Amorette Grace Lyngwa
Shillong, June 05: When most of the country is starting to come alive after the sun sets, the city of Shillong prefers to slumber. The night is not a friend to the people of the city and all the fun comes to an end as the darkness sets in. This fear of the night that has been instilled into the mindsets of the citizens of Shillong has crippled the lifestyle of the people, affecting the public in ways that are subtle yet highly impactful. But this ‘fear’ was not always the case. There was a time when the night was when the city was at its best.
The night was actually an important part of the traditional Khasi culture. E. M. Reade Syiem, a 98 year old World War 2 veteran, remembers how in the earlier days, nighttime was when people used to socialize. Young men would visit eligible young women’s houses in the night and often stay over at the women’s places with their friends, and this was a common practice. He said that in the 1920’s, it was quite common for people in the villages of the Ri Bhoi District to collect in houses known as ‘Ing Sorkari’ to relax and converse with their friends and neighbours. Moving out to socialize in the night hence, was a common cultural practice that people were comfortable with.
In the later years, viz., 50s-70s, the type of night life that developed in the city was greatly influenced by the west, having been started by the British when they still occupied Shillong during the Raj. There were clubs like the NSCA, Pinewood and Shillong Club, which held dances during the evenings very frequently. Days like Independence Day and Republic Day, were big occasions that called for grand dances at the clubs. Live bands played and the people who attended used to dance till late in the night and often till the early hours of the morning. There were a number of cinema halls in the city during that time which played both English and Hindi movies. There would be double shows that started at 8 pm and ended only by 12 am, which people rushed after. Even Police Bazaar, the hub of the city, which these days is shuttered and shut down by 9 pm at the latest, would be brimming with life till midnight and even after.
Places like Bara Bazaar and Laban Bazaar were known for their late night business hours. Several articles especially fish, were sold at cheaper prices during the later hours of the evening and people would specifically go shopping late at night to get the best products at the cheapest rates. There used to be evening sessions in most colleges in the city, which held classes from 5 pm to 8 pm. These classes were meant for the working population and many people who could not afford to attend the regular day classes at a college would attend the evening classes after their work hours. It was always safe for people to return home after these classes ended.
This thriving night life however, came to a total shutdown from the late 1970’s onwards when the law and order problems in the city became acute. There were issues between the tribal and non-tribal residents of the city due to which people from both communities would feel unsafe when they were in a locality where the opposite community would dominate. Nights became the times when extortionists and miscreants would strike. This was the main reason why people began to feel unsafe in the night. Shops started closing up early during that time. People started rushing home before nightfall. Eve-teasers made the women feel unsafe in places where they used to walk unaccompanied previously. Robbers were rampant and many people were attacked on the streets.
S. Nongbri, retired principal of a local college said that the fear psychosis among people at that time was very high. He said that this could have resulted from the fact that government did very little to make the people feel safe and hence, people could not trust the administration of the government. Although these cases diminished with time, the fear remained. People still felt like they were not safe on the streets after dark and hence it has been difficult to revive the night life.
Nongbri said that this decline in the night life has had an adverse effect on the lifestyle of the people. The early closing of shops affects the economy of the state in a very negative manner by cutting short business hours, especially since the shops also open quite late. The stopping of night schools and colleges has affected the education levels in the society. He also said that ever since night schools and colleges were replaced by the morning colleges, the working students would face several attendance problems since they usually would have to skip the last class in order to make it to work on time. Most of them ended up dropping out of college.
In the recent years, however, the night life has been slowly resurging. The kind of night life culture that is resurfacing now however, is of a different kind. There are several night clubs in the city such as Tango, Cloud 9 and Platinum, which hold DJ Nights from time to time. Because of the fear that is always present in the minds of the people, there is a certain rebelliousness associated with people who dare to venture out into the night. The party lifestyle is yet to become a phenomenon, however. The word ‘party’ bears a negative connotation in the society due to the deep rooted traditional values that govern the people.
Mary F. Tariang, owner of Tango said that another reason why people seem to be hesitant towards party culture is that at the end of the day, people prefer to go home to their families than to a night club for a party. The weekend turn out, though, is quite decent. Tariang stated that she tries to ensure that the club radiates a safe atmosphere and this makes parents more comfortable with allowing their children for a once in a while party. When it comes to the other aspect of night life, i.e., shops and bazaars, the resurgence is a little slow. Police Bazaar still shuts down early even though people are more willing to stay out of their homes for a longer period these days. Hawkers, who sell street food, however are seen to be out in the streets till even 10 pm. They are also open in the early hours of the morning.
While the threats that shut down the nightlife in the city during the 70’s and 80’s are not plaguing the citizens anymore, the night has become a friend to miscreants who want to take advantage of the fear which is already present in people’s minds. This, along with the newly added fear stemming from the rape cases that are always in the news make people apprehensive of moving out in the night. The absence of a night life is not just true to Shillong, however. It is a common observation and also a common problem in almost the entire northeast region, with all the other states sharing the same sort of fear that the Shillongites have.