Shillong Times

By Nilanjan P. Choudhury

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It was a serene Shillong evening just like any other, watching with amusement the excitement bubbling inside Debu’s heart as every step brought him closer to the secret pleasures of Kalsang. A short walk later they had arrived at their destination—a large, slightly run-down cottage that had been converted into a restaurant. Clint and Debu stepped inside, the wooden floor planks creaking in protest under the tread of their Naughty Boy shoes.

Clint scanned the room for a suitable table as Debu took in the sight greeting him. It was just as he had imagined—waiters gliding about bearing bowls of sizzling hot momos and soup, the exotic aroma of unfamiliar herbs and meats inside the dishes curling into the cool Shillong air like fumes of incense. A row of dimly lit private cabins stood on either side of the hallway. Curtains had been drawn across the openings to shield the occupants from the public gaze. Only their legs were visible—pairs of stockinged, high-heeled feet, brushing against their boot-clad companions, offering tantalizing glimpses of the secret trysts unfolding within. From behind the drawn curtains drifted the delicious tinkling of feminine giggles, along with a whiff of perfume entangled in the fragrance of pork chowmein. Debu felt like he had been transported into the world of the Arabian Nights. Pleasure and peril lurked in every corner

Through an unspoken agreement, Debu and Clint decided that it would look odd for two boys to be holed up inside a private cabin. They sat at an open table with a view of the street. Clint lit up a Capstan cigarette.
Ah, Kalsang’s! thought Debu, as he sank into his chair and soaked in the charged atmosphere. This was so much more glamorous than having masala dosas and chhola baturas in the sanitized confines of Regal and Chirag’s. A waiter approached them and asked for orders.

We’ll have the usual. Okay?’ Clint asked Debu.
‘Umm…yeah. Sure. Fine. The usual,’ Debu said. He had no idea what the usual was.
‘Waiter. Two plates,’ Clint said. The waiter nodded knowingly and left the two boys by themselves.
‘Umm—I don’t have any money,’ said Debu. ‘I mean I do. But just enough for the bus fare.’
Clint waved away his concerns. ‘No probs. I have enough dough,’ he said, taking a deep drag on his Capstan. ‘It’s cold. Want some whisky?’
‘No, thanks.’
‘Okay, I’ll have a shot then. Tell you what? Why don’t you do my maths homework for me while the food comes?

Debu was in no mood for maths. But he felt it would be impolite to refuse his benefactor’s homework. Besides, Clint would probably not force whisky on him if he was doing maths. Tearing himself away from the pleasures of Kalsang, Debu battled the sins of trigonometry as Clint sipped on his whisky and smoked.
An English song was playing on the rickety tape recorder kept by the cash counter. Clint closed his eyes and swayed to the music. Debu hadn’t heard the song before, but he found himself instantly drawn to it. It was unlike anything he had ever heard before…

We don’t need no education
We don’t need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teachers leave them kids alone.

‘Nice song,’ said Debu. ‘Who’s sung it?’
Clint’s jaw dropped. He removed the cigarette from his lips and exhaled an incredulous gust of smoke into Debu’s face. ‘You kidding me or what? You don’t know who that is?’
Debu’s face turned pink. ‘No, sorry. I don’t,’ he admitted. ‘I only listen to Hindi film songs on the radio. And once in a while my mother makes me listen to Rabindra Sangeet,’ he said. ‘Which I really hate,’ he added as an afterthought, hoping it would make Clint think less poorly of him.
‘Who’s Rabindra Sangeet?’ Clint asked blankly.
‘Not who. What. It’s…anyway never mind. Who’s singing this song?’
‘Man! Don’t you know anything except what’s inside your school books? That’s Pink Floyd man! Greatest band in the world. Ever. The Wall! Greatest album ever.’
‘Oh,’ Debu said, feeling really dumb about not having even heard of the greatest band in the world. Ever.
‘Just listen. It’ll blow your mind.’

And it did. Debu had never experienced anything like it before. He didn’t know that music could sound like that. It touched a place inside him that Hindi film songs with their ishqs and zulfeins and chandnis had never reached. He soon found himself singing out loud along with Clint and head banging to the refrain:

Hey! Teachers! Leave them kids alone
All in all, it’s just another brick in the wall
All in all, you’re just another brick in the wall

He felt as if the music was seeping into the marrow of his bones and flowing into his bloodstream. It was an epiphany, a revelation. He felt like Buddha under the peepal tree.
‘This is too good. Simply amazing,’ he said after the last bar of music had faded.
‘Yeah, sounds even better with whisky,’ Clint said. ‘Want a shot?’

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