Ourstories revisits a page from history that tells us how Shillong was named as it turns 150 on April 28th 2016.
Rarely are we taught or told about the history of places where we grow up unless it is a Delhi or a Calcutta. But each place has a story. For example Shillong turns 150 on the twilight of April 28th 2016. I would have not known till a Shillong boy, now a Sydney resident reminded me of the date.
How did this town come about? Apparently, during the Anglo Burmese war the British found a place “as nearly possible equidistant from the plains of Sylhet and Assam” (wrote the Principal Assistant, Court of Khasi and Jaintia Hills to Colonel Francis Jenkins (1834–1861), the Commissioner of Assam). On April 28thShillong came into being named after the sacred peak, Shillong Peak by Colonel Henry Hopkinson with an area of 2 square miles and a population of barely a thousand. Some say it was 4 square miles and I am sure much of these details will remain contested.
Some accounts say that the settlement was first named Yeodo after the Khasi market of Ieudoh. Ieudoh or what we now refer to as the Barra Bazar of Shillong,means the last day of the 8-day Khasi week. But since other military offices and post offices were addressed after Shillong the administration thought the latter would be more convenient than Yeodo.
It would of course take another two months before being adopted by the Government of Bengal. It became a refuge for officers and staff given its beauty and climatic conditions that suited the British officers.
It was a story-book growing up in Shillong till 1979 when the “anti-foreigner’ agitation from Assam spilled over and an ugly and bitter decade witnessed ethnic violence that remains largely undocumented and is hardly ever talked about. Shillong is today calm and a destination for international rock groups. But it is crowded and not as beautiful as my childhood town. Much of the town’s character has been dismembered; the stunningly beautiful Golf Links (known as the Glenn Eagles of the East) has concrete constructions and roads cutting through it. The traffic is impossible and weather is fast changing.
Names of most localities have new ‘indigenous’ words though some of the British names have been retained. I hope at least Hopkinson Road named after the town’s founder has not lost itself! While much of Shillong has changed one can only hope they don’t change its name.