Of course, a home is what you make it, the neighbourhood notwithstanding. My own family home is in a suburban neighbourhood not considered very hip or posh but it is home and we’ve lived here over twenty years. But for those to whom it matters, here’s a round-up of the popular neighbourhoods in the city.
To find some of the oldest families and their homes, Mawkhar and Jaiaw are the places to look. The families are mostly Khasis who have been around for generations, some of the ancestors having rubbed shoulders (and even married) with the British who ruled here for many years. Quite a few are joint families with great-grandparents, grandparents and numerous descendants under the same roof. Some of these ancestors have held high posts in the Government as well as academic institutions. Quite a few local and national politicians have their roots here and so have many bureaucrats and lawyers. The homes are mostly ancient ‘Assam-type’ bungalows that have stood the test of time. Here is where the ancientJohnRobertsHospital(RobertHospitalor simplyMissionHospital) is located and here is also where many old Churches and graveyards are located. It is a predominantly Protestant neighbourhood although the Khasi Dorbar (the office of the Non-Christian indigenous people) is also found here. This is a neighbourhood that is as local as it can get, no ‘outsiders’ (non-locals) allowed, except for the handful of Marwaris who have been here as long as the locals. No newcomers at least. There are very few newcomers even amongst the locals, simply because there’s no space. The ancient bungalows remain with the ancient families, some have merely been renovated. A few have been dismantled to make place for newer buildings but continue to remain with the ancient families. So this is not where you look to build or buy a house. Neither is this the place to look for a place to rent. They rent out only to locals. Sad, because it is very conveniently located near all the big markets. But I guess it’s ok since this is one of the few neighbourhoods that retains a purity free from some of the outside influence that has tarnished many other parts of the city.
Laitumkhrah and Laban are quite similar to Mawkhar and Jaiaw in so far as the presence of ancient families and homes is concerned, but the difference lies in that there is space (although this is fast disappearing) for new buildings and the population is mixed. Laban, on the hillside, especially has more non-locals than locals. The majority are Bengali families that have been around since pre-independence. There are beautiful private as well as government bungalows in both these neighbourhoods, while the new buildings that are coming up are no less beautiful. Both neighbourhoods have their own markets which are sufficient enough so that their inhabitants hardly need to venture into Iewduh, the main market. Laitumkhrah especially, is a little township all on its own what with its being the hub of educational (the best schools in town are here), religious (the main churches of all denominations, including the best looking Cathedral, are here) and health activities (the Nazareth, Bethany and Supercare hospitals and Ramkrishna Mission Dispensary are located here).
Mawlai, one of the biggest neighbourhoods in town, has come a long way since its days of rabid anti-national and pro-insurgent stance. Time was when people thought twice before venturing into this scary place, especially in Indian clothes. This was our wild west. We didn’t want to cross paths or swords with its people. We spoke in whispers about them and their activities. The saying went, “You can take the man out of Mawlai, but you can’t take the Mawlai out of the man.” It was all part of our ignorance of course. We had put the whole of Mawlai under one blanket when in fact it was just a few of its pockets that were notorious. Having shifted my workplace to Mawlai for over four years now (the University being located there), most of us non-Mawlai types now have a whole new perspective on the place. I for one, am seriously contemplating buying a plot and moving there for good. There are portions like Nongmali, Mawroh and Umjaiur, with pretty homes and their picket fences and fruit laden trees that totally make us forget this is the dreaded Mawlai. There is a rusticness about the entire place that adds to its allure and justifies its ‘wild west’ tag. And it sure has come a long way. What do you know! In 2007, it was this once anti-Indian neighbourhood that first hosted the very Bengali lad Amit Paul, runner up in the Indian Idol contest. While a major part of it is already packed, there are areas like Mawtawar and Mawroh where locals can still buy land. But make no mistake, Mawlai is an out and out Hynniewtrep zone, no outsiders allowed.
Most government officers live in the high end areas of Cleave Colony, Risa Colony, Lachumiere and Motinagar either in their own houses or government quarters. Coincidentally, all these neighbourhoods are on hillsides. While theBishops Cotton Road, near the Ward’s lake is for the Chief Minister, the Governor, the cabinet Ministers and Bureaucrats. All of these neighbourhoods are clean and quiet and lovely. But they’re also lonely and out of reach which is why they suit only the rich with their fleet of vehicles and army of staff. There are no markets here except for a sprinkling of multi-purpose small shops for emergencies. Small fry who have to visit friends and relatives living here always find it a bit of a struggle getting public transport to these places. No buses ply within these areas, as for taxis (except for Motinagar where shared taxis now ply), they will either drop you off at the main road from where you have to walk a good distance uphill or take a hefty amount to get you right up to your destination. Like I said, if you don’t own a car, you’ll have to settle for a distant relationship with your friends and relatives living here.
Nongrim Hills and Pohkseh in my opinion are also interesting neighbourhoods. They are quite easily accessible especially by taxis, with the Laitumkhrah and Rynjah markets and theBethanyhospital situated close by. The location of the huge NEC (North Eastern Council) Headquarters within Nongrim Hills (a residential area), always manages to surprise the newcomer. There are many pretty old and new homes but the roads are narrow. It will be of interest to the reader to know that some clans used to own whole neighbourhoods though over the years, portions of the land have been sold away or leased out to non-clan members and even to the government. The media recently was full of news of the Nongkhlaw clan claiming ownership of the Khyndailad (Police Bazar) area which apparently their ancestors had leased out to the government for ninety-nine years, a period which has lapsed. The case is obviously still not concluded considering it involves the biggest and main shopping area not only in Shillong but the state of Meghalaya itself. According to another clan, the Governor’s House with its sprawling grounds belongs to them. Imagine what would happen if these clans got back their property! Would we need their permission to shop in Khyndailad and would the Governor have to pay them rent? Hmmm! Talk about rich! Presently the Kharkongor clan is occupying most parts of the Nongthymmai area while the Khyriem clan occupies the Nongkhyriem area named after them. Both these clans have their own graveyards in the city. And these are just ones we know about. There’s no telling the number of clans that own whole neighbouhoods in the city and the state. Surely a few papers if not books have been written about them. Go do your research.
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