The friendly, neighbourhood spectre

“Get your clothes in from the line outside. And be quick about it! It’s getting dark”, implored Risa’s mother. A reluctant little figure soon dragged itself out to the yard. Risa had many reasons to be annoyed. She was barely able to navigate the daily perils of life as a teenager: challenging self-anointed queens in the school, dodging rowdy boys on her way back home, and preventing the onslaught of acne. Not only did she have to worry about what clothes to wear, but the additional burden of making sure she got to them first before the neighbours did! The April winds blew strong and cold as Risa held the rope with one hand and attempted to remove the clothes with the other. She quickly checked her clothes for any signs of sorcery—no snipped edges or suspicious holes—check! All okay. Risa cast a slightly damning eye at the windows in the house next door, whispering triumphantly to herself “I guess you won’t be sacrificing me to your snake anytime soon”. As she made her way inside, the winds grew stronger and the pine began to whistle. She darted inside and bolted the doors quickly.

Dinner bubbled cheerfully on the stove and soon enough, Risa was in a happier place. She always enjoyed dinner-table conversations with her mother and catching up on news about all their relatives who stayed outside Shillong. Her eyes lit up as she watched her mother place a generous portion of fried pork and bamboo shoot on top of a plate of rice. Risa loved pork! There was no meat in the world that was tastier. She had even contemplated having a little chat with the neighbors on eating pork more often. She thought it might make them a happier lot and subsequently less inclined to black magic.

“A’ai, when’s Ambi coming to Shillong?”, asked Risa between mouthfuls of food. Ambi lived 300 kilometres away in Garo Hills. Risa had never been there but she was very keen to visit. She had heard stories of its beauty: gushing waterfalls, churning blue-green rivers that ran along dense forests while people crossed those rivers on narrow, yet sturdy hanging bridges made of bamboo. “She should be here next month, my dear”, replied her mother as she tidied up the table slightly. “Has she seen any wild elephants make a crossing yet??”, burst out Risa. “I don’t think so. Elephants are the least of her worries” said her mother as she headed back to the kitchen. Risa nodded in agreement and proceeded to lick her plate and spoon clean.

Risa was soon sprawled on the sofa like a contented cat. Her gaze fell on the window and she watched the branches outside tap gently against the glass whenever the winds lifted them. She wondered what her uncles, and aunts were up to. Did they just have dinner too? Were they preparing to sleep? She then began to think of what her ancestors’ spirits were up to. Was there a wedding they had to attend? Would one of them get bored and try to wake up an unsuspecting relative? Her family was a crazy bunch. Juggling the eccentricities of the ones around as well as those who had passed on was a task sometimes.

Home both confused and enthralled her. She laughed silently at how the scores of smoke-spewing vehicles must be making life very difficult for the mysterious lady in white on the highway. How on earth did she keep her clothes clean? Do people even see her through diesel-infused smog or the bright flames of a candlelit church? Oddly, this phenomenon didn’t create confusion or chaos. The murmurs of a world largely unseen but mostly felt, heard, and discussed seemed to answer more questions than those it raised. There was a strange comfort in contradictions.

“You should sleep soon, Risa”, said her mother. “Try and get a little studying done when you wake up in the morning”. Risa smiled, kissed her mother good night, and headed for the best bed in the world! Tomorrow was another long day at school. Somebody needed to take down that bully Lauren once and for all. “And if I don’t succeed, I’m sure something will eventually”, she mused in glee and drifted off into the waiting arms of the night.

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The Old Neighbourhood| Shillong. As soon as the sun set, I’d stay away from these beautiful, deserted streets. The objective was twofold:  avoid ghosts high up in the trees, as well as drunkards – high as a kite.

 

 

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Umiam Lake | Shillong
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Mawphlang | East Khasi Hills
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Monoliths: Symbols of Remembrance – Mawphlang |East Khasi Hills
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The Sacred Grove | Mawphlang, East Khasi Hills : A site of cultural and historical importance where trees have not been cut for over 800 years. Even plucking a twig or bringing back a rock is supposed to bring misfortune.

 

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These buses were quintessentially Shillong and such a central part of my life growing up! They’re used primarily for transporting people from different villages to Shillong, along with produce to sell at Iewduh – the city’s largest market. More importantly for the 10-year-old me, they were the only buses that took a direct route to school. I’d hop onto one every morning, share my kwai (paan) stained seat with a sack of potatoes, and chug my way to school. Happy days!

 

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ML-05 Cafe | Upper Shillong: Having an ML-05  or Shillong registration on your car’s plate is a badge of honour. It almost sings Shillong as you cruise down or up the streets! The ML-05 cafe in Upper Shillong celebrates our love for food, bikes, cars, and what is every Shillong teenager’s rite of passage – the long drive out-of-town.
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Picture of a woman crossing a hanging bridge across the Simsang river in East Garo Hills. Crossing these bridges was always an adventure, especially with my grand aunt – who was probably my first role model as a traveller and adventurer. The bridge didn’t scare me as much as the eels that reportedly called this river home. Image Credits: Don Bosco Centre for Indigenous Cultures | Shillong
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The Shillong Golf Course. Or for us plebeians – Sunday picnic spot!
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My sister walking our (late) baby brother Leo on the Golf Course.
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Forest walks. The happiness is palpable

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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