My school textbooks informed me and the census bureau figures second the fact that India lives in its villages. National television impresses that it is only the metropolises that matter. That something in between seems lost somewhere. The Malgudi-like sleepy settlements where everyone knows almost everybody. This middle-India is also undergoing the process of evolution. Only the pace differs from one small town to the other.
Shillong – which I visited after a lapse of eight months is changing almost beyond recognition. Karimganj (a district town in south Assam bordering Bangladesh) has hardly a thing out of place since my last visit eight years ago. The solitary exception being the excellent road to the border maintained by the Border Roads Organisation.
I wasted a better part of my half day presence in the town in locating a cyber cafe and when I found one – the internet wasn’t on. “Want to play some games?” offered the owner. Which answered my inquisitiveness about why the place was called ‘Game Zone?’ Needed some cash, but surprisingly I couldn’t find a single SBI ATM.
Shillong with a population of only 2,67,881 (2001) has more than 70,000 vehicles plying on its narrow winding roads. Prominent private banks are queuing up to open shop there. Auto dealerships, restaurants, retail outlets are jostling for space in the hill station which seems to be growing in only one direction – upwards. Spacious Assam-type cottages are giving way to cramped apartments. The rooftops house cell phone towers belonging to four different service providers.
The first SMS that I received on entering Karimganj read:
Dear IDEA subscriber, GrameenPhone welcomes you to Bangladesh! No of Indian embassy in Dhaka is 02-9888189. For GrameenPhone Customer Relations dial 777
The paramilitary forces had to be called in to control the unruly crowd queuing up to collect application forms for new BSNL mobile phone connection. My mobile perhaps a bit disturbed by all the chaos preferred the foreign network. I on my part rationally switched it off fearing international roaming charges.
I regained a native network on returning to Shillong – the hill station with pretensions of a metropolis, where the shops start downing shutters at 7:00 PM IST.
The distance from Delhi to Shillong is 2,059 kilometres and Shillong to Karimganj – 220 kilometres. But the intermittent differences is in years, plenty of them. Low-floored imported luxury air-conditioned buses ply from Karimganj to Guwahati via Shillong, but with dents at the bottom – courtesy potholed highways.