I am not overly sentimental — at least I don’t like to think so. I don’t hang on to too many objects from the past. There are the few requisite childhood photos from Assam. The tiny devotional my father used to read from every day — its cover now enshrouded by duct tape. An old blue polyester child’s dress (mine) with dirt or food stains on it. And, from my brief career as a journalist in northeast India, there is only one memento on display in my home, sitting against some books on a shelf: my old East Wind press ID. It looks double laminated; the edges of my passport photo look like they were beginning to disintegrate. My name on it is “Grace Singh” and the address is of someplace in New Delhi. I find my- self-looking at this old ID whenever I’m supposed to be looking for a book, remembering the way things were.
It has been over a decade now since I wrote for East Wind — although 2005-2006 does not seem so very long ago. Today I only write about northeast India in my fiction, but back then, I was full of fire for journalism, to tell stories about the northeast and its people to an imaginary audience of mostly mainland Indians. I don’t remember exactly how I met Nona Arhe, the editor of East Wind, but I remember being a little smitten at our first meeting. Until I met her, I had only written/worked for men. Nona was everything I wanted to be when I grew up: a strong, beautiful, and independent woman. She straddled both worlds — northeast India, and the mostly uncomprehending mainland, where people wouldn’t think twice before calling us northeasterners “chinkies.” But that’s all old news.
In those early days, Nona wanted me to write stories about the northeast that would be of interest to readers “everywhere”. I tried my best — I think I wrote mostly light features of the variety called “infotainment”, highlighting up-and-coming entrepreneurs and public figures. Nona gave me free rein; she let me (and my subjects) wax eloquent about whatever.
For the longest time, I did not know that East Wind was a one-woman operation, but now it doesn’t surprise me. I eventually moved to the United States and stopped writing journalistic pieces about northeast India — it seemed superficial, anyhow, to comment on things happening halfway across the world. As my life and career evolved, I stayed in touch with Nona on social media. We watched each other travel (I’m being sentimental now): Nona in Israel, me in Aruba. Nona eating parathas, me drinking coffee. Both of us reading and writing. When she wrote to me out of the blue, saying that East Wind was being revived and would I write something, I only hesitated for half a beat (because of time constraints) before I said yes. I said yes because that battered press ID on my bookshelf reminds me of a thing that is alive in Nona: the fire of telling stories, of building community and empathy through journalism. The one-woman team is now bringing the “wind” back to life with the help of a few collaborators because it never died out in the first place. East is where the wind comes from, bringing so much that is unknown to the rest of the world. I don’t know which way the wind will blow for this magazine in its new life — but I hope that it will rip old leaves off the trees, shake a few things up. The sun, after all, rises in the east.
Grace Singh Smith is a former East Wind contributor. A native of Assam, she now lives in Southern California and has short stories and essays published in several North American literary journals: the Santa Monica Review, The Texas Review, Cleaver, Aster (ix) and elsewhere.