In an earlier post last month, I had discussed the global rise of the Right as related to the revolt of the ‘little man’ (a term I borrow from Wilhelm Reich) and his search for a ‘father-figure’ of authority. I had also argued in that post that the revolt of the little man in itself could not have led to the rise of the Right, were it not for the ways in which Capital moved to appropriate and channelize that revolt against the Left and Left-of-Centre politics – and regimes that dominated the scene earlier. It is virtually impossible to understand this huge tectonic shift in the politics of the past few decades without understanding the conjunction of the little man and Capital – the Big Men – as it were. No less important, it is impossible to understand this shift without understanding the revolt of the liittle man in relation to the different structures of privilege that appear before us as culturally encoded power relations – as tradition, as ‘our way of doing things’, so to speak.
Surrounded by lush green hills, Shillong, the capital city of Meghalaya is widely known for its salubrious climate and natural beauty. As one of oldest hill stations of the sub-continent, Shillong was chosen – after the failure of the British administrators and soldiers to continue operating out of Cherrapunjee – to house the headquarters of the colonial government including the Sylhet Light Infantry in 1864. Following the creation of Assam as a Chief Commissioner’s province (carved out of the Bengal Presidency) in 1874, Shillong, a small town then, was declared its capital. Shillong scored over others in that part of the empire, among others, due to two important factors. First, its climate and second, the town being best suited to serve the colonial administrative, commercial and strategic interests.
As a result of the reorganised political geography of the region substantial number of European, Assamese and Bengali officers and clerks of the colonial bureaucracy lived and settled in Shillong. And so did a large number of tea planters of Assamese and European origins, Nepali staff of the colonial army, Marwari entrepreneurs and, so forth. Indeed, the quaint hill town, which was essentially populated by the Khasi tribe, acquired by the turn of the twentieth century a vibrant, cosmopolitan character which stood substantively (and perhaps best) reflected in the organisation of its cultural space. Shillong’s spirit of cosmopolitanism, as its socio-cultural history shows, was deeply embedded in the ideology of the recognition (and not mere political management) of cultural difference. Continue reading Climate, Culture, Cosmopolitanism – Notes from Shillong: Nabanipa Bhattacharjee→