Nilanjan P Choudhury’s latest novel ‘Shillong Times – A story of Friendship and Fear’ is indeed a tale of friendship and fear in Shillong, the capital city of pristine Meghalaya.
Shillong, oft referred to as the Scotland of the East had witnessed ugly sporadic incidents of ethnic violence in the 80s involving local Khasi populace and the ‘non-locals’ or rather non-tribal people staying in Shillong since ages, much before the state of Meghalya was carved out of Assam in 1972.
These ‘non-locals’ colloquially called as ‘dkhars’ used to have a close and binding relationship with their Khasi friends and acquaintances till the advent of the decade of 80s.
Things changed and Shillong transformed, metamorphosing into a place of suspicion and distrust.
People no longer felt free to move around the places, confining themselves to the pockets that they used to dwell.
The author beautifully brings out the nostalgia growing up in Shillong during that decade that witnessed a futile war over who to reside and who not to in that slice of heaven that many poets, lyricists, artistes and lovers of nature eulogized and immortalized in their creative works.
The novel is also a moving story of friendship that transcends the barriers of communities.
Humour transcends into profound insight of the lives and times in Shillong during the 80s and the author makes a subtle and genuine attempt to touch the hearts of the readers, both those who know Shillong then and now and also of those for whom Shillong is still an illusion.
The synopsis itself gives a glimpse of the life and times of Shillong during the 80s decade when ‘political connections are required to get a phone connection’ and owning a Bajaj Chetak scooter was the status symbol.
Notably, two-wheelers were alien for Shillongites and only the early 80s that a select few tried their hands on a two-wheeler in the narrow serpentine lanes of Shillong.
It was the time when Shillongites were subjected to watch television mostly on a black and white ‘wooden box’ featuring only Doordarshan.
In this backdrop, the novel tells a story of 14-year-old Debojit Dutta who meets a relatively older Clint Eastwood Lyngdoh, during his mathematics tuition classes.
Debojit or fondly called Debu takes a step forward while taking two steps backward towards befriending Clint, a cigarette smoking guy who also often smells of whisky.
Reason, he had a rather unwelcome encounter with a gang of ‘locals’ who had threatened him to deport to Bangladesh.
Jacob’s ladder or a walk along the Lachumiere- Laithmukhrah road touching St Anthony’s College, the school till the Don Bosco Square sets the perfect opening for a novel set in Shillong.
Debu finally befriends affable Clint.
But for Clint it was a barter – for doing his maths homework, Clint introduces Debu to a brave new world – the heady charms of Kalsang, the Chinese restaurant forbidden by Debu’s mother; the revolutionary sounds of Pink Floyd; and most importantly, Audrey Pariat – the coolest girl in town.
Adventure time starts for the awesome threesome that it was short lived.
Tension brew between the ‘local’ Khasi and the ‘outsiders’ Bengali and as the novelists puts it, ‘Shillong becomes a battlefield where old neighbours become outsiders and the limits of friendship are challenged’.
Nilanjan, who debuted into fiction writing with his very first novel, ‘Bali and the Ocean of Milk’ drowns the readers into the turbulent lives of Debu, his friends and his family, and their attempts to ‘find love and belonging in the troubled hills of Shillong’.