Title: Shillong Times
Author: Nilanjan P. Choudhury
Publisher: Speaking Tiger
Price: Rs 350
Debu was 14 when he first heard the word ‘dkhar’. And when he enquired with his father about its meaning, he was told that it was a Khasi word for a foreigner. All this was happening in Shillong in the 1980s when teenager Debu had yet to experience his many firsts while Mr and Mrs Dutta were still unware of what was in store for them in coming days. Shillong Times: A Story of Friendship and Fear by Nilanjan Choudhry makes for an interesting read from the word go.
Imagine you were born and brought up in a particular town, scripting every single day a beautiful page of memories to be read once you grow up. And just when you are old enough to understand the pleasures of growing up and responsibilities of future, you are told that you never belonged here in the first place. You are an outsider. How can you pack all the attachments and relations that you build over the years and just move out, just because some people want you to do so? Debu and his parents are compelled to go through the same dilemma, just because they are a Bengali-speaking family amidst the natives of hilly Shillong, during the rising tensions between the Khasi and Bengali communities.
Besides his parents, Debu’s world revolves around two Khasi friends, Clint Eastwood Lyngdoh and Audrey Pariat. From his first slip of hard drink to the feel nervousness seeing the coolest, prettiest girl in town, a teenager in Debu had experienced it all because of these two. But as we often say that things don’t remain the same always, it was the case with Shillong too.
From dreams of embarking upon many adventures to making one’s own identity comes crashing down. So much so that mere survival in the otherwise peaceful town of Shillong now becomes a priority. Escalating tensions between both the communities take toll on Debu’s friendship with Clint and Audrey. On the other hand, a respected old time pharmacist Mr Dutta now becomes a traitor within his own community. With nowhere to go, the Dutta family finds themselves in a fix. Will they be driven away from their own land and people with whom they lived for several decades? What will happen to Debu’s future? Will he too have to let go all that he had garnered while growing up?
Every chapter unfolds a new dimension to the story, which makes the book even more interesting. Seeing it form every person’s perspective and narrating the tale in closest reality possible, the author has done a fabulous job by not breaking the flow at any given point. Till the very last page, Shillong Times remains a story of everyone. No wonder they say that family isn’t always blood. It’s the people in your life who want you in theirs; the ones who accept you for who you are. The ones who would do anything to see you smile and love you no matter what. Shillong Times is just about that!