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Born and educated in the Northeast, Delhi-based journalist Nirendra Dev went on to author ‘The Talking Guns: North East India,’ based on his first-hand experience of growing up in times of militancy. Here is an extract narrating his student days in Shillong

“This Shillong is no longer like those days,” cautioned an aunt of mine in the 1990s during my visit to the idyllic hill station and one-time education hub of the northeast. Shelly Kakimoni (aunt) and her family later moved out to the “peaceful” township of Siliguri in North Bengal. After a five-year stay as a student, including three years in St Anthony’s High School, I had left Shillong in February 1987. For me it was now a “different” Shillong within a span of four years.

In 1987, my father, an obstinate parent, had decided to put me in Kohima Science College, thinking that would easily fetch his eldest son an engineering seat. That was not to be. Anyway, my coming to Kohima left a salutary impact for my later baptism to journalism, a career that was to start with violence-hit days in the northeast, something my parents never approved of.

Meghalaya, the abode of clouds, became a full-fledged state on January 21, 1972. It is bounded on the north by Goalpara, Kamrup, Nagaon and Karbi Anglong districts of Assam and on the east by the districts of Cachar and North Cachar Hills, also of the state of Assam. On the south and west is Bangladesh. The total area of the state is 22,429 square kilometres with a population of around 20 lakh. The state is predominantly inhabited by the Khasis, the Jaintias amd the Garos. The state has a unicameral legislature comprising 60 members – 29 from Khasi hills, seven from Jaintia hills and 24 from Garo hills.

The principal languages are Khasi and Garo with English being the official language of the state. Khasi and Garo languages are also taught as one of the subjects of study up to the postgraduate level.

In 1987, while cricket fever had gripped the rest of India due to the Reliance Cup, Shillong was witnessing large scale violence, mostly on parochial lines. The Bengalis and Nepalis were at the receiving end of the anti-Dhwakhar (outsiders in Khasi) agitation.

After the moderate disturbance in late 1970s, Shillong or for that matter Meghalaya was limping back to normalcy, having kept the unfortunate events on the backburner.

My five-year stay between 1982 and 1986 hardly saw any such problems and Durga Puja or any festive celebrations passed off peacefully. Late night cultural functions were usual. The state library was the epicenter of all cultural programmes, science quizzes or Rabindranath Tagore quiz contests. Philanthropist organisations like Meghalaya Science Society, mostly run by Bengali and non-tribal science professors from Shillong-based colleges, started a path breaking journey in inculcating scientific bent among youngsters.

Walking along the streets during the evening hours with friends- both boys and girls- from the commercial hub of ‘Police Bazaar’ to several colonies were our favourite pastimes. Khasi-non-Khasi relations were also normal. We, as students and classmates, had the best of friendships.

Tourism has always been a booming industry for Meghalaya with visitors enjoying the famous Shillong Peak, Krangsuri Falls in Garo Hills and Thadlaskiew Lake in Jaintia hills.

Cherapunji, with its record highest rainfall in the world, was always another attraction.

But once I left Shillong those good days had soon turned into a distant past and by the 1990s the scene had turned pretty ugly – as if the good old days were part of a fairy tale.

During my subsequent visits, I used to be warned by relatives and friends against roaming in Laitumukrah area, once our favourite ‘adda.’ The writing was clear on the wall – parochialism had come to stay here.

The year 1992 saw the worst of it.

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