When heat became hard to beat with fresh drink and fan To cool myself, hastily to Shillong I ran Where pine-decked hills and deep dark…
Author: Bengt G. Karlsson
Professor at Department of Social Anthropology, Stockholm University. He is the author of Unruly Hills, one most remarkable books on contemporary political history of Meghalaya.
Karlsson’s main research interest relate to the larger issue of society-environment interface, with particular focus on the politics of ethnicity and environment in India. Most recently he is working on two larger projects, one dealing with indigenous migration in Northeast India (together with Dolly Kikon at Melbourne University. The second project relates to mobile professionals with the international aid industry.
An aspect that I have come to associate with Shillong is nostalgia; a longing for a city that once was. This relates to the colonial past, when the city was less populated, greener and cleaner, but also to a more recent postcolonial past. Among middle-aged people – those I mainly socialise with – this longing is mainly for the city of their youth; a city prior to violence and protests, a peaceful and friendly place where you go to meet a friend or watch a movie late in the evening without fear. But as many of my interlocutors lament, this ended in the 1980s with increasing ethnic conflicts, curfews, rallies and underground activities. The past – the 1960s and 70s – appears as a time of innocence, freedom and possibilities in a world that was opening up. While I suppose it is a universal feature to cling to memories of the formative period of one’s youth, Shillongites seem especially besieged by a nostalgic mood, a collective commemoration of the past. That life for many in the city has improved materially doesn’t seem to alter such cravings for the city that once was.