There is this spot in Shillong, close to the IIM campus in Nongthymmai, where I went whenever I felt any extreme emotion. On many a quiet afternoon, I’ve sat at the spot and watched the sun go down and take my anger with it. I’ve watched the sky change colours and let my sadness choose its hues from its palette. I’ve let my lighter thoughts move with wisps of clouds and on other days, I’ve allowed the darker ones to be washed away by unexpected showers. The spot, at the top of a steep lane with rows of houses on either side afforded a clear view of the hills in the distance. There was no uniformity about the houses in that lane. The colour of their walls, the shapes of their windows, the make of their fences, the slant of their roofs were as different from one to the other as people in real life are different from one another. It was a lane full of houses with character. Each dwelling held its own. These were not houses whose individualities had been tamed in order to be allowed a number in a row in a gated society, no. They seemed to have settled down on either side of the lane out of their own free will. Perhaps these haphazard, proud structures shared a taste for the view much the same way that I did.
I do not know if having made this decision of settling down there the houses or the people who built them felt at home in the lane.
Once, I caught sight of a girl reading a book in a verandah in one of the houses. Its walls were a pastel shade of orange and it had a bright red iron door. “What are you reading?” I asked her. “Shakespeare” she answered, “I have an exam coming up.” She informed me that she was in school and would make up her mind about college only after the exams. I did not ask what work of Shakespeare’s she was reading, or if she liked it. It somehow made me content to know that in that lane full of houses with character, lived a girl called Mary (yes, that was her name) who sat and read Shakespeare and was prepared to not give any thought to the question of college until it became an absolute necessity.
Another time, I had made myself comfortable on the raised platform under the window of a house when suddenly the panes rattled and from behind the wire-mesh screen with a small cut-out at the bottom, like at a ticket counter, a small store opened up to the world. It sold momos and soup and lemon tea and biscuits. As the woman behind the counter acknowledged my presence with an expressionless glance, I mumbled a sorry and walked away. She stood there, stoic, in her jainsem, her jaws working away the khwai that stained her lips, awaiting her first customer. In a lane with no sign boards but a splendid view of the hills, stood a shop with its windows open to the world.
The lane also played host to passers-by, of course. It was not a private lane, nor was it dingy, it was steep, but it was inhabited after all, and there was no reason for it to not have passers-by. Not all of them were of the nosy, lingering variety like me, however. School children walked by without so much as looking at the surrounding hills, chatting away amongst themselves. Women carrying cans of water ambled up the steep incline, absorbed in the effort. Groups of young boys, sporting snug skull caps and loose-barely-clinging-to-their-waists denims walked by, leaving the traces of a whistled tune behind them. The lane was not a busy one, but its footfall was not disappointing by any standards, in both – number and variety.
Amidst its houses, its view, its shops-in-windows and its passers-by, I was often a curious addition.
I was not stationed there long enough to belong, but I was no passer-by either. The lure of the view, my haphazard thoughts and my own individuality, however half-baked or misshapen it was, sought to claim a permanent address on that lane. It didn’t have a name, but my thoughts had decided to call it home. In the brief period when I lived in the city of Shillong, they pulled me there in person any number of times. I moved to a new city. No hills, no Mary reading Shakespeare in the verandah of an orange house with a red door. Uniformity. A lot of it. In houses. In people. In days. All of this accompanied by long absences of any and all kinds of thought from my mind, leading to a uniformity of another kind – of boredom, from everyday life. It is only now that I realise that unbounded by time and space, when they go missing, they must be there. At home. Unpacking. Dispensing sadness in colours, washing darkness in the rain, watching anger burn out with the sun and swaying giddily to the tunes of leftover tunes whispered by the winds that have been breathed in by the hills. My thoughts go to a beautiful place when they leave me. I can’t complain, I’d do the same any minute, given a choice.