From the many novels that I saw on the bookshelf in Swish Café – The Inheritance of Loss, The God of Small Things, A Bowstring Winter,to name a few – I picked out Anjum Hasan’s Lunatic In My Head, and I read it having ordered a cup of Irish coffee. I was most amused and at the same time compelled to imagine happily in my mind ‘The Happening’, a confluence of painting, poetry and music that Aman, the character, and his close friends organise in Shillong. It was not like the CALM Fest, but a place where art lovers were like the freewheeling hippies.
I ordered another cup of Irish coffee as I smoked my cigarette, and continued reading. Then with the second cup, I felt my head getting a little groggy. And it was until the waiter told me (as I asked) that a small amount of rum was added that I realized why.
As I walked the busy pavements of Laitumkhrah, putting on my wayfarer shades and buttoning up my trench coat feeling the winter chill – from Beat House to Don Bosco Square – I stopped by at Mad Gallery. I was mesmerised by one painting of the owner/painter Raphael Warjri, which had elements of magic realism in it, where the quixotic or fantastical fluidly merged with the quotidian – a woman’s hair was adorned with flowers of different hues that fell from the distant sky.
Then I saw a beautiful portrait of the legendary Khasi musician Ma H.Kerious Wahlang with his skin in its complexion of brown, and his body with a waistcoat on. There is an exactness that is subtle in the painting that Warjri was able to capture. I again felt my head getting groggy, and I remembered a friend of mine once said that tea helps reduce tipsiness. And so I sipped a cup of tea in Mad Gallery, also wanting and hoping to meet Warjri, whom I had only seen in the television screen.
I treaded the zigzag road of Malki, and as I reached my house I had dinner with my sisters. Then, next morning, I woke up to the ringing of the church bell, and I realized that it was a Sunday. So I woke up and dressed to go to church. In the sleepy evening at five my bosom friend Shankar called, telling me that Lou Majaw would play at Shillong Café. I was anxious, and went with him to the place.
There, we sat delighted to hear Majaw belt out Bob Dylan’s Girl from North Country and many other songs in his profound, antiquated and powerful voice. Deep in my head this song always reminds me of one scene from an Australian movie (the name of which I forgot) where the actor tells his friend who is heading to a fair to tell him if he does see his lover,as the lyrics went:
“Please see for me if her hair hangs long,
If it rolls and it flows all down her breast,
Please see for me if her hair hangs long,
That’s the way I remember her best.”
So the point that I’m trying to lead to with this vignette or this piece of writing is that during one weekend, I realized that the cafes in Laitumkhrah are like ‘The Happening’ – spaces for lovers or art, be it books, painting or music. And that in these places, one can just unwind and have a great time being entertained by these forms. These places promote art in a manner that the many coming and going festivals of the city do. And they do it through offering a customer, like me, a worthwhile and delightful time. Some cafes cater only to people who have good taste, as many in the west perceive. But here one can also learn to appreciate art even as an ordinary person, and not think too much on what a café stands for.
This article first appeared in The Northeast Today magazine December 3rd 2014