It has only just begun to sink in that I am no longer going to be living in Shillong. When I first went there, I would step out of classrooms, subconsciously expecting to walk into the noisy buzz of Park Street. Having attended classes for three years in a building located in that bustling street of Calcutta, my mind would prepare itself to be assaulted by blaring horns and a sea of people sweating the dreary paths to their destinations. However, gently, by the sway of pine trees and sometimes brightly, with the mad colours of its skies, Shillong would remind me that I had left those days far behind – in both time and miles. Now, back again in the viscous heat of Calcutta, the same subconscious part of my brain laments the absence of the gently rolling hills, my eyes bereave the dusty concrete which has replaced the lush greenery and my heart threatens to stop beating in protest. I long to go back.
Shillong is in the hills but it is quite different from the regular hill station even if no two hill stations are exactly alike. Its woods exist in surprising harmony with its traffic jams. The little brooks that still run through it, untamed, waiting to be discovered in neighbourhoods that are not advertised in tourist booklets, add a musical crackle to the emergent urbanity of its sound-scape. Sunlight filters through its trees and falls magnificently on the many chic and confident women who inhabit the city. Often, pictures and selfies taken in such flattering light are the ones for which Instagram intended the use of the hashtag ‘nofilter’. As indeed these pictures are often tagged, both by the ever-growing student community that Shillong attracts thanks to the presence of one NIFT, one NIT, one IIM and numerable other reputable missionary schools, and by its own, local residents who seem to be far more tuned into social media than the rest of the country. And this is where the uniqueness of Shillong lies – for in spite of being thoroughly ‘commercialized’ as one is often wont to say, it holds a carefree, resilient beauty that refuses to go out. No matter how Police Bazaar expands to surreptitiously include areas of ‘Civil’ and of ‘Anjali’, which now houses a multiplex. No matter how realtors swoop down on its quaint houses one by one and turn their sloping roofs into unimaginative flats and apartments, just like in any other city.
Shillong bears witness to it all. It stands by as an observer and somehow, in some inexplicable way, it refuses to let its beauty diminish by participating in all the clamour. It may seem counter-logical to say so, for after all, Shillong is the backdrop, it is the place where these things are happening, the place to which these things are being done…
And yet, like a person from whom one could learn too much, Shillong refuses to block the view of the distant hills on a clear day, it refuses to stop whatever possessed artist who visits its skies from splashing it with iridescent colours during the day and decorating it with stars by night.
In spite of all that it witnesses, Shillong refuses to stop being itself. For, of course, someone might be looking up to it for inspiration right now, or perhaps just a little solace, a little courage, or some elusive introspection?