across borders and mountains, listening to tales of the people of the region and those who live in neighbouring countries like Bangladesh, Bhutan and Myanmar. He challenges the stereotype of the ‘North easterner’, critiques the categorization of the ‘Bangladeshi’, deals with issues of ‘race and discrimination’ and suggests best practices that could be used to deal with intractable issues and combatants. Critically, he tries to portray the way in which new generations are grappling with old and current issues with an eye to the future. Extensively researched and brilliantly narrated, strangers no more is arguably the most comprehensive book yet available about India’s Northeast.

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REVIEWED BY SOHINEE DEY

After Sanjoy Hazarika’s first book on the Northeast, Strangers of The Mist, in this latest title, Strangers No More, the author doubles up the amount of research, comes up with more stories to support his views and picks up on sentences from interviews to present a more strong view on the present conditions of North East. He compares the past struggles of the people of North East to that of now. He also provides an insight into the present living conditions of the people and how the people living there are still differentiated from the others living in India.

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Read my previous review of Debeshi Gooptu’s Gurgaon Diaries


From his experience, he has gathered information, small stories which he learnt from the local people during his travel, observes the ideological and physical conflicts and sheds a light on the stereotypes that still exists in the northeast. He also talks about the relation between the states of North East with the neighbouring countries like Bangladesh, Bhutan and Myanmar.

The people living on the borders are the ones who are affected the most. The author also talks about the new trends, the cultural influences that the other countries exert, the conditions of the victims of wars at borders and how the fighters try to keep the region safe. It is never easy to let go of the bitterness caused during the partitioning but with acceptance one can overcome the hatred if not embrace it, says the author. There are also some political aspects which the author has talked about in this book. His every opinion is supported by evidence and he narrates what he has seen from his personal experience.

Though I am not a native of the North Eastern region, I have resided in Nagaland for 2 years and in Assam for almost 16 years so, I could relate to some of the author’s words. Since, I haven’t really delved deeper neither have I read any books on history of the North Eastern States, I cannot comment on any of the stories and the political background he had talked about in the book.

I could feel the author’s suppressed anger in the narrative but he has managed to not sound like as if he is complaining but instead he has offered a rich prose supported by a thorough research.

POESY IN CHRYSALIS RATING: ⭐⭐⭐.5 / ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sanjoy Hazarika is Director of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative. Earlier he was Director of the Centre for Northeast Studies and Policy Research at Jamia Millia Islamia.
He is an award-winning journalist, formerly with the New York Times. His books include Bhopal: The Lessons of a Tragedy, Strangers of the Mist: Tales of War and Peace from India’s Northeast, Rites of Passage: Border Crossings, Imagined Homelands, India’s East and Bangladesh and Writing on the Wall, a collection of essays. As a columnist and specialist commentator on the Northeast and its neighbouring regions, Hazarika has written and published extensively on draconian laws like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, the Eastern Himalaya and freedom fighters from the Northeast. He is founder and managing trustee of C-NES which has pioneered the work of boat clinics on the Brahmaputra River, these provide nearly half a million people every year with regular healthcare. Hazarika has made over a dozen documentary films on a number of subjects including the Brahmaputra, the endangered Gangetic river dolphin and the danger that women face in conflict situations. The films look at how communities and individuals, especially women, cope with conditions of acute conflict as in Rambuia, his latest documentary on Mizoram. These have been screened across India and at national and international film festivals and also in Dhaka, London, New York, Washington, Berlin, Gottingen and Vienna.

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