Daybreak in Shillong

September 11, Shillong

Hi there Charles,
How have you been? It’s been a while since I wrote to you. Well yes I never did write on paper which is just as well because I hate my handwriting. And thoughts are easier to edit on Microsoft Word. My ICQ is down, which is why I haven’t been online and chatting. Actually a good thing in a way I guess because I've just been called a towel-head in some crazy chat room I walked into by some crazy first-world woman with a point of view. How the hell could I tell her I grew up in Shillong, heard more Bob Dylan than all her English texts in Ohio put together, that I have a Christian pet name simply because my now dead aunt thought the word was cute, that I still want to some day hang out in a Chicago bar, drink beer and freak on some real Black music? And that I don’t go flying planes into buildings? Guess all Asians are the same for them... like tribals and ‘chinkies’. Yes, that’s what you’d get called these days by many of our coloured natives especially in the ‘metros’. People seem to be in this perpetual state of funk.
Know what Charlie, Bhupen Hazarika is still alive. He still sings his Manuhe manuhor baabe, the melody of which is based on Paul Robson's Old man river. He’s got a Hindi version too these days, and also a Japanese. Guess that would make at least 15 versions in all, including Nagamese. And he still ends his concerts with Robson’s We are in the same boat brother. Guess what, the man’s also got a new fan these days: Ritwick, my sister's four-year-old kid. They’re still in Shillong, with the older one in class 6 in where else, Edmund’s. Also we still have my father's collection of Bhupen Hazarika's 45 rpm records (yes, try asking kids these days what rpm means).
Speaking of Shillong, it’s still a nice place. Only it’s different in the sense that now the HNLC (that’s the Hynniewtrep National Liberation Council) has Kalashnikovs and are using them. Remember when I’d gone from The Sentinel to cover the riots in Shillong? Here’s something I didn’t have the occasion to file: remember BB Lyngdoh, who was the chief minister then? I’d asked him about MULA, the Meghalaya United Liberation Front, which was then a fledgling organisation (I don’t know what’s happened to it since, its been more than 10 years now). And guess what Lyngdoh says, something like “We Khasis have two mulas, one we sit on, the other we eat.” Wonder what he’ll say now. So much for the Scotland of the East. But tell you what, for all our calling them Khasias, they’ve managed to not just save their land (remember the law they’d passed in the seventies barring non-tribals from buying land in Shillong? It seems to have worked wonders) but also taken over quite a few businesses in Shillong. In an agrarian economy just what could be better? You simply must check out Laitumkhrah the next time you’re here. And try this: more and more industrial units now prefer to set up shop in Byrnihaat on the Meghalaya side of the border rather than Guwahati. Meghalaya’s repayment rate of loans given out by the North Eastern Development Finance Corporation, incidentally is well over 90 per cent.
And here’s what the Assamese have done in the same time: 35 per cent of the population of Assam now comprises Bangladeshis say the papers, and our middle-class is still driving auto-rickshaws, and yes, still without meters. Couldn’t expect much with one chief minister deciding to maintain “communal harmonium” (that’s what he told reporters at the Calcutta airport after the Babri Masjid demolition) and the other belonging to the Congress, which is hell-bent on turning Assam into Dhaka. They’re even fighting the All Assam Student Union in the Supreme Court to keep the IMDT Act (that’s the one that by default provides Bangladeshis with citizenship in Assam). Bangladeshis won’t ever get to Sonia’s Milan, and the rest simply don’t care. There’s one thing though, actually two: West Bengal now has lakhs of Bangladeshis according to its chief minister, and so is the case with Delhi. Whether we like it or not, I guess it’s a matter of time before Narendra Modis have to happen, in Delhi, West Bengal and the North-east. That is acceptable terrorism I guess.
Trouble is Charlie that we couldn’t break bread with the Modis either, because from what we’ve seen, letting them in would also mean going and breaking mosques with the Bajrang Dal. This region does not have a problem with Muslims, which is what it has made out to be by all including the government of the day here in the state. The point is that when 99 per cent of the people of Bangladesh are Muslims, who would you expect to cross over the borders into India? It’s a problem that this region will never get over. Which is why I keep telling friends that the only party that could possibly really represent us would have to be the East of Right of Centre Party of the North-east. Because we’ve tried out everyone else.
And the more I see of September 11 on television, the more worried I get. There are reports of Pakistan’s Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) now operating in the North-east through operatives in Bangladesh and Assam. Some of their people have been picked up by the police here. And yet the government here, in Kolkata and the Congress everywhere refuse to see the problem. So much for their nationalism, and my being a towel-head.
So how are things in Canada Charlie? 9/11 must have been terrifying. An American woman came to Imphal last year for the anniversary. She’d been married to a Manipuri in New York, where he lost his life in the attacks. She was here with their son for the ceremonies. She said she’s like to carry on with her husband’s work of setting up a bridge between the east and the west. Hope she succeeds. With her coming to Manipur the attacks somehow came closer home than ever before.
It still rains hard in Shillong Charlie. You got to try this some time: looking up into the rain at night. It’s amazing-like looking into the depths of the ocean. It’s something I’ve done since I was a child in Shillong. The only thing that comes close to it is sitting near the sea on a dark night, something I used to do at the Worli sea-face in Mumbai once in a way. I did it again the last time I went to Shillong after maybe a year or so. After dinner at home, I stood out in the rain but somehow I couldn’t close my eyes looking up into the darkness, Charlie, I just couldn’t. Guess it shouldn’t happen at our age but it did. You know what really scares me about 9/11? That it’s just 9/11, and doesn’t need a year to go with it. Do take care Charlie. Hopefully, we’ll meet. And maybe we can eat some momos and get a drink in Kalsang, like before.
With love,