Thanks to an assassination, our long-awaited time in Shillong was cut in half.
We were all set to head over to Shillong on Friday morning - having packed up and said all our good byes in Churachandpur the night before. After waking up and doing some last minute packing, we heard the first news of possible trouble early in the morning. A prominent politician from one of the Meitei parties had been killed. A 24 hour bandh was called to protest this. 5 AM from Friday morning to the next day. Our local hosts had only found out about this in the morning newspaper.
Then the news came from town was that no vehicles were on the roads. Phone calls to Imphal and other sources to look into options. Could we go another way? Initially that seemed likely - though about twice the distance. But then seasoned folks said it was not possible - since the aggrieved party had cadres in all the plains areas and would most likely enforce their 'bandh' with violence. Could we get an escort from the paramilitary forces? We sent out feelers, including one of the Tusing clan who is an officer in one of them. Calls to high places revealed that a vehicle was already burning on one of the roads - and the security forces were not interested in 'provoking' the bandh-callers.
|combinations and permutations... can we get over to Imphal for the flight?|
Finally we had to bite the bullet. We called up the Jacob in Imphal and asked him to postpone our tickets (at a hefty price of course) and so we spent an extra day in Churachandpur - and cut our already miniscule 2 day visit to Shillong down to a single day...
Saturday dawned pale and lovely. The only problem was that we were supposed to be in Shillong for the sunrise. Instead we saw the sun go up over the hills of Churachandpur instead.
No further bandhs and so we after a leisurely breakfast with Dr. Lalzakung Tusing and Auntie, we did the finally stuffing into our bags and then waited in the morning sun for our intrepid driver Robul Pudaite and his sister Pui to pick us up in their jeep.
A final prayer and we were off!
As we drove past through the plains we saw farmers harvesting and treshing the rice crop. The villages and small hamlets along the way, which had seemed so fresh and new just a week ago were now rolling back in reverse order as we came closer and closer to Imphal.
After passing Imphal, we had a bit of scenic tour of the countryside before we found Jacob Tusing's CRPF camp and finally met his family - one of the few of the far-flung Tusings that we had not met till then. Jacob and Din welcomed us heartily - and their orderlies cooked up a storm of hot fresh chhole bhature - which was just the fortification we needed for our delayed hop over to Guwahati.
Over to Imphal airport which has just become an 'international' one with flights to Myanmar slated to start at the end of November. There was a shocking smell of urine that pervaded the whole passenger area after security as we waited for our Air India silver bird to drop down from the sky.
When it finally came we walked out to meet it. Our last steps in Manipur for how long? Hopefully not another 17 years...
As the golden sun set at the still strange time for us of 4.30 PM, our plane climbed into the deep blue skies that sheltered darkening Manipur and winged us over to Gauhati, the capital of Asom.
Landing in Asom we were met by Mr. Peter Thapa - a genial bear of a man who drives a super taxi to and from his home-town of Shillong. Peter is also an elder in the Nepali-speaking church he has helped found. We were soon driving through the darkness and traffic of Gauhati and being entertained by Peter's accounts of the Nepali community in Shillong - and sundry information about Shillong and all points around.
The 130 kms between Gauhati airport and Shillong took us up to the hills into the darkness - and in between what seemed an unending procession of smoke-belching trucks grunting their way up an incline which seemed to be one long construction project. Peter told us that most of the road was the major artery for road travel to Mizoram and Tripura - and it seemed that most of these states' good were being transported on the night of the 16th of November.
We finally shook off the trucks when the road forked off to Shillong and drove through the silent streets to our accommodation at the Presbyterian Church of India guesthouse that our dear friend Pyn Shullai and organised for us. The first place we came to was the New Hope centre - and the puzzled person asked us who we had come to meet. We soon found out that it was a rehabilitation home for injecting drug users - and while glad that this fine institution was open for folks who need help in conquering addictions, we needed to find our place – thankfully that was quickly done as the real guesthouse was just around the corner.
Our phones did not work in Manipur since they use the CDMA technology, which apparently is not being used in the North East. We thus had to patch things together using borrowed phones. Dr. Lalzakung was most generous with one of his phones. Coming to Gauhati, I was sure we would be ‘on line’ again. Sadly we were not. On our way up the hill we used Peter/s phone. Our taxi driver / church elder also became our communications provider.
Thanks to a call on Peter’s phone, we were visited within a few minutes of our arrival in Shillong by Isaac Hmar and Nelson, a friend of his from Tripura. Isaac is active with the Nepali churches in Shillong and was trained by us in Thane along with his colleague Rajiv. Among other things, they look after children orphaned and affected by HIV, and each year run a whole month of programmes through which they get people involved in caring for people with HIV. It was grand to see Isaac and learn that he is now the father of 2 little ones. Since his was doing an all-day programme the next day, the only day of our bandh-shortened stay in Shillong, he made sure he met us late at night.
The next morning we woke up North East style at 5.30 AM and were determined to get as much out of Shillong as we could in the 24 hours we were there. The Eichers were out of doors by 6 AM and within 10 minutes found ourselves walking up a beautiful forested path. Shillong does that to you. On one hand, the houses are clustered up and down the hills that the city charmingly sprawls over. On the other hand there seem to be forest and forested area in the city. And park after park. Quite the contrast to the grunge and grime that the behemoth of Mumbai is.
The Sun was rising, sending golden rays through the woods. We stopped frequently as we climbed the hill - and finally found our path end at a neat barbed wire fence. On the other side an immaculate road and more trees. Were we crossing into a military or government area? We decided to wander up the road and see. Turns out that the road is just a normal road, taking us to another compact neighbourhood and a cemetery on top of the hill. All along we had seen the pink bursts of cherry blossoms. Now the church bells started to peal as we walked back down towards our rooms.
We were back to our rooms - but no breakfast. So I walked out in search of something. The buildings around us seemed many government offices. All closed on a Sunday morning. There did not seem to be the normal tea-shops that I would expect in a city. Everything cool and quiet - and shut. Finally, after some leg work in the almost empty streets I found a street vendour. She had tea and some chappatis and chole as well. 'Red tea' (without milk) as they drink it in Shillong. She agreed to give me a metal jug full of tea and I hoofed it back with my prizes.
We were now well and trully in Shillong - but needed to meet as many more people in the 24 hours we had. Our friendly caretaker let us use his mobile phone and we started calling. In a few minutes our dear friend Pyn Shullai appeared. Pyn is from Shillong and worked with us at JSK in 2007 for 7 months as an intern during his theological studies. Though his church was celebrating its 50th anniversary that day, he took time out and drove over to meet us. Then our friend Arbind Singh showed up, having walked down from the Airforce base he is stationed at on Shillong Peak. After Pyn left we were blessed with with a visit by Bafin's family who drove all the way for Jowai - 60 kms away to meet us.
Bafin is a dentist who lived with Sheba in the same house when they were both posted at the Champa Christian Hospital in Chhatisgarh in 1999. Later that year I swooped in and took Sheba as my bride. Bafin was blessed with a wonderful husband Spyser and three years ago they were blessed with their lovely daughter Shekinah.
The family took us and Arvind out to a lovely restaurant in the middle of the city. After stuffing ourselves with food and conversation, we continued talking while taking in a Sunday afternoon in Shillong on the Ward's Lake.
To have such a beautiful park in the middle of such a large city, to be able to paddle (make that pedal) your boat in the midst of flowering cherry trees and pines was something like a dream for us. And all along to have the joy of catching up after 15 years of what God has done in our different lives and families.
After a reluctant fare-well to Bafin and her family, we drove up to the top of Shillong - the famed Shillong Peak where we saw the whole of Shillong sprawled out across the hills as the last pinks of sun-light tickled the clouds and the city below started to wink alight.
This is also the place where our dear friends Arbind and Putul and their son Rishav stay. Arbind serves in the airforce and over the years we have become super close to this family as they were first posted in Thane and then in another part of Mumbai. As we worshipped together, we also grew together - and as soon as we started to think of going to the North East - a visit to Arvind and Putul was a must. Hence even a 24 hour visit to Shillong was worth it.
Arvind is orginally from Ara in Bihar and made a decision to follow Christ while stationed in Gujarat some years ago. It has been a joy for both of our families to grow together over the years we were in Thane / Mumbai - and what a delight to meet up again.
And also to meet Arvind and Putul's new family - the small house-fellowship that meets Sunday evenings in their home for worship. How lovely to worship with Garo speakers and Malayali and Tamilians who meet with Arvind's family each week. With Hindi as our link language, we joined voices in song and prayer as the cold wind blew in the dark night outside.
Time was so very short - but we milked every minute of it! Enoch was in gales of laugther as he and his dear friend Rishav joked and played with Asha. Arvind and I had our heart-to-heart talks as Sheba did with Putul. Then there was the lovingly prepared meal:
And then as the early morning hours came close, we had to wind down our conversations and catch a few winks before our dear friend Peter the taxi man came to pick us up at 5 AM the next morning.
|Putul and Sheba bundled up for the cold!|