This was my hometown then, or so I thought, where the soft summer breeze whistled through the pines on the gentle slopes, the weeping willows swayed in gay abandon, the winding roads looked fresh and clean each morning after the previous night’s rain, the grass in the lawn would be still moist when the dogs played boisterously chasing each other amidst the sprightly daisies and the blue hills of Shillong seemed to protect all this like a sentinel. The clouds kissed the hill tops and sashayed down as if paying homage to the power of the Himalayas. The rich soil and the pleasant climate would caress the baby seedlings that would grow into beautiful flowers.
The houses were warm and inviting with sloping rooftops that would let the rain water gently flow through the cylindrical drain and assemble in drums for the dry days. The only decoration for most houses, big or small, would be pots of plants, lots of them in all shapes and sizes. The squeaky clean window panes gleamed when sunshine passed through them. The wooden floors would always be neatly polished smelling of melted wax mixed with the aroma of supper. The kitchens were the lifeline of the house and most guests would be invited in to share a meal, however small. There would be music in the air as people gathered by the fireplace each evening to play their favourite number. Each house was sure to have their own rock star strumming the guitar and dreaming to own the world through music. People on the streets would greet each other with a smile and everyone knew everyone. A quaint small town, then, with a heart of gold accompanied with the never-ending narration of old tales told with a glint in the eyes of old wrinkles faces as they recalled their youth and shared their stories with their progeny. Laid back and simple…..this was my Shillong then….my Shillong, coz I knew I belonged here; this was where I was born and where I grew up. I really never felt any less a local, or so I thought.
My first real memory of Shillong is of my school, yes, we lived in Barapani then, in quarters by the lakeside, a few kilometres away from Shillong. Prior to that we would come to Shillong with our parents only on weekends and hardly explored the place. School was the first place I connected to in Shillong. An old building of the British period with a romance of the bygone era where we were taught that along with having a good education, it was important to be a good human being first. The nuns had welcomed me into this haven and here for the next ten years, I grew up from being a little girl to a young lady (as the nuns would address us). Even after all these years I can still feel the smell of burning coal in the nuns’ quarters which had always left a warm feeling during the cold wintery mornings. Through my school, I saw Shillong, as a culturally rich society which respected its women like no other society in India could. The weekends would mean a small picnic to the nearby Golf links, or to stand on the bridge at Ward’s lake feeding the always hungry fish below. A visit from our relatives from the plains, would take us to Cherrapunjee and Mawsynram…… a place of pride for us. They would look in awe at the stately pines on both sides of the road at Upper Shillong that welcomed them to another world. It was as if we were showing off our trophies to them. How naive and childish of me to think that this was my place…something that I would learn the hard way later.
As I grew up, I realised there were unspoken walls, we belonged here but this place was not ours to be. Slowly the divide seeped in, the divide between a local and a migrant. They called us non-tribals and somewhere along the way, I was told in a lot of ways that this was not my place. Be it admission to my college, where the first preference was to a localite, or owning a piece of land. No, I couldn’t own one, as I was not a localite…so what if I was born here, so what if my upbringing and sensibilities spoke every bit of being a Shillongite, so what if I felt like an alien amidst my relatives in Delhi, whose culture and thought process was very different from mine. I was considered an outsider in Delhi too, as I came from somewhere else.
My father retired from work and we moved to Delhi.
Shillong, my place, as I would still like to remember it, lives in my memory……..I may not be able to claim to come from this place, anymore, but my heart belongs to it. Every time I go back to Shillong, I am looked upon as a tourist, but for me its homecoming.
Today, as I live in another city and people ask me where do I come from… I find that the most difficult question to answer………!!
—- By Shruti Gautam Baruah (Special pick for the theme ” City I Lived and Loved)
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