There is no plot, but there are strong characters, most of whom are his family and friends.
While Name Place Animal Thing has been classified as fictional, it reads more like a childhood memoir with politics, religion, and tribal customs. The narrator (called D) takes us through fragments of memories which, when put together, give us a vivid and brutally honest picture of Shillong. There is no plot, but there are strong characters, most of whom are his family and friends.
While the Shillong D described is a beautiful place, it also has its ugly side.
Foreigners (dkhars) are not welcome by locals, however helpful or wonderful they may be. D says, “Words like dkhar can be harmless or they can be turned into weapons. It made me think of people in terms of them and us. Although I was not taught it as an insult, I have always seen it used as such. She cites several examples of people her family had known and loved who were cast out. Either by indifferent neighbors, or by insurgents who kidnapped, killed or demanded heavy “taxes” from foreigners. These include Nepalese, Bengalis and Chinese immigrants from Calcutta. There is shock and sorrow in these pages.
Fortunately, there is joy too, especially in D’s accounts of his school years.
Funny trivia about friends, teachers, tuition, boyfriends, etc. take you back to your own childhood. Even here at school, we remember that Shillong is not a cultural melting pot: “All the other girls played and had lunch with people of their own ethnicity. The Bengali girls were seated between them, the Indians of the North with the Indians of the North, Khasis with Khasis, Garos with Garos. Yuva and I stood out for not doing the same.
D’s friendship with Yuva, a Hindu from Nepal, opened her to other cultures. Diwali would be celebrated in Yuva’s house, while Yuva would spend Christmas with D.’s family. Christmas was great in Shillong – about 80 percent of the population is Christian. There were, however, many sects, and much to D’s chagrin, they despised each other, even though the God was the same! “It sometimes happened that two people from different sects did not marry unless the other converted. ”
D’s age isn’t a constant – it spends frequently and effortlessly from her childhood to her teens, as she remembers interesting things. Like the strange events across the Meghalaya in 2006: the children suddenly began to have fits and visions, and the church elders explained these as “the Holy Spirit descending in the children.” Churches were packed during this “Awakening” period, and people who didn’t like to feel left out also lied about having visions! After the Awakening phase ended, life returned to normal: “On rainy days there were fewer people in the church, and on days closer to exams they had to put on extra plastic chairs. . ”.
If Shillong is on your travel wishlist, immerse yourself in the pages of Name Place Animal Thing immediately! Lyndem’s words make you see it, smell it, taste it and appreciate it inside out – warts and everything.
Name Place Animal Thing
By Daribha Lyndem
pp. 199, Rs. 495