ROME WASN’T built in a day. Margherita, comparatively, was.
Italians didn’t establish Rome. Before you sing Bella Ciao in protest, here’s a Wiki-fact: the land of Juventus and gondola wasn’t called Italia when Romulus founded it.
The Italians didn’t build Margherita either. The British did, but let an Italian engineer baptize this coal town in eastern Assam, some 8,000 km east of Rome.
Back in the 1880s, the Assam Railways and Trading Company Ltd had assigned Chevalier Roberto Paganini some construction projects in present-day Tinsukia district. He probably didn’t like the local name of the place he happened to be in, so he renamed it after Margherita, the reigning Queen of Italy.
Paganini returned thereafter to wherever he came from. Sixty years later, another Italian made his way to a Northeast Indian town – Shillong. But unlike the engineer, baker G Guidetti stayed back and set up shop in the upscale Laitumkhrah locality.
Confectionery-crazy residents of Meghalaya’s capital say G Guidetti & Sons Bakery isn’t the same as when the old man was around. “Oh, there are much better bakers today,” says Manas Chaudhuri, legislator and former editor of The Shillong Times.
I make it a point to bring back cakes and bakes whenever I go to Shillong. One of my preferred haunts is Saikia’s, run by an Assamese lady. Somehow, fate has never allowed me to try Guidetti’s stuff to compare.
Why, pray, am I suddenly struck by all things Italian in the Northeast? Because Italy happened twice in Guwahati last month!
First, a showroom of Italian apparel chain Cantabil opened near my house off Guwahati-Shillong Road to vend exorbitant pyjamas. A conference by the Italian State Tourism Board and the Indo-Italian Chamber of Commerce followed, to sell Bella Italy to potential Northeast Indian tourists.
Before you go belissimo, you should know the tourism bosses entrusted with promoting the northeastern states cut a sorry figure at that conference. As specialists, they couldn’t draw the Italy-Northeast connection. If that were not enough, one of them wanted her Italian counterpart to facilitate her trip to Italy.
For the rest, all roads did not lead to Rome. And for a few, it was back to dealing with another Italian connection – mafia. Or militants, as some like to call them to differentiate from the land, timber, coal and oil mafia.
Thank god, most of those guys with guns and grenades don’t read blogs. And even if they do, they aren’t likely to proceed below the misleading headline. Mitali, after all, is about friendship and possibly dancing to Mambo Italiano.