On Shillong, Meghalaya – a place I Love but Hate writing about

Why is it that I absolutely hate writing about a place I so love? It’s a classic love-hate relationship. One that keeps you awake at nights, seduces you to think unabashedly and yet places a lock on your fingers so intricate that it’s well impossible to break.

Often, when I face writer’s block, I take out my trusted notepad and an age-old pencil. The ones with a pink eraser on top? Yes, those. I take short notes of what exactly I am thinking and what ought to be in print. Sometimes, those writings are about not being able to write itself. I often tell myself, “when you do not know what to write, write about that”, if you know what I mean. Shillong beats me to that.

Shillong, and Meghalaya at large, had borrowed my heart without asking and has kept it with her ever since. The dead cold nights, the bon fires on New Year’s eve give me the bitter sweet smiles come every turn of year. Mother’s sewn white lace curtains are something I have never been able to find anywhere else. The soil and moss that sustained such exotic species of orchids need to be bought now. Plums grew in the backyard, ripe peaches dropped on our heads as father and I raked the weed. Sounds of far away lorry struggling to pull along seventy degree rises and distant echo of chopping wood broke the silences of the night and sleepy evenings.

Ice cold sleet hitting the face would hurt like needles while sitting on dad’s scooter, riding to school. Heavy gumboots would pool with water and we’d pretend to be fishing in them. Teachers with rimmed glasses and kind smiles showed us how to be better humans. To have compassion more than marks.

Summer and spring were colourful and balmy. Never did I know how it felt to sweat while doing nothing. Beautiful women would captivate us, walking in flowing skirts and long coats as the seasons changed. Scorpions would sing on their tour, chamber choir would declare it was christmas time. Trick or treat was not a thing of movies and communal lunch saw us breaking freshly baked bread on many Sundays. Hindus would lend christmas tree branches from their yards and the Christians would buy their kids pretty dresses to mingle and laugh with other kids celebrating pujas.

Climbing up relentless hills for a few seconds of locked gazes with the love of your teen age, only to stumble upon her mother and lose your heart all over again.

Walking down Jacob’s Ladder was like walking down serenity itself. Pine needles can be treacherously slippery and pine cones just as much fun, though it hurts the elbows when your friend hurls it at you. It is a place where you make friends for life for when you move out, you cannot find the same men and women.

You stand outside a Catholic girls’ school and women’s college, waiting for your best friend to come out. You hunt through many junk shops for earrings that she wants to buy. You eat at places called Slow Food Junction, you play football to a deafening local crowd. You walk with vagabondish teenage aura and fight for your school’s image with the last ounce of teen spirit.

You eat jadoh from the kind kong across your college gates who forced a second helping just because you look too scrawny for your ears. Knowing well that your pockets are just but empty. Sometimes you wish you took more photos but then who owned cameras at that time and why would we capture the moments?

You meet someone who has walked those lanes with you, with whom you fought and kissed on a bitter cold night in the middle of a football field. She came to cheer you on games and with whom you spotted flickering lights on the hills. You go on to marry that woman.

Shillong is not a place about which can be written. It is not a place you can instagram or create microblogs of. I have read many articles about travel to the land. But you can’t travel to Shillong. You can only live it.

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Note: This post has not been proof-read. I cannot make myself to read it yet. Please forgive any mistakes that you might find in it.

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59 thoughts on “On Shillong, Meghalaya – a place I Love but Hate writing about

  1. Shillong was my hometown. Now i. don,t live there anymore and have moved on. I inderstand exactly what you have written and meant. Great piece.

  2. The beauty of the land is captured vividly…felt like I was transported to this magical land with freshness, fun and simplicity. Good Job!!!

  3. I felt so connected with your piece of work, I Studied in Anthony’s so running down the Jacobs ladder to attend the Botany Class and reaching just as Dr Atanu uttered roll no:491, only to hear my ‘present sir’ from outside the door. Such mixed feeling! Thanks for bringing back all those memories from the past ….. I cherish them now after 15 yrs getting married to the boy I courted during my Anthony’s Days along with my lovely daughters.

    Keep Writing!! 🙂

    • Thank you so much, Parmita! I am an Edmundian and I remember walking down Jacob’s ladder with the Marian beside me now, waiting to be a mother. The feelings are inexplicable. I am glad you liked the post!

  4. You brought back the Shillong I too so love, and which now resides only in our hearts. For Shillong has changed beyond recognition. Concrete has taken over the pines, chestnut tress, cherry blossoms. They killed me when they chopped off my favourite pine tree in Upland Road. And now, every time I go back, I notice a few more are gone. ‘Apartments’, shops. ‘malls’ have taken over our Shillong.

  5. Hi

    This is an excellent write-up. It emanates from the heart & touches the soul of us readers….keep up the writing u’ve got skill 🙂

  6. Everytime i read anything about Shillong , My mind stops and Hearts Start moving at Jet Speed and I reach there as Heart Still exist there! very well written … Wish i take my Last Beath in Shillong ////////////////

  7. Very well written article Debnath. Shillong has certain characteristics that only an insider can bring out. The charm of the article lies in its simplicity. I have never been to Shillong but I already feel I know so much 🙂

  8. Bhai – an amazing read… Kudos!!! I so agree… Shillong is an experience; a romance so passionate and a reality so vivid that a travel cannot tell the stories that one can live there…

  9. Hi, I came across this through my brother, and I am glad I did….I am a Shillong fanatic (in a good way :D) and no place on earth equals to my birthplace, my Shillong. The sea of endless memories, friends for life, good times with my cousins, only -my-Sillong-rocks-in-fashion attitude, the walks, picnics, bunking school and college, living life to the fullest—-these are my Shillong’s gift to me. Thank you for the walk down the memory lane. Keep on writing. Keep on living. ‘

    • Hi Debarati. I am really pleased to know that the post is spreading by word of mouth. That indeed is the biggest complement ever. 🙂 It is lovely how Shillong keeps the thread of home alive in so many of us. I am glad you liked the post!

  10. hi …stumbled upon this piece while looking for news on shillong….was angry at the recent happenings ….but your writing gave me the much needed salve……i think i will love my shillong ….warts and all…all over again

  11. This article is very beautiful, charming and reminding my sweet nostalgia of the past. But my dear friends I am going to write somethings which you all may hate me. Please don’t take me wrong but I am writing this just to highlight the drawbacks. Shillong as I heard from my parents and grandparents how it was before 1972, I really dream of such Shillong(no clash between tribals and non-tribals). Todays Shillong is totally changed. Below are the reasons for which I moved out of here:
    1. Tribals hate non-tribals from the bottom of their heart.
    2. Hyegienic place but very difficult to find hyegienic hotels, dhabas and restaurent.
    3. Very difficult for veggies to survive here.
    4. Poor management of traffic chaos(it takes around 45mins to 1 hour to move a distance of 5-6km).
    5. Sorry state of infrastructure as well poor public transport system. One has to ask a series of taxi wallas to go to one’s own destination. And even if one gets these won’t spare a chance to charge extorbitant amount of money especially from outsiders who doesn’t know anything about the fare here.
    6. Very difficult to get voter ID card and making bank accounts for dkhars.
    7. Expensive cost of living. To get 1bhk in areas like oakland, Jail Road or laban one has to pay as high as 8-11k per month due to which only doctors, HIGH CLASS engineers and businessmen of police bazaar and other commercial areas can afford to stay here PEACEFULLY. Because its very difficult for dkhars to lead or better i should say as to dream of peaceful life in areas where cost is little bit lower(like mawlai, mawkhar, Nongthymmai, Madanriting etc). Ya there too one needs to spend 4-5k per month but still can’t dream of peaceful life because of troubles by the locals. Presently I am staying in malleshwaram area in Bangalore but here I would better feel more peaceful in between local Kannadigas which is unlike in Shillong staying between Khasis(now I feel even more insecure with them).
    8. Above all WATER CRISIS.
    But still I love this place since it is my birthplace and can never forget.
    FORGIVE ME FOR WRITING ALL THESE BUT IF YOU PROPERLY ANALYSE THESE ARE INDEED TRUE FACTS.

    • Hi Panna, sorry it took me so long to get back to you. Let me try and answer your questions (although I detest myself for doing this as this post was never meant to be anything more than a personal memoir).

      1. I hate calling Shillongites “tribals”. It is a racist term and should be erased from the dictionary. The aboriginals DO NOT hate the newer locals. I had more aboriginal friends back then than friends from my own community. My “Bengali” friends have long forgotten me but my Khasi friends never forget to call me on my birthdays. What we hate are people who dirty the place, are uncouth and always complain. Not “non-tribals”.

      2. The food in Shillong is the best I have ever had. The local Khasi culture is way cleaner (both physically and socially) than what we find outside.

      3. Very difficult for veggies (you mean vegetarians?) to survive? Sure if you are looking to find vegetarian-only restaurants. Even then, I am sure there are many. I seem to remember a particularly good one just below Chapala Book Store.

      4. Bad traffic – it is a tiny city where every single family wants to own a car. We do not want more roads at the expense of cutting down trees or breaking down century old buildings. Here in Bangalore, it takes me 1hr 45 minutes to travel 12 kms. And I do that but burning 3 units of fuel, inhaling poison all the way.

      5. Oh those taxis! Sorry, I just adore them and their uber-cool attitude, so can’t say anything against them!

      6. Very difficult to get voter ID card and making bank accounts for dkhars. That’s utter nonsense! Be honest, have legit documents, DON”T pay bribes and there should not be any problems.

      7. Cost of house-rents: If you want to stay at the heart of the city, it is expected to shell out money. Let’s compare: 2 bhk shared floor flat in Bangalore = Rs. 25,000 per month with 1 lakh as deposit. You are in the hills man, go embrace some nature. Try Umpling, Happy Valley, wake up early, start to work early, smile at people, I am sure you will enjoy your life more.

      8. I agree there is a water crisis. But you know what? That made up of some of my best memories, walking down with my Khasi brothers to the local stream in the afternoon and getting buckets of water with push carts.

      BONUS: I LEARNT THIS THE HARD WAY: LOVE A PLACE AND IT WILL LOVE YOU BACK.

  12. Debnath Sir please don’t take me wrong. According to my opinion, one is enthusiastic to one place only when he or she thinks that it needs to be improved. And it will improve only when problems are highlighted. Like Bangalore, here local publics are there to highlight the problems first and hence m happy to see it is again turning to cleanest city in India. So sir please discuss the situation. Outside Shillong I always praise this charming place. But since you all are like my own brothers and sisters, I am discussing with you people only.

  13. Beautifully written…the article is indeed overflowing with emotions! Shillong….How much I miss it!!! keep up the good work.

  14. I chanced upon this beautiful piece and as i started reading it my office space on the 12th floor felt like i was sitting in one of those jadoh stalls in the winding highways. I have not been fortunate to have a job back in my home town so to make my ends meet i have been trotting the capital for the longest time and yes even though i try and make a visit home twice in a year those 10 days trip are not enough. You actually took me to my world,the real world and it was like i took a trip on a time machine and there i was. Mr. Debnath, you have brilliantly put the thoughts of many of us far from the place that we love the most into the most beautiful piece i have ever read.
    My favourite lines “Teachers with rimmed glasses and kind smiles showed us how to be better humans. To have compassion more than marks.”

    • Thanks, Kym. Staying away from Shillong and building a second home has been the most difficult task of my life. I am glad you could find a connection in the post. There is nothing like a fellow Shillongite connecting on the same emotional level 🙂

      • My brother and I have been living and working in Delhi since 1995. 20 solid years. I haven’t been home since Feb.2013. Our nieces and nephew have grown up. While the older married two should remain in Shillong, the younger two may soon leave there for job on the mainland. The highway (GS Road) should be four-laned now. Though we miss home, we have learned to reside in other places also. I was in Kolkata for nearly four years; loved the places. Was sad leaving it in April 2013. Such is life. Once we start taking roots somewhere, it is sad when we have to leave. You did a good job with this post. Cheers.

  15. simply breath taking… Seriously, it was just awesome.. I believe most of the people reading this article are shillongites residing away, coz unfortunately, we humans always tend to appreciate things only after we lose it.. But what can i say bout shillong that u already dont know, for us its paradise, the place which has always taught us to be better humans.. Yup, we have problems in the city but than again which family doesnt face problems.. We must face n rectify it not run away.. Anyways hats off to you sir, just for reminding me of how lucky i am to be a part of this wonderful city, my home, my shillong!!

  16. If you are on Facebook, try to be Patricia Mukhim’s friend for the latest on Shillong. She is the Editor of The Shillong Times. She travels to Assam and the rest of the mainland quite often and has a lot to write about communal harmony.

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