SHILLONG’S PECULIAR CULTURES

By Barnes Mawrie

Shillong has earned many names in the last few decades. First it was known as “Scotland of the East” a title which it no longer deserves due to its faded beauty and charm. Then it is called the “Education city” of North-east India, a title which it still holds on to. Of late it is called “Rock City” of North-east India for the sole reason that it has become the preferred venue for many national and international rock concerts. However, this unique city possesses some of the most peculiar cultures one can imagine. These are unfortunately, not so positive cultures which one would desire to have. Instead they are destructive by nature and the city would be better off without them. Let me list down a few of these cultures.

            First of all, there is a culture of “speed breakers” which manifests itself in every nook and corner of the city. Some localities like Mawlai, Mawkhar, Jaïaw or Lum-mawbah, are notorious for a large number of speed-breakers. What is more perplexing is the fact that every time a road is repaired (which takes place once a year in most cases), a few more speed-breakers are added. It looks like every family on the roadside has the birthright to claim for a speed-breaker. Sometimes in a stretch of road of less than 100 metres, you find not less than 5 speed-breakers. So if Shillong is to earn another name, it would be called a “City of speed-breakers.”

            The second interesting culture of Shillong is the “culture of road digging” or “road excavation.” Invariably, whenever a road receives a face-lift, within a day or two someone would dig it up. In most cases, the PHE or the village authority would dig up the water pipelines, either because they are leaking or because they want to remove or lay new pipelines. Thus many a times, an immaculately repaired road would have to bear the brunt of such reckless excavations. It looks like there are no rules to check or put a stop to such a destructive behaviour. Why can’t the PHE and the PWD work together to find a practical solution to this permanent issue? In a particular part of the road in Mawlai adjacent to the Presbyterian cemetery, there is a perennial leakage of pipelines and every time the road is repaired, it is damaged by the pipelines. The PHE or the village authority seems to be short of ideas to find a permanent solution to this problem.

            The third culture of our city, is the culture of “unrestricted decorative lights” on automobiles. There are so many car owners who take pride in decorating their vehicles with fancy lights of every hue and kind. It looks like there is a competition between one owner and the others to put up as many fancy lights as possible. In the night, these lights pose a great danger to other drivers especially those on two wheelers. Many times LED lights are used and the glare that they emit can blind the drivers coming from the opposite side and cause accidents. This causes also what we call today “photo pollution” which is as hazardous to health as air pollution. Strange that the authorities concerned have no rule in place to curb this aberration.

            The fourth culture, is again related to automobiles. This is a culture of “oversized tyres.” This is a crazy culture which has emerged lately and it is catching up with the youth hailing from well-to-do families. There is a sort of unreasonable pride in displaying such automobile freaks. Again this is also a dangerous culture as it can confuse other drivers especially at night. These protruding tyres can escape the attention of the other drivers in the dark and can lead to fatal accidents. In a city like Shillong where roads are exceptionally narrow, these oversized tyres cause more congestion. Again, can the authority concerned not do anything about this?

            The next culture is again related to the usage of automobile accessories, namely, music system. Families living by the roadside in the city’s locality often complain of frequent man-made earthquakes caused by moving vehicles with loud pounding music. Here again there seems to be a competition between young people to have the loudest and deepest bass music system in their vehicles. They appear to be forgetful about the noise pollution they are causing to people around and the nuisance they bring to society.

            Another peculiar culture of our city, typically of Khasi people, is the display of “abstract art” in public. By this I mean the careless rubbing of lime on walls and public places and the red spittle of those who eat kwai. It is enough to go to MUDA parking lot or to Garikhana Jeep Stand, to witness this type of art in abundance. Unfortunately, it is not the kind of art that people would admire, nay, they would be appalled by it. It is a display of an unhygienic habit, a disrespect for public places and a manifestation of a lack of good manners and civic sense.

            Well, Shillong seems to be the city of “permissiveness” and “tolerance” for such adverse cultures which in turn have tarnished her image in the eyes of the world. Today it has become one of the dirtiest cities in India and with all these negative cultures, the city’s credibility and respectability are diminishing. I hope someday our people will realize the need to become more responsible and more sensitive to the feelings of others. It is time that we let go these negativities and start doing something constructive.