ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Shillong Redux

Remembering the tensions, insecurities and fears of a past in Shillong rife with racial and cultural stereotypes stirs up contending and contentious memories.

I recently sat down to rest at the side of the Shillong Centenary Monument, the one opposite the State Central Library. Next to me was an old Bengali man who was drunk. We started talking about the town and past incidents—meaning, he started talking and I tried to decipher what he was saying. What little I could comprehend painted a picture of Shillong that I cannot truly imagine today. He spoke about how Police Bazaar looked back in the day, maybe similar to how parts of Laban or Mawkhar still are today; how the governor’s residence appeared then, without today’s road and walls; he talked about personalities long since departed; he described the geography and history of the place with the warmth of a gifted narrator.

Nonetheless, there were some things I found hard to accept. The main one was his assertion that the communities of various localities never had any problems amongst themselves prior to the anti-Assamese language protests in the 1950s. We know that many different communities once lived together in areas that are today considered strictly tribal or non-tribal neighbourhoods. Areas like Mawkhar, Mawprem and Mawlai once had fairly large non-tribal populations. Today only a few such families or individuals (who had already integrated fairly well into the area) call these places home.

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