Lapalang’s Madan (a khasi word for ground) – just like any other in the north-east’s hilly tracts, this is what a football ground looks, feels and behaves like around the slopes in Shillong – the land taken over by the clouds. Five months of sub-tropical monsoon showers and regular sprinkling of rain through the rest of the year making the pitch difficult to tend or keep under control and at worse, even failing to offer reasonable playing surfaces for the beautiful game.
Growing up in the housing blocks not far away from the ground, this place was a rehabilitation centre for many. A small sided game at sundown after school with the locals amidst the relaxing wafts of cool, soothing breeze was my Utopia. The scenery of the hills on both the sides and the mid-autumn sky changing from orange to a hundred shades of pink to a dark navy blue were as pleasant as the sound of the glorious war cry “Baluram Ka Badan” echoing from the ridge above, sung by the soldiers of the Assam Regimental Centre. With the locality club struggling in the 3rd division of the city’s football league since the past decade, the ground changes its shape from time to time – which was more of a pentagon now almost a perfect rectangle. You get everything in this quiet little corner of the city, from drunkards to lovers and kids running around with kites on the other side. Evening joggers with German Shepherds, Huskies and even a Saint Bernard at times. In the far east, Power Grid’s huge towering clock like that of the Big Ben was our timekeeper.
Occasionally, the National Institute of Technology’s hostellers were our only spectators – aspiring engineers from all over India. A narrow pathway passing through the field at the other end was mostly used by labourers on their way home after a tiring day. However, nothing remains of the simpler times. The green fields besides the ground for herding cattles are destroyed to make way for buildings.
With wired fences and OYO hotels around now, there was a period when youths from the neighborhood filled up this 9aside ground, thirteen on each side! As for now, all that’s left is an unmaintained, deserted and a flooded madan. What is growing up and growing old but watching people, places and things from your past changing and disappearing, one at a time?