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Shillong Times: A Story of Friendship And Fear — by Nilanjan P. Choudhury

Publisher: Speaking Tiger Publishing Private Limited

Pages: 248

Price: Rs. 350 INR(Paperback)

ISBN: 978–9388070478

Buy here: https://amzn.to/2YGqABm

A delightful novel about growing up in Shillong in the 1980s by the bestselling author of Bali and the Ocean of Milk and The Case of the Secretive Sister

When fourteen-year-old Debojit Dutta meets the slightly older Clint Eastwood Lyngdoh in his maths tuition classes, he is wary of his cigarette-smoking, whisky-swilling ways. Besides, Debu has only recently escaped a bunch of local ruffians who wanted him to ‘go back home to Bangladesh’.

But Debu is unable to resist being friends with Clint. For, in return for doing his maths homework, Clint introduces him to a completely new life: the heady charms of Kalsang, the Chinese restaurant forbidden by Debu’s mother; the revolutionary sounds of Pink Floyd; and most importantly, the coolest, prettiest girl in town — Audrey Pariat. Audrey loves maths and detective stories, just like Debu, and does not make him feel awkward or exotic. Together, the three of them look set to embark on many adventures. But when tensions between the Khasi and Bengali communities boil over, Shillong becomes a battlefield — old neighbours become outsiders and the limits of friendship are challenged.

With crackling energy, Nilanjan P. Choudhury immerses us in the tumultuous lives of Debu, his friends and his family, and their attempts to find love and belonging. Written with uncommon warmth, humour and a delightful evocation of place, Shillong Times is an exhilarating coming-of-age story — showing us how friendship can eclipse the hardened enmities of adulthood.

About the author

Nilanjan P. Choudhury’s debut novel, a mythological thriller titled Bali and the Ocean of Milk, was a (very) brief bestseller. His subsequent writings include The Case of the Secretive Sister, a detective caper set in Bangalore, and The Square Root of a Sonnet, a pioneering play on the history and science of black holes; both of which received wide critical acclaim. He confesses to having studied at IIM Ahmedabad and IIT Kanpur, and hopes that this will not be held against him. He grew up in Shillong and now lives in Bangalore with his family. He can be reached at www.nilanjan.net.

My take on the book

Set in Shillong in 80’s, this is the story of Fourteen year old Debu who lives in his own happy world which revolves around his school, playing cricket, home and parents. A typical good-boy-next-door, Debu meets Clint at a maths tuition class and through Clint meets Audrey the prettiest girl in town. Clint introduces Debu to the world Debu was always fascinated by but could never experience himself due to his strict mother. While people close to Debu including his teachers warn him to stay away from Clint, Debu only gets more friendly with Clint and attracted to his way of things. The town is soon disturbed by a conflict between the natives and non-natives, and Debu’s father though born and been living in Shillong for more than forty years, is a Bengali by birth results in his family also being caught in this mess. As the tension escalates, the kids also find themselves being caught in it with personal emotions taking over innocence and friendship.

Young Adult(YA) stories in fiction are very less and few in Indian market and most of them end up being cliched. While the boys here are also attracted to smoking, boozing and pretty girls, what makes this one stand out is the honest narration and not overdoing stuff. The background of Shillong enchants through out and since the author himself spent his growing up years there, the place plays the perfect backdrop. The landmarks, the historical monuments, the local hearsay all are blended seamlessly into the narrative.

Being in the middle of a conflicted country or place is easy said than experienced and the author completely succeeds in bringing forward the intricate details. How a neighbor of decades might turn into a threat within a moment owing to race/religion/region is hard to digest but the ugly truth of conflicted places. Debu and his families plight while caught in this cross-fire is heart warming.

Shillong times is all about friendship and conflict, laced with simple humor and about human complexities in the middle of changing socio-political landscapes. A lovely, feel good story and a must read.

This book review is a part of “The Readers Cosmos Book Review Program and Blog Tours, for details log on to http://www.thereaderscosmos.com/”

My rating