IT IS raining on the morning he leaves Shillong. It has rained for the past three days, alternating between drizzle and downpour. He looks out of the bathroom window as he brushes his teeth—grey skies, rain, pine trees on the far hills, red tin roofs—and feels an indefinable sadness in his heart. He quickly bids farewell to his mother and brother and walks through the rain with his bag to the car where his father waits.
He is dropped off at Police Bazar where a long line of Guwahati-bound Tata Sumos wait for passengers, their engines idling. A swarm of young touts encircle him as he gets down from the car; he allows one of them to lead him to the second Sumo in the line. He clambers into the last row where there is just one person at the moment.
An aspect that I have come to associate with Shillong is nostalgia; a longing for a city that once was. This relates to the colonial past, when the city was less populated, greener and cleaner, but also to a more recent postcolonial past. Among middle-aged people – those I mainly socialise with – this longing is mainly for the city of their youth; a city prior to violence and protests, a peaceful and friendly place where you go to meet a friend or watch a movie late in the evening without fear. But as many of my interlocutors lament, this ended in the 1980s with increasing ethnic conflicts, curfews, rallies and underground activities. The past – the 1960s and 70s – appears as a time of innocence, freedom and possibilities in a world that was opening up. While I suppose it is a universal feature to cling to memories of the formative period of one’s youth, Shillongites seem especially besieged by a nostalgic mood, a collective commemoration of the past. That life for many in the city has improved materially doesn’t seem to alter such cravings for the city that once was.
I went to Pine Mount in Shillong in the seventies. I lived close to school, just behind the NCC office. So, my parents had made an arrangement with the school and I would come home to eat lunch with my mother (something I hated so, as I missed out on playtime and having lunch from a lunch box, but I was powerless and could not resist).
Samrat Ray’s bitter sweet tribute to the churches of his hometown
Listen to the rare recordings of The Fentones from Shillong who won Simla Beat Contest in 1971