Keep strumming, Monalisa Lyngdoh

Bhupen Hazarika with son and grandson. Photo by Anupam Nath courtesy Nanda Talukdar Foundation

SHILLONG SEDUCES ordinary souls. The extraordinary too, like the bards of Bengal and Brahmaputra.

Between 1919 and 1927, Rabindranath Tagore was inspired thrice to pen his post-Nobel Prize novel Jogajog (Connection), drama Raktakorobi (a blood-red flower) and poems such as Susamay (Good times) and Shillonger Chithi (Letters from Shillong) in the Meghalaya capital.

If the Scotland of the East’s natural beauty finds expression in Shillonger Chithi, the misty hill station of that era was the backdrop of a romance that blossomed between Amit Ray and Labanya in the novel Shesher Kobita that he wrote in Bangalore. The two protagonists had bumped into each other following a car mishap.

The romance between the similarly multifaceted Bhupen Hazarika and Shillong wasn’t by accident. He visited the erstwhile Assam capital more often to write some evergreen, foot-tapping numbers. “Shillong will always be a sweet memory to me,” he wrote as a sort of prelude to one such song, Shillongore godhuli (An evening in Shillong), in 1968.

Many Assamese identified with Shillongore godhuli/Sapon Saharor moromi sarator/Sonworani sonali… (Golden memories of a sweet autumn evening in my dream town Shillong…) But they – Khasis too – were perhaps swayed more by the mysterious Monalisa Lyngdoh who he sang about three years before.

Is Monalisa real or imaginary? Is she flesh-and-blood or Shillong personified? Such questions haunted many as Hazarika mesmerized with Shillongore Monalisa Lyngdoh/Tumaar haator guitar khoni/Hilibili music bojai joa (Shillong’s Monalisa Lyngdoh, keep playing the carefree music on your guitar), wondering if ‘some Leonardo had created you as the epitome of beauty’. He meanders from rain-soaked Shillong Peak to Laban before asking Monalisa if they could meet halfway (from Guwahati, presumably) at Nongpoh.

The year before, Hazarika had pined for another Khasi girl – Lienmakao. The haunting song from the film Pratiddhwani on Khasi legend Manik Raitong underscores the sorrow of the ‘graceful, Jainsem-wrapped’ Lienmakao waiting on a peak for the man of her life.

The Bard of Brahmaputra was also moved by the ‘sea of green’ called Garo Hills. In his 1963 song Akashi jaanere uraniya monere (With a flying mind in an aircraft), he sang: Tolot dekhilu moi Garo Pahaar/Khouwa jen korobar seuj saagor/Ukhura mukhura kotona lahor (I saw the Garo Hills below, as if a sea of green with wild waves).

That aircraft of Hazarika’s mind was a brush that painted the colours of the Northeast (the song mentions Kanchenjunga and Arunachal Pradesh besides Assam). It had soared over Meghalaya when deforestation and unscientific coal mines and limestone quarries hadn’t left barren islands in the minstrel’s sea of green.

Thank god, Hazarika lived the best part of his life in an era when trees in the Abode of Clouds did what they were meant to – inspire poets and lyricists besides soothing the surroundings. Not be uprooted to cash in on the (black and limy) gold beneath or end up as timber.

But then, one of those trees possibly yielded the guitar that Monalisa Lyngdoh strummed. Play again Monalisa, whoever and wherever you are, and stir the ordinary unromantic mortals Hazarika intended to.


About rahconteur

A mid-career journalist who's worked horizontally across India - from Arunachal Pradesh to Gujarat
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5 Responses to Keep strumming, Monalisa Lyngdoh

  1. Basudha Banerji says:

    Good job Rahul! Enjoyed the piece. The Monalisa song was probably written around 1972, after Meghalaya was carved out of Unified Assam. I am attemting a radio documentary on this song. Am posted currently in Shillong.

  2. neelstoria says:

    So beautifully written!

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