Walking towards Laitumkhrah in Shillong this dark evening, we hear singing. A good friend had told us, before we left Bombay, to listen to church music in Shillong. Here's our chance. This is the Cathedral of Mary Help of Christians, and there's a large crowd gathered and still gathering here. Many Shillong residents, many dressed in their Sunday best. And singing in at least three-part harmony that I can detect. Three female voices, and a male undertone that might be just the congregation joining in.
I can't say it is beautiful singing, but it does soar into the night. It is interrupted by a few readings, and then a sermon by a green-robed priest speaking in a curiously Kerala accent. He uses a parable from Luke to talk about not putting people down, whatever their sins that we might find objectionable.
We walk on till I start feeling a little sore from the day's exertions. We walk back on the other side of the road from the Cathedral of Mary, the priest still speaking, fragrance of raat-rani sharp in the crisp air. Directly across from the Cathedral is what looks like a large chapel under construction, mostly beams and poles, but with images of Christ and Mary already in place. Below them are dozens of lit candles, so many that we can smell the wax. The small gate is open, so we enter and walk in, up a few stairs to the chapel.
It's when we are nearly there that we notice a lone shape on the floor, silhouetted by the candles. Someone is huddled there, praying. It's too dark to tell if it's a man or a woman, but we can hear a soft murmuring voice. And as we do, we realize the person is weeping. Steadily, wrenchingly.
As quietly as we can, we withdraw.