Book Review: People Called Shillong – 50 Stories from the Khasi Hills
Shillong and the North-East travels have been eluding me for long. I often see my friends posting photos on Social Media of their trip to Shillong or the exotic locations they discover as dwellers there. And rightfully, as an avid traveller, I feel disillusioned that we have not been to the ‘Scotland of East ‘, just yet!
So, when I was offered a chance to read and review a copy of the book People Called Shillong, I just grabbed the opportunity. The review of People Called Shillong has been long pending owing to work commitments but then finally, here it is….
Book Review: People Called Shillong
After the success of People Called Mumbai and People Called Ahmedabad, we travel to Shillong. It is one of the important cities in the Northeast India-with a history of transformation from tribal hills to a colonial summer capital to the present day education hub. A hospitable and picturesque city, nestled in the Khasi hills, with all trappings that make it a ‘go-to hill station’, is so much more than the language of clichés. It provides us with a perfect setting for our third book in the series – People Called Shillong.
People Called Shillong intends to capture the geography and the textures transcending beyond the cliches. 50 stories capturing the heartbeat, the life and times of this city in Khasi hills, with an aim to provide a re-reading and an intimate one!
Title of the Book
The name ‘Shillong’ evokes an imagery of azure skies, fluffy cloud-kissed mountains, salubrious surroundings, deep lush green valleys and tranquillity encompassing the travellers who visit her. Often, we as tourists and travellers are envious of the residents dwelling in such heavenly hill stations and places. Very conveniently, forgetting the everyday challenges of residents and local people, the long treks and hikes children often undertake to reach their schools, the traditions that are at the brink of extinction, the insecurities that the hill-tribes are often compelled to face and so on.
The book ‘People Called Shillong’ puts forth exactly these often ignored aspects. A beautiful place like Shillong or for that matter any place shall seem lack-lustred without positive and exuberant people, their culture and traditions, their beliefs, their music, their folklore, the local food etc., and I guess the book is therefore aptly titled ‘People Called Shillong’. I firmly believe that People maketh Places!
I am glad that the book cover illustrates two women with the traditional conical Khasi basket on their backs rather than the Cherry Blossoms or a scenic landscape that is so synonymous with Shillong.
The book People Called Shillong is an anthology, a compilation of 50 stories by 15 different authors, a flavoursome dish made of contrasting ingredients generously contributed by travellers, local people, adding varied perspectives to a place called ‘Shillong’.
Language and Narration Style
The language used in the book is lucid, simple and conversational. The narrative style is such that a reader feels that she/he is actually listening to the stories while communicating, sitting face-to-face with the People of Shillong.
Here is a sneak peek into a handful of wonderful people and heart-warming stories from the book -People Called Shillong, which may not be found anywhere else:
- The ‘Cave of Marai’ or the daughter of the deity ‘Shyllong’ from the Chapter ‘Tale of Interpretations’ wherein Badaplin War, a Professor and Dean shares wonderful folklore of the Khasi people.
- Kit, the songwriter and vocalist from the ‘Summersalt’ band that collaborated with Shankar-Ehsan –Loy on Rock On 2. He shares an interesting snippet about his village Sohra in Cheerapunji wherein he says, “When a baby is born, from the age of three months till three years-the mother sings a heart song to the baby.This song is unique to each child’! Read such interesting snippets and anecdotes in the chapter ‘A Relationship with Music’.
- How Bhoot Jolokia or Ghost Pepper can also be made delectable and enjoyable all the while calling it the ‘Atom Bomb’. This courtesy –Munish Singh who associates chillies with happiness! Munish Singh commences his day with a ‘Food walk’ in Bara Bazar of Shillong and ends his evening at his wife’s restaurant ‘Phunga’. Know more about him, about Khasi food and the Raja Mircha in ‘Conversation around a Phunga’ of the book.
- Read about how Dorbar Hima was held after a gap of a hundred years in 2000, the political conflicts and tribal kings in ‘Tribal King and the Traditional Movements’! After all, politics and people cannot be separated.
- Be inspired by reading about Patricia Mukhim who started her career as a school teacher with a paltry sum of Rs.170/- as salary and went on to become the Editor of ‘The Shillong Times’ and a Padmashri recipient- in the story ‘An Activist at Heart’ and also about Professor Kakoty in ‘A deep love for his domicile’
- Mountains and Ghost stories go hand in hand. They add spice to the eerie yet beautiful hills and valleys. So, read about the dead spirit of dwarves residing in the caves of the Wahingdoh and Riatsamthiah hills from the mouth of Uncle Rain in ‘The Haunted Valley’! Intriguing for sure.
- Have a smile on your face reading ‘Ironical Meat’ while knowing how Donbok Warjiri inherited the art of cleanliness and a meat shop from his mother.
- Add colours to your life reading ‘Say it with Flowers‘ and enlighten yourself reading the journey of an organic Tea in ‘An Awakening’!
— meenakshi j iyer (@polkajunction) December 10, 2017
This is just a sneak peek at a handful of People called Shillong. I wished the copy sent to me had more stories and me for once did not want the book to end. It kept me intrigued and captivated with its illustrations, narrations and anecdotes by People called Shillong. The only chapter that I could not enjoy or interpret was ‘Tribal King and the Traditional Movements’, out of the ten that were sent to me. I found it a bit too confusing. I am re-reading it with some parallel help from the Wiki!
If not for books like People Called Shillong, we as readers may just tap the keyboard to get us listicles of ‘Top 10 things to do in Shillong’ or ‘Fun things to do in Meghalaya’ as search results on the internet just before a trip to these places. And, may never know about the core aspects that make a place like Shillong ‘beautiful’ and livable in the real sense.
Do grab a copy to know more and experience a familiarization trip to Shillong in the truest sense!
I give this book a rating of 4.5/ 5!
Click here to buy the book People Called Shillong.Alternately, you may like to visit the website https://www.thepeopleplaceproject.com to know more about the project, Nisha Nair Gupta– the curator and the authors of this book!
You may read my other book reviews here: