Borkung Hrangkhawl, or BK as he’s more popularly known, has a simple message to give through his music — integrating the North East with the rest of India. Having grown up in Tripura, under the shadow of a politician father, Borkung was sensitized to the struggles of the tribes back home at a young age.
Borkung realized quite young that he wanted to make music. When he was 12 or 13 years old, he realized that rap music really gripped him. A way to be direct, he felt rap was always more than words, that it was poetry.
“I always was attracted towards rap because of the way you can tell a story with it, through rhymes and rhythm, it’s basically poetry. You can say anything on the face, you can be very direct with rap. I started out when I was young, maybe in class 7 or 8. I found that I could write my own songs and rhymes so I thought I’ll just take it as a hobby but I never knew I would pursue further,” he says.
Of course, in class in 7 and 8, it’s tough to be sensitive towards social causes, or to even completely grasp such issues. So he wrote about what he could relate to best as a teenager — love.
“When I started writing, it was love songs, because we were all into boy bands then. It was in the era when loads of boy bands were coming up,” he says.
Once he discovered rap, there was no looking back. A starkly different genre from boy band pop, rap artists were a world apart to Borkung, almost like poets. Some of the artists who had the most influence on Borkung were Eminem, Fat Joe and Fort Minor.
But Borkung was never one to adhere to popular taste – “Even though I like doing commercial music, I thought instead I should speak out something people don’t like talking about in the media. Being a kid, I always saw my dad working so hard for the welfare of the people of Tripura, to preserve their rights. I got inspired through that. And once I found that I could write my own songs and rhymes, I thought this was the best way to express and anyway, I’m not good with politics,” he adds.
His protest music has its roots firmly planted in Tripura and in Delhi. Having graduated from Delhi University, Borkung has had his share of incidents that have prompted him to take his lyrics and rhythms more seriously. While crossing a park one day, Borkung was poked in the chest thrice for being misunderstood for a Nepali. The miscreants let him go after being told he was Indian and not Nepali, bought him a bandaid and assured him they’d protect him if anything were to happen to him while crossing the park again.
“After they poked me they asked me if I was Nepali and I said I wasn’t and told them Im from Tripura, I’m Indian. I’m pretty sure they were lying because they were searching for my phone and wallet and the racial thing was certainly there, but their intension was mostly to rob. And also I looked different, so that’s also probably why.”Having lived in Delhi, Borkung believes that as a North East Indian there’s always some sort of miscommunication that happens, but “it’s nobody’s fault, we just have to bridge the gap and once people know about the north east more they’ll accept it more readily. This gap is something we need to fill up.”
On being asked why he doesn’t want to make music in his native language, he said “We are not very rich in dialect and very small in number and there are a lot of tribes and languages in Tripura. I use English and Hindi because I want to encourage people from all across the country so people can accept. I want a tell a story to the rest of the world, let them know what they’re going through.”
Borkung echoes thoughts of most from the North East – that they are also part of the ‘mainland’, that theirs is a culture still unexplored. He wants people to vacation in the North East, eat their food and learn about their culture and heritage.
As for where he wants to go with his music, he’s got big Grammy dreams. “I want to represent my people, I want to represent India. I want to win a Grammy, tell them I’m Tripuri, I’m Indian, tell my story and where I come from.”
Through the discrimination and racism, Borkung has managed to remain pragmatic
“I have so many friends from the mainland and they are so good and polite and only a few people who don’t understand the culture of the North East I guess. Because of those few people we have to call it racial discrimination. Once they know you they accept you as humans. I have seen so many people who’re so kind hearted in Delhi. After we got introduced, we became friends. What I’m trying to say is all you need is a Jaan Pehchaan. Our responsibility is to make jaan pehchaan (breed familiarity) between the North East and the Mainland.”