ON A COLD DECEMBER afternoon, my friend Lal and I walked through Laitumkhrah, a busy locality of Shillong, the hill-station capital of Meghalaya in Northeast India. In less than an hour, darkness would fall. In about two, the streets would be empty. I was back in my hometown (if that’s what they’re still called in these rootless times) after many years in Delhi and elsewhere. A variety of things intrigued me—the number of mobile phone shops that lined the street, the loss of dusty old establishments to brand stores, the striking trendiness of local fashion. I noticed posters on the wall. Some faded and torn, others hidden under newer ones. They announced, in bold letters, the arrival of many international musicians. The lead singer of Mr Big had been in town again in October 2008. White Lion was here in December of the same year, and so was Firehouse (also on their second trip), The Scorpions were here in December 2007.
“Rock Capital,” Lal said, with sarcasm. On a much smaller, less flamboyant poster, hidden between ‘Rock 4 Life’ and ‘The Beatles & Elvis Show,’ was an announcement for a traditional Khasi music concert organised by the Hynniew Trep Cultural and Welfare Organisation. We concluded our stroll at a small roadside teashop crammed with after-work visitors. I introspected over my tea, wrapping my fingers around the cup for warmth. Having grown up in a household of George Harrison LPs and David Bowie tapes, and listening to everything from The Who to Led Zeppelin through college and beyond, I suddenly felt a yawning absence I’d never been aware of before. I must guiltily admit I had never really been interested in anything other than rock music. “What exactly,” I asked Lal hesitantly, “is traditional Khasi music?” He told me to finish my tea. “I know someone you should speak to.”
“Who?” I joked, as we headed out into a bitterly cold evening, “the Oracle?” “Something like that,” he said.