After People Called Mumbai and People Called Ahmedabad, we travel to Shillong. One of the important cities in Northeast India, Shillong has a complex history of transformation from tribal hills to a Colonial summer capital to the present day education hub that it is. A hospitable and picturesque city nestled in the Khasi hills, with all trappings that make it a 'go-to hill station', the city is so much more than the clichés often describing it. The capital of Meghalaya is the perfect setting for our third book in the series. People Called Shillong intends to capture the geography and the textures transcending beyond the clichés. Fifty stories attempt to capture the heartbeat, the life and times of this city in Khasi hills, provide a re-reading and an intimate one!
The People Place Project is a publication initiative by Design Variable that chronicles the life and times we live in. Through a lens of people and places, it hopes to pin together the narratives of how we have come to be here - our language, our thoughts, our attire, our structures and everything that defines what we are.
Nisha Nair-Gupta is the founder and principal curator at The People Place Project. With varied work experience as an architect, journalist and an active participant in public art initiatives, she oscillates between her two interests of design and writing.
India is many Indias. Diverse and distinct. This has been said so many times, yet we fail to understand or encompass what lies within this distinctness. Often we overlay our own version of Indianess over other countrymen, assuming we have understood them and their cultures. There is nothing incorrect with this method one may say. Doesn't every nation have a dominant theory summarising it's diversities? Isn't a dominant ideology a part of nation-building? Perhaps. But the folly of the dominant cultures has been that it does not learn from its brothers and sisters. In the hurry to impose frameworks, existing narratives and structures tend to be easily overlooked. Perhaps this haste comes from the lack of knowledge, a lack of contact with the lived experience and a lack of connectivity to the people who make up these places and cultures. And this is why we often fail to empathise with our many Indias. With our third book People Called Shillong, we have travelled from the West to the East, beyond the chicken's neck, to a city nestled in the Khasi hills. A city that exemplifies one of the many Indias! With a population of over 5 lakhs Shillong is one of the important cities in Northeast India and the capital of Meghalaya; with a complex history of transformation from tribal hills to a colonial summer capital to the present day educational hub. For city slickers whose eyes have been accustomed to accommodating the grey concrete landscapes, the omnipresent nature in a cityscape can be disorienting. A warm and hospitable city, the undulating terrain, inescapable vistas from vantage points, cafes bustling with music and people in smart jackets, market roads thronging with women in jainkyrshah — all perhaps aid to the language of cliches. Trappings of a `go-to hill station' and our tourist glasses! But as we delve in, as the `Shillongites' would swear by, the city is so much more than that.
So, what makes the city tick? And what makes it live and breathe? What defines its landscape, geography and textures? The answer is always 'the people'. Their attitudes, their way of life, their aspirations, beliefs, shifts, routines, negotiations, angst, dreams and conflicts. People Called Shillong intends to capture these textures transcending beyond cliches. The 50 stories capturing the heartbeat, the life and times of this city in the Khasi hills, aims to provide a re-reading; and an intimate one! It hopes to forge a relationship for the reader as much as it did for its writers. The book has 15 writers who have sifted the city for stories. Of these are eight call the city their home, three who have had temporal but lasting relation with the city and four who were visiting writers last winter. The range of perspective offered by these varying degrees of engagement with Shillong makes the book unique and a rich reading. Their writings have diverse styles, are introspective and inquisitive. What is more, they are intimate. Having captured a vignette of the place through each story, they come together to form the collective narrative of the city.
Where did the writers find their stories? Often in the everyday. They are the people at the cafes, corridors of institutions, on the streets running the old markets, busy within the office buildings and even the homes and neighbourhoods, both quaint and new Thus capturing an array of stories — of the folklores and a folklorist, stories of businesses and entrepreneurship, some spectacular women who make the city tick, a writer for whom the city is a muse, a professor who indulges us in the history of not only the city, but that of the Northeast, some intriguing insights into the sport and gambling called Teen a restaurant owner who takes us on his personal journey of food, cuisine and discovery of culture, another food trail in the bustling markets of Police Bazaar for local home-made snacks and more. There are stories of music, of how deeply it is entrenched in the landscape of this city — from the Shillong Chamber Choir to the band Summersalt to a music entrepreneur Jason Manners — each of them have stories that interpret music and the city in their own ways. Each of these stories not only capture their personal journeys, but also the city's.
At The People Place Project, the book People Called Shillong is special, as it not only connected us with a new place and its people, but has also made many of us reflect on the nuances of our own cultures and histories. It threw open questions of our own understanding of the nation and its various entities. As writers, of course, the process of conversing with the protagonists and then translating their story in words is intimate and inspiring. However even as editors and readers, the process of engaging with a place through the medium of stories is equally stimulating. We realise once more, it is indeed about taking that pause, exercising your abilities to listen and finally, to reflect! It is only this act of reflection that will make us truly appreciate and understand our diversities. And in turn we hope to have a world of empathy and peace.
On this philosophical note, we hope you enjoy People Called Shillong as much as we enjoyed putting together this beautiful anthology.
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