While watching 83 the film at a multiplex in Kolkata a friend and I were reminiscing stories we had heard about the final from our parents. We were of course too young to remember anything about the iconic run the Indian team had, but we could recollect the stories. For me, these stories were of course about the game of cricket and brand India but they were also about Shillong. In 1983, there were not too many TV sets in the then sleepy town of Shillong. So I remember my father telling me about how his friends and colleagues had come over to our home in Jail Road and they had watched the match for some time.
For any child who has seen Shillong of the 80s and 90s, the memories are so different from the Shillong of today that it seems almost unreal, a leaf out of the book of fiction. My earliest memories of Jail Road revolve around the TV set, much like the day the finale match. Those were the days of Doordarshan and probably a film would be telecast on Sunday evenings. Few neighbours would come along and even though I was too young to watch a film I enjoyed the presence of so many people, the laughter, and the warmth that filled our home. Two furry friends of our neighbours would also come along. Like me, they weren’t interested in the film and wouldn’t bother anyone watching the film. I remember they’d dutifully sit in the veranda and maybe keep a watch as everyone also around them would be engrossed in the movie. During the interval, my mother would make tea and feed the dogs with some biscuits. Sometimes there’d be a power cut and all the elders would just sit and chat for hours. If the electricity was restored, they’d watch the film again, if not they’d just chat and eventually go home, some complaining about not being able to watch the film again.
Those were also the days when there’d be regional language films on Doordarshan every Sunday. No one had dreamt of OTT in the 80s and therefore I remember my parents would be excited every time it was the turn of the letter ‘B’. Some weeks they were lucky. On others, there was a powercut.
Eventually, every house around us got their own TV sets. But the feeling of a neighborhood or community continued to be as strong as it was earlier. Houses in the 80s didn’t have too many gates and fences. And so if we had to go from one house to another or take a shortcut to Polo, we would go through a neighbour’s house and they’d go through ours. The courtyards and gates were always open and yet everybody was safe. In grief and in joy people were always together and when the squash plants were full and it was time to pluck the produce. I remember we’d sent bags full to our neighbours and the years our plants just refused to stay green we’d get bags full from our neighbours. There was so much unadulterated joy in these simple acts. Now when vegetables are just a click away, it feels unreal that such a tiny vegetable would have so much power to connect households.
On the days of cricket matches, power cuts were absolute dampers and I remember neighbours talking turns to call the electric supply office. Sometimes the same person would call with two different accents.
A very important part of my childhood was of course my days as a student of Loreto Convent. And when we say ‘life was so simple then’, we might sound like really old people. But life indeed was. On school fetes, we’d get about 4-5 rupees and with that money, we’d feel like a princess for half of a day. The taxis in Shillong weren’t as popular as it is today. So we’d go by bus, including those that are vintage today and the signature of Shillong. The Volvos that run in cities today, air-conditioned and with comfortable seats will never probably feel like something you’d want to hold on to. But even today whenever I visit Shillong, I yearn to at least get a glimpse of the bus that is a free ride back to childhood.
Also, everyone that has ever studied in Loreto Convent would know the aloo muri that was sold outside school. Now street food is almost celebrated. There are festivals and every city has its favorites. But that’s a taste I’d never forget and also always revisit every time I am in town.
Or I yearn for a glimpse of the old Police Bazar. Was just a child when Kelvin Cinema and the shops around were gutted in a fire, but I remember the tiny shop around there that would cell peppermint lozenges and that was my treat from my mother. And then there were the paper stalls in Police Bazar, which are now housed in the shopping complex, but the feel of those tiny shops was so real and personal. When the new building was being constructed I remember I was in Shillong for a vacation. The university had probably closed for the summer break. And there I was standing there lamenting the old giving way to the new. A friend had said that is the development and maybe it is. It is also necessary. But quietly just like that things fade into memories and memories are eternal.
Like the houses of Shillong, maybe sleep was this easy to come by because of the lullaby the rain drops would sing on the asbestos roof tops. But after a point we’d be so parched for sunlight that the days when the sun was up it was almost a celeration. For someone who has laid her roots in a city at a much lower altitude, I am mostly parched for rain and that monotonous sound on my roof. Or the ‘planking’ that those houses had, where many games of hide and seek were played.
Its been two decades since I have shifted base. But everytime I eat an orange in the winter sun or a simple dry fish is cooked at home, I am in Shillong. Everytime I see the blue sky I am a child. Or every time a well baked biscuit is served my heart aches for Shillong. Shillong is homeland and identity and Muse for my stories and that sense of being privileged to have been born and raised in the town will always remain an important part of my identity.

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