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Shillong

I haven't written about my recent trip to my very lovely hometown of Shillong. I was wallowing in grief at having to leave behind Dylan. It is apparent by now, I have written so much on this.

The abode of the clouds – that’s the touristy description of Shillong. But there’s so much more to this wonderful, wonderful hill town in the country’s remotest region. The pine trees, clear blue skies and fact that you can actually experience four seasons in a day are, perhaps, Shillong’s best attributes. In fact, there is a joke among guys that the weather in Shillong is as unpredictable as its girls. Well my take on this is that Shillong’s women are famous for their looks, so the joke is actually about disillusioned men!

Each time I go to Shillong, a wave of childhood nostalgia floods me -- of days spent wandering near the brooks, wading through the rains to reach school in gum boots and raincoats, attending fetes, walking through the lanes and bylines to visit friends whose cottages surrounded by orange, plum and peach trees were more the lure, sitting by the charcoal on cold wintry nights and falling asleep into the eerie silence of the nights, punctured only by the lonely barking of dogs.

How times have changed. The nostalgia isn’t what it used to be. Shillong is slowly losing its pristine beauty. The tinned-roof cottages and wooden floors have given way to concrete structures. Even the beautiful and ancient St.Mary’s College, whose invisible gate – due to the trees and hedges covered by purple bougain villas – is changed. Gone are the bougain villas and the pines from where Mother Anne (the Italian principal of the college for a long time) used to make sudden appearances to check which students were wearing pants and mini-skirts to college; they were indecent clothes to her, by the way!

And the place has become overly crowded. Looks like the whole of the northeast is flocking to this small hill town, known for its good schools and few colleges. More and more taxis ply on Shillong's narrow and steep roads. The traffic jams are a new feature. For any distance, it’s Rs 5 per passenger. Shillong’s taxi drivers have uniqueness about them. They all sport leather jackets and jeans, speak English and play Western music. But so central is western music to the Shillong way of life that most western performers, I am told, prefer to perform here than in the rest of India. And why not, when they have an audience with more than a superficial understanding of their music.

I saw the recent Indian Idol do something, though. With a local chappie Amit Paul, not a Khasi but a Bengali born and up brought up in Shillong, making it to the top 2, the locals have taken a liking for Hindi or ‘dkhar’ songs, that were for long scoffed at! Amit’s victory has thawed local hearts and unified people of all communities. In one of the days that I was home, Amit performed to a full 30,000-strong packed stadium with the crowd singing and jigging to the tune of Rabbi Shergill’s Bulla Ki Jaana Maen Kaun. Unthinkable ten years back, the anti-tribal resentment is almost gone now, it seems.

The inevitability of change is a sad fact of life. And it’s sad to see Shillong succumbing to the change of time. I miss the Dalias that were once such a common sight and I miss the quietitude of the place. But some such as the Amit Paul-induced changes are heart rending. That apart, some things in Shillong will never change – the steaming momos that even the dimsums of the world cannot compete, the jadoh, the long and the kwai that small tea shops offer. And of course, Barapani. A friend who visited Shillong for the first time said it was one of the loveliest scenes he’d seen in his entire life. [See picture on the left of the page]. Now you know why this breathtakingly beautiful lake is one of my favourite haunts. And to think this is just one of the wonders of Shillong...

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